Portions of text messages between former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and the PM’s ex-principal secretary Gerald Butts show tension over her impending January 14 shuffle out of the Justice portfolio, but sheds little new information on allegations she was removed due to disagreements over SNC-Lavalin.
Butts submitted the texts to the Justice Committee last week and this afternoon it released a redacted copy, along with notes Butts took during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s January 7, 2019 call with Wilson-Raybould about shuffling her from Justice to Veterans Affairs.
The texts encompass a number of exchanges between the former principal secretary and Wilson-Raybould – organizing their December 5, 2018 dinner at the Chateau Laurier and messages leading up to the January 14 cabinet shuffle – and indicate a disagreement over the public characterization of her looming removal as Justice minister.
Butts claims that the reason for the shuffle was because of then Treasury Board president Scott Brison’s resignation.
Warren Kinsella, pundit and former political operative for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien says notes Butts took during the January 7 call “confirms all of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s allegations.” Kinsella also claims the notes suggest that the PMO was taping Wilson-Raybould.
However either of Kinsella’s contentions are unclear when Butts’ texts and notes are considered in their totality, and in context with other unfolding events. While Butts’ notes indicate that Wilson-Raybould believes Trudeau is removing her as justice minister/attorney general (what Butts shorthands MOJAG), “for other reasons”, it remains ambiguous as to what those reasons are.
According to Butts’ rendering of the call, Trudeau purportedly says the shuffle is because of Brison’s departure, to which Wilson-Raybould replies, “I don’t agree.”
“That’s not how we change people’s lives,” she adds.
On January 11, 2019, as then-attorney general – the country’s first indigenous person to occupy the role – Wilson-Raybould would announce sweeping reforms to civil litigation between the Crown and Indigenous groups, to little media fanfare that she even predicts in a previous text to Butts.
Already aware that she is out as attorney general – to be announced by the PMO the following Monday – Wilson-Raybould texts Butts on January 8, three days before her Indigenous Justice revamp is made official.
“Jessica (Prince, Wilson-Raybould’s chief-of-staff) told me what you said from last night,” she texts. “Timing of ‘pushing’ me out (which will be the perception – whether true or not) is terrible – it will be confounding and perplexing to people.”
“This is not about me – believe me when I say this,” Wilson-Raybould insists. “But this is about an approach to indigenous peoples.”
Her message to Butts comes a day after RCMP arrest 14 protesters in Northern B.C. over the Coastal GasLink pipeline project – among those taken away in handcuffs are members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
Though Wilson-Raybould does not specifically reference the protest or arrests, the timing of her texted concerns is curious: “This situation is only going to deepen and I am very worried about it. I am getting texts/emails from indig (sic) leaders and BC etc. Just felt I had to text.”
Butts replies: “Nobody is ‘pushing you out.’ In fact, the PM has taken the extraordinary (in my experience unique) step of offering an alternative Cabinet post to you because you said you were unable to take on Indigenous Services.”
During Butts’ testimony at Justice committee on March 6, he recounted Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to take the helm of the Indigenous Services minister.
“She said she had spent her life opposed to the Indian Act and couldn’t be in charge of the programs administered under its authority,” Butts told the committee.
Butts also testified that to his knowledge, nobody from the Prime Minister’s Office put political pressure on Wilson-Raybould, what she alleges was to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial for bribery and corruption charges.
She has alleged that such a coordinated effort was afoot for four months and involved key figures in the PMO including Butts, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick.
Wilson-Raybould’s testimony at Justice committee also highlighted the December 5 dinner with Butts where she discussed “SNC and the barrage of people hounding me and my staff.”
“Towards the end of the meeting I raised how I needed everyone to stop talking to me about SNC as I had made up my mind and the engagements were inappropriate,” she told the committee on February 27, two weeks after she resigned from cabinet altogether over the affair.
“Gerry then took over the conversation and said how we need a solution on the SNC stuff – he said I needed to find a solution,” said Wilson-Raybould.
Given Wilson-Raybould testified this dinner meeting at the Chateau Laurier was primarily to discuss alleged political pressure she faced over SNC, Butts’ and Wilson-Raybould’s text exchange shortly after the dinner and before midnight on December 5 – albeit slightly redacted – make no mention of SNC-Lavalin.
Butts: “Nice to see you. [redacted]”
Wilson-Raybould: “Nice to see you as well. Thx for convo. Please say alo to PM. Heard him speaking my language in his speech. Gilakasla 🙂 [redacted] Good luck in Montreal – we stick to our guns/plan we will be good.”