Mike Smyth: Butts on hot seat in SNC-Lavalin scandal


It's alleged that the Trudeau Government attempted to interfere in a criminal trial for the benefit of engineering company SNC Lavalin, bullying the former attorney-general to help the multinational company - a major donor to the Prime Minister's Liberal Party of Canada - avoid penalties for bribes paid in Libya.

The scandal has rocked Trudeau's government.

Gerald Butts, who quit last month as Trudeau's chief aide, is due to testify to the House of Commons justice committee about the allegations on Wednesday.

He says the plan was a "simple one", Philpott to Treasury Board, Wilson-Raybauld to Indigenous Affairs, Lametti to Justice, and Jordan to Rural Affairs. And while I am disappointed, I understand her decision to step down.

Carr declined to say whether his Liberal colleagues should have allowed her to testify again.

Trudeau said he takes the concerns very seriously and said the matter has generated an important discussion.

Wernick, on the other hand, chose to wear an eagle feather pin as he spoke about his interactions with Jody Wilson-Raybould, the first Indigenous person to hold the office of Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

"I am confident that this will be so in this situation".

LISTEN: In this week's podcast, Province columnist Mike Smyth and Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer discuss the SNC-Lavalin scandal rocking the Justin Trudeau government in Ottawa.

"I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations".

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.

Wilson-Raybould was demoted from her role as attorney general and named veterans affairs minister in January as part of a Cabinet shuffle and resigned weeks later.

"Ultimately I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues", Trudeau said.

While Wilson-Raybould did tell him she had decided not to intervene in the case, he says he asked to reconsider and she agreed to do so.

Justin Trudeau has the power to do all that and, yes, even the ability to have his new attorney general, David Lametti, let SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal charge of bribery and corruption by negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement.

"That is two meetings and two phone calls per month for the minister and her office on an issue that could cost a minimum of 9,000 Canadians their job", said Butts.

Wilson-Raybould had not been hounded or pressured to change her mind about the decision to proceed to trial against SNC-Lavalin; he had not said that any solution to the SNC-Lavalin case would require some form of interference in the justice process; and 10 or 11 contacts with high-ranking public office holders, including the prime minister, Butts, the Clerk of the Privy Council and officials from the PMO, did not amount to hounding or pressure. But if the firm were convicted, it would be barred from bidding on Canadian government contracts for a decade, which would have grave impacts for the country's infrastructure and employment.

"I don't think 9,000 people lose their jobs", said Frederic Bastien, analyst at Raymond James based in Vancouver. "It has become rare that ministers resign on principle in Canada. It reveals deep division in the Cabinet about how to deal with Jody Wilson-Raybould".

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.

"I asked her in a surprised tone whether she was questioning the integrity of the Prime Minister", he told members of Parliament.

Trudeau didn't deny that but said it was not intended as a partisan comment.

Robert Bothwell, a professor at the University of Toronto, said the resignations speak to Trudeau's failure to connect with his own troops.

"Previous prime ministers benefited from experience and seniority, or respect, or fear, or just the feeling that they knew the way better than anybody else".