Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives at a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

‘Airing’ needed on SNC-Lavalin affair: Trudeau

PM says he’s confident in examinations underway by ethics commissioner, justice committee

An airing of the facts is needed in the SNC-Lavalin case, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, but he stressed he is confident in examinations underway by the federal ethics commissioner and the House of Commons justice committee.

Trudeau, who made the remarks before a regular weekly meeting of the Liberal caucus, faced questions about the NDP’s proposal for a broader public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin controversy dogging the government.

READ MORE: Community leaders in Jody Wilson-Raybould’s B.C. riding voice support for MP

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported almost two weeks ago that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured by prime ministerial staff to help the Montreal engineering firm avoid a criminal prosecution on corruption charges related to contracts in Libya.

Wilson-Raybould has since quit the cabinet and Trudeau’s close aide Gerald Butts resigned this week on the grounds that he’s become a distraction.

Nothing short of an independent inquiry will satisfy the Canadian people, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said Wednesday.

“My argument to the prime minister is come clean,” he said. “Have an independent hearing that is not run by the hand-puppets of the Liberal members of the justice committee.”

In January, Wilson-Raybould was shuffled into the veterans-affairs portfolio in January but resigned last week, hours after Trudeau suggested her continued presence in cabinet indicated nothing untoward had happened involving SNC-Lavalin. The move has been seen as a protest of the way Trudeau has treated her but she herself has said nothing about her reasons.

The ethics commissioner’s probe will focus on whether there was a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, while the justice committee is set to hear from witnesses including Wilson-Raybould.

Trudeau said Wednesday the government welcomes her testimony. ”It is extremely important that everybody have an opportunity to hear the different perspectives in this situation,” he said.

Wilson-Raybould, who remains the Liberal MP for Vancouver-Granville and attended Wednesday’s caucus meeting, told reporters she knows it is frustrating for many people that she has not commented further on her cabinet resignation.

She maintains she still needs to clarify what she can and cannot say, given the restrictions imposed by solicitor-client privilege covering her former position as the country’s attorney general, but she has agreed to appear before the justice committee.

“I respect that committee process,” she said.

Angus said it is a “joke” to suggest the Liberal-dominated committee will get to the bottom of anything.

“There is a huge difference between promising to air out the dirty laundry and presenting a plan that is so full of holes that it allows Gerry Butts and the rest of the people involved to walk away without coming clean,” he said.

“I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else in (Trudeau’s) office pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould,” Butts said in a statement when he resigned on Monday. “At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians.”

—with files from Terry Pedwell

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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