Prime minister downplays caucus divisions over SNC-Lavalin affair
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the Liberal caucus is more united than ever, despite divisions over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)
Liberal MPs have voted down an opposition motion to launch a Commons ethics committee probe into the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who broke with party ranks to vote in favour of an NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin matter, said he opposes an ethics committee hearing at this time because it is “premature.”
He pointed out that the justice committee is still awaiting a written submission, texts and emails from former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, the Liberal MP whose allegations of political interference in her work as attorney general touched off the scandal which has dominated federal politics for weeks.
“To me, it makes far more sense to see what is said in that statement, to see how justice reacts to that and whether they think any of that new information is something worth reconsidering their previous decision to close off their study,” Erskine-Smith said.
Apart from Erskine-Smith, no other Liberal members spoke during the committee meeting. He said the Liberal members met before the meeting began and decided he would speak for the group.
Frustrated Conservatives called the vote further evidence of a government effort to sweep a scandal under the rug.
“Liberals had a chance to put their votes where their mouths were, and instead they decided to vote for another coverup,” said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre.
Conservative MP and ethics critic Peter Kent had drafted a motion to launch an inquiry, call former cabinet ministers Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott to testify by April 5 and formally request that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broaden a waiver to allow them to speak freely. MORE
Quebec government scientist Louis Robert was fired from his job after a 32-year career for exposing industry influence in public research on pesticides. Image courtesy Radio-Canada.ca
In May 2009, Quebec government scientist Louis Robert was 15 minutes away from entering a conference room to give a lecture about phosphorus when he got a phone call from his boss ordering him to call it off.
His boss threatened to move Robert into another office to perform administrative tasks if he dared to proceed with the lecture.
A year earlier, a senior public servant summoned Robert to a meeting at a restaurant with his boss, in which the scientist was told to cancel an on-camera appearance with journalists to talk about the management of fertilizers.
The interview was scheduled to be four days away, but it was cancelled and the journalists were then forced to send their questions to the ministry to proceed with their reporting.
Both incidents were recounted in an email sent to National Observer by Robert’s public sector union.
Throughout this period, the union said he was trying to alert his superiors about attempts by industry to suppress publicly-funded science on the health effects of pesticides.
Robert was previously employed at Quebec’s Agriculture Department for three decades.
All in all, the scientist was personally ordered to cancel these types of appearances “five to six” other times over the past few years, according to his union. MORE
Opposition MPs wanted to press Liberals to call Jody Wilson-Raybould back to testif
Opposition MPs want Jody Wilson-Raybould to return to the Commons justice committee. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)
Opposition MPs hurled angry claims of a “coverup” today after Liberals used their majority to shut down an emergency meeting of the committee probing the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The meeting was requested by Conservative and NDP members to press the Liberals to recall Jody Wilson-Raybould to testify again, even though the Liberals already had defeated a similar motion.
But less than 30 minutes after the meeting began, the Liberals voted to adjourn.
“I have never been so disgusted by the conduct of my Liberal colleagues,” said Conservative MP Michael Cooper after the committee broke.
“They have done the bidding of the PMO.”
Opposition MPs were making another bid to bring the former attorney general back to testify before the committee today, warning that Canadians would see any attempt by the Liberals to block them as evidence of a “coverup.”
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While casting their votes, opposition MPs shouted at their Liberal counterparts, calling their actions “despicable” and “disgusting.”
“I’m strongly voting opposed and I’m shocked at the behaviour of my colleagues,” said NDP MP Tracey Ramsey.
The committee is scheduled to meet next on Mar. 19 — a closed session that coincides with the tabling of the federal budget.