Jody Wilson-Raybould’s ethics questioned as Justice Committee quashes more SNC-Lavalin hearings
Former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould could be booted from the Liberal fold as early as the next caucus meeting and Justice Committee chair Anthony Housefather said he’s “rethinking” his earlier support for her continued presence.
“The phone call being recorded, I think was not acceptable. I think it’s a breach of the ethical duties of an attorney and I’m disappointed that Ms. Wilson-Raybould did that,” Housefather said of the 17-minute conversation between her and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick that the committee released on Friday.
“It caused me to reflect on my previous comments … where I said I hoped (she) stays in caucus. I’m rethinking that,” he said.
Housefather addressed the secret recording after emerging from an in-camera Justice meeting Tuesday morning in which Conservative and New Democrat motions to re-open the committee’s investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair were ostensibly denied.
Housefather’s remarks about Wilson-Raybould’s tape she submitted as supplementary evidence echo Labour Minister Patty Hajdu, who, over the weekend, called it “unethical” and “deceptive”. He further added that “the responsible and ethical thing to do is advise the person on the other end of the phone that you are recording.”
As Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre’s budget filibuster continues in the House of Commons, with faint hopes the government will cave and allow further investigation, New Democrat MP Daniel Blaikie reiterated his party’s calls for a public inquiry after Tuesday’s third unsuccessful attempt to have parliament reopen the file.
Last week the Ethics Committee’s Liberal majority voted down a motion to open another investigation; previously the Justice Committee denied Wilson-Raybould a second opportunity to provide additional testimony.
“I’m not confident that we’ll see a lot more on this issue at the Justice committee,” said Blaikie who attended the in-camera session. “What I can say is now more than ever we really do need a public inquiry … we need to have somebody looking at this whose political future isn’t tied to the outcome.”
The SNC-Lavalin matter has beset Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government since a February 7, 2019 Globe and Mail story alleged Wilson-Raybould was replaced as Justice minister after refusing to defer SNC-Lavalin’s charges to remediation, a new criminal code provision in 2018’s omnibus budget bill.
The Québec construction firm and two of its subsidiaries are accused of paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials to win contracts there between 2001 and 2011. If convicted, and without a deferred prosecution agreement, the company faces a 10-year bidding ban on federal contracts.
While the Liberal government has previously voted against a public inquiry in the House, Blaikie said such an inquiry would be preferable to “these pseudo-investigations on Parliament Hill … that let(s) Canadians know; here’s what’s at stake, here’s what’s important and here’s how to interpret the evidence.”
What’s at stake according to many pundits, opposition MPs, and even Wilson-Raybould herself, is the credibility of the country’s rule of law and the confidence Canadians have in the fairness of their justice system. What’s at stake for the government, according to testimony and public statements from Wernick, Trudeau, and his former principal secretary Gerald Butts, are 9000 SNC jobs that could be at risk if the company is convicted of the charges. Both Butts and Wernick have since resigned over the imbroglio.
During the stilted and at times tense taped conversation between the former Attorney General and the nation’s top civil servant, there appears a great divide between interlocutors on the legitimacy of Wilson-Raybould’s “interfering” in the company’s criminal trial.
Wilson-Raybould: “Does [Trudeau] understand the gravity of what this potentially could mean? This is not just about saving jobs, this is about interfering with one of our fundamental institutions. This is like breaching a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence.”
Wernick: “I don’t think he sees it as that.”
Wilson-Raybould: “Well then nobody’s explaining that to him Michael!”
Through the 17-minute call that occurred December 19, 2018, Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled out of the Justice portfolio on Janauray 12, 2019 and then resigned from cabinet a month later, rebuffs multiple overtures by Wernick to consider a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
“I think (Trudeau’s) going to find a way to get it done,” says Wernick of diverting the trial. “I wanted you to be aware of that.”
Even before the taped conversation was released, and based on Wilson-Raybould’s testimony to the Justice Committee alone, five former Attorney Generals—Peter MacKay (Canada), Douglas Grinslade Lewis (Canada), Jonathan Denis (Alberta), Colin Gabelmann (B.C.) and Cecil Clarke (Nova Scotia)—signed a letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki urging a criminal investigation under section 139(2) of the Criminal Code for obstruction of justice.
