SNC-Lavalin chief warns Canadian job losses possible amid scandal
|Toronto Star 20 Mar 2019 at 12:42|
The head of the Montreal-based construction giant at the centre of a political firestorm warned the company remains undervalued, is vulnerable to a takeover and at risk of shedding jobs in Canada.
‚ÄúJustice is upside down on this,‚ÄĚ Bruce said in a BNN Bloomberg television interview. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve apologized for the behaviour of the previous management, and ultimately, I firmly believe the prosecution service should hold those responsible to account and stop damaging the innocent people.‚ÄĚ
SNC-Lavalin once had 20,000 workers in Canada and now has 9,000, he added. ‚ÄúIf we can‚Äôt put some of this behind us, it‚Äôs highly likely that we‚Äôll have less,‚ÄĚ he said.
Bruce‚Äôs comments are the latest twist in a saga over whether his company will get a deferred prosecution agreement, a negotiated fine that would end prosecution and help it avoid a ban on bidding for federal contracts that would come with a potential conviction. Trudeau‚Äôs former attorney general alleges the prime minister and several staff pressured her to help SNC.
The scandal is dominating political debate in Canada, coinciding with a drop to second place in opinion polls for the governing Liberal Party. Trudeau, whose finance chief delivered his final budget this week before an election this fall, has lost two cabinet minister, one of his top political aides and Canada‚Äôs top bureaucrat to the controversy.
Bruce said Wednesday he never spoke with Trudeau directly about job losses or a deferred prosecution agreement, but that his company lobbied through normal channels.
‚ÄúWe put forward in our submissions what the public interest case is,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve never asked for charges to be dropped, we‚Äôve never asked for this to be circumvented in any way. We‚Äôll follow the rule of law, whether it‚Äôs the court process or a remediation agreement.‚ÄĚ
He said he never threatened to move the company headquarters from Montreal: ‚ÄúThis is where we want to be, in terms of our base.‚ÄĚ But the chief executive also signalled the company could pivot its focus elsewhere.
‚ÄúWe are a proud Canadian global champion ‚ÄĒ one of the few, actually,‚ÄĚ Bruce said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre a global company, we‚Äôve got over 50,000 people. We can dial up, dial down, where we work. And if we are not in a position to do federal contracts, then that‚Äôs really clear. We don‚Äôt do that, we do something else.‚ÄĚ
He said the company is looking at all its options and that it remains undervalued. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs always a possibility, but no, we haven‚Äôt‚ÄĚ been approached recently about a takeover, he said. Asked if he was considering spinning off parts of the business, he said ‚Äúevery option is open.‚ÄĚ
Bruce added: ‚ÄúUltimately, this uncertainty just makes it very, very difficult to surface the true value.‚ÄĚ The prosecution could take another three or four years, he said.
Saudi Arabia and Scheer
The legal case wasn‚Äôt the only thing Bruce singled out as hurting SNC‚Äôs business. He also cited uncertainty in Saudi Arabia, saying ‚Äúit‚Äôs not of our making, in terms of the intergovernmental relationships there.‚ÄĚ Trudeau‚Äôs government clashed with Saudi Arabia last year over human-rights issues, prompting the kingdom to restrict Canadian investment.
Bruce criticized political leaders for the current scandal, likening it to an ‚Äúunacceptable‚ÄĚ hockey game between Trudeau‚Äôs team and that of his rival, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, with his employees caught in the middle.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs politics, it‚Äôs not actually anything to do with us. We‚Äôve gone through the right channels, we‚Äôve been really transparent and we‚Äôve been clear,‚ÄĚ Bruce said, adding that he‚Äôs spoken to Scheer on social occasions. ‚ÄúHe seemed pro-business and seemed supportive, so I‚Äôm sort of puzzled by the reaction,‚ÄĚ he said.