With two of the party’s MPs voting with the opposition, the majority Liberals voted down a motion today that would urge the government to launch a public inquiry into allegations that officials from the Prime Minister’s Office pressured the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. The motion also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege to allow the former attorney general to speak about the allegations.
Liberal MPs Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who represents Beaches–East York, and Wayne Long, who represents Saint John–Rothesay, voted against their party.
Long has called for the committee investigation looking into the matter to include Wilson-Raybould and officials from PMO, who have been implicated in allegations reported by the Globe and Mail. Long told iPolitics Tuesday that “transparency and openness is the best way” forward in this affair.
Wilson-Raybould abstained from the vote, explaining that she saw it as a conflict of interest, since it concerned herself.
“Privilege and confidentiality are not mine to waive and I hope I have the opportunity to speak my truth,” Wilson-Raybould said when she rose on a point of order after an initial vote on an amendment that would have set a deadline for a public inquiry report. The amendment was defeated as well.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus tabled the original motion. After the vote on the amendment he called on Trudeau to abstain from voting on the motion as well, saying it was a conflict of interest.
Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen asked the Speaker of the House Geoff Regan to exclude the votes of Trudeau and current Attorney General David Lametti as well, claiming them to also be in a conflict of interest. Regan said he would look into the matter and report back to the House. The motion would still be defeated without their votes.
Trudeau said repeatedly in the House on Tuesday that he “looks forward” to the findings of the House of Commons justice committee and the ethics commissioner, which are both undertaking investigations into allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) interfered in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould has remained tight-lipped in public since the Globe and Mail first reported that PMO had pressured her to allow SNC-Lavalin to settle for a deferred prosecution agreement, repeatedly refusing to comment by citing solicitor-client privilege that, because of her former position, she affords the prime minister. Wilson-Raybould has said she’s retained former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her about what she can legally talk about publicly.
On Thursday, the House justice committee will invite its first witnesses to a meeting for its inquiry into the allegations that have plagued the government for two weeks. Wilson-Raybould’s replacement, Attorney General and Justice Minister David Lametti, deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin, and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick are scheduled to attend.
The controversy centred around Wilson-Raybould took a surprise turn Tuesday, when she met with the government’s cabinet. She resigned from her position as Veterans Affairs minister last week. She was given that appointment after being shuffled out of her role as attorney general and justice minister, in January.
The prime minister’s principal secretary and right-hand man Gerald Butts became the first political casualty of the controversy on Monday, announcing that he was leaving his position. While he maintained that PMO did not commit any wrongdoing, he said that his presence “should not take one moment away from the vital work” of Trudeau and his office.
“It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away,” Butts said in a public resignation letter.
Trudeau told reporters today that he apologized to Wilson-Raybould at his caucus’ meeting this morning.
“I apologized to Jody Wilson-Raybould because I wasn’t quick enough to condemn in unequivocal terms the comments and commentary and cartoons made about her last week. They were absolutely unacceptable and I should have done it sooner,”Trudeau said.