Jody Wilson-Raybould resigns from Trudeau’s cabinet, retains counsel amid SNC-Lavalin affair
Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould has resigned from the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
She will stay on as MP for Vancouver-Granville.
In a statement issued Tuesday morning, Wilson-Raybould announced she submitted her resignation as Minister of Veterans Affairs and said she has retained legal counsel to determine what she can and cannot talk about within the confines of solicitor-client privilege over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
“I am aware that many Canadians wish for me to speak on matters that have been in the media over the past week,” she wrote in a letter of resignation addressed to the prime minister and posted on her website.
“I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter and as such, have retained the Honourable Thomas Albert Cromwell, CC as counsel.”
She continued, adding that “regardless of background, geography or party affiliation, we must stand together for the values that Canada is built on, and which are the foundation of our future.”
Her decision comes after a bombshell report by the Globe and Mail last week alleged senior officials with the Prime Minister’s Office pressured her to intervene and urge prosecutors to cut a deal to save SNC-Lavalin from going to trial over corruption and fraud charges.
The allegations in that report prompted Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to announce on Monday that he is opening an investigation into the matter.
Known as a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “remediation agreement,” such a deal would have seen the company admit wrongdoing, pay a fine and pay back any financial gains made as a result of the business activities it is currently alleged to have committed in Libya.
She refused, the report said, and was subsequently demoted from the position of attorney general to Minister of Veterans Affairs.
Trudeau called the allegations “false” when they were first published on Feb. 7, 2019.
He said neither he nor anyone from his office had “directed” Wilson-Raybould to come to any conclusion about the matter but refused to answer questions about whether there had been any broader “influence” attempts, as were alleged in the report.
Later that same day, Attorney General David Lametti, who took over Wilson-Raybould’s position in the shuffle last month, went one step further and said neither he nor Wilson-Raybould had been subject to any attempts to direct or pressure them.
But on Monday, Trudeau admitted to a conversation in the fall with Wilson-Raybould, which would have been around the same time that the public prosecution service declined to enter into a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin and when the pressure is alleged to have been applied to Wilson-Raybould to intervene.
“She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall, where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” said Trudeau from an event in Vancouver.
He also said he has asked Lametti to study the question of whether to waive solicitor-client privilege to let Wilson-Raybould speak publicly about the extent of any discussions on the allegations, and that Lametti will get back to him with recommendations.
Wilson-Raybould was not present at that media availability or funding announcement despite other local cabinet ministers being there.
Trudeau said at the time he had “full confidence” in her and appeared to suggest that if she had serious concerns, she could quit cabinet.
Her resignation escalates the tensions in the affair given the House of Commons justice committee will vote on Wednesday whether to support an emergency motion put forward by the Conservative and NDP members to force senior government officials, including Wilson-Raybould, to testify.
Among those sought by the committee are Trudeau’s two closest advisers: principal secretary Gerald Butts and chief of staff Katie Telford. The head of the public prosecution service is also being sought, as are two other senior PMO staffers who were lobbied by SNC-Lavalin on justice matters this fall.
However, Liberal MPs hold the majority on that committee and can defeat the motion.
Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, chair of the committee, on Sunday pushed back at a report that the committee would vote against the motion.
In a tweet, he called such suggestions “incorrect” and said he is “closely following” all of the information emerging about the matter.
“I intend to independently determine whether Committee study of the issue will be useful for Canadians & colleagues will do same,” he said.
“Nobody has attempted to influence me.”
New Brunswick Liberal MP Wayne Long, who is not a member of the committee, on Monday also urged the committee not to block the motion.
He said there is a need to “clear the air.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has argued if the Liberals block the motion, it will show they have something to hide.
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