Philpott resigns from cabinet

The Canadian Press
Joan Bryden

OTTAWA–Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dropped his insistence that his government has done nothing wrong in the SNC-Lavalin affair after a second cabinet minister in less than a month resigned yesterday.
Treasury Board president Jane Philpott handed in her resignation yesterday afternoon, saying she’s lost confidence in the way the government has dealt with criminal charges against the Montreal engineering giant.
Her resignation came after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet amid allegations the Prime Minister’s Office improperly pressured her to stop a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
At a rally last night in Toronto, Trudeau did not repeat the same message he’s delivered since the controversy erupted a month ago–that no undue pressure was exerted, that the government was balancing its concern for the fate of 9,000 SNC-Lavalin employees with respect for the independence of the justice system.
Rather, he adopted a more conciliatory tone that appeared to allow for the possibility that a line may have been crossed.
“In a democracy like ours and in a space where we value our diversity so strongly, we’re allowed to have disagreements and debate,” Trudeau said. “We even encourage it.
“This matter has generated an important discussion,” he added. “How democratic institutions, specifically the federal ministry and the staff and officials that support it, conduct themselves is critical and core to all of our principles.
“Concerns of this nature must be taken very seriously and I can assure you that I am,” Trudeau pledged, saying he’s “listening carefully to the various voices, testimonies, and opinions” of witnesses at the House of Commons’ justice committee.
Trudeau went out of his way to thank Philpott for her service and praise her various accomplishments. And he said her decision to resign was not a surprise.
“I know Ms. Philpott has felt this way for some time and, while I am disappointed, I understand her decision to step down.”
In her resignation letter to Trudeau, Philpott pointed out a cabinet minister must be able “speak in support of the government and its policies” at all times.
“Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a cabinet minister,” she wrote.
Trudeau named Carla Qualtrough, the minister of public services and procurement, as the acting president of the Treasury Board.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, said Philpott’s resignation proves he was correct when he asserted last week that Trudeau has “lost the moral authority to govern.”
“Today, a senior member of his inner circle has come to the same conclusion,” noted Scheer, repeating his call for Trudeau to resign and for the RCMP to investigate.
“Jane Philpott’s resignation from cabinet clearly demonstrates a government in total chaos, led by a disgraced prime minister consumed with scandal and focused only on his political survival,” he charged.
Scheer called on other cabinet ministers to follow Philpott’s example or be seen as part of the “ethical rot that infects this government.”
Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh reiterated his call for a public inquiry into the affair.
Like Wilson-Raybould, Philpott said she intends to remain a Liberal MP–for Markham-Stouffville outside Toronto, in her case. But unlike Wilson-Raybould, she did not say whether she intends to run for re-election as a Liberal this fall, although she already has been nominated.
There has been some speculation in Liberal circles that Philpott might run for leader of the Ontario Liberal party.
Philpott’s resignation was not entirely unexpected among Liberals, who knew she and Wilson-Raybould are close friends.
Indeed, when Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet, Philpott tweeted a picture of the pair with their arms around each other.
In a tweet praising Philpott’s “constant and unassailable commitment to always doing what is right and best for Canadians,” Wilson-Raybould told her friend: “You are a leader of vision & strength & I look forward to continuing to work alongside you.”
The pair’s departure is a blow to Trudeau’s brand. Both women were star candidates for the Liberals during the 2015 election and their initial appointment to prestigious cabinet posts was emblematic of Trudeau’s commitment to gender equality.
Wilson-Raybould, the country’s first indigenous justice minister, also embodied Trudeau’s vow to make reconciliation with indigenous peoples his top priority.
Whether Philpott and Wilson-Raybould will remain in caucus is not certain, although Trudeau’s remarks last night seemed to suggest they will.
Earlier in the day, before Philpott’s exit, he said he still was reflecting on Wilson-Raybould’s future in the party.
If he were to kick the pair out of caucus, he risks having at least a few Liberal backbenchers join them in political exile.
Liberal backbencher Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who announced last week she won’t seek re-election, yesterday tweeted her support for Philpott, as she has done repeatedly for Wilson-Raybould since the SNC-Lavalin controversy erupted a month ago.
“When you add women, please do not expect the status quo,” Caesar-Chavannes wrote. “Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised.
“Thank you @janephilpott for articulating this beautifully.”
New Brunswick Liberal MP Wayne Long reiterated his call for a “full and transparent investigation” into the SNC-Lavalin affair.