Trudeau says ethics watchdog to decide truth in SNC-Lavalin affair
OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it will be up to the country's ethics watchdog to decide who is telling the truth in the SNC-Lavalin affair – himself, or former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Yesterday, Wilson-Raybould detailed what she described as a relentless campaign, including veiled threats, from Trudeau, his senior staff, Canada's top public servant and the finance minister's office, for her to intervene and order a “remediation agreement” for the company to help it avoid criminal corruption charges.
SNC-Lavalin faces fraud and corruption charges regarding efforts to land business deals in Libya and has hoped to sign a “remediation agreement” to allow it to pay a fine and avoid a trial. A conviction on the charges could mean a ban on bidding for federal contracts for 10 years.
Speaking in suburban Montreal Thursday morning, Trudeau said he totally disagrees with how Wilson-Raybould described discussions she had with him and others about the case.
The prime minister said the federal ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, will settle disagreements over what happened.
“Canadians need to know that we have an officer of Parliament who is tasked with a specific role to make sure that in questions where there are disagreements amongst politicians, amongst elected officials, there is an arbiter who is empowered to be like a judge, who is an officer of Parliament, who will make a determination in this issue,” Trudeau said after an announcement at the Canadian Space Agency.
“So, while political parties and various people are making, or trying to draw a lot of attention to this issue, there is a process, both at the justice committee and indeed at the ethics commissioner, that will make a determination on what actually happened here.”
Over more than three hours of testimony Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould told the Commons justice committee of 10 meetings and 10 phone calls involving 11 people between September and December 2018, all aimed at getting her to “politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada.”
Wilson-Raybould detailed a September meeting she said she had with Trudeau where he brought up the possibility of SNC-Lavalin leaving Quebec and the spectre of job losses during a provincial election campaign.
Asked Thursday, Trudeau wouldn't say if the company had told him it planned to move its headquarters if it couldn't avoid criminal prosecution in Canada.
He said there were “many and broad conversations about the importance of defending jobs” across the country and there was “no doubt” those discussions didn't cross any legal lines.
“Canadians expect their government to look for ways to protect jobs, to grow the economy, and that's exactly what we've done every step of the way,” Trudeau said. “We've also done it in a way that has respected our laws, and respected the independence of the judiciary – of that there actually is no doubt. There are disagreements in perspective on this, but I can reassure Canadians that we were doing our job and were doing it in a way that respects and defends our institutions.”
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled to the veterans-affairs portfolio in January, a move she believed was a result of her not doing as Trudeau and his staff wanted, even though they denied that was the case.
As for Wilson-Raybould's future as a Liberal, Trudeau said he is still mulling over whether she will be allowed to remain in caucus.
“I have taken knowledge of her testimony and there are still reflections to have on next steps,” he said.