Jody Wilson-Raybould: ‘I do regret that the Prime Minister never took responsibility’
Jody Wilson-Raybould says the SNC-Lavalin affair would not have erupted into a major political controversy if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had apologized for seeking to interfere in the judicial system.
The former attorney-general said on Wednesday in her first sit-down interview since the controversy began that she has been personally hurt by attempts to smear her character and regrets that she and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott were expelled from the Liberal caucus for standing up for the rule of law.
For two months, the Trudeau government has been besieged over revelations that the Prime Minister and senior officials tried to put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould when she was attorney-general to overrule the independent Public Prosecution Service of Canada’s decision not to shelve the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
The controversy triggered the resignations of the two ministers and Mr. Trudeau’s closest adviser, Gerald Butts, and the retirement of the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick. On Tuesday, Ms. Wilson-Rayould and Ms. Philpott were expelled from the Liberal caucus and denied the right to be candidates for the party in the October election.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said all this could have been avoided if Mr. Trudeau had accepted responsibility after The Globe and Mail first reported on Feb. 7 that the PMO had pressed her to help SNC-Lavalin, which is charged with bribery and fraud, out of its legal troubles.
“I do regret that the Prime Minister never took responsibility. I do regret that the Prime Minister never apologized to Canadians or never listened or looked at the evidence that was presented,” she told The Globe in an interview in her Parliament Hill office. “If the Prime Minister had accepted responsibility and apologized to Canadians, we would not be in the situation we are in."
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the Prime Minister’s initial denial of The Globe story as false was “not consistent with the truth,” but she would not say whether anyone in the Liberal government asked her to deny the Feb. 7 report.
“I can’t talk about that, conversations that I had,” she said. ““What I will say is if anybody ever asks me to do something, to say something that wasn’t true, I would absolutely not do it. I have been very clear with the Prime Minister and everyone around the Prime Minister and to my former colleagues that is who I am, that I would never say something that isn’t true.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she had no outcome in mind when she resigned from cabinet and testified before the House of Commons justice committee that there was high-level political interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
“I didn’t have an endgame. I literally was just doing my job and I believe was penalized for doing my job and I feel to this day that I have, and carry a responsibility to make sure that the truth is out there and to hold true to my values,” she said. “Did I anticipate I would be expelled from caucus for wanting to do the right thing? Absolutely not."
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she has too much respect for the oath of cabinet confidentiality to speak about several conversations she had with the Prime Minister in the days before she resigned from cabinet on Feb. 12.
“I know this is something that people want to know about, but I feel bound by confidences that I can’t speak about those meetings with the Prime Minister,” she said. "I feel if I start talking about conversations that I had with the Prime Minister then, I think it is inappropriate based on cabinet confidence and the oaths that I took.”
The Prime Minster has refused to waive cabinet confidentiality and solicitor-client privilege for the period between her demotion to Veterans Affairs in early January and her resignation from cabinet.
While she would “be happy” to speak about what happened if an investigation is held, she said: “I am not out actively seeking for the Prime Minister do anything right now, but of course I would like him to admit some responsibility and acknowledge and apologize to Canadians.”
The B.C. MP said she stands by her testimony to the justice committee on Feb. 27 that she does not believe anything illegal took place in the PMO’s efforts to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial, but said there maybe other evidence should the RCMP decide to investigate.
“I have provided all the relevant information that I have. What I said in my committee testimony is still accurate, but I don’t know what other information potentially could be out there and what other individuals may have to say,” she said. “As to an RCMP police investigation, that is entirely up to the RCMP to look at and hear what they have heard and determine for themselves.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said the RCMP has not contacted her.
In February, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer formally asked the RCMP to investigate for possible obstruction of justice. Mr. Wernick told the justice committee on March 6 that Mr. Scheer’s request prompted him to hire Toronto criminal lawyer Frank Addario. The PMO said the Prime Minister and senior members of his staff have also hired outside legal counsel to advise them on the Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin matter.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister and attorney-general, said she was hurt by the unnamed Liberal who told media she was difficult and driven by her own ego.
“The independence of the justice system and upholding the rule of law for me, and I think for many people, is the central issue that seems to have gotten lost in smear campaigns and spin,” she said. “I have a thick skin, but I do not understand and will never understand why, when somebody stands up for something or speaks the truth, even if the truth isn’t convenient for some people, that the reaction to that is smear people or to say they are difficult or say they are incompetent.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould also defended her decision to tape a Dec. 19 conversation with Mr. Wernick, in which he warns her that the Prime Minister was in “that kind of mood” and expected her to order a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
Her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, had been warned the day before by Mr. Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and Mr. Butts, the principal secretary, that they were fed up with her intransigence on the issue, she said.
"I had a heightened level of anxiety. I knew that my position was at risk and I was wanting to protect myself,” she said. “In any other circumstance it would be inappropriate, but I do not believe it was in this case.”
Jane Philpott: Expulsions ‘could backfire, in a way that may not make Liberals happy’
Jane Philpott says it was a mistake for Justin Trudeau to expel her from the Liberal caucus, calling it a decision that could “backfire” as the Prime Minister looks to move on from the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, her first since her removal, Ms. Philpott characterized the result as being “tremendously sad." She was taken aback, she said, that she did not have an opportunity to address her colleagues before she and former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould were expelled.
Ms. Philpott, a first-term Toronto-area MP who resigned as Treasury Board president in March, said she’s received hundreds of messages from people across the country who are shocked that Mr. Trudeau kicked her out, adding that she doesn’t think it will "necessarily reflect well on the party.”
“I actually think it’s a mistake. Obviously, he has his own advisers," Ms. Philpott said.
“There is a potential that this could backfire, in a way that may not make Liberals happy.”
Still, Ms. Philpott said she supports the Prime Minister, his government and his policies − save for the way the SNC-Lavalin matter has been handled. “One of the things that’s disappointed me in all of this, is that there is inadequate opportunity to discuss alternative views on really important topics," Ms. Philpott said.
She said she still considers Mr. Trudeau a feminist, despite criticism from Conservatives that his treatment of some women MPs amounts to “fake feminism.”
“I have no desire to cast any doubt on his qualifications as a feminist. He has fought very hard for women’s rights, and he deserves credit for that," she said.
Mr. Trudeau announced on Tuesday that both Ms. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould were being removed from caucus and as candidates for the Liberal Party in the federal election this fall, saying their criticism of his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair had broken bonds of trust and helped the government’s political opponents.
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister told a gathering of young women on Parliament Hill that members of his government need to trust each other.
“There are always going to be a range of perspectives that we need to listen to. But ultimately … diversity only works if there is trust and within a team when that trust gets broken, we have to figure out how to move forward,” he said.
The Globe first reported on Feb. 7 that Mr. Trudeau’s office put pressure on Ms. Wilson-Raybould when she was attorney-general to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial. Ms. Wilson-Raybould later released a secret tape recording of a telephone conversation with Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council. In the conversation on Dec. 19, 2018, Mr. Wernick warns Ms. Wilson-Raybould that Mr. Trudeau was firm about wanting her to overrule federal prosecutors and grant a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin on bribery and fraud charges.
“I believe the evidence shows that there were attempts, by politicians, staff members and senior officials to interfere in a very important criminal trial,” Ms. Philpott told The Globe.
“People hesitate to compare this to other forms of harassment. But I think in general, it’s not the person who is inflicting bullying or harassment or pressure to decide, it’s the person who is on the receiving end to decide whether they were pressured," she said.
"The former attorney-general said she felt pressured, and I believe her.”
Ms. Philpott said she raised the issue of SNC-Lavalin with Mr. Trudeau on Jan. 6, the day he asked her to take on a new role in a coming cabinet shuffle. Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was attorney-general and justice minister at the time, was later moved to Veterans Affairs after turning down Indigenous Services.
“When the Prime Minister told me about the shuffle, I was concerned about the possibility that shuffling the former A-G could be perceived to be associated with the SNC case," she said.
Ms. Philpott, who was moved from Indigenous Services to Treasury Board, said she too was sad to leave her post behind. “I was working on some really important things, including child-welfare legislation that meant a lot to me," she said.
Drawing on her experience as a medical doctor, Ms. Philpott said an apology from Mr. Trudeau would have gone a long way. She said the initial messaging from the government − through Mr. Trudeau − was to deny the allegations.
“You tell the truth, you apologize to the people who have been wronged, you study what happened so that you’ll get to the bottom of how it happened, and then you make whatever policy changes are necessary," she said.
“That’s a really good recipe for how to deal with medical error, and I actually think it could be transferred to what politicians should do when they make mistakes.”
At this point, however, Ms. Philpott said she believes there is enough information on the public record for Canadians to judge for themselves what has happened.
Once seen as a rising star in the Liberal Party, Ms. Philpott said she is still assessing her own political future. She repeats what she has said before: She does not want Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to be prime minister, but she tried to do the right thing.
"Standing up for the independence of the justice system is so fundamental to who we are as a country. I have to trust that the consequences of all of this are, in the end, going to be to the benefit of Canadians.”