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Conservatives claimed some credit for today’s resignation of Michael Wernick, the nation’s top bureaucrat whose testimony on the SNC-Lavalin affair contradicted former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould story: that she was politically pressured numerous times to intervene in SNC-Lavalin’s criminal trail for bribery and corruption.
“We all saw his testimony and the partisanship and the fact we called for his resignation because of his involvement and the pressure on Jody Wilson-Raybould,” Opposition House Leader and Conservative MP Candice Bergen told reporters following Question Period Monday.
“The Clerk of the Privy Council has resigned in disgrace and the prime minister had yet another cabinet shuffle today. The government’s not focused on what’s concerning Canadians, they’re focused on looking after themselves and really keeping this coverup going.”
This morning, Trudeau tapped British Columbia MP Joyce Murray as new Treasury Board president to replace Jane Philpott, who resigned the post two weeks ago citing “lost confidence” in the Trudeau government over his handling of the SNC-Lavalin matter.
Wernick joins a growing list of people who have resigned since a February 7th Globe and Mail story alleged Wilson-Raybould faced pressure by the Prime Minister’s Office to enter into a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin via deferred prosecution.
Such a deal would supplant a trial and possible conviction with monetary penalties and court-ordered integrity and compliance audits. If found guilty of the alleged crimes of bribing Libyan officials to win contracts in the North African state, SNC faces a 10-year ban on bidding for federal contracts.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet five days after the Globe story broke, Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts resigned his post six days after Wilson-Raybould, citing his presence as “a distraction” while the SNC scandal engulfed the Liberal government. Now a month after Butts’ departure, Wernick has thrown in the towel as well.
“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” wrote Wernick in a statement. While the role of privy council clerk is considered non-partisan, Wernick raised eyebrows in his first appearance at the Justice Committee February 21st, where he decried charged political rhetoric.
“I worry about the rising tide of incitements to violence when people use terms like ‘treason’ and ‘traitor’ in open discourse. Those are the words that lead to assassination,” Wernick told the committee. “I’m worried that somebody’s going to be shot in this country this year during the political campaign.”
When Wernick returned for a second round of testimony March 6th, he bemoaned the mean social media comments directed at him in the interim.
New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who sat in the House of Commons as an MP for the first time Monday since he was elected party leader 18 months ago, said Wernick’s departure adds weight to the NDP’s calls for an inquiry.
“Given the timing of the resignation, given the testimony of Mr. Butts, the commentary of Mr. Trudeau, the Justice committee’s Liberal-dominated attempts to block witnesses coming forward, all of this points more and more to the importance of having a public inquiry to get to the truth,” Singh told reporters.
“Canadians want to know if the government’s working for them. Right now this Liberal governmet seems to be working for the most powerful set of Canadians.”
Conservative MP Gérard Deltell, the party’s Treasury Board critic, said Wernick’s departure is a bellwether for the ruling Liberals.
“When you see the top civil servant in Canada resigning after his ugly testimony, to say the least, it’s just another indication that the government has lost control,” Deltell told The Post Millennial. “This is not good for Canada, we see the OECD paying attention to this, we see The New York Times, other newspapers, major newspapers from around the world putting emphasis on that ugly situation, the SNC-Lavalin scandal.”
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development announced last week it would be monitoring the situation to ensure Canada adheres to its obligations under the Anti-Bribery Convention; including that domestic economic considerations not be considered a mitigating circumstance when weighing fraud and corruption charges or their prosecution.
While Wilson-Raybould said political considerations loomed in discussions she had on SNC-Lavalin with Wernick and Trudeau – that Liberal electoral fortunes in last fall’s provincial election in Québec and this year’s federal election were considered factors – both men denied her testimony and said protecting 9,000 jobs that could be at risk with a protracted trial and potential conviction.