Liberal cabinet ministers are backing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the Ethics Commissioner’s scathing finding that he broke Canada’s conflict-of-interest rules by orchestrating his government’s efforts to obtain an out-of-court settlement for SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
The Globe and Mail asked all 34 cabinet ministers if they agreed with Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s finding that Mr. Trudeau used his office to attempt to improperly further the private interests of the Quebec engineering giant and to discredit former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould. All ministers responded, expressing support for the Prime Minister’s defence of his actions. Some ministers simply said they would “refer to the Prime Minister’s comments.”
Mr. Dion’s report, released Wednesday, said the Prime Minister directed his staff to find a solution that would protect SNC-Lavalin’s business interests. The Ethics Commissioner also said Mr. Trudeau used his authority to “circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit” Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who refused to intervene in the prosecution of the company.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet in February after what she described as months of political pressure from officials in the Prime Minister’s Office to direct federal prosecutors to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott resigned soon after, citing concerns about the pressure exerted on Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Mr. Trudeau ejected both MPs from caucus in April, saying trust had been broken.
Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly said he accepts Mr. Dion’s report and takes responsibility for what happened but can’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs that he says were at stake because of SNC-Lavalin’s legal and financial problems.
All ministers who responded defended the Prime Minister, with most saying that Mr. Trudeau has taken responsibility for the SNC-Lavalin affair and has the duty to stand up for Canadian jobs.
“The Prime Minister made it clear [Wednesday] that while he disagrees with some of the report’s conclusions, he accepts the report and takes full responsibility. As a government, we have the responsibility to stand up for Canadians, their jobs and livelihood and I support our Prime Minister for doing so,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said “as an MP and minister from Quebec, I am proud that my Prime Minister has stood up to protect jobs in my province and across Canada.”
Many ministers echoed the Prime Minister in saying they disagree with the Ethics Commissioner’s conclusion.
“The Commissioner took a strong view that any contact with the Attorney-General was improper. We disagree with that, particularly in the light that we have to stand up for jobs,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office referred to comments she made at a press conference in Musquodoboit Harbour, N.S., on Thursday, where she said she has “full confidence” in Mr. Trudeau.
"I will remind people that the Prime Minister responded [Wednesday]. He accepted the report and, very importantly, he took full responsibility for the actions that the Commissioner discussed,” Ms. Freeland said.
Ministers also repeatedly said the Liberal government looks forward to adopting recommendations made by former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, who was asked to study whether the roles of attorney-general and justice minister should be split. Ms. McLellan’s report was also released Wednesday and concluded there is no need to separate the roles in order to prevent political interference in federal prosecutions.
“Former deputy prime minister and attorney-general Anne McLellan has made important recommendations about how to strengthen the openness, transparency and accountability of Canadian institutions and I look forward to implementing them,” said Employment Minister Patricia Hajdu.
Others also used the opportunity to highlight the government’s work in their ministerial portfolio.
“Canadians want to see the right approach taken on these matters, and we know that they are also concerned about a range of other issues too, like tackling climate change and growing a strong economy,” said Environment Minister Catherine McKenna.