Inside an explosive week in the SNC-Lavalin controversy

We’re learning more all the time about what led to Wilson-Raybould’s resignation – and what might come next

David Cochrane

CBC News

Feb 23, 2019

Before Jody Wilson-Raybould could state her case to her ex-cabinet colleagues on Tuesday, she first had to make her case directly to the prime minister.

And so, on a frosty Ottawa morning, Wilson-Raybould and her former chief of staff, Jessica Prince, walked into the prime minister’s West Block offices for a private meeting with Justin Trudeau, his chief of staff, Katie Telford, and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick.

It was the morning after Gerald Butts had publicly announced his resignation as Trudeau’s principal secretary. The very apex of the Liberal government was reeling — and now Wilson-Raybould wanted to walk into the cabinet room a week after she had walked out of cabinet.

Her pitch was simple. She wanted to explain her side of the SNC-Lavalin affair to the inner circle she had quit on February 12.

Trudeau eventually agreed to bring her request to the full cabinet. Ministers debated the matter for two hours while Wilson-Raybould waited outside.

Multiple sources tell CBC News that some cabinet ministers were concerned about the optics of letting Wilson-Raybould attend a meeting of the inner circle just a week after she’d quit cabinet.

They eventually consented to Wilson-Raybould’s unprecedented appearance but — as Wernick revealed in his extraordinary testimony before the Commons justice committee this week — Attorney General David Lametti left the cabinet room to avoid any potential conflict.

No apologies

Sources described Wilson-Raybould as unapologetic during her cabinet room appearance. People inside the room, and those later briefed on the conversation, confirm that Wilson-Raybould told the cabinet she felt she had been pressured improperly to help SNC-Lavalin, something first reported by the Globe and Mail.

The specifics of what Wilson-Raybould said in cabinet were not shared with CBC News, but Wernick’s testimony likely shed some light on what was said. The clerk typically attends cabinet meetings, and Wernick was at this one.

“I predict that the former attorney-general will express concern to this committee about three events. The first is the meeting with the prime minister,” Wernick told MPs on the justice committee Thursday.

Read on:

The story runs on at length, but it seems that the Prime Minister and PMO have no concept of how to deal with an honest person. It appears that Wilson-Raybould is not for sale or open to coercion.

That is what the meetings with PMO officials were all about – coercing Wilson-Raybould into giving SNC-Lavalin a break allegedly to save the jobs of SNC-Lavalin employees, protect the pensions of SNC-Lavalin employees (along with the pensions of the Quebec pension funds heavily invested in SNC-Lavalin, support for the government and the Liberal Party.

According to SNC-Lavalin about 8,760 people (17.5% of its 50,000 strong workforce) are employed in Canada. Many would be retained as they carry out home office functions, not contract work. Another factor is that major construction projects will be built even if the contractor is not SNC-Lavalin, so experienced workers will find jobs. No contractor can afford to keep employees on the payroll awaiting the next big contract. Most are hired once a contract is secured.   

Giving corporations engaged in unlawful activates a means to avoid conviction is not in the public interest. Canada is not a banana republic yet, but our government appears to be headed in that direction.

There would not be a scandal if the members of the PMO had acted honestly and ethically. It seems they did not, and the consequences should be severe. Members of the PMO are not above the law and hiding facts behind a shield of Cabinet, PCO and PMO ‘confidentiality rules’ is unbecoming for the highest office in the nation. The Prime Minister is destroying trust in his office and his government.

These are sad days for Canadians who live in what should be the best nation in the free world. We cannot protect our democracy or reputation without unsullied leadership. Mr. Trudeau is doomed; the longer he puts off an inevitable reckoning, the more harm he does to his Party and our government.   

John Feldsted

Political Consultant & Strategist

Winnipeg, Manitoba

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