Scheer reacts to PM’s claim that ‘erosion of trust,’ bad communications sparked SNC-Lavalin affair

by - 4 min read

Scheer reacts to PM’s claim that ‘erosion of trust,’ bad communications sparked SNC-Lavalin affair

by admin - 4 min read

by admin

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed poor communications and an “erosion of trust” between his former top adviser and Jody Wilson-Raybould for the SNC-Lavalin controversy that has rocked his government.

At a news conference Thursday in Ottawa, Trudeau said he tasked his staff members to engage Wilson-Raybould on the file while she was justice minister to stress the potential impact of her decision. In hindsight, he said, he should have reached out “personally” on the crucial matter instead of dispatching staff.

He said an “erosion of trust” developed between his principal secretary at the time, Gerry Butts, and Wilson-Raybould.

“I was not aware of that erosion of trust and as prime minister and leader of the federal ministry, I should have been,” he said.​

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is responding to Trudeau’s statement at 12:30 p.m. ET and is carrying it live. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is also responding at 1:00 p.m. ET.

Trudeau confirmed Wilson-Raybould told him on Sept. 17, 2018 of her decision to not intervene by ordering a remediation agreement for SNC-Lavalin as an alternative to criminal prosecution. Trudeau said he asked her to revisit that decision and she replied that she would.

The prime minister said his officials reached out to Wilson-Raybould in subsequent months because he believed she was still “open” to other options on the SNC-Lavalin case. Trudeau said Wilson-Raybould never told him she believed those contacts amounted to inappropriate pressure.

“She did not come to me, and I wish she had.”

Communications improvements

While Trudeau’s statement was not an apology, he acknowledged he could have done a better job of fostering open dialogue with his minister.

“That is something I’m having to reflect on as a leader, and that I’m looking forward to improving on as we go forward,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in Ottawa on Thursday morning 1:13

Trudeau acknowledged that, during his Sept. 17 meeting with Wilson-Raybould, he pointed out to her that he was the MP for Papineau — a riding in Quebec, where SNC-Lavalin is based — but denied he was pressuring her to further partisan interests. He said Canadians can be assured the integrity of federal institutions and judicial independence was never compromised.

The prime minister said the file is a complex one, because SNC-Lavalin is a major employer and creator of spinoff jobs now facing serious criminal charges.

“These are the types of situations that make governing a challenge. And when there’s an erosion of trust within the people involved, it further complicates what is an already difficult decision for the attorney general,” he said.

The controversy has generated much debate about whether the roles of justice minister and attorney general — typically filled by one person in Canadian federal cabinets — should be split to ensure the independence of the attorney general is never compromised by politics.

Trudeau said he has asked for a set of external opinions on the dual role of the justice minister and attorney general, and on the operating policies for cabinet ministers and staff related to dealings on judicial matters.

“Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada this morning tweeted this statement: “Prosecutorial independence is key to our mandate. Our prosecutors must be objective, independent and dispassionate, as well as free from improper influence — including political influence.”

PM speaks after Butts testimony

Trudeau’s statement comes a day after Butts testified before the Commons justice committee on his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair. Butts also blamed the crisis engulfing the government on a breakdown in trust and communications that led to the resignations of two top cabinet ministers.

Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott — who stepped down as Treasury Board president in the wake of Wilson-Raybould’s resignation as Veterans Affairs minister — remain in the Liberal caucus. Wilson-Raybould was made Veterans Affairs minister during a cabinet shuffle in January.

Butts presented a version of events starkly different from the one offered by Wilson-Raybould, who was attorney general at the time she was dealing with the SNC-Lavalin file. Wilson-Raybould said she endured intense political pressure and veiled threats to overturn the director of public prosecution’s decision to proceed with the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

The Quebec-based international engineering and construction company faces bribery charges related to contracts in Libya. A conviction could lead to a 10-year ban on bidding for federal contracts.

Butts insisted all engagements with Wilson-Raybould were above board and a normal part of government operations.

CBC News reported that Trudeau huddled up for high-level discussions Tuesday to decide on next steps in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin controversy.

On Thursday, he was asked why he didn’t leave Wilson-Raybould in the justice portfolio when he shuffled his cabinet Jan. 14 and if he regretted moving her to Veterans Affairs.

“As we look back at the past weeks, there are many lessons to be learned, and many things that we would have liked to do differently, and that is certainly part of the reflection we need to have going forward,” he said.

“But in terms of how we move forward and how we make decisions on who and where within cabinet, those decisions are ones we take seriously, and we always look to move forward, not backward on that.”

This story originally appeared on CBC