Wilson-Raybould says she shouldn't be removed from caucus
Published Monday, April 1, 2019 3:35PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, April 1, 2019 8:40PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Jody Wilson-Raybould says she "does not believe" she should be removed from caucus, despite some of her Liberal colleagues questioning whether she has a future with the party after she released secretly-recorded audio of a conversation she had with Canada's top civil servant about SNC-Lavalin.
"I do not believe that I should be removed from caucus for doing my job and doing what I believe is right," Wilson-Raybould told reporters on Parliament Hill late Monday.
In the roughly six-minute scrum Wilson-Raybould said she is "committed" to remaining a Liberal MP, though that decision may soon not be hers to make.
Throughout the day, several Liberal MPs spoke out, saying they expect the entire caucus will soon debate whether she should be allowed to stay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had no comment on the matter when asked by CTV News on Parliament Hill Monday evening.
MPs expressed disappointment and condemnation of B.C. MP Wilson-Raybould over her decision to record and subsequently make public a December conversation she had with outgoing Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick about SNC-Lavalin.
On Friday, a 17-minute audio file and 43 pages of additional material including a written statement, screen shots of text messages, and copies of emails that she referenced during her initial testimony Feb. 27, were made public through the House Justice Committee. This added more fodder to the continuously developing controversy that’s dominated political headlines for the last two months.
At the start of the recording Wilson-Raybould takes a deep breath before the conversation begins, then she can be heard issuing repeated and stern warnings that senior officials pressuring her over the SNC-Lavalin case would "look like nothing but political interference" if SNC-Lavalin were granted deferred prosecution. By the time of her recorded conversation with Wernick, Wilson-Raybould says she had already endured months of intense lobbying from such officials.
Over the weekend, Wernick’s lawyer Frank Addario condemned the recording, which he says his client was not aware existed until Friday. Wernick will soon be retiring from his job as Canada's top public servant, after opposition parties called for him to resign.
Monday evening Wilson-Raybould sought to defend herself. "I've heard some caucus members make comments. The conversation I had with the Clerk, he's not a member of the Liberal caucus, he's not my client by his own admission. I know that that was an extraordinary situation and of course I have reflected on it many times and still do," she said.
She said she spoke with members of her community over the weekend, as well as an unnamed "trusted adviser" about it and their response, according to Wilson-Raybould, was that it was a "reasonable, rational thing to do in an unreasonable and irrational situation," and that she felt she needed to protect herself.
The entire SNC-Lavalin affair centres on allegations from Wilson-Raybould that she faced sustained and improper pressure from senior government officials to interfere in a criminal case against Quebec engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin.
On Sunday, Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts tweeted that he has handed over texts and notes between he and Wilson-Raybould to the committee, after reviewing her newly-released evidence.
This evidence is expected to be made public by Tuesday at 3 p.m., and when asked whether she was concerned that it may contradict what she’s had to offer to the committee, Wilson-Raybould had no comment.
CTV News has previously reported that during the regularly-scheduled Wednesday caucus meeting, some Liberal MPs are expected to get up and call for Wilson-Raybould’s removal. Though, it is possible that the caucus could decide to hold an emergency meeting before then to address these inner-caucus tensions, and what some MPs say is a loss of trust.
On Monday, Wilson-Raybould was seen attending question period, sitting in her front-row seat on the government side of the Commons.
Wilson-Raybould said that while she hasn’t seen the totality of what her colleagues have been saying about her and the secret audio, she understands where they are coming from.
"I appreciate that this has been a really difficult time for, not only for myself and my family, but for caucus members and I recognize that," she said.
"For me fundamentally trust is an important thing and I can appreciate how members in the Liberal caucus might feel."
Liberal MPs 'angry'
Though, a number of her caucus colleagues don’t seem to be able to reciprocate that understanding, with many saying their trust has been broken.
"When the top lawyer in the country and the clerk of the Privy Council are having a conversation about something very important, it is totally inappropriate to record without notifying the other person. It is not an honourable thing to do," said Liberal cabinet minister and Quebec MP Marc Garneau.
He said caucus will have to decide whether Wilson-Raybould should remain a member of the team of 179 MPs.
Liberal minister and Quebec MP Melanie Joly said that "whether she's a team member or not is a conversation that we need to have within caucus."
Ontario Liberal MP Rob Oliphant said the Liberals have a "real problem" because he doesn't "feel safe" in caucus, as a result of Wilson-Raybould recording her conversation with Wernick. Oliphant said he would like to see caucus act before Wednesday’s meeting, because there is already a lot on the agenda for the meeting, as the calendar inches closer to the end of this Parliament. He said that among the people he has spoken to, the sentiment that it's time for Wilson-Raybould to go is "overwhelming."
Liberal minister and New Brunswick MP Ginette Petitpas Taylor said she is "looking forward to having a very honest conversation with all caucus colleagues this week, and then from there we’ll be able to come up with a decision."
"I think Jody Wilson-Raybould should be gone from caucus," said P.E.I. Liberal MP Wayne Easter, citing the taped conversation as the reason. "Was she working from a script?" he questioned, calling it "almost entrapment."
"I am angry," Easter said.
Question of ethics
Other Liberal MPs questioned why, if it was just for note-taking purposes, did she not tell Wernick at the time that she was recording the conversation. They said not doing so put her at an advantage.
Quebec Liberal MP Marc Miller called it "distressing" and "somewhat repugnant."
Law societies in Canada prohibit lawyers from knowingly recording conversations with clients without their knowledge, including the Law Society of Ontario, which Wilson-Raybould belongs to.
The society told CTV News that it "does not comment on possible breaches of the Rules of Professional Conduct."
In her written submission, Wilson-Raybould said she recorded the conversation because she "had reason to believe that it was likely to be an inappropriate conversation." She said she had never done this before, and has not done so since, recognizing that her recording of this conversation would otherwise be inappropriate, but she felt it was important to have accurate notes on what might be said.
Her unprecedented decision to then make the recording public as part of her submission was done, she says, to allow Canadians to decide for themselves whether Wernick’s comments amount to the "veiled threats" that she alleges, and which he denies.
Joly said that Wilson-Raybould "must think of what she has done and make sure that ultimately she can defend that it was ethical for her as a lawyer."
'Jane and I talk all the time'
In her comments to reporters, Wilson-Raybould said she still talks with fellow former cabinet minister and current Ontario Liberal MP Jane Philpott regularly.
"Jane and I talk all the time," she said.
Philpott worked closely with Wilson-Raybould on several high-profile files, and she resigned from cabinet in March, saying she had lost confidence in the way the government is handling the scandal. In an interview with Maclean's magazine weeks later, she stated that there is "much more to the story that needs to be told."
Asked if she agreed with Philpott that there is more to the story, Wilson-Raybould said she offered all she had to the justice committee, and that "as to other people or what else is left, that’s for other people to determine."
To a lesser extent, MPs have said that Philpott's place in the caucus is also up for discussion.
Longtime Ontario Liberal MP John McKay said he can’t see how either can stay, and personally he doesn't think they should.
"I think it's time for them to be given an opportunity to say why they should stay… We’ve got to deal with this, one way or another," he told reporters.
"All the formal and informal understandings of caucus solidarity have been breached and so there may be an explanation, I don't know what it might be, but I think it's time to make a decision."
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott have secured nominations to run under the Liberal banner in 2019 and both have indicated a desire to do so.
On Monday Wilson-Raybould said she still "believes strongly" in the values of the Liberal party and plans to keep working for her Vancouver-Granville, B.C. constituents.
"I value my colleagues and the work that they’re doing for their constituents. I’ve always said that I’m a Liberal member of Parliament, I’m committed to continuing as such as the member for Vancouver Granville because I believe in the values and the principles of the party and the mandate for which we were elected and that’s where I’m at," she said.
As for the unconfirmed and highly speculative rumours circulating Ottawa that her end game for raising issues over the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin file is to prompt a leadership challenge, Wilson-Raybould said "those are wild accusations and they are not rooted in any truth."