Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick to quit before October election

OTTAWA -- Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, the country's top bureaucrat, is leaving his job, telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an open letter that recent events show him there is no path for a ``relationship of mutual trust'' if the Conservatives or NDP form the next government.

In his letter to Trudeau, posted publicly Monday, Wernick says he plans to leave his post before this fall's federal election campaign kicks off, partly because the clerk needs to be viewed as ``an impartial arbiter of whether serious foreign interference has occurred'' as part of a new federal watchdog panel.

Wernick has been clerk of the Privy Council since 2016, shortly after the Liberals assumed office.

But he has come under fire in the past few weeks after being accused by former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould of being among a number of officials, including Trudeau and his senior staff, who pressured her to head off criminal charges for SNC-Lavalin.

NDP MP Charlie Angus called on Wernick to resign over his involvement.

``I think once we saw how much of an active political player Mr. Wernick was in the SNC scandal, it became impossible for him to carry on his job, which is to have the trust of all parliamentarians on key matters of policy,'' Angus said . ``He couldn't continue in that role.''

Angus also said Wernick should have ``known better'' in the way he presented himself before the House of Commons justice committee to testify on the SNC-Lavalin affair, suggesting he was ``combative'' and failed to provide clear answers to MPs.

``He served our country for many years and in many capacities, but in this scandal, he was serving the prime minister and not the people of Canada.''

Wernick has maintained everything he did was within the boundaries of acceptable behaviour for his job of aiding the prime minister and cabinet as a non-partisan public servant.

He is not leaving immediately.

``The timing of my retirement is something we should discuss, as your government will have a busy cabinet agenda until the end of the parliamentary session, and you will want to seek advice on how best to address succession,'' his letter to the prime minister says.

Trudeau thanked Wernick in a statement for his nearly 38 years in the federal public service, and said Ian Shugart, currently the deputy minister of foreign affairs, will replace Wernick.