Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on during a transit infrastructure announcement in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

Liberals agree to only limited hearings on Wilson-Raybould affair

Their short list of three proposed witnesses does not include Wilson-Raybould

Liberals faced accusations of a coverup Wednesday after they agreed to hold limited committee hearings into an allegation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was improperly pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

Their short list of three proposed witnesses does not include Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet Tuesday.

The five Liberal MPs on the House of Commons justice committee used their majority to block an opposition motion that would have seen the committee hear from nine key players in the controversy, including Wilson-Raybould, current Justice Minister David Lametti, clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and senior aides in the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, including chief of staff Katie Telford and principal secretary Gerald Butts.

READ MORE: Trudeau surprised, puzzled by Wilson-Raybould’s resignation

Liberals approved instead their own motion, which called on the committee to hear from just Lametti, Wernick and the deputy justice minister — although more could be added next week after getting legal advice, behind closed doors, on what steps the committee needs to take to avoid interfering with two ongoing court cases involving SNC-Lavalin. The Montreal engineering giant has been charged with bribery and corruption involving contracts in Libya.

The Liberals defeated an attempt by New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen to strike a compromise of six witnesses, adding Butts and two other senior PMO aides who were heavily involved in the SNC-Lavalin file.

They also defeated a Conservative motion calling on Trudeau to immediately waive solicitor-client privilege, which Wilson-Raybould has cited as preventing her from commenting on the allegation.

READ MORE: Jody Wilson-Raybould resigns from cabinet

The Liberal motion calls on the committee to study the legal principles at the root of the controversy — including the recently added Criminal Code provision that made it legal to negotiate remediation agreements in cases of corporate corruption, a form of plea bargain in which a company pays restitution, but avoids criminal prosecution that could bankrupt it.

The motion also included looking at the so-called Shawcross doctrine, which spells out the degree to which an attorney general may consult with cabinet colleagues about a prosecution.

“That is not an investigation, that is simply going through the motions,” Cullen said after the meeting, accusing the Liberals of “battening down the hatches” to prevent any truth from coming to light.

“Liberals seem to think that this should be just a sort of study group, a book club to look at all sorts of interesting ideas about the law rather than the scandal that’s right in front of Canadians.”

Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the Liberals’ motion is “part of a coverup” and an attempt at creating “a diversion” with lengthy hearings on legal principles.

“At the end of the day, this is really not that complicated. This is about the fact that certain officials in the PMO were alleged to have put pressure on the former attorney general to interfere in a criminal investigation, nothing more, nothing less … The Liberals aren’t interested in that. They’re interested in covering this up.”

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, who proposed the successful motion, defended the Liberals’ refusal to call Wilson-Raybould to hear her side of the story. He said she’s bound by a rule that prohibits a former minister from commenting on her previous portfolio and by solicitor-client privilege, noting that Wilson-Raybould has hired a former Supreme Court justice to advise her on what she can say.

“I think it’s important for Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak to Canadians on her own terms. It doesn’t need to be something we do here at the justice committee,” he said.

Trudeau, meanwhile, was sticking to his message that Wilson-Raybould had a duty to speak up months ago if she had concerns about the way the government was handling the SNC-Lavalin case.

At a short appearance in Sudbury, Ont., Trudeau dodged a question about what reason Wilson-Raybould gave about why she resigned from cabinet, leaving the microphone rather than answering.

Wilson-Raybould was demoted to the veterans affairs post in a January cabinet shuffle. A Globe and Mail report, attributed to unnamed sources, last week alleged the PMO leaned on her instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau has denied any improper pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould and maintains she never mentioned any concern about that to him.

Prior to the committee meeting, Raitt said if Liberals believe Trudeau, they should support “without hesitation” the opposition motion for a full investigation into the affair.

“But if they defeat or they water it down in any way, it is nothing less than an admission of guilt.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who is touring New Brunswick, repeated the same message a short time later. He accused Trudeau of “trying to paint himself as the victim in all of this,” while ”publicly impugning (Wilson-Raybould’s) character in a way that prevents her from speaking for herself.”

Raitt said the Conservatives will now pursue other options to get to the bottom of the matter. Among the options, she mentioned a judicial inquiry or an investigation by a Senate committee. She did not rule out asking the RCMP to investigate.

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion has initiated his own investigation into the matter, specifically whether there’s been a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act.

In the wake of the allegations and Dion’s review, SNC-Lavalin had its debt rating downgraded Wednesday by Standard & Poor’s to BBB- from BBB.

The agency cited the criminal charges against the engineering and construction giant and the possibility of a 10-year ban from bidding on federal contracts among its reasons for the downgrade.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

‘Food recovery program working brilliantly,’ says food bank manager

Campbell River Food Bank program fills community’s stomachs with fresh food, keeping excess out of landfill

Howie Meeker Golf Classic helping Special Olympians realize dreams

31st annual event raises money for Campbell River Special Olympics

Mowi says all Campbell River-area farms now certified to ASC standard

ASC represents ‘gold standard in environmental and social certification,’ company says

Strathcona Regional District rejects well out of concern for Oyster River watershed

Board won’t entertain actions that facilitate additional development, threaten the Oyster River,

Man launches petition to bring charter schools to B.C.

The move could see up to 20 charter schools come to the province

Clean the house, prep for your next trip: Tips to nix the post-vacation blues

48 per cent of travellers are already stressed about ‘normal life’ while still on their trip

Vancouver Island senior found safe with help from six search and rescue teams

Wayne Strilesky found safe in thick brush in north Nanaimo

More women may need breast cancer gene test, U.S. guidelines say

Recommendations aimed at women who’ve been treated for BRCA-related cancers and are now cancer-free

Couple could go to jail for taking 88 lbs. of Italian sand

Pair said they didn’t know it was illegal to take the sand, which is protected as a public good

Bodies of two missing Surrey men found near Ashcroft: RCMP

Ryan Provencher and Richard Scurr have been missing since July 17

B.C. manhunt suspects left cellphone video before they died: family

Family member says Kam McLeod, Bryer Schmegelsky recorded final wishes

VIDEO: RCMP unveil new, state-of-the-art forensics lab

The laboratory is expected to handle thousands of forensic services from across Canada annually

Scheer promises EI tax credit for new parents if Conservatives form government

The government currently taxes employment insurance benefits for new parents

Most Read