Ex-senior aide Gerald Butts defends Trudeau amid political crisis

07 March, 2019, 05:37 | Author: Corey Lynch
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancels visit to Regina

Liberal MPs blocked an effort by the opposition on Wednesday to immediately invite Jody Wilson-Raybould back to a parliamentary committee to speak further about the government's effort to put pressure on her to shelve the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., despite the former justice minister's willingness to testify again.

He had a completely different take from Jody Wilson-Raybould on much of what was said and what had happened in the months leading up to the Liberal cabinet shuffle, but he deliberately shied away from calling her testimony false or calling her a liar. Butts said that decision had nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin, and that her objections around SNC only ramped up around that time. Wilson-Raybould and Treasury Board President Jane Philpott both resigned from cabinet.

Wilson-Raybould's testimony suggested she was removed from her post as Attorney General and demoted to the position of Veteran Affairs Minister, a position from which she resigned.

Gerald Butts will be testifying this morning on the affair - which has cost Trudeau two cabinet ministers and his most trusted adviser - at the House of Commons justice committee.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government", Butts told the committee. Asked about her departure, Finance Minister Bill Morneau began by observing that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott are close friends.

Really? SNC-Lavalin itself received word on September 4 from the Director of Public Prosecutions that the company would not be getting a deferred prosecution agreement and would be facing a trial.

He said the push to have her seek out an external opinion from the likes of retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was also motivated by the novelty of the DPA, only legalized by the Liberal government last summer.

Butts says staff in the Prime Minister's Office always respected the fact that, as attorney general, it was up to Wilson-Raybould alone to decide whether to order negotiation of a remediation agreement with the Montreal engineering giant; such an agreement would have forced the company to pay stiff penalties while avoiding a criminal conviction that could financially cripple it.

He also claimed that one of the meetings, a two-hour dinner between himself and Wilson-Raybould at the Chateau Laurier hotel in Ottowa on December 5, was at her request, and was an overwhelmingly positive discussion.

Butts laid the groundwork for all of that Wednesday when he told the committee there was a breakdown in the relationship between the prime minister and his former attorney general.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, delivering remarks to supporters at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto, ON, on March 4, 2019. And by the end of the day's testimony, it was obvious Wilson-Raybould needed to return to the witness stand. May went on to accuse Trudeau's staff of making "veiled threats" against the attorney general over the Lavalin matter.

Wilson-Raybould declined to answer last week if she had confidence in Trudeau. Based on what Butts says in his testimony, things may improve for Trudeau - or they may not. "They have a very secure financial situation, with gross revenues of $10 billion", she said.

But there's just one problem: Trudeau's Liberal MPs wield a majority on the committee, and they banded together to vote down an Opposition motion to recall Wilson-Raybould as a witness.

Canada's ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months. "I share these message so you can appreciate why I was so surprised to hear months later that the minister experienced that dinner as pressure".

"That is not what I said", Butts responded, when asked about the allegation.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said after hearing Butts' testimony she still believes Wilson-Raybould's version of events, though noted that Butts may not have given certain interactions the same magnitude Wilson-Raybould had.


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