Published: Thu, March 07, 2019
Money | By Ethel Goodwin

Ex-senior aide Gerald Butts defends Trudeau amid political crisis

The committee is trying to determine whether the Prime Minister's Office improperly pushed former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to head off a trial of SNC-Lavalin for fraud and bribery by ordering prosecutors to negotiate a remediation agreement with the company. Trudeau didn't want another shuffle and wanted to keep it as small as possible.

Wilson-Raybould's testimony suggested she was removed from her post as Attorney General and demoted to the position of Veteran Affairs Minister, a position from which she resigned. "And facts are stubborn things".

The scoreboard still reads Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, 14, the Trudeau government, zero.

He told MPs that the question of when Wilson-Raybould made her decision is irrelevant, because the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was a matter of pressing government policy and fair game for him and others in government asking if there was another option. Trudeau also felt there were many lawyers in caucus who could be justice minister. And by the end of the day's testimony, it was obvious Wilson-Raybould needed to return to the witness stand.

Wilson-Raybould declined to answer last week if she had confidence in Trudeau.

The embattled prime minister had been expected to change his tone on the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

And if Wilson-Raybould insists she was hounded and browbeaten to help the company, she must simply be mistaken. As long as she was justice minister, Wilson-Raybould made no complaints.

"It seems grossly unfair, with all due respect, that we were allowing Mr. Butts to come and talk about what happened after she [left] cabinet but she can't do so", NDP justice critic Murray Rankin said.

Saying he knew Wilson-Raybauld well, and that she and he husband had dined with his family on occasion, Butts told the committee he takes his fair share of responsibility for the erosion of that trust.

But when opposition MPs tried to take him though her specific allegations, Wernick said he couldn't remember everything he said to her because he wasn't "wearing a wire", nor had he taken any notes of those conversations when they occurred.

Trudeau's Liberal party has the majority of seats in Parliament so his government can not be brought down in a vote of no confidence unless his own party members vote against him. Wilson-Raybould has herself said that she didn't think the pressure was illegal.

I have absolutely no doubt that Butts believes this to be true and absolutely no doubt that it is true.

Wilson-Raybould has alleged that the Prime Minister's Office improperly pressured her to stop a criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering firm.

He said: "Mario Dion must first delegate the investigation to a provincial ethics commissioner because he suffers from an appearance of bias as he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, very questionable process".

When asked, he dismissed suggestions of any inappropriate pressure on her concerning the DPA and SNC-Lavalin issue. "Imagine for a moment that on September the 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". He also said Indigenous files were critical because Trudeau might invite the new minister to attend meetings with Indigenous leaders the following week.

Wiseman said the last time he can recall something like this was in 1963 when three Cabinet ministers resigned over then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's opposition to the stationing of American nuclear weapons on Canadian soil.

"It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our attorney-general should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases", Philpott wrote.

Butts said there had been a total of 10 meetings and 10 calls on the matter, including only one face-to-face discussion in December between himself and Wilson-Raybound.

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