PM Trudeau says 'erosion of trust' behind SNC-Lavalin scandal
Published Thursday, March 7, 2019 4:38AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, March 7, 2019 2:24PM EST
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that there was “no inappropriate pressure” placed on Jody Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin file, as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer again called for Trudeau to resign over the matter.
Trudeau said an “erosion of trust” between himself and Wilson-Raybould led to the blow-up which has seen the former attorney general and justice minister quit cabinet and declare that she has no confidence in the government under Trudeau.
While acknowledging that he could have acted differently as events around SNC-Lavalin unfolded, Trudeau stopped short of apologizing for the interactions he and other senior officials had with the former attorney general and justice minister about the Quebec engineering giant's case.
"Each of these interactions was a conversation among colleagues about how to tackle the challenging issue. Each came at a time when my staff and I believed that former minister of justice and attorney general was open to considering other aspects of the public interest, however, I now understand that she saw it differently," Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa.
Scheer spoke later in the day, reiterating his previous call for Trudeau to resign. He described Trudeau’s press conference as “a complete, phony act of fake sincerity” and accused the prime minister of lying to the country.
“It’s now beyond dispute that he and his office bullied and threatened Ms. Wilson-Raybould in an attempt to get her to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook. When she resisted these attempts, he fired her,” he said.
Scheer accused Trudeau of neglecting all other government business to focus on “damage control” around Wilson-Raybould and SNC-Lavalin.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has called for an independent public inquiry into the matter, tweeted that he saw Trudeau’s remarks as the Prime Minister “blaming everyone but himself” and attempting to discredit Wilson-Raybould’s claims.
“The ‘erosion of trust’ is with [Canadians],” he said.
Trudeau said that he was not aware of the breakdown of the relationship with Wilson-Raybould and he should have been. He also confirmed that he did raise that he was the MP for Papineau, Que. in a conversation with Wilson-Raybould on this file, but denied that it was done in a partisan way. He said it was about defending jobs and the community that he represents.
Asked for his thoughts on whether Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott – the former Treasury Board president who left cabinet Monday out of solidarity with Wilson-Raybould – could remain in the Liberal caucus, Trudeau noted that both women had stated a desire to stay.
Thursday’s press conference also saw Trudeau reference his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who he does not often talk about publicly. He said that he has always considered the Ministry of Justice to be “of particular importance and interest” due to his father’s influence.
“Throughout his career, he was dedicated to that principle of justice – the just society, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and his approach of justice and fairness infused everything he did and certainly was something that he raised me with,” he said.
The prime minister has announced that he plans to seek external expert advice on the dual role of minister of justice and attorney general, and the operating policies of cabinet, the public service and political staff in regards to how they handle legal matters.
Central to this scandal was Wilson-Raybould holding both titles at the time she alleges she faced high-level "veiled threats" and months of "sustained" pressure to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, which is facing bribery and corruption charges in Libya. That’s because of a principle that asserts that an attorney general is able to consult cabinet colleagues but cannot be directed or considerably pushed towards making a decision related to a prosecution.
Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons Justice Committee last week that she had faced a months-long campaign of political interference. The committee heard Wednesday from Gerald Butts, who explained the series of events as normal government business. Butts resigned as Trudeau’s top adviser two weeks after the story was first reported in The Globe and Mail.