Former cabinet minister Jane Philpott says in magazine interview there’s ‘much more to the story’
Liberal MPs Salma Zahid, left to right, Nick Whalen and Geng Tan rise for the final vote at the end of a 30-hour marathon voting session that began on Wednesday and lasted until 1 a.m. on Friday in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
The Conservatives’ marathon vote protest in the Commons ended in the wee hours this morning, but their cause got an added boost after Maclean’s magazine ran an interview with Jane Philpott saying there’s “much more to the story” when it comes to the SNC-Lavalin controversy.
The Conservative Opposition triggered the voting marathon in Ottawa after the Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down further investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair. For more than 30 hours, the House of Commons was engaged in round-the-clock voting that kept MPs close to their seats.
The voting got underway around 6 p.m. ET Wednesday and continued until almost 1 a.m. ET Friday, with members voting line by line on the Liberal government’s spending plans.
In the story, published Thursday morning, the Liberal MP said she had concerns about the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case before the controversy became public in January. She alleged Canadians have been prevented from hearing more about what went on in government circles due to efforts by the Prime Minister’s Office to “shut down the story.”
“My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story,” Philpott said.
“I believe we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth. They need to have confidence in the very basic constitutional principle of the independence of the justice system.”
In an exclusive interview with Paul Wells, the former Treasury Board president says: ‘we actually owe it to Canadians as politicians to ensure that they have the truth.’
Philpott waits to deliver a keynote speech at an International Women’s Day event at Ottawa City Hall on Friday, March 8, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)
Jane Philpott was deeply ambivalent about talking earlier this week when she welcomed a Maclean’s reporter to her MP’s office in the Confederation Building across the street from Parliament Hill. It’s not an office the former Treasury Board president knows well: she had fancier and more centrally located ministerial offices in a succession of senior roles in Justin Trudeau’s cabinet since 2015, before she resigned from cabinet on March 4. Now she is only the Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of Markham—Stouffville.
This is Philpott’s first interview since she resigned over Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin controversy. She believes, as she put it, that “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told” but that it can’t come out because “there’s been an attempt to shut down the story”—an attempt she attributed to the Prime Minister and his close advisors.
But she is also keenly aware, because she has been hearing from Liberal colleagues, that “there are people who are afraid that they’re not going to get elected because of what I did.” As she described that anger, the former minister said: “My only way of living with myself on that, is that this is not my fault. I did not start this.” Now she is trying to figure out how to see it through. MORE
Photo: Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick taking part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Monday, March 18, 2019. Following the shuffle, he announced his resignation. The Canadian Press, by Sean Kilpatrick.
Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould noted in her opening statement on the SNC-Lavalin affair before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, on February 27, that the attorney general must “always (be) willing to speak truth to power,” a point that was reinforced by NDP committee member Murray Rankin.
It is ironic that this concept was raised first by politicians and not public servants: the concept of “speaking truth to power” is a mantra in the public service; it demands that public servants tell elected officials the truth, even when they don’t want to hear it.
The former Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick (who notified the Prime Minister on March 18 of his intention to resign) was asked when he appeared before the Justice Committee on February 21 if he had applied inappropriate pressure on the former minister of justice regarding the decision on whether to offer a deferred prosecution agreement to SNC-Lavalin. He replied, “Part of my conversation with her on December 19 was conveying context that there were a lot of people worried about what would happen ─ the consequences not for her, the consequences for the workers and the communities and the inapproprsuppliers.”
This kind of tough talk is central to the concept of speaking truth to power. In Wernick’s words, “I am quite sure the minister felt pressure to get it right.” MORE
Liberal MPs wrote letter saying it’s time to end SNC-Lavalin probe
The Commons justice committee’s five Liberals wrote chair Anthony Housefather, shown here March 13, on Monday night, saying any further examination of the SNC-Lavalin affair should be left to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
The opposition is accusing the Liberals of shutting down the investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair following a rocky day at the justice committee.
The House of Commons committee is looking into allegations the Prime Minister’s Office and other officials inappropriately pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould, justice minister and attorney general at the time, to allow Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin to avoid criminal prosecution on bribery charges providing it met certain conditions in a remediation agreement.
Tuesday’s meeting was held behind closed doors, although opposition MPs pushed for it to be on the record.
After about two hours, members of the Conservative and NDP parties emerged and said the Liberals — who hold the majority — voted in favour of a motion to “consider the meetings on this topic to be concluded.”
“They want Canadians to believe that everything that needs to come out has been said,” said NDP MP Tracey Ramsey.
Wilson-Raybould testified for nearly four hours during her appearance in front of the committee last month, but has hinted she has more to say.
Opposition MPs had been pushing for Wilson-Raybould to return to the committee to talk about why she later resigned from cabinet.
“It’s now time for the justice committee to do its work,” said Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault.
On Monday night, the committee’s five Liberals wrote to chair Anthony Housefather, saying their work is done and any further examination of the SNC-Lavalin affair should be left to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. MORE
There were so many standout moments from Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before the House of Commons Justice Committee on Feb. 27. But, for me, one line stood out the most:
“I come from a long line of matriarchs and I am a truth teller in accordance with the laws and traditions of our Big House — this is who I am and who I will always be.”
That’s how Wilson-Raybould — the first Indigenous person to be Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general — concluded her opening statement, drawing on her ancestors, the legal system of the Kwakiutl nation and her own history as an Indigenous woman and lawyer.
