- Acknowledging an “erosion of trust” between his staff and Jody Wilson-Raybould, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke publicly about the SNC-Lavalin affair in Ottawa on Thursday. He did not apologize and repeated his view that neither he nor his staff had done anything wrong, but he said “situations were experienced differently and I regret that.”
- Alluding to “a tough few weeks” for his government, in which Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Treasury Board chief Jane Philpott quit cabinet, Mr. Trudeau said he was taking lessons to heart about his leadership style. “I believe real leadership is about listening, learning and compassion,” he said, but added that “I believe our government will be stronger having wrestled these issues.”
- Opposition leaders voiced disappointment in Mr. Trudeau’s remarks. “It’s now beyond dispute that he and his office bullied and threatened Ms. Wilson-Raybould in an attempt to get her to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said. The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh repeated calls for a public inquiry.
- Thursday’s news conference came a day after Mr. Trudeau’s friend and former aide, Gerald Butts, told a House committee that he had seen nothing improper in the communications between the Prime Minister’s Office and Ms. Wilson-Raybould. Here’s a recap of what he said and his full opening statement.
He said, she said, he said: Comparing the accounts
Who knew about Wilson-Raybould’s concerns, and when?
What Trudeau said: At her Feb. 27 hearing before the House justice committee, Ms. Wilson-Raybould described “inappropriate” and sustained pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office and other officials to reconsider her decision not to intervene in federal prosecutors’ case against SNC-Lavalin, which they decided in September to take to trial instead of reaching an out-of-court deal called a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA. Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday that he didn’t know about the frictions between her and his staff:
What has become clear over the various testimonies is over the past months there was an erosion of trust between my office, my former principal secretary and the former attorney-general. I was not aware of that erosion of trust. As Prime Minister and leader of the federal ministry, I should have been.
What Wilson-Raybould said: Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified last week that she did share her concerns with the PMO, in particular Gerald Butts, Mr. Trudeau’s then principal secretary. Here’s what she said in her written testimony about a December meeting at Ottawa’s Chateau Laurier hotel with Mr. Butts:
I wanted to speak about a number of things – including bringing up SNC and the barrage of people hounding me and my staff. Towards the end of the meeting I raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate. Gerry then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff – he said I needed to find a solution ... Gerry talked to me about how the statute was set up by Harper that that he does not like the law…(Director of Public Prosecutions Act) – I said something like that is the law we have ...
What Butts said: In his version of events, which he gave to the committee on March 6, Mr. Butts said the Chateau Laurier meeting had been cordial and he wasn’t confronted about inappropriate behaviour by the PMO. He also said in his prepared testimony that Ms. Wilson-Raybould never voiced her concerns to Mr. Trudeau:
The Attorney-General and the Prime Minister saw each other frequently. The Attorney-General could have written or spoken to the Prime Minister at any time during this process to say attempts to contact her office on the matter were improper, and they should cease immediately. The Minister could have told the people who raised it with her that they were close to or crossing a line. The Minister could have texted or e-mailed me at any time. However, the PMO’s interactions with the Attorney-General’s office were only called into question by the Attorney-General at the time of the cabinet shuffle.
On the Sept. 17 meeting
What Wilson-Raybould said: Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified that she told Mr. Trudeau about her decision not to intervene in the SNC case on Sept. 17 last year, at a meeting where Michael Wernick, the Privy Council Clerk, was also present. She says Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Wernick pressed her on the prospect of job losses if SNC’s case went ahead to trial:
The Prime Minister asks me to help out – to find a solution here for SNC – citing that if there was no DPA there would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal. In response, I explained to him the law and what I have the ability to do and not do under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act around issuing Directives or Assuming Conduct of Prosecutions. I told him that I had done my due diligence and made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the DPP.
The PM again cited potential loss of jobs and SNC moving. Then to my surprise – the Clerk started to make the case for the need to have a DPA – he said “there is a board meeting on Thursday (Sept 20) with stock holders” … “they will likely be moving to London if this happens”… “and there is an election in Quebec soon” ... At that point the PM jumped in stressing that there is an election in Quebec and that “and I am an MP in Quebec – the member for Papineau.”
What Trudeau said: On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau gave his own account of that meeting:
I said to her that I was preoccupied by the number of jobs in this ... This is something that I was clear on. I asked her if she could revisit that decision ... and she said that she would.
What Butts said: Mr. Butts, who didn’t attend the Sept. 17 meeting, told MPs on Wednesday that he hadn’t known Ms. Wilson-Raybould had made up her mind before that date. In fact, he said he didn’t know that her decision was final until last week:
I learned for the first time while watching the former attorney-general’s testimony that she had made a final decision on the 16th of September. My understanding is that nobody in the PMO or PCO knew that at the time either. In fact, it is not to my knowledge how the law works. My understanding, which was informed by the public service and lawyers in the PMO, is that the Attorney-General’s power to direct the DPP extends until the time a verdict is rendered.
