At a crucial time for reelection for the Liberal Party of Canada, they have found themselves mired in controversy over accusations that senior ranking officials attempted to direct ex-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to let Montreal-based engineering giant SNC Lavalin off of their bribery charges using a corporate remediation act known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
The two major developments in the story include Jane Philpott stepping down from her role as president of the Treasury Board due to the scandal and the recent testimony of Gerald Butts. Butts is a long time friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and served as his Principal Secretary before resigning on Feb. 18.
“Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” Philpott wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister on why she chose to resign. “I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of Cabinet.”
“A minister must always be prepared to defend other ministers publicly and must speak in support of the government and its policies. Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet minister,” Philpott explained as to why she felt the need to further distance herself from the Trudeau government.
Philpott’s resignation follows in suit with the principled approach of stepping down from her position, much in the same vein as why Wilson-Raybould left caucus. On the other side of the coin, Butts resigned while claiming that he believes he did nothing that would warrant the amount of criticism that has been placed on the Prime Minister’s office.
“Any accusation that I or the staff put pressure on the Attorney General is simply not true,” Butts said in his resignation letter. “I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else in his office pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould. We honoured the unique role of the Attorney General. At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and a singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians.”
Butts’ recounting of the events is in direct opposition to what Wilson-Raybould has testified. Doubling down on his initial resignation letter, Butts testified regarding his version of events on March 6 saying: “What happened last fall is in fact very different from the version of events you heard last week. It is based on direct communications with the former Attorney-General and her staff, contemporaneous notes I took in meetings I attended personally and debriefs from people who attended meetings I did not.”
While Wilson-Raybould did present her accounts of what happened to the House of Commons Justice Committee opposition leader Andrew Scheer has said that her statements have not gone far enough and is currently pushing her to continue sharing her experience.