Andrew Scheer says a Conservative government would launch an inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair and introduce legislation to ensure the RCMP can access information protected by cabinet confidentiality.
Speaking to reporters in Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s Montreal riding of Papineau on Thursday morning, Mr. Scheer promised that, if elected on Oct. 21, his government would seek answers to what transpired in the prosecution of the engineering giant.
“At every turn, Trudeau has stopped the truth from coming out and prevented Canadians from getting answers they deserve," Mr. Scheer said. “It’s a cover-up on a historic scale.”
The campaign promise comes about a month after Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s scathing report that found Mr. Trudeau broke conflict-of-interest rules by orchestrating his government’s efforts to obtain an out-of-court settlement for the company, which has sought to avoid a criminal trial on fraud and bribery charges stemming from an RCMP investigation into its business in Libya.
The Globe and Mail reported in early September that the RCMP had been looking into potential obstruction of justice in the handling of the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, but that its examination had been stymied by the government’s refusal to lift cabinet confidentiality for all people with knowledge of the matter. Mr. Dion faced the same obstacle in his investigation and stated in his report that nine witnesses were unable to provide full testimony because the government allowed only a limited waiver.
Emmett Macfarlane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, said he believes the SNC-Lavalin affair warrants an inquiry, but that it could pose difficult optics for Mr. Scheer if he becomes prime minister.
“There is a troubling dimension to the optics of having a new prime minister come in and effectively launch an investigation into his political opponent.”
Mr. Scheer said a Conservative government would introduce what he called the “No More Cover Ups Act” to allow the RCMP to access information covered by cabinet confidentiality, saying in a release that it would prevent “corrupt politicians” from hiding behind the parliamentary measure to escape police investigation.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a former judge and now law professor at the University British Columbia, said Mr. Scheer’s proposed legislation sounds like “electioneering.”
“It doesn’t sit very well with me just because the title appears to be very sensational and it appears to have reached a conclusion,” Prof. Turpel-Lafond said.
A document from the Conservative Party says it would amend Section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act to allow the RCMP to challenge a certificate of cabinet confidentiality during criminal investigations, including those that pertain to the administration of justice. The plan says cabinet confidentiality is an important feature of cabinet governance but “should not be absolute.”
The RCMP have not officially launched a criminal investigation. The force has said it is “examining this matter carefully with all available information."
The SNC-Lavalin matter engulfed the Trudeau government this year, prompting the resignations of cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott. Speaking to the House of Commons justice committee in February, Ms. Wilson-Raybould detailed how, as attorney-general, she endured sustained pressure to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin to secure what’s known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Thursday that it’s “troubling” that Mr. Scheer has not said whether he would allow powerful corporations to request deferred prosecution agreements. Mr. Singh said an NDP government would not allow such agreements.
Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly said he accepts Mr. Dion’s report and takes responsibility for what happened but won’t apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs that he says were at stake because of SNC-Lavalin’s legal and financial problems.
At a lakeside announcement in Sudbury on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau was asked how he will persuade voters to trust him after the SNC-Lavalin affair and revelations that he wore blackface in the past, something he has acknowledged was racist. He said he will prove that he can be trusted by focusing on the “things that Canadians care most about," including “standing up against intolerance,” protecting the environment and investing in the middle class. He did not mention SNC-Lavalin or the finding that he broke ethics laws in his response.
The Globe asked the Liberal Party for a comment on Mr. Scheer’s call for an inquiry, but none was provided.
The latest daily tracking numbers from Nanos Research show the race for first place remains close. The Liberals have the support of 36 per cent of respondents, and the Conservatives are at 34 per cent. The NDP is at 15 per cent, followed by the Green Party at 10 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 5 per cent and the People’s Party of Canada at 2 per cent.
The poll was sponsored by The Globe and Mail and CTV, with a total of 1,200 Canadians surveyed from Sept. 23 to 25. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked: “If a federal election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences?” A report on the results, questions and methodology for this and all surveys can be found at tgam.ca/election-polls.
With a report from Michelle Zilio.
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