As Opposition Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called for the prime minister’s resignation, MPs who were in the room during testimony from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, reacted to her allegations that the PMO threatened her to defer prosecution against SNC-Lavalin for bribery and corruption charges.
“The testimony was explosive and devastating for a government that claimed the stories were false. The stories were worse than we thought,” said New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who participated in questioning Wilson-Raybould. “The attorney general was being inappropriately pressured and when she asked for it to stop, the pressure got worse. She resisted that pressure right up until the point that she was fired.”
Cullen said what Wilson-Raybould told the committee blew a hole in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s credibility and shattered public confidence in his government.
“This is showing the ethics of this government, that the law is an inconvenience. That political considerations are more important than the rule of law, from a prime minister that has been arguing about how important the rule of law is for months, and months and months,” Cullen said. “That was obviously not true when it came to his own political survival.”
Conservative MP Bob Zimmer summed it up in one word. “Incredible,” he said.
“The testimony, the involvement in the PMO trying to influence the minister of Justice – just incredible. It’s the most serious situation I’ve certainly seen in Ottawa,” said Zimmer. “We had wondered how serious this was, but to hear it was even more serious than we could’ve ever imagined at the level of the finance minister, the prime minister, I’m at a loss for words honestly.”
Zimmer also praised his provincial Commons colleague Wilson-Raybould.
“That such blatant influence was put on the attorney general and not just a one-time event but repeatedly, I will give her credit for her integrity,” said Zimmer. “I admire her as a fellow British Columbian that she’s retained her integrity through it all. I really admire her for that.”
After a February 7th Globe and Mail story alleged Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure by the Prime Minister’s Office to defer SNC-Lavalin’s charges to remediation – a new deferred prosecution provision shoehorned into last year’s omnibus budget legislation – she was replaced by Québec MP David Lametti.
After the story broke, Trudeau first said the allegations reporter were “false”. He then shifted his position to “vigorous debate” over how to proceed with charges against the Québec construction company that employs thousands of people; that discussions between the PMO and Wilson-Raybould were nothing more than lawful advocacy.
SNC-Lavalin and two of its subsidiaries are accused of paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials to win contracts there between 2001 and 2011. If convicted, without a deferred prosecution agreement the company faces a 10-year ban on bidding for federal contracts.
Though Trudeau had invoked solicitor-client privilege and Cabinet confidence on Wilson-Raybould, as the SNC-Lavalin imbroglio intensified political pressure, he relented and Monday evening provided narrow terms: Wilson-Raybould could talk about her time as attorney general, but could not discuss specifics after she was relieved of her duties on January 14 and shuffled to Veterans Affairs. On February 12, Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet altogether, after Trudeau remarked that her presence in the government’s executive was proof that nothing untoward had occurred.
While Scheer has called for Trudeau’s resignation and an RCMP investigation, New Democrat Charlie Angus – who also questioned Wilson-Raybould Wednesday – wants an independent judicial inquiry.
“What we heard was explosive. Unprecedented. I mean a sustained attempt by the Prime Minister’s Office to interfere and intimidate the Justice minister,” said Angus. “This needs a completely independent investigation because we’re talking about the attempt to obstruct the independent work of the justice system in Canada and fortunately we had a minister who said no.”
“It also raises questions was a deal made to get rid of her and replace her with an attorney general who would go along with this,” Angus added.
Following her appearance, Wilson-Raybould told reporters “she was pleased” with the opportunity to testify before the committee. “It’s important and I was happy to be able to speak,” she said and would not speculate about whether she would be booted from the Liberal caucus. “I am proud to be a member of parliament… I was elected as a Liberal.”
The last to vacate the hearing room was Liberal Justice committee member Randy Boissonnault who surrounded by fellow Liberal members, lamented Wilson-Raybould’s reluctance to reveal why she resigned from cabinet.
“I did ask the question repeatedly. I’m not sure we got a fulsome answer on why she resigned – she invoked cabinet confidence,” said Boissonnault.