Were 9,000 jobs actually at stake?
What Trudeau said: In both of their accounts, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Butts kept coming back to one number: 9,000, the number of Canadian jobs they believed were in peril if SNC decided to move its headquarters out of Canada because of its legal troubles. (SNC actually employs about 8,500 people in Canada, and five times that number overseas.) Asked what evidence he had that SNC might carry out a threat to leave Canadian soil, Mr. Trudeau cited “various representations” from the company and others about the economic costs, but didn’t address specific studies.
What Butts said: A day earlier, Mr. Butts was asked by Green MP Elizabeth May: “Is there any evidence that jobs were at stake by letting this go through the courts?” He said this:
That’s my understanding from Department of Finance briefings, but I have to say that it’s been a long time. I can’t recall anything specific.
Was it a mistake to reassign Wilson-Raybould?
What Trudeau said: Asked if he felt it was a mistake to shuffle Ms. Wilson-Raybould out of the justice portfolio, Mr. Trudeau said “there are many lessons to be learned” from recent weeks, but said he was more focused on moving forward than looking back.
What Butts said: Mr. Butts was asked the same thing a day earlier in his testimony to the House justice committee about SNC-Lavalin. He said this:
I think that the government was put in a very difficult position ... the Prime Minister made, I think, a well-informed decision about the cabinet shuffle and had everybody on the team done what the Prime Minister asked of them, then I think we would not be having this conversation today.
Reaction to Trudeau’s news conference
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reiterated his call for a public inquiry, and said Mr. Trudeau was seeking to blame others for the SNC affair:
What we saw this morning from PM Trudeau wasn’t accountability or an apology - it was the PM blaming everyone but himself.— Jagmeet Singh (@theJagmeetSingh) March 7, 2019
It was the PM discrediting the detailed testimony of Canada’s first Indigenous woman AG.
The “erosion of trust” is with Cdns - we need a public inquiry.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wasn’t impressed with Mr. Trudeau’s statement, reiterating past assertions that he has no moral authority to govern:
What we heard from Justin Trudeau was an attempt to justify and normalize corruption. It’s clearer than ever that inside his government, political interference and contempt for the rule of law are a matter of course. This is a PM who has lost the moral authority to govern.— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) March 7, 2019
Backstory: Eight explosive days
It’s been exactly a month since The Globe and Mail’s first report about the SNC-Lavalin affair set off heated national debate about whether the Prime Minister’s Office tried to intervene in the SNC case. If you need a refresher, here’s a guide to The Globe’s full coverage so far. The past eight days in particular have been especially dramatic. Here are some of the highlights:
Feb. 27: Ms. Wilson-Raybould gives incendiary testimony to the House justice committee alleging she faced “veiled threats” and inappropriate pressure to settle out of court with SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec-based engineering firm charged by federal prosecutors. Here’s a recap of her testimony, and her full prepared opening statement. She singled out 11 people – including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, officials in the PMO, Privy Council Office and Finance Minister’s office – who pressed her for four months to reconsider her decision, which she said she had already reached in September.
March 6: Mr. Trudeau’s best friend and former principal secretary, Mr. Butts, tells the justice committee that nothing improper happened between Ms. Wilson-Raybould and the PMO, and if she had concerns about how she was being treated, she should have raised them earlier. He also went into detail about the circumstances behind Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s demotion in January, saying that she had been offered the Indigenous Services post but turned it down, and that leaving her in Justice – which she called her “dream job” – was not an option because it would set a bad precedent for ministers refusing reassignment. He denied that SNC was a factor in Mr. Trudeau’s decision to reassign her. Here is The Globe’s full coverage of Wednesday’s hearing and the full text of Mr. Butts’s written statement.
March 6: Right after Mr. Butts’s testimony, the committee questioned Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick and Nathalie Drouin, the deputy justice minister. Both had testified before, but were called back to answer more questions raised by Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony. Mr. Wernick reiterated that, as he had said on Feb. 21, the PMO and PCO’s communications with Ms. Wilson-Raybould had been “lawful advocacy.” He also revealed that, in October, he had a phone call with SNC chairman Kevin Lynch, a former Privy Council clerk himself, who shared his displeasure that federal prosecutors wouldn’t work toward a deferred prosecution agreement, in which SNC would admit some wrongdoing on the bribery charges and pay compensation without a trial. Here is Mr. Wernick’s full prepared statement.
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Michelle Zilio, Steven Chase, Robert Fife, Daniel Leblanc and Evan Annett