Trudeau, Wilson-Raybould have ‘cordial’ conversation about ‘next steps’ [UPDATED]
She and Jane Philpott to remain in the Liberal caucus despite criticism of government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he spoke with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould last week about a way forward following her allegations of political interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Speaking in Maple Ridge, B.C. on Monday, Trudeau said he spoke with Wilson-Raybould March 18 and that the conversation was “cordial.” They discussed “next steps,” but Trudeau did not elaborate on what that meant.
Trudeau is also signalling that Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott will remain in the Liberal caucus despite their outspoken criticism of his government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“I look forward to continuing to engage with both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott as they make their way forward,” Trudeau said.
“They have both indicated they look forward to running again as Liberals in the next election and I look forward to continuing to have their strong and thoughtful voices as part of our team.”
Almost a month ago Wilson-Raybould appeared at the House of Commons justice committee where she said Trudeau and other top government officials repeatedly pressured her to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for bribery in its business dealings in Libya. She testified she was shuffled to the veterans affairs portfolio because she didn’t agree.
Trudeau denies anything improper occurred.
The same day Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould spoke, Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, announced he would leave his post before the fall election, citing a loss of trust with the opposition parties. Wilson-Raybould accused him of being among a group of top officials that pushed her to help SNC-Lavalin land a deferred prosecution agreement _ a kind of plea deal to avoid criminal prosecution that involves paying fines and being monitored for a length of time.
It was also the day Trudeau appointed former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan to look into whether the job of justice minister and attorney general should be split.
The day after the two spoke, the Liberals on the Commons justice committee voted to end the committee probe of the SNC-Lavalin matter, saying they had heard from enough witnesses. And three days after that Wilson-Raybould wrote to that committee saying she would provide a written statement, as well as emails and text messages, that corroborate and clarify both her earlier testimony and that of witnesses who came after her.
These developments have only added fuel to Opposition parties’ desires to see a full public airing of details of the SNC-Lavalin affair, which has become one of the biggest political controversies the Trudeau Liberals have yet faced.
Opposition MPs on the House of Commons ethics committee will push for a fresh investigation of Wilson-Raybould’s allegations when the committee meets on Tuesday. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Monday Trudeau should fully waive confidentiality for both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott so they can testify freely.
“If they really want us to believe that they want the truth to come out, if Justin Trudeau truly has nothing to hide, he will make it official _ he will send a letter to Ms. Wilson-Raybould and now Ms. Philpott, allowing them to complete their testimony, to speak freely and openly,” Scheer said.
Philpott breathed new life into the controversy last week in a published interview with Maclean’s magazine where she said there is “much more” to the story that has not been told.
Liberal MPs are challenging both former cabinet ministers to have their say publicly and be done with the issue.
Wilson-Raybould and Philpott could speak under the shield of parliamentary privilege, which protects parliamentarians from legal ramifications for anything they say in the House of Commons, but Scheer maintains this privilege does not nullify an oath of cabinet confidentiality.
Trudeau said Monday whether or not Wilson-Raybould or Philpott speak further is up to them but he indicated no willingness to expand the confidentiality waiver.
New Democrats Charlie Angus and Daniel Blaikie reached out Sunday to an international economic group that oversees a global anti-bribery convention asking it to pay attention to recent developments in this case, including the justice committee ending its investigation.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development said earlier this month it is “concerned” by the accusations and would determine if Canada was offside with the convention.
Angus said the Liberals promised the OECD the investigation would be robust and independent.
“Well, the justice committee got shut down, that’s not robust,” he said.
SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce also issued a “clarification statement” Monday afternoon backtracking on statements he made in an interview last week in which he said the company never cited the protection of 9,000 Canadian jobs as a reason it should get a remediation agreement to avoid a criminal trial.
The company never threatened government, but did make it clear through its lobbying efforts that getting an agreement would be the “best way to protect and grow the almost 9,000 direct Canadian SNC-Lavalin jobs,” SNC-Lavalin said in its statement.