Canada's Trudeau Tries To Quell Growing Political Scandal


Testifying before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, Butts rebutted accusations made by former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose abrupt resignation last month touched off the crisis.

Wilson-Raybould told the House justice committee last week that 11 officials and ministers contacted her and her office a total of 20 times over four months about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Wilson-Raybould, unexpectedly demoted to the veterans affairs ministry in January, told the committee she felt this was linked to the SNC-Lavalin case, which Butts denied. A former health minister and Indigenous-services minister who was president of the federal Treasury Board when she quit the cabinet, Philpott was widely seen as one of Trudeau's most capable ministers.

Wernick, on the other hand, chose to wear an eagle feather pin as he spoke about his interactions with Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous person to hold the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government", Butts told the committee.

Speaking of good efforts, Butts put his heart into pushing the idea that the reason he (a non-lawyer) was so desperate for Wilson-Raybould (a lawyer) to have the benefit of outside legal advice that she didn't ask for and didn't want, was that the Remediation Agreement legislation was so new, they desperately needed help interpreting it and figuring out what was legal.

The truth is the charged, partisan atmosphere of the justice committee, where the Liberal majority constantly makes decisions on proceedings that favour the Liberals, is never going to get to the whole truth in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Butts says staff in the Prime Minister's Office always respected the fact that, as attorney general, it was up to Wilson-Raybould alone to decide whether to order negotiation of a remediation agreement with the Montreal engineering giant; such an agreement would have forced the company to pay stiff penalties while avoiding a criminal conviction that could financially cripple it. Her office immediately began preparing a document to advise Wilson-Raybould - who was in Fiji until September 12 - of her options and obligations.

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Mr Conacher added: "Given it is an unprecedented situation - no one knows for sure whether the obstruction of justice line in the Criminal Code has been crossed, though five former attorney generals think it was and so based on the evidence on the record - there should be a prosecution as the courts should decide, not prosecutors, whether the line has been crossed". He also wondered aloud why Wilson-Raybould - someone he said tended to communicate in writing on the most important topics - failed to so on this one.

In the wake of testimony from the prime minister's former right hand man Gerald Butts and new information from Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, Chris Hall sits down with Peter Donolo, director of communications for former prime minister Jean Chretien, for his take on the SNC-Lavalin scandal and what should happen next.

Wilson-Raybould said last week she told Butts on December 5 that the "barrage of people hounding me and my staff" was inappropriate.

"I made no threats to the former attorney general".

As a result, Butts said Trudeau and the PMO determined that only Jane Philpott had the capacity and institutional knowledge to take over the complicated role, but anxious what signal it would send by shuffling one of its most capable ministers from the Indigenous Services portfolio. Despite Wilson-Raybould's own testimony about raising the question with Trudeau, Butts testified that she didn't do that - and left it to the committee members and the public to draw the appropriate conclusion. He said he should have known better than to have recommended her to the role because of this major consideration, and would have had he been provided with more notice. Conservatives seem poised to take over the government if he doesn't, and there are few procedures for forcing a Prime Minister to step down.

What's not in dispute - and hasn't been for the past month - is that the SNC-Lavalin affair is taking a heavy toll on the government.

Butts rejected all the key evidence Wilson-Raybould had presented to the justice committee last week.