Published: Sat, March 09, 2019
Business | By Eloise Houston

Butts testimony presents very different picture of JWR affair

Butts testimony presents very different picture of JWR affair

Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former attorney general and justice minister, testified last week that Trudeau and senior members of his government inappropriately tried to pressure her to instruct prosecutors to avoid criminal prosecution of Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin and instead require it to pay fines for alleged bribery in Libya.

Wilson-Raybould testified she received a call from the prime minister on January 7 to inform her she was being shuffled out of her role as justice minister and attorney general.

She resigned nearly a month after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from federal cabinet.

In owning some responsibility for the mistakes, the sources said Trudeau will essentially be offering a way for Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to walk back their professed loss of confidence in the government, rejoin the Liberal team and move on with the heavy agenda he hopes to accomplish before Canadians head to the polls in October. She initially agreed to a new Cabinet post but resigned weeks later.

Last week Wilson-Raybould outlined for the justice committee 11 meetings and phone calls with 11 different political staff in the Prime Minister's Office, the finance minister's office and the Privy Council Office, which she said were not illegal but overstepped what was appropriate.

Drouin also said a day later, on September 12, she was informed the director of public prosecutions was still talking to SNC-Lavalin, which indicated to Drouin that the decision not to proceed to a remediation agreement was not final. In her first appearance at committee, Drouin refused to reveal what advice she gave Wilson-Raybould, citing solicitor-client privilege. She also said her chief of staff, Prince, was "urgently summoned" to a meeting with Butts and Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, on December 18, where Prince was told by Butts that there was no solution on SNC-Lavalin "that does not involve some interference".

"I would, of course, make myself available to answer any further questions and to provide further clarity", Wilson-Raybould said. His statement could come as early as tonight, but more likely Friday or early next week.

"We all feel pressure".

Since the furor erupted a month ago, Trudeau has offered only general denials of any wrongdoing.

Wilkinson described Wilson-Raybould as a personal friend and a professional of very high integrity.

A conviction against SNC-Lavalin could result in the company being barred from bidding on federal contracts for a decade, potentially endangering as many as 9,000 jobs.

In a 10-minute statement in the National Press Theatre on Thursday, Trudeau did not rule out kicking either Wilson-Raybould or former president of the Treasury Board Jame Philpott out of caucus following their resignations from cabinet. And by the end of the day's testimony, it was obvious Wilson-Raybould needed to return to the witness stand.

Butts disagrees on the timeline and nature of the interactions, saying that it was "inconceivable" that anyone in the Prime Minister's office would act in such a manner, and he said that no government official, Trudeau included, would "direct or ask the attorney general to negotiate a remediation agreement".

They also voted down a motion to have Wilson-Raybould return to the committee to respond to evidence from Butts that contradicted her own.

He planned to back up his version of events with emails, text messages and other documentation, much as Wilson-Raybould did in her testimony. He told the justice committee that everyone in the Prime Minister's Office recognized that the decision on whether to intervene was Wilson-Raybould's alone, that there was no improper pressure and that she never raised a complaint about it until after Trudeau told her she was being moved out of her "dream job".

As a result, Butts said Trudeau and the PMO determined that only Jane Philpott had the capacity and institutional knowledge to take over the complicated role, but anxious what signal it would send by shuffling one of its most capable ministers from the Indigenous Services portfolio.

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