March 26, 2019

Former senior Trudeau aide defends prime minister in testimony on scandal

08 March 2019, 11:38 | Hattie Nash

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A former senior aide to Justin Trudeau Gerald Butts defended the Canadian prime minister in a testimony given to the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday arguing that there was no misconduct involved in the dismissal of former attorney gener

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau did not inappropriately pressure a former justice minister to grant a legal favour to a firm facing a criminal trial, a former senior aide has said.

However-and this was key to the former principal secretary's argument that it was never made clear last fall to anyone involved that the attorney general was feeling harangued by the ongoing conversations about SNC-Butts said he had no idea that she had made up her mind then.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government", Butts told the Commons justice committee.

"That is not what I said", Butts responded, when asked about the allegation.

"Neither the Prime Minister nor anyone around him wanted a cabinet shuffle at all", Butts emphasized. She never made her concerns plain to him early on, or wrote to Trudeau saying her decision was final, he said. If it's convicted, SNC-Lavalin could be banned from federal contracts for 10 years.

Wilson-Raybould told the committee that on September 16, 2018, she made her final decision that she would not overrule the director of public prosecutions on SNC and "was not going to change her mind".

A Federal Court of Appeal decision that threw a wrench in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project was a factor in the Prime Minister's Office's strategy surrounding the SNC-Lavalin criminal case, Justin Trudeau's former principal secretary said Wednesday.

Wilson-Raybould's testimony suggested she was removed from her post as Attorney General and demoted to the position of Veteran Affairs Minister, a position from which she resigned.

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Wilson-Raybould, Canada's first indigenous justice minister, maintained her stance on the company's case.

Butts told the House of Commons justice committee he had one short conversation on December 5 with Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin.

Just yesterday, the Trudeau administration was rocked by the resignation of another Cabinet official, Jane Philpott, who said it was "untenable" for her to remain on and defend the government amid the scandal.

Wernick disputes Wilson-Raybould's allegation that he made "veiled threats" to her that if she didn't agree to a remediation agreement her job was in jeopardy.

Wilson-Raybould said last week she was improperly pressured to stop a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and was punished for her refusal to give in by being moved to the veterans affairs portfolio in an early January cabinet shuffle.

"As a minister of the Crown, I would be quite happy if there was a very hot file on which I only heard from other ministers' offices and the Prime Minister's Office 10 times over the course of four months".

On Wednesday, Liberals on the justice committee used their majority to quash a motion to invite Wilson-Raybould to testify once again, which the Tories and NDP argued would sort out numerous discrepancies between her testimony and Butts' testimony.

Trudeau's Liberal party has the majority of seats in Parliament so his government can not be brought down in a vote of no confidence unless his own party members vote against him.

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Justin Trudeau has the power to do all that and, yes, even the ability to have his new attorney general, David Lametti, let SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal charge of bribery and corruption by negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement.

"When 9,000 people's jobs are at stake, it is a public policy problem of the highest order", Butts said.

His direction to his staff to provide her with information about the file was in the context of understanding that she was open to receiving more information.

But in what Wilson-Raybould depicted as a "consistent and sustained" pattern of political meddling, there were calendar squares Butts did not directly contradict.

Canada's ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months. "It reveals deep division in the Cabinet about how to deal with Jody Wilson-Raybould".

"A breakdown in the relationship between the former attorney general and the prime minister occurred", he told the committee. He is expected to back up his version of events with emails, text messages and other documentation, much as Wilson-Raybould did in her testimony.

The scandal cost Trudeau his top adviser, Gerald Butts, who resigned two weeks after the story broke.

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