SNC-LAVALIN SCANDAL CONTINUES

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We are five weeks and counting into the SNC-Lavalin scandal and there continues to be more questions than answers as Prime Minister Trudeau fails to be fully transparent and accountable. After three resignations, including that of two highly respected Cabinet Ministers and Trudeau’s right-hand man and long time friend, Gerald Butts, the Liberal government refuses to be the least bit contrite or accept full responsibility for their unethical behaviour.
My last column of February 21st on this issue was written a week before former Attorney General (AG), Jody Wilson-Raybould, testified before the Justice Committee. Like so many Canadians, I was first shocked and then disgusted to learn about the extent of the political pressure exerted on her and her staff by those in the highest levels of Government. Ms. Wilson-Raybould provided credible testimony as she spoke “her truth to power” after being silenced by Trudeau and maligned by some of her Liberal colleagues.
Her account included detailed descriptions of 10 meetings and 10 phone calls involving 11 senior officials over a four-month span. According to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, the objective of this “consistent and sustained” effort was to convince her to politically interfere in the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision to proceed in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Having a justice system free from political interference is a cornerstone of Canada’s institutions of Government.
Less than a week after the former AG’s stunning revelations, Treasury Board President, Jane Philpott, resigned from Cabinet citing “serious concerns” with “evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure Ms. Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the criminal case.”
Ms. Philpott, perhaps Trudeau’s most competent Minister, said she felt obligated to stand up for principles such as the rule of law and the integrity of the justice system even if it hurt her politically. I believe we would all be better MPs and people if we took to heart Ms. Philpott’s parting words, “there can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them”.
The testimony of former Principle Secretary to the Prime Minister, Gerald Butts, at the Justice Committee, didn’t ease concerns that lines were crossed. While he certainly came across as a competent individual and did admit to knowing the trust he had with Ms. Wilson-Raybould had been damaged, he did not admit to pressuring her on this criminal matter. As most predicted, this has become a matter of “she said, he said” or failed recollections.
To get to the bottom of this ever growing scandal, Conservative MP Lisa Raitt put forward a Motion to the Justice Committee to subpoena all the emails and texts between Mr. Butts, other PMO staff, and the former AG. Predictably, the Liberal majority on the Committee shot down the Motion. They also voted against inviting Ms. Wilson-Raybould back to Committee to respond to Mr. Butt’s testimony. This is contrary to the second chance they granted the Clerk of the Privy Council and others to respond to Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s assertions.
For many, this issue will continue to be an unclear “she said, he said” on whether there was pressure put on the former AG to politically interfere in our justice system. However, one thing is clear: the facts strongly suggest the PMO wanted to let SNC-Lavalin off the hook. From the number of meetings the PMO took with SNC prior to making Deferred Prosecution Agreement’s (DPA) legal – some believe DPAs were tailored made for SNC – to the many meetings afterwards. From the alleged illegal and legal financial contributions made to the Liberal Party by SNC, to the repeated meetings and phone calls made by PMO and the Clerk of Privy Council to Ms. Wilson-Raybould. To me, and to the many constituents who have written me on this issue, this is a clear case of political interference.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or previous columns you may write me at 4945-50th Street, Camrose, Alberta, T4V 1P9, call 780-608-4600, toll-free 1-800-665-4358, fax 780-608-4603 or e-mail Kevin.Sorenson.c1@parl.gc.ca.