Assessing the Conservatives' options as SNC scandal churns
OTTAWA -- Former federal Treasury Board president Jane Philpott says there's "much more to the story" of the SNC-Lavalin affair that should be told.
In an interview with Maclean's magazine that landed like a bomb Thursday on Parliament Hill, the ex-minister said she had concerns in January, before the controversy became public, but that she has been prevented from discussing them through efforts by the Prime Minister's Office to "shut down the story."
Philpott joined the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, in resigning from Justin Trudeau's cabinet last month, following public allegations that the prime minister and others pressured Wilson-Raybould to avert a criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering firm for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.
"My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story," Philpott told Maclean's in her first extended interview since her resignation.
"I believe we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth. They need to have confidence in the very basic constitutional principle of the independence of the justice system."
Philpott's new public statements are already fanning the flames of a scandal the government is desperate to douse, and which the Opposition Conservatives are doing their best to keep alive. They've forced the House of Commons to sit all night, voting line by line on the Liberal government's spending plans.
On Wednesday, the Liberal majority in the House shot down a Conservative motion calling on Trudeau to let Wilson-Raybould testify more fully about what she experienced through the fall and into the early winter, especially what prompted her to resign from cabinet altogether after she was shuffled from the justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in January.
The motion was defeated by a vote of 161-134, with both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould absent.
That set the stage for the Conservative-sponsored filibuster that began Wednesday night and continued through Thursday morning.
Since any vote involving government spending is automatically a confidence vote, Liberals were required to be out in force to avoid potential defeat of the government. The voting could theoretically last 36 hours, but the Conservatives had only to keep it going until just after 10 a.m. ET today to scrub the remainder of the parliamentary day but the votes continued into the afternoon.
Committee meetings scheduled for Thursday have already been cancelled.
Philpott's interview gave new life to opposition MPs as the voting dragged on.
Nevertheless, Trudeau continued to say that Philpott and Wilson-Raybould are welcome to remain in the Liberal caucus, despite their criticisms of him just seven months before an election. While they disagree over the SNC-Lavalin matter, Trudeau said all Liberals are united on the "big things" like investing in the middle class, fighting climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.
After an announcement in Mississauga, pumping up the latest budget's promise to send $2.2 billion extra to municipal infrastructure projects, Trudeau noted that cabinet already waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak. That covered the alleged pressure she came under last fall, up to Jan. 14 when she was moved out of her dual role as justice minister and attorney general. He dismissed opposition calls to extend the waiver to apply to the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould's resignation from cabinet a month later.
"It was extremely important that the former attorney general be allowed to share completely her perspectives, her experiences on this issue, and that is what she was able to do," he said. "The issue at question is the issue of pressure around the Lavalin issue while she was attorney general and she got to speak fully to that."
Among the things Philpott told Maclean's she would like to speak out about is why she raised the SNC-Lavalin issue with Trudeau when he informed her he was shuffling her to Treasury Board and planning to move Wilson-Raybould into Philpott's former post at Indigenous Services.
Trudeau gave his version of that conversation, which echoed the testimony of his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, at the House of Commons justice committee.
"She asked me directly if this was in link to the SNC-Lavalin decision and I told her no, it was not," Trudeau said. "She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous Services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give, in explaining to Jody Wilson-Raybould how exciting this job was and what a great thing it would be for her to have that role."
Wilson-Raybould ultimately turned down the move to Indigenous Services and Trudeau moved her instead to Veterans Affairs.
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