Liberal MPs used their majority to defeat a Conservative motion in the House of Commons on Wednesday calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to let Jody Wilson-Raybould testify more fully about the political repercussions from her refusal to drop a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. when she was the attorney-general.
The vote was among several parliamentary manoeuvres that kept the spotlight on the SNC-Lavalin affair despite the Liberal government’s effort to focus on the federal budget.
The defeated Conservative motion urged Mr. Trudeau to waive all solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality so Ms. Wilson-Raybould could speak freely about what happened during the time she was demoted to Veterans Affairs in early January to her resignation from cabinet on Feb. 11.
On Wednesday, Conservative MPs began to force 257 votes on the 2018-19 supplementary estimates and 2019-20 interim estimates, and were still going at it early Thursday.
Liberal MPs had prepared for a long night by having cots set up outside the Commons chamber where they could nap between votes.
In yet another distraction from the budget, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced that Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes has “decided to sit as an independent” for the final months of Parliament.
The rookie Ontario MP declined to comment on why she decided to leave the caucus, but she tweeted that she didn’t want to cause any additional trouble for the Liberals.
“The interview I gave last week to The Globe and Mail has had unintended effects on those I care about. Although that was not the intention, it was the consequence, and I am sorry. I no longer want to distract from the great work my caucus colleagues are doing,” she tweeted.
Ms. Caesar-Chavannes had told The Globe and Mail that Mr. Trudeau yelled at her in February – the day after Ms. Wilson-Raybould quit the cabinet – when she informed him that she did not plan to run in the October election. Mr. Trudeau’s office denied he yelled at her, but acknowledged the conversation was “emotional.”
Conservative MPs jumped on Ms. Caesar-Chavannes’s defection, saying her departure and the cabinet resignations of Ms. Wilson-Rabyould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott show the Prime Minister is a “fake feminist.”
"Every day that he refuses to allow the former attorney-general to testify and tell her story is another day he is a fake feminist,” Conservative Michelle Rempel told the House.
Fellow MP Candice Bergen said the “old boys at SNC-Lavalin were caught bribing and spending money on prostitutes and then the Prime Minister and his good old boys said to them, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it.’
“However, a woman, the former attorney-general, then said no to the good old boys and she was promptly fired and silenced,” she added.
The Prime Minister replied to the attacks, saying he’s more of a feminist than the Conservatives “who still want to challenge a woman’s right to choose” to have an abortion.
Earlier, Liberal MPs allowed Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott to remain in the party caucus despite the political grief caused by their resignations.
“There is absolutely no push for any change. They are in caucus,” Liberal caucus chair Francis Scarpaleggia told reporters.
The two former cabinet ministers said they resigned over the political pressure exerted on Ms. Wilson-Raybould to abandon the fraud and bribery prosecution of SNC-Lavalin related to its dealings in Libya.
“They’ve both indicated that they continue to believe in the Liberal Party and want to stand for us in the election in the fall,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The SNC-Lavalin affair has dominated Parliament since The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on the former attorney-general to grant a deferred prosecution agreement to the Montreal engineering and construction company. Under such an agreement, the company would accept responsibility for the wrongdoing, pay a financial penalty, relinquish benefits gained from the wrongdoing and put in place compliance measures.
The political fallout led to the resignations of the two ministers as well as the Prime Minister’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, and Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is conducting an investigation and the justice committee held five weeks of testimony.
On Tuesday, the Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down hearings on the SNC-Lavalin matter, preventing Ms. Wilson-Raybould from returning to testify.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives, backed by the NDP, asked the chair of the House ethics committee, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, to look into political interference into the criminal trial of SNC-Lavalin.
However, Rob Walsh, a former House of Commons law clerk, said the Liberals hold a majority on the ethics committee and they can thwart any attempt to call Ms. Wilson-Raybould back for further testimony.