Five things Canada learned at the justice committee from Butts, Drouin

Irving Hamilton
March 9, 2019

(When asked why he had made it a priority to have a half-female, half-male cabinet when he formed his government, he famously replied "Because it's 2015").

Gerald Butts, Trudeau's principal secretary, resigned in February despite emphatically denying the accusations.

Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee last week that Butts and other senior officials had subjected her to persistent and inappropriate pressure to help SNC-Lavalin evade a trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials. He said, "Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues". If it was such a big deal, why would she raise it with Butts as a virtual afterthought as they were leaving? Also, administrative staff in its Montreal headquarters would be more likely to retain their positions, as the company has a large worldwide portfolio. The firm is accused of an worldwide bribery and fraud scheme worth tens of millions of dollars.

SNC-Lavalin was not a consideration, he said.

A conviction, the company argued, risked crippling its business and putting thousands out of work. Wilson-Raybould had the power to scrap the decision to go to trial, but decided against it. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott was one of the most respected members of government, and political observers described her departure as a major blow.

"The Prime Minister has been very clear that from the very beginning of this issue that he and his staff have conducted themselves in a professional matter, that no lines were crossed", Goodale said.

"In that version of the events, the attorney general made the final decision, after weighing all of the public interest matters and a new law involved, in just 12 days", Butts said.

Wernick, on the other hand, appearing before the justice committee for the second time because his initial testimony was so fundamentally different from Wilson-Raybould's, was combative from the start.

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. However, Butts said he was unaware she had drawn any conclusion, she was encouraged to seek independent legal counsel, but the decision was her's alone.

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Mr Akunjee did not return phone calls and neither the Foreign Office or the Home Office were able to confirm or deny reports. Tasnime Akunjee tweeted: "We have strong but as yet unconfirmed reports that Shamima Begum's son has died".

Liberal justice committee member Randy Boissoinault said Butts' testimony was "very revealing", though opposition MPs were less impressed.

As Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick defended themselves before the House of Commons justice committee, they came prepared with not only a carefully curated choice of words, but carefully selected attire.

As for what constitutes inappropriate pressure, Wilkinson said, in his past experience as a civil servant, the types of communications Wilson-Raybould testified about are well within the norm. SNC-Lavalin stands accused of global bribery and fraud, including paying millions to the regime of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Moreover, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has requested that the RCMP investigate the matter and the federal ethics commissioner is conducting his own investigation into it - either of which could yet add fuel to the SNC-Lavalin fire.

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.

As for how it will play out in the minds of Atlantic Canadians when they head to the polls in October, barring an early election call or vote of non-confidence against the government (both of which Urbaniak says are unlikely), that remains to be seen.

If Trudeau should lose another Cabinet minister before the election his leadership could be called into question and already shaken Liberals could rebel.

But all five Atlantic cabinet ministers have since provided statements to the SaltWire Network stating they continue to have "full confidence" in the PMO, as did a number of the region's 32 Liberal MPs.

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