Liberals delay debate on whether to bring Wilson-Raybould back to testify

Liberal MPs have delayed debate on a motion to bring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould back before the House of Commons Justice Committee.

The decision means that there are no answers yet as to whether she will be allowed to appear before the committee once again to give additional details about meetings relating to the prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The debate will take place behind closed doors on March 19, the same day the federal budget is set to be released.

"The committee’s already expressed its wishes, on March 6, to have this particular hearing on March 19. So it’s as simple as that," said Liberal MP Francis Drouin, who brought forward the motion to adjourn debate.

When he did so, the room erupted. Opposition MPs cried "coverup" and "shame."

The request to bring Wilson-Raybould back before committee came from opposition MPs, who argued that she must be given the opportunity to speak again because of the inconsistencies between Wilson-Raybould's testimony and the subsequent testimonies from the prime minister’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick.

In her Feb. 27 committee appearance, Wilson-Raybould claimed she was subjected to "consistent and sustained" efforts to pressure her into seeking a remediation agreement deal with SNC-Lavalin. The firm has been slapped with corruption charges in response to its dealings with contracts in Libya.

Conservative MPs allege a "cover up"

Conservative MPs have previously said a Liberal refusal to allow Wilson-Raybould to appear before the committee would be tantamount to an effort to "cover up" the issue. Following Wednesday’s meeting, Tory MPs doubled down on the sentiment.

"He sent in his majority to shut down that discussion without a debate and ensure that Canadians will never know the truth," Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said.

He also implied the date of the meeting, which coincides with the announcement of the federal budget, is no accident.

"What they've said is they're going to go in a secret meeting next Tuesday where they can shut it down and distract from the scandal with the budget. That is what happened today," Poilievre said.

However, Poilievre insisted that – even if the government decides against inviting Wilson-Raybould back during Tuesday's closed-door meeting – his party has no intention of dropping the issue. He even suggested they might consider inviting the former justice minister to appear as a witness before other committees.

"We will use every tool in the parliamentary tool kit in order to pressure the government and the prime minister to stop his coverup and let Jody Wilson-Raybould speak. We’ll have more news on that in the days ahead," Poilievre said.

NDP continues call for independent inquiry

The NDP, who partnered with the Conservatives in bringing this motion to the table, were also frustrated by Wednesday's development.

NDP MP Tracey Ramsey called the decision to adjourn debate "outrageous."

"This is a very extreme move at any committee to try to stop the conversation from continuing and it's very disappointing to Canadians to see the Liberals using this tool today to end the debate, to end the possibility of Ms. Wilson-Raybould coming back before the committee," Ramsey said.

She said the Liberals signalled to Canadians that they are simply "not interested in the truth" and continued to echo NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh's call for an independent public inquiry into the allegations of political interference.

"What we saw is just even more of an argument for us to have an independent public inquiry," Ramsey said.

Committee to reconvene behind closed doors

The committee will reconvene on March 19 for their meeting where they will not only decide whether Wilson-Raybould will be invited back before the committee, but will also determine other witnesses they may wish to speak.

The opposition has already floated their interest in certain names, including the prime minister’s senior advisers Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard.

Given the fact that the meeting will be shrouded behind a closed door, the public will not be informed of any next steps until after its adjournment.

Recap from the committee meeting. Don't see the feed below? Click here