“As the Honourable Wilson-Raybould said in her testimony,” the five wrote in a February 28 letter.“(she) experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”
Asked if the recorded conversation vindicated Wilson-Raybould’s version of events, Housefather called it “an unfortunate lack of communication between colleagues” that was coloured by the “surreptitiously” recorded nature of it.
“The fact that the conversation was taped shows that there was a lack of trust here,” he said. “I think it’s hard to even look at this conversation in its entirety objectively because one party knew it was being taped and the other party didn’t.”
Conservative MP and Justice Committee member Michael Cooper told reporters following the Justice meeting that he was disappointed but not surprised with the outcome.
“Once again the Liberals shot down our motion to hear from all of the key players in the SNC-Lavalin matter,” he said. “It’s clear they are at the control of the PMO, doing the bidding of the PMO.”
In addition to Wernick and Butts, Wilson-Raybould has alleged other “key players” pressured her to go easy on SNC-Lavalin. These include Finance Minister Bill Morneau, his chief-of-staff Ben Chin, Trudeau’s senior advisor Mathieu Bouchard, and Trudeau himself. According to Wilson-Raybould, the latter four suggested favourable treatment of SNC-Lavalin was crucial for Liberal electoral success in Québec’s provincial election and the looming federal election this year.
Former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott’s caucus membership is also imperilled after she told Maclean’s magazine that “there was evidence of an attempt to politically interfere with the justice system … on the criminal trial that has been described by some as the most important and serious prosecution of corporate corruption in modern Canadian history.”
A friend of Wilson-Raybould, Philpott resigned from cabinet in early March stating she had lost confidence in the Trudeau government.
The federal government wants to introduce an immigration program in order to let certain cities and areas bring in new immigrants by taking local labour demands into account.
In the electoral campaign the Trudeau government said that they would be introducing the system. The person Prime Minister Trudeau designated for the job is Marco Mendico, a new immigration minister.
The goal of the program is to put some of the decision making abilities in the hands of local communities based on their needs. Trudeau’s mandate letter noted that there will be more than 5,000 spaces created by implementing the new program.
According to CBC, Mendico said that the program helps “to draw on local experiences, expertise, capacities to understand where are the labour shortages, where are the economic opportunities and how that information can help us select individuals who wish to come to Canada to ply their trade, to fulfil their opportunity.”
The current ratio of workers to retirees in Canada is 4:1 according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). By 2035 that ratio is expected to drop to 2:1.
In the past ten years about three quarters of the population growth in Canada has been due to immigration. The IRCC projects that by 2031, this number will rise to 80 percent.
Similar programs have been put forward to bring newcomers into rural areas and Atlantic Canada to fill job positions.
Leah Nord, who works for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce as director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth, noted that there are labour gaps throughout the country. She added that close to 500,000 job positions are not being filled.
Many immigrants end up in Canada’s major cities and this program is meant to bring and keep skilled workers in smaller communities.
Nord told CBC, “One of the greatest ways to ensure immigration integration is a success is to have a job, to have labour market integration,” she added. “And that comes from the employer, from the chambers, from the business point of view. Having them involved in the beginning and making them those liaisons is key to success.”
She explained that a lot of immigrants will be able to “hit the ground running” by having job opportunities when they arrive.
Chief economist of The Conference Board of Canada, Pedro Antunes, mentioned that with ageing populations, immigrants will play a critical role in the labour market in Canada.
Antunes said, “The economic migrants play a big, big role … in helping us grow our workforce at a time when, if not for immigration, we’d actually be seeing a decline in the number of workers in Canada.”
According to the Conference Board, by 2030, the number of baby boomers reaching retirement age will be over nine million.
Mendicino’s mandate letter also says “This continues our modest and responsible increases to immigration, with a focus on welcoming highly skilled people who can help build a stronger Canada.”
Mendico is planning to review outcomes based on data and will be working directly with Canada’s provinces and territories.
A Conservative motion to create a Canada-China relations committee to study the current relationship between the two states has passed, with the help of every party but the Liberals.
The Conservative call to action interestingly came on the one year anniversary of the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in torture-like conditions in China.
While the defeat at the combined hands of the NDP, some Greens, the Bloc, and Conservatives will not cause a defeat, as it is not a vote of confidence, it will likely send signals that there could be troubles when it comes to the negotiations needed to keep a minority government lasting.
With the vote passed, there will be a formation of a special House of Commons committee with a mