Wilson-Raybould says she wants opportunity to 'speak my truth'
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2019 4:25AM EST
Last Updated Wednesday, February 20, 2019 5:29PM EST
OTTAWA – Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons Wednesday that she hopes to have "the opportunity to speak my truth," as the SNC-Lavalin affair continues to play out on Parliament Hill.
In her first remarks in the Commons chamber since the scandal erupted, she appeared to take aim at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying the decision to waive solicitor-client privilege is not a decision for her to make.
These comments came as she rose to formally register that she would be abstaining from two votes on an NDP motion that called for the government to launch an independent public inquiry into the scandal that broke nearly two weeks ago. That's when the Globe and Mail first cited unnamed sources who alleged that the PMO pressured Wilson-Raybould -- who was the attorney general at the time -- to have federal prosecutors pursue a remediation agreement rather than criminal prosecution in a corruption and fraud case against SNC-Lavalin. In a subsequent story, the Globe has reported that Trudeau met with Wilson-Raybould after federal prosecutors determined that SNC-Lavalin would not be granted a remediation agreement.
The motion, which also implored the prime minister to waive solicitor-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak, was defeated by the Liberals with a vote of 134 in favour and 160 against.
Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday in between the votes that she didn’t think it was appropriate for her to vote on the motion because she was directly implicated in the proposal.
"I have said that I am seeking counsel on this matter of what I can and cannot say. I understand fully that Canadians want to know the truth and want transparency. Privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive and I hope that I have the opportunity to speak my truth," she said.
This was met with standing applause from the opposition benches and prompted calls to have Trudeau abstain from the votes as well. Though, he joined his caucus and voted against an independent public inquiry.
PM says 'airing' on affair welcome
Earlier in the day Trudeau said that an "airing" of the facts in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin affair is important, citing the existing committee and ethics commissioner probes as adequate avenues for this inquiry.
As part of these examinations, Trudeau said he welcomes Wilson Raybould testifying before the House Justice Committee. He said this to reporters on his way into the first Liberal caucus meeting on the Hill since Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet and his principal secretary Gerald Butts resigned, while denying any wrongdoing.
"We have a number of things going on. There’s the ethics commissioner who is doing an investigation into this issue. The parliamentary committee is seized with it," Trudeau said.
Over a week ago, federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion's office announced 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. These investigations often take months to conclude.
Lametti testifying Thursday
Meanwhile, the House of Commons Justice Committee plans to continue its probe into the matter on Thursday after an about-face from the Liberal MPs, who on Tuesday voted in favour of calling Wilson-Raybould to testify as part of its study.
The Liberal House Justice Committee members have twice shot down opposition requests to call anyone from the PMO, or Butts, to appear, though that’s now an avenue of inquiry that Conservative senators are keen to see revived in the Upper Chamber.
The study will feature academics on the underlying legal aspects at the heart of the affair: the legal provision tucked into a recent omnibus bill known as remediation or deferred prosecution agreements, the Shawcross doctrine—which has to do with the independence of the attorney general in making decisions—and the discussions between the AG and government colleagues on SNC-Lavalin.
Attorney General and Justice Minister David Lametti will be the first witness to appear on Thursday, followed by his deputy minster Nathalie Drouin, and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m.
"We'll be hearing from her, we’ll be hearing from experts, we'll be hearing from a range of people. It’ll make the determination as to who it needs to hear from, but I think it is important that there be an airing on this situation," Trudeau said.
As for whether she’ll be able to actually say anything when she appears at committee, expected on Monday, will be determined by whether the prime minister waives solicitor-client privilege or both sides are able to find a way to reveal more details of the still unconfirmed allegations.
Wilson-Raybould attends caucus
Speaking to media on her way to the caucus meeting, Wilson-Raybould said she knows her continued deferral to solicitor-client privilege is "frustrating for many people," and that is why she is seeking legal advice, "to be able to ensure that I am confident in what I can and cannot say," when she appears before committee. Trudeau is also seeking advice from the government’s lawyer, Lametti, about the potential to waive solicitor-client privilege in this case. Lametti said on Tuesday he’d be advising the prime minister "in due course."
As Liberal MPs exited their caucus meeting Wednesday, Lametti was asked again about whether his advice will come before she's set to testify, and he would not comment.
Wilson-Raybould would not comment on what was discussed during the meeting, and whether she addressed more than 170 of her colleagues, but Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said that the "mood and the human feelings were just fine," inside the room.
"On the basis of what I have heard I am satisfied," Goodale said when asked if he is confident that nothing untoward happened after hearing from Wilson-Raybould. He defended the ongoing probes as "orderly" and "logical."
Asked whether there may be a patch back to cabinet after all that’s transpired, Goodale said: "anything is possible."
"I recognize this is a very difficult situation and one that’s going to take a lot of hard work and careful thought. Whether that bridge or path can be built or found remains to be seen," he said.
Longtime Liberal MP Wayne Easter classified it as an "honest and straightforward discussion" and said that the caucus is united.
Trudeau also stated that he apologized to Wilson-Raybould during that caucus meeting, for not condemning sooner the personal attacks against her by unnamed Liberal sources in the days after the SNC-Lavalin controversy began unfolding.