Prime minister's Regina trip cancelled in favour of private meetings in Ottawa

Saul Bowman
March 7, 2019

Gerald Butts, who quit last month as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief aide, arrives to testify to the House of Commons justice committee, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, February 6, 2019.

The scandal has rocked Trudeau's government. She accused Trudeau, Butts, other senior staff in the Prime Minister's Office, Wernick and Finance Minister Bill Morneau's office of inappropriately pressuring her to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Butts abruptly stepped down last month. The firm is accused of an global bribery and fraud scheme worth tens of millions of dollars. Philpott's resignation letter included a long explanation of the principles of cabinet solidarity and mutual support and how she believed she could no longer sustain them.

His testimony comes in response to Wilson-Raybould's statements last week alleging that she felt pressured by the prime minister and his administration not to pursue a criminal investigation against SNC-Lavalin, a massive engineering corporation which has been involved in a number of public works projects in Canada and is accused of fraud and bribery in Libya. "Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised".

In his own testimony, Butts attempted to refute Wilson-Raybould's account, suggesting that high-level discussions of the Lavalin matter focused appropriately on how the case might affect jobs and employment, not on political repercussions of the case.

"We'll be listening carefully to the voices, testimonies and opinions expressed", Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, said Tuesday.

On Wilson-Raybould: "She was always the decision maker and she was always assured she was the final decision maker". "I was deeply concerned by what the minister was saying".

Near the very end of Butts's two-hour committee session, Elizabeth May, the Green Party leader, had a chance to ask a few questions.

Before beginning to speak, the Liberal majority on the committee voted down a Conservative motion for Butts to be sworn in to testify under oath.

Wilson-Raybould was subsequently moved from justice to veterans affairs after Butts said he warned the prime minister of the precedent it would set by allowing a cabinet minister to veto a move. "And I'm presenting myself as the most likely person that would have been informed, and I was not".

And the first Trudeau protester wasn't alone; another female protester soon interrupted the prime minister, accusing him of trying to silence "a Native woman's voice", and once again things got chaotic.

"How can you be credible to us when Ms Wilson-Raybould gave us such clear consistent testimony of a pattern of interference in an independent prosecution?" asked legislator Charlie Angus of the left-leaning New Democrats. Canadians go to the polls in October to decide whether he deserves another term.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, has called on Trudeau to resign and is asking police to investigate.

The prime minister himself has said repeatedly that he did nothing wrong.

Butts admitted that Trudeau and his staff had encouraged Wilson-Raybould to seek an outside legal opinion from a former Supreme Court of Canada justice to discuss the possibility of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) for SNC-Lavalin.

"Imagine for a moment that on September 16th, the day the former attorney general told this committee the decision was made, firmly and finally, that she made a public announcement to inform Canadians of that decision".

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