Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick arrives for a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2019. Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council _ the country’s top bureaucrat _ is leaving his job, telling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an open letter that recent events show him there is no path for a “relationship of mutual trust” if the Conservatives or NDP form the next government. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick retires in wake of SNC-Lavalin case

Jody Wilson-Raybould accused Wernick of pressuring her to head off criminal charges for the firm

The SNC-Lavalin affair claimed its fourth resignation Monday as Michael Wernick announced he will step down as the country’s top public servant, having concluded he’s lost the trust of opposition parties.

Opposition parties have been calling for the clerk of the Privy Council’s resignation since he first vehemently rejected allegations that he and others improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Wernick’s combative testimony to the House of Commons justice committee was denounced as partisan and unbecoming of a senior bureaucrat.

READ MORE: Wilson-Raybould says she’s sticking with Liberals for 2019 vote

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday, Wernick said he will retire before this fall’s federal election campaign kicks off. He noted that the clerk is supposed to be “an impartial arbiter of whether serious foreign interference” occurs during the campaign, as part of a new federal watchdog panel, and is also supposed to be ready to help whichever party is elected to form government — two roles he no longer believes he can fulfil.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” Wernick wrote. “I wish to relinquish these roles before the election. It is essential that Canadians continue to see their world-leading public service as non-partisan and there to provide excellent services to Canadians and the governments they elect.”

Wernick, who has served in senior public service roles for nearly 38 years, has been clerk of the Privy Council since 2016, shortly after the Trudeau Liberals assumed office. Government insiders have said he wanted to retire as clerk a year ago but was persuaded to stay on.

Wilson-Raybould has accused Wernick of making “veiled threats” that she’d lose her job as justice minister and attorney general if she didn’t cave in to pressure last fall from Trudeau and his senior staff to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on charges of bribery and corruption related to contracts in Libya.

She has said they pushed her to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with the Montreal engineering giant, which would have forced the company to pay stiff penalties but let it avoid the risk of a criminal conviction that could threaten its financial viability.

Wernick has denied the accusation and maintained that all concerned acted with the highest standards of integrity.

Wilson-Raybould’s concerns about undue pressure only surfaced publicly after she was moved out of the justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a mid-January cabinet shuffle. She resigned from cabinet a month later. Her exit was followed by the departure of Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, and then the resignation from cabinet of Jane Philpott, who cited loss of confidence in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Wernick’s decision to quit as well proves “this SNC-Lavalin scandal is even bigger than we thought,” said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre.

“The reality is, the prime minister’s government is in total crisis mode caused by his personal political interference in a criminal trial … The only person left to resign now is Justin Trudeau himself, whose corrupt government no longer has the confidence of Canadians.”

Trudeau said he intends to name Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace Wernick.

READ MORE: Trudeau fills vacancy in cabinet with B.C. MP Joyce Murray

—with files from Lee Berthiaume

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crews called to overnight fire in Ellison

Kelowna Fire first received the call around 9:55 p.m.

Kelowna RCMP make arrest in fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Elijah Beauregard

An 18-year-old woman is in police custody facing a manslughter charge.

Kelowna Firefighters douse suspicious hedge fire

A 30’ section of cedar hedge burned prompting an RCMP investigation.

West Kelowna director nominated for Juno Award

Johnny Jansen directed B.C. band Said the Whale’s ‘Record Shop’ video

West Kelowna Warriors edge Vernon Vipers 6-4

The teams meet again on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. for the final game of regular season

VIDEO: 2020 BC Winter Games wrap up in Fort St. John as torch passes to Maple Ridge

More than 1,000 athletes competed in the 2020 BC Winter Games

First win, fifth win highlight BC Senior Curling finals

Donna Mychaluk wins first title after finishing second five times; Wes Craig takes fifth crown

Still six cases of COVID-19 in B.C. despite reports of Air Canada passenger: ministry

Health ministry wouldn’t comment on specific flight routes

Violent ends to past Indigenous protests haunt Trudeau government

Trudeau adopted a more assertive tone Friday, insisting the barricade must come down

HIGHLIGHTS: Day one and two at the 2020 BC Winter Games

Athletes had sunny – but cold – weather to work with in Fort St. John

BC Senior Curling titles to be decided in Vernon

Wes Craig, Penny Shantz looking for fifth championships; Steve Wright, Donna Mychaluk into finals

B.C. money laundering inquiry to begin amid hopes for answers, accountability

Eby argued that most B.C. residents already know the previous government, at best, turned a blind eye

Most Read