ALLEGATIONS OF COVERUP
Liberals faced accusations of a coverup Wednesday after they agreed to hold limited committee hearings into an allegation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was improperly pressured to help SNCLavalin avoid criminal prosecution.Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the Liberals were attempting to create “a diversion” instead of holding a proper investigation.The accusation was launched as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a backlash within and outside his own party after Wilson-Raybould’s sudden resignation from his cabinet.Trudeau’s own MPs are nervous, wondering about going into an election campaign with this saga hanging over them and concerned about a lack of communication from the Prime Minister’s Office.“I’m hearing from several MPs they aren’t happy with communications in general,” said Greg MacEachern, a senior vice-president at Proof Strategies and a former Liberal staffer when Paul Martin was prime minister.Meanwhile, Trudeau’s repeated claims that Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples is the most important one this country has are being called into question as Indigenous leaders line up behind Wilson-Raybould and decry criticism of her as racist and sexist.“It’s a heavy blow to see how she has been treated,” said Cheryl Casimer, political executive for the First Nations Summit, a group that includes most British Columbia First Nations and tribal councils.Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said a “smear campaign” initiated in Ottawa against Wilson-Raybould has angered Indigenous people across the country.“Everyone within the Indigenous community, rank and file, grassroots, in every single community, Facebook, social media, everyone is talking about how upset and angry they are at the prime minister’s callous dismissal of such a committed, dedicated and principled person such as Jody Wilson-Raybould,” Phillip said.The prime minister, meanwhile, was sticking to his message that Wilson-Raybould had a duty to speak up months ago if she had concerns about the way the government was handling the SNCLavalin case.At a short appearance in Sudbury, Ont., Trudeau dodged a question about what reason Wilson-Raybould gave about why she resigned from cabinet, leaving the microphone rather than answering.In Ottawa, the SNCLavalin controversy shifted to the House of Commons justice committee, where MPs had to decide whether to investigate the allegations of undue political arm-twisting.Despite hopes that the committee would be able to hold a non-partisan inquiry, it quickly split along party lines.The Liberals approved their own motion with a shortlist of three proposed witnesses that did not even include Wilson-Raybould.Liberals want to hear from current Justice Minister David Lametti, clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and the deputy justice minister, Nathalie Drouin — although more could be added next week after getting legal advice, behind closed doors, on what steps the committee needs to take to avoid interfering with two ongoing court cases involving SNC-Lavalin.The five Liberal MPs on the justice committee used their majority to block an opposition motion that would have seen the committee hear from nine key players in the controversy, including Wilson-Raybould, Lametti, Wernick and senior aides in Trudeau’s office, including chief of staff Katie Telford and principal secretary Gerald Butts.The Liberals defeated an attempt by New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen to strike a compromise of six witnesses, adding Butts and two other senior PMO aides who were heavily involved in the SNCLavalin file.They also defeated a Conservative motion calling on Trudeau to immediately waive solicitor-client privilege, which Wilson-Raybould has cited as preventing her from commenting on the allegation.The Liberal motion calls on the committee to study the legal principles at the root of the controversy — including the recently added Criminal Code provision that made it legal to negotiate remediation agreements in cases of corporate corruption, a form of plea bargain in which a company pays restitution, but avoids criminal prosecution that could bankrupt it.The motion also included looking at the so-called Shawcross doctrine, which spells out the degree to which an attorney general may consult with cabinet colleagues about a prosecution.“That is not an investigation, that is simply going through the motions,” Cullen said after the meeting, accusing the Liberals of “battening down the hatches” to prevent any truth from coming to light.“Liberals seem to think that this should be just a sort of study group, a book club to look at all sorts of interesting ideas about the law rather than the scandal that’s right in front of Canadians.”Cooper said, “At the end of the day, this is really not that complicated. This is about the fact that certain officials in the PMO were alleged to have put pressure on the former attorney general to interfere in a criminal investigation, nothing more, nothing less ... The Liberals aren’t interested in that. They’re interested in covering this up.”Liberal MP Randy Bois- sonnault, who proposed the successful motion, defended the Liberals’ refusal to call Wilson-Raybould to hear her side of the story. He said she’s bound by a rule that prohibits a former minister from commenting on her previous portfolio and by solicitor-client privilege, noting that Wilson-Raybould has hired a former Supreme Court justice to advise her on what she can say.“I think it’s important for Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak to Canadians on her own terms. It doesn’t need to be something we do here at the justice committee,” he said.Wilson-Raybould was demoted to the veterans affairs post in a January cabinet shuffle. A Globe and Mail report, attributed to unnamed sources, last week alleged the PMO leaned on her instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin rather than see the company go to court on charges of bribing Libyan officials.Trudeau has denied any improper pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould and maintains she never mentioned any concern about that to him.Prior to the committee meeting, Raitt said if Liberals believe Trudeau, they should support “without hesitation” the opposition motion for a full investigation into the affair.“But if they defeat or they water it down in any way, it is nothing less than an admission of guilt.”Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is touring New Brunswick, repeated the same message a short time later. He accused Trudeau of “trying to paint himself as the victim in all of this,” while “publicly impugning (Wilson-Raybould’s) character in a way that prevents her from speaking for herself.”LIBERALS SEEM TO THINK THAT THIS SHOULD BE JUST A STUDY GROUP, A BOOK CLUB.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visits Sudbury, Ont., Wednesday, where he continued to say that Jody Wilson-Raybould failed in her duty to speak out about the SNC-Lavalin case.
Chair Anthony Housefather arrives at the House justice committee Wednesday, which moved to limit witnesses, and not hear from Jody Wilson-Raybould or the PMO.
© PressReader. All rights reserved.