PM Trudeau 'surprised and disappointed' by Wilson-Raybould's resignation
Published Tuesday, February 12, 2019 11:38AM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2019 12:09AM EST
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he is "surprised and disappointed" by Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould's resignation from cabinet.
Wilson-Raybould resigned "with a heavy heart" Tuesday and announced she is seeking legal advice on speaking publicly about the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Her high-profile departure from Trudeau's front bench came amid ongoing questions over whether the prime minister or anyone in his office tried to pressure Wilson-Raybould to abandon the prosecution of a case against SNC-Lavalin when she was justice minister and attorney general.
Trudeau said Tuesday evening that he was "both surprised and disappointed by her decision to step down," because her resignation was "not consistent" with their recent conversations.
The Globe and Mail reported last week that the Prime Minister's Office allegedly tried to influence Wilson-Raybould to ask prosecutors to make a deal to pursue a remediation agreement rather than a criminal prosecution in the corruption and fraud case against the Quebec-based engineering and construction company. CTV News has not independently verified the story.
Trudeau has denied it, and to date Wilson-Raybould has said that, as the former AG, she is "bound by solicitor-client privilege in this matter," and has not commented to either confirm or deny reports she was pressured.
On the question of the SNC-Lavalin case, Trudeau said "the government of Canada did its job," followed the rules, and that if any member of the government felt differently they had an obligation to raise that with him, and no one did, Wilson-Raybould included.
"She said nothing of that to me," Trudeau said.
Remediation agreements are a relatively new mechanism in Canada. The Liberals amended the Criminal Code through an omnibus bill in 2018 to implement what are also referred to as Deferred Prosecution Agreements. If the company was convicted they'd be banned from securing Canadian government contracts for a decade, potentially putting Canadian jobs on the line.
"I… to be honest don’t entirely understand why Jody Wilson-Raybould made the decision that she did," Trudeau said about her resignation. "I continue to be puzzled."
His comments were the most involved he has offered to date on the affair that has rocked Parliament Hill.
Trudeau's office said the prime minister was made aware Monday night that Wilson-Raybould would be resigning from cabinet. Trudeau called an emergency teleconference cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss her departure.
On Monday, Trudeau said that that he still had "full confidence" in Wilson-Raybould and that he respected her citing solicitor-client privilege as the reason why she has not yet publicly commented on the reported allegations.
'Allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak'
In her letter of resignation as Veterans Affairs Minister Wilson-Raybould said she has retained former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to provide advice about speaking publicly about the scandal, as she has been called on to do since the news broke last week.
"I am aware that many Canadians wish for me [to] speak on matters that have been in the media over the last week. I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss," Wilson-Raybould said in the letter.
Responding to her resignation, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau to preserve all documents related to the ongoing "affair." He sent a letter to the prime minister asking that "all documents including memos, letters, emails, pins, SMS messages, and handwritten notes' pertaining to the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin" are saved, including records held by Wilson-Raybould, her replacement Lametti, and senior PMO officials.
In his statement, Scheer said Wilson-Raybould's resignation "is a sign of a government in disarray."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh renewed his call to waive solicitor-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak despite having been the government's lawyer. Trudeau said on Monday that he had asked current Justice Minister David Lametti to advise him on the possibility and get back to him with recommendations.
"Wilson-Raybould said she 'spoke truth to power' and that the justice system should be ‘free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence.’ We call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and on the current Minister of Justice David Lametti to allow Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak about this affair," Singh said.
Sajjan acting as Vets' minister
With Wilson-Raybould bowing out of her portfolio a month after being shuffled into it, defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been named acting veterans affairs minister. It remains unclear if a permanent replacement will be named or if Sajjan, who is also a B.C. MP, will stay on in an acting capacity through to the end of this Parliament.
When Wilson-Raybould was removed as Canada's first-ever Indigenous justice minister it was viewed by some as a demotion. The opposition parties are now framing it as the result of allegedly not following the PMO’s orders in the SNC-Lavalin case.
"This decision is in no way a reflection of my desire to see your service and sacrifice upheld and honoured. I only wish that I could have served you longer," Wilson-Raybould said in her resignation letter.
In a tweet, Sajjan thanked Wilson-Raybould for her work in the role and said it is a "privilege" for him to take on responsibility of serving Canadian veterans.
"We are as committed as ever to ensuring that Canada's veterans receive the care and support of a grateful nation," Trudeau said.
'Taught me so much'
Wilson-Raybould said she intends to stay on as the MP for Vancouver-Granville and thanked her constituents, staff, officials, and "all Canadians," for their support. She did not thank the prime minister. In the letter Wilson-Raybould does not give a reason for her resignation.
"When I sought federal elected office, it was with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians and a different way of doing politics…. This work must and will carry on," she said.
It was about a year ago that Trudeau stood in the House of Commons and spoke about a new legislative framework to respect Indigenous rights and self-determination. Throughout her time in Parliament Wilson-Raybould has made indications she was dissatisfied with the government’s progress on restoring the nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous people.
"Our government’s commitment to reconciliation is larger than any one person," Trudeau said on Monday evening.
In a tweet that was "liked" by Liberal minister Jane Philpott’s personal account, Wilson-Raybould's sister said that "no matter what the cost one must never comprise and honour our ancestors who fought and sacrificed to ensure that we are free to help build a better Canada."
Not long after, Philpott tweeted that Wilson-Raybould "taught me so much- particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice... I know you will continue to serve Canadians."
Earlier Tuesday, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs called on Trudeau to "categorically publicly condemn the racist and sexist innuendo about Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that is being spread by unnamed elected officials and staff of your government in media reports."
Citing stories that emerged over the weekend citing unnamed government sources about Wilson-Raybould being "difficult to get along with," the group called it an "attempt to save face and initiate damage control about the purported wrongdoings of your office by attacking and discrediting a prominent Indigenous woman."
Singh echoed this in his statement, referencing Wilson-Raybould’s initial appointment to cabinet. "This seemed like a move towards reconciliation, but this treatment of her is not acceptable and raises lots of questions," Singh said.
Ethics and committee probes
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner announced on Monday that he has launched an investigation in the case because he has "reason to believe that a possible contravention" of the Conflict of Interest Act has occurred, specifically regarding a public office holder seeking to improperly influence a decision of another person.
Trudeau has said that he "welcomes" the probe, which is the fifth involving his cabinet since taking office in 2015.
This renewed calls for the House of Commons Justice Committee to conduct a study on the matter. MPs will be convening in Ottawa Wednesday to discuss the possibility calling on Wilson-Raybould and several other high-profile government officials to testify.
Among the staffers that the Conservatives and NDP want to hear from at the committee: Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Gerald Butts; Senior Advisors Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard; and Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff Jessica Prince.
The Conservatives have reached out directly to the six Liberal MPs who hold the majority on the House Justice Committee, and have encouraged party supporters to call their offices imploring them to vote in support of the motion to conduct the study.
On CTV's Power Play, committee chair and Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said that he thinks the Liberal caucus believes the prime minister, but he is leaning towards thinking the committee should still look into the matter in some capacity.
"Canadians want to know whether or not the attorney general was improperly subjected to pressure or directed to do a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin… and I think we should look into it," he said. "I think that Liberal MPs like most Canadians want to make sure the country is comfortable in knowing that what the prime minister has said is true… I trust the people involved and I’m willing to open the door to the extent that we need to."
Housefather said that there has been no pressure from above to the Liberals on the committee.
It's possible the committee could amend the language in the motion before them to change the scope or focus of the proposed study.