This one line made me want to be a better lawyer, a better daughter, a better truth teller in my own life.
Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was the climax of the SNC-Lavalin scandal that has enveloped Canadian politics for the last month. For context, it happened the same day as Michael Cohen’s testimony before the oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Compared to our force-fed diet of Trump-related scandals, the SNC-Lavalin story has felt, at times, rather quaint and Canadian — even though it stems from criminal charges that the Quebec company bribed Libyan officials to secure contracts. SNC-Lavalin is currently on trial for these charges in Quebec.
On Feb. 7, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould had faced pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution. The implication: The refusal to oblige was behind her recent cabinet reassignment (some said demotion) from Justice to Veterans Affairs (she has since resigned from cabinet). Instead of continuing with the trial, the political objective would be for the Crown and defence to negotiate a remediation agreement (aka a “deferred prosecution agreement” or “DPA”) under Part XXII.1 of the Criminal Code, a new set of provisions enacted (pretty quietly) last year. This agreement would stay the criminal proceeding and avoid the political and economic ramifications of a criminal conviction for SNC, which employs thousands of Canadians. 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.”
Justin Trudeau is transforming the justice committee into the Justin committee
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.
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, and Nathalie Drouin, Deputy Minister of Justice, appear as witnesses before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Mar. 6, 2019. Photo by Andrew Meade
With the SNC-Lavalin scandal, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. The interpersonal drama. The dates. The evolving timeline, based on who recorded what, and who forgot when.
It’s as good as political theatre gets in Canada.
The ‘he said-she said’ of the SNC-Lavalin affair is a distraction from the real issue, @nolore writes: corporations in Canada have far too much political power, and clearly, rare is the politician who is willing to stand up to that power.
Amid the din of the details, a critical fact has been buried: the SNC-Lavalin affair is business as usual in Canada. Pro-business policies have long been the norm. It just happens to be that this time, Canadians get to see behind the curtain.
In 1998, French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu wrote The Essence of Neoliberalism, in which he argues that in order for free market capitalism to reign, the collective structures within a national state that impede free market logic must be weakened or destroyed. Therefore, public policies that aid corporations to maximize profits are relied on more and more, and markets are, either slowly or quickly, deregulated.
His essay identifies that with globalization came incredible capital mobility. Corporations no longer needed to be loyal and tethered to a single location, and instead could move where market forces were more favourable to maximize profits. Anything that gets in the way of this: unions, taxes or government policy, becomes the enemy of the free market, and must therefore be eroded. MORE
The PM won’t say what SNC scandal teaches. Can we help him out?
Cartoon by Greg Perry.
Attention class! Please get into groups and share ideas. Suggest things that might have been done differently in order for the nation’s first Indigenous justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, not to have felt politically threatened and then resign from cabinet. Extra points for lessons now to be learned.
To get the exercise going, we asked folks in the Tyee office to offer their thoughts. A sampling:
Don’t hire strong women and expect them to bow to you.
“We need a solution,” as your emissaries kept instructing the attorney general, is not a command that magically materializes what you want. It requires real and challenging work to achieve.
Repeatedly telling a cabinet member who is Indigenous that “we need a solution” to help a company with a history of corruption will likely cause the member to wonder why “we need a solution” is not the mantra regarding Indigenous rights and sovereignty in Canada.
Sometimes your solution is not the solution. Sometimes the law precludes it.
A white male born to highest privilege who campaigns alongside a noted Indigenous woman candidate while promising to advance reconciliation risks being seen to treat her as a token rather than a valued member of his cabinet. People will be watching.
Inviting that accomplished Indigenous lawyer to be attorney general signals you get it. She will have broad influence handling such diverse files as marijuana legalization, assisted dying and revamping the Criminal Code. She will inform a range of legal positions and policy shifts affecting all Canadians, bringing to bear her Indigenous experience and hard-earned knowledge, signaling a true “place at the table.”
Deciding to demote that accomplished Indigenous justice minister and attorney general, who has ably handled her duties, only to put her in charge of overseeing the Indian Act signals you don’t get it. At all. “Any person [with] even a basic understanding of Indigenous relations with the Crown would know that the most offensive and indeed racist legislation on the books is the Indian Act,” reminds Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, director of UBC’s Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. “It would be akin to asking Nelson Mandela to administer apartheid.” MORE
Did Trudeau and his people do wrong? Some points to consider.
The spinmeisters are out. Let’s go over what we know. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa.
One thing we learned in the wake of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony is that Canadians should quit feeling smug about the hyper-partisan, fact-free state of politics in the U.S.
The reaction, from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s immediate and unsupported call for Justin Trudeau’s resignation to Liberal attacks on Wilson-Raybould’s ability to withstand the pressure of her former job as attorney general — when, in fact, her ability to withstand pressure seems one of the few certainties at this point — was marked mostly by partisan rhetoric. Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault went full Trump, calling the justice committee’s investigation a “witch hunt.”
Ignore the tidal wave of spin and misinformation. Here are five things to consider as you assess the rights and wrongs of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
First, it was legitimate for the prime minister, cabinet members and political staff to try to persuade Wilson-Raybould to step in and reverse the decision that SNC-Lavalin should face bribery and corruption charges over its activities in Libya. MORE