Tories force House debate on calling Trudeau to testify on SNC-Lavalin
|CTVnews 25 Feb 2019 at 08:01|
OTTAWA The Conservatives have focused in on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin affair and are forcing the Commons to spend the day debating their motion to have him testify at the House committee studying the matter.
"The time has come for the prime minister to come clean," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters Monday ahead of debate getting underway. He said that looking at the details that continue to drip out, the story has the makings of a "textbook case of government corruption." Scheer said that should the House order Trudeau to appear, he would have to attend.
The motion specifically invokes some of Trudeaus own remarks on the case of alleged PMO political interference. The full text reads: "That, given the Prime Minister s comments of Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the appropriate place for Canadians to get answers on the SNC-Lavalin affair, and given his alleged direct involvement in a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin s criminal prosecution, the House order the Prime Minister to appear, testify and answer questions at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, under oath, for a televised two-hour meeting, before Friday, March 15, 2019."
Two previous opposition attempts to have senior PMO staff testify at the committee have been unsuccessful, as was a motion to compel Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege and have a public inquiry launched.
Citing unnamed sources, The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that Trudeaus office pressed the former minister at the centre of the story, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to drop a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin when she was attorney general. It was alleged that the PMO wanted Wilson-Raybould to instruct federal prosecutors to change course and pursue a remediation agreement rather than criminal prosecution in the corruption and fraud case against the Quebec engineering and construction giant. CTV News has not independently verified the story.
The House Justice Committee that has been looking into the affair has so far heard from current Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, his deputy minister, and top bureaucrat Michael Wernick, who gave blunt and detailed testimony.
Wernick disputed the allegations reported in the Globe and sought to reframe them, saying that while it s likely Wilson-Raybould could have felt pressured, its a question of whether that constitutes as "inappropriate pressure," or pressure that comes with being part of the inner circle that makes key decisions with national implications. In his view, the pressure was "lawful and appropriate."
The committee study continues Monday afternoon with testimony from academics who will chime in on the underlying legal aspects at the heart of the affair. These include the legal provision tucked into a recent omnibus bill known as remediation or deferred prosecution agreements, the Shawcross doctrinewhich has to do with the independence of the attorney general in making decisionsand the discussions between the AG and government colleagues on SNC-Lavalin.
The probe is set to reach a new level of attention this week when Wilson-Raybould testifies. Her appearance at committee is expected Tuesday at the earliest.
When she was attorney general, Wilson-Raybould had the ability to direct federal prosecutors to take a different route with the charges against SNC-Lavalin but she did not, despite several meetings and conversations on the matter before and after federal prosecutors decided to carry on with the criminal case in the fall.
In January, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled into the veterans affairs portfolio, and was replaced as attorney general and justice minister by Lametti, a Quebec MP. Wilson-Raybould accepted her new position, but then resigned from cabinet days after the Globe story broke. So far, shes maintained solicitor-client privilege as the reason shes yet to speak out publicly about the allegations, though shes signaled a desire to speak my truth, and reportedly told cabinet members when she met with them last week at her request, that the pressure was improper.
To date, the government maintains that nothing improper occurred, though Trudeaus principal secretary resigned over the matter on Feb. 18, denying any wrongdoing.
Since the scandal hit Parliament Hill, federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion has launched an investigation, which Liberals continue to point to as the best avenue for examining the case, though such probes can often take months to complete.