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Politics Trudeau defends expelling Philpott, Wilson-Raybould, as well as his leadership

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during the Daughters of the Vote event in the House of Commons as roughly 50 women slowly rose and turned their backs in background as he began to speak.

CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday his feminist credentials are intact, one day after he expelled two prominent female MPs who had publicly criticized his handling of the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

He faced criticism on his ejection of former cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott not only from opposition MPs but also from young women gathered on Parliament Hill Wednesday for the Daughters of the Vote program, which is designed to boost female leadership in politics.

Mr. Trudeau was met with protest as he delivered remarks to more than 300 Daughters of the Vote delegates sitting in House of Commons chamber seats.

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About 50 women slowly rose and turned their backs as Mr. Trudeau began to speak.

Mr. Trudeau explained he welcomes disagreement within his government, but can’t work with people he doesn’t trust.

“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,” the Prime Minister said.

Later, during Question Period, he avoided directly answering questions about whether he was informed about a key December phone call in the SNC-Lavalin affair between Ms. Wilson-Raybould, the then attorney-general, and top bureaucrat Michael Wernick. Mr. Trudeau has repeatedly said he was never apprised of Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s serious concerns about political interference in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. However, an audio recording of the call shows she told Mr. Wernick, the top civil servant under Mr. Trudeau, “we are treading on dangerous ground here – and I am going to issue [a] stern warning.”

Related: No regrets in SNC-Lavalin affair, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott say

Yakabuski: Sorry, Justin Trudeau: Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott aren’t the villains here

Clark: Trudeau rips off bandage before the wound of SNC-Lavalin has healed

During the Dec. 19 call, Mr. Wernick said he would “report back” to the Prime Minister on what the attorney-general had told him, but in a statement last week the bureaucrat said he did not inform Mr. Trudeau of the concerns because “everyone went on holidays” the day after the call. In fact, Mr. Trudeau did not go on holiday until Dec. 23.

On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau said he was never briefed on the matter, but did not answer repeated questions about whether he was aware of the contents of that phone call.

The Prime Minister’s comments come after he removed Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott from caucus and stripped them of the right to run as Liberal candidates in the coming fall federal election.

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Mr. Trudeau wasn’t the only speaker to face opposition from Daughters of the Vote delegates. Several dozen women also protested Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s speech, streaming out of the Commons as he began his comments, only to return once he was finished.

Daughters of the Vote delegate Megan Metz, who is Indigenous, told reporters that she turned her back on the Prime Minister because he had highlighted reconciliation in his 2015 campaign, but later decided to invest in a pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory and wrongfully removed protesters from their land. But she also raised the ejection of Ms. Wilson-Raybould from caucus.

“There’s also what happened to Jody Wilson-Raybould yesterday … him kicking her out the way he did is wrong because she was just trying to be honest and do right by not only Indigenous peoples in Canada but Canadian citizens across the country,” she said.

Ms. Metz said she felt hurt because of the way Ms. Wilson-Raybould has been attacked. “Because I feel like we deserve to have our voice heard.”

When asked how she feels personally as an Indigenous woman about the expulsion, Ms. Metz said she was really upset.

Her voice quivering, she said, “I was overwhelmed … I got to meet her the day before … I got to take a picture with her and just tell her thank you for everything you are doing, so to go from such a high of meeting her one day to seeing her kind of being kicked right out from that position … kind of made me feel like maybe we don’t have a place,” she said. She quickly added that after witnessing so much support today, she feels like she does belong. “We do have a place.”

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Ms. Metz also walked out during Mr. Scheer’s speech, but she said that decision was mostly in support of others who oppose some of his policies.

Brit Sippola, a delegate from Saskatchewan, also said she turned her back against Mr. Trudeau because of his decision to remove Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott from caucus.

“I thought that was a very disrespectful move,” she said, adding he should apologize for his actions around the SNC-Lavalin affair. She said that Mr. Trudeau is not a feminist. “I believe that to be a feminist you need to have actions behind your words.”

In February, Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified before a Parliamentary committee that Mr. Trudeau’s office and senior official had politically interfered in the criminal prosecution of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, pressing her when she was attorney-general to abandon the matter in favour of a settlement. Both Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott later quit cabinet over the government’s handling of the matter.

Mr. Scheer, speaking in the Commons, said Ms. Wilson-Raybould was kicked out for embarrassing the government. “So far everything to date that the former attorney-general has said about this corruption scandal has been proven to be true, and everything the Prime Minister has said, from claiming that he never put pressure on her to that she never came forward with her concerns, has been proven to be false. Why does telling the truth get a member kicked out of the Liberal Party?”

Mr. Trudeau defended his leadership. “We have 18 strong women members of cabinet who lead every day on the big issues that matter to Canadians, from our place in the world to investing in resources for women’s organizations to bringing extraordinary young women to Ottawa on a day like this from every corner of the country.”

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Sticking with his analogy of the SNC-Lavalin affair as an internal Liberal Party disagreement, the Prime Minister said it set Liberal MPs against one another.

He named several ministers who had no role in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

"Nobody in here wants to have to pick who to believe between Jody Wilson-Raybould and Chrystia Freeland," Mr. Trudeau said, naming the Foreign Affairs Minister.

Building on his theme, he told the audience that, “Nobody wants to know that one person has to be right and another person has to be wrong between Jane Philpott or Maryam Monsef,” Mr. Trudeau said, naming the Minister for the Status of Women.

Neither Ms. Freeland nor Ms. Monsef played any significant part in the SNC-Lavalin affair and as a result would not have been well versed in the files.

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