5 things to know about Trudeau confidant Gerald Butts
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s long-time friend and former principal secretary Gerald Butts is testifying on Wednesday to the House of Commons justice committee about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Butts, 47, resigned on Feb. 18, a week before former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould told the committee that she allegedly experienced pressure and “veiled threats” from the Prime Minister’s Office and others to interfere in the prosecution of the giant Quebec engineering firm.
Wilson-Raybould has alleged that Butts told her she “needed to find a solution” on the SNC-Lavalin file and that he didn’t “like the law” set up by former prime minister Stephen Harper that prevented Wilson-Raybould from stepping in.
Wilson-Raybould also read the committee text messages from her chief of staff, alleging that Butts had said “there is no solution here that doesn’t involve some interference.”
Here are five things to know about Butts.
Butts is one of Trudeau’s university buddies
Butts and Trudeau were born in 1971 and met two decades later at McGill University, where they were both English majors.
Butts was a decorated debater, twice winning the Canadian National Debating Championship. Trudeau was also on the team.
Butts told Trudeau biographer Althia Raj that they talked about Trudeau becoming prime minister, but the discussion wasn’t serious. “We talked about it like I'd like to be goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens.”
The two remained friends after school. Butts helped craft Trudeau’s well-received eulogy to his legendary father in 2000.
Three years later, they retraced P.E.T.’s famous canoe trip along the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.
Butts didn’t grow up in a rich or famous household
Butts wrote an ode to his own father, in which he revealed a bit about life in Cape Breton.
“During the 40 years my dad worked, 726 people drew their last breath deep underground in Nova Scotia, or due of mortal injuries sustained there,” he wrote. “The most tragic year in my lifetime was 1979. I was in Grade 3 when Number 26 Colliery exploded in late February. Twelve men were killed that awful, monstrous day.”
Butts also told the story of his dad’s calm approach to discipline after finding his underage son’s empty Jack Daniels bottle.
Butts helped Dalton McGuinty win with a positive message
Butts worked for former Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty as his principal secretary starting in 1999, and oversaw policy in the years leading up to McGuinty’s big victory in 2003.
McGuinty won the premier’s chair after portraying himself as a “positive” alternative to the Progressive Conservatives’ Ernie Eves, who was sending out attack ads.
In McGuinty’s victory speech, he said voters had “rejected the politics of division” – a phrase the Trudeau echoed in his campaign.
Butts pointed out Monday that Trudeau won after focusing on “being positive with his vision for the county” and “accomplished this without a single negative personal attack ad on any of his opponents."
Butts is okay with running deficits
McGuinty’s government promised to deal with “education deficits” and “health deficits” by continuing fiscal deficits, at least for the first few years of the mandate. Ontario has struggled to reduce its debt ever since, and Moody’s has downgraded the province’s outlook to “negative.”
Butts, however, has continued to promote deficit spending. In a 2014 interview with CTV’s Robert Fife, he called the federal Conservatives’ deficit budgets “relatively austere” and said not spending enough was a “big problem.”
Trudeau later campaigned on running “modest deficits” in order to allow more spending on infrastructure and social programs.
Butts worked as an environmental activist
In 2008, Butts took over World Wildlife Federation Canada (WWF), a non-profit organization committed to conservation and sustainable development.
During his time there, he said, “100 per cent sustainable, renewable energy is possible and economical by 2050 if we start the transition today.”
A number of NDP supporters were ridiculed for making a similar promise earlier this year, in part because of the impact that would have on the Alberta oil sands and economy.
However, in the 2014 interview with CTV’s Robert Fife, Butts acknowledged that “one of our most important (natural resources) is bitumen, is oil sands.”