Liberals shut down opposition bid to hear from ethics czar on SNC-Lavalin report

Liberal members of the House of Commons Ethics Committee have shut down an opposition bid to hear from Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion following the release of his report into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The committee met Wednesday to discuss whether Dion would be invited to testify about his recently-released report, which found that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had contravened the federal Conflict of Interest Act by seeking to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould in "many ways."

The commissioner found Trudeau acted improperly when he pushed Wilson-Raybould to seek a remediation agreement in the corruption charges against Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which would mean it would avoid criminal prosecution.

Opposition MPs from both the Conservative Party and the NDP penned letters to the chair of the ethics committee, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, requesting "that the Committee invite the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to brief the Committee on his report, and that the Committee invite any further witnesses as required based on the testimony of the Commissioner."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also sat in on the committee meeting. Dion had also indicated that, should the committee invite him to testify, he'd be waiting in the wings.

However, the Liberal majority on the committee voted against the motion and shut down the efforts to hear any testimony from the commissioner.  The only exception was Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. The Toronto-area MP voted in favour of inviting Dion to appear, citing his desire to directly question the ethics commissioner about concerns with Dion's legal analysis in the report .

"I thought inviting the commissioner would've been a measure to increase transparency and accountability, but also I fundamentally disagree with the legal analysis, I think the commissioner got this legally wrong in many ways and I want to ask questions about that as well," said Erskine-Smith.

But his vote wasn't enough to push the motion through.

"The only conclusion that I and members of this committee can come to is that the opposition seeks to prolong this process for reasons of politics, reasons of partisan games," said Liberal MP Steven MacKinnon during the meeting.

"It is for that reason, Mr. Chair, that we will be opposing this motion."

This represents a shift from the last time Trudeau was found to have contravened the Conflict of Interest Act due to his family vacation to the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas. When former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found Trudeau to have broken the rules in 2017, she debriefed the ethics committee and answered the members' questions for two hours.

According to The Canadian Press, Conservative MP Peter Kent, who sits on the ethics committee, said he had hoped – at the very least – for a debrief on the recent report into the SNC-Lavalin controversy. He had also wanted to ask Dion whether his office should have stronger investigative and punishing powers.

Kent said the Liberals' decision to vote against the motion was "disappointing."

"Our Liberal colleagues had a chance to do the right thing...instead they joined the prime minister in attempting this cover-up. They are complicit in his attempted obstruction of justice," Kent said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus' letter outlines that he would also like to hear testimony from others with an "intimate connection to the matters at the heart of the report," including Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and former chief of staff to the finance minister Ben Chin. He also asked that the committee hear testimony from the Clerk of the Privy Council "to explain his decision not [to] share critical Cabinet confidences with the Commissioner, who felt that his investigation was hampered by the refusal."

Angus' broader motion was also defeated.

"This is about damage control, because this is about the prime minister of the country thinking he's above the law of the land," said Angus.

"What we saw today is obstruction and it is a continuing of a pattern of obstruction."

This isn't the first time the Liberals on the ethics committee have shut down a study into the SNC-Lavalin issue. Following the conclusion of the House of Commons justice committee's study into the issue earlier this year, the opposition pushed for the ethics committee to pick up where the justice committee left off. The Liberals voted against conducting the study, saying it would be premature to consider the issue while Dion's investigation was ongoing.

Wednesday's decision might starve some oxygen from the SNC-Lavalin controversy, which the report had brought back to life just two months before the federal election. However, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has also been pushing for an RCMP investigation into the report's findings – a move that could also keep the controversy alive.

Scheer has been telling reporters since the report's release that he believes there is enough evidence to warrant an RCMP investigation into the issue. Wilson-Raybould also revealed last week that the RCMP had contacted her in regards to the SNC-Lavalin affair in the spring.

The RCMP recently confirmed to CTV News that they are looking into the issue.

"The RCMP is examining this matter carefully with all available information and will take appropriate actions as required. It would be inappropriate for us to provide anymore comments on this matter at this time," it said in a statement.

Wilson-Raybould said she has not been contacted by the RCMP in the time since the ethics commissioner's report came out.

With files from The Canadian Press