The Canadian Press
OTTAWA–Canadians could hear this week from Jody Wilson-Raybould about whether the former attorney general believes she faced inappropriate pressure from the prime minister’s office to halt a criminal prosecution of Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould widely is expected to testify as early as tomorrow at a Commons’ committee looking into the allegations, although the Vancouver Liberal MP has not said definitively when she might appear.
The opposition Conservatives also will put pressure on the prime minister himself to testify at the Commons’ justice committee.
The Tories planned to introduce a motion today calling on Justin Trudeau to take questions from the committee for two hours no later than March 15.
The motion calls on the House of Commons to “order the prime minister to appear, testify, and answer questions” under oath about his involvement in what the Conservatives say was a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin’s criminal prosecution.
The Prime Minister’s Office would not say yesterday whether Trudeau would be willing to appear, but said it respects the independence of the justice committee and will co-operate with the federal ethics commissioner’s investigation of the matter.
Members of Parliament, including the prime minister, cannot be forced to appear before committees.
As well, motions in the House of Commons are not binding and the committee itself still would have to decide whether to invite Trudeau.
Both the Conservatives and New Democrats say testimony so far at the committee makes clear to them that the PMO went too far in pressuring Wilson-Raybould to pursue SNC-Lavalin through a remediation agreement, rather than criminal prosecution, for fraud and bribery related to the firm’s work in Libya.
“There’s clearly a line that was crossed,” NDP justice critic Murray Rankin told CTV’s Question Period as he recalled testimony Thursday from Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick about his discussions with Wilson-Raybould.
Wernick told the committee that Trudeau was worried a prosecution might result in SNC-Lavalin cutting Canadian jobs.
But he stressed Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet Feb. 12, never was unduly pressured.
Rather, Wernick told the committee he provided the then-solicitor general with the “context” that a lot of people were worried about the consequences to jobs, communities, and suppliers should SNC-Lavalin face criminal proceedings.
But the decision to go ahead with prosecution already had been made months prior to Wernick’s discussion about the matter with Wilson-Raybould, Rankin noted.
“No means no. Why are they continuing to brow-beat her?” he wondered.
Liberal MP Marco Mendicino said Wernick, who has been a public servant for decades under both Liberal and Conservative governments, had a responsibility to bring new information to the attention of the attorney general that may impact innocent third parties, such as the employees of large corporations.
A conviction of SNC-Lavalin could result in the company being barred from bidding on Canadian government business.
Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt noted SNC-Lavalin was told Sept. 4 that it would face criminal prosecution.
“On Sept. 17, Jody Wilson-Raybould told the prime minister and the clerk of the Privy Council in no uncertain terms she wasn’t going to overrule her deputy on the matter,” Raitt told CTV.
“That’s where it should end. It should not go on from there,” she stressed.
International Trade minister Jim Carr, speaking on behalf of the Liberal government, told Global TV’s The West Block there was “no direction” given by Trudeau or his office on how the attorney general’s office should proceed in pursuing SNC-Lavalin.
“We have conversations all the time in cabinet, in one-on-one meetings with my colleagues, in small groups with the prime minister himself, with officials,” noted Carr.
“To govern is to have these conversations about issues, which are sometimes controversial, and that’s why Canadians elect us to work through the complexities of these issues and to be accountable for what we do,” he reasoned.
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio in January when she was named veterans affairs minister and soon afterward resigned from cabinet, though she remains in the Liberal caucus.
She so far has invoked client-solicitor privilege to avoid answering any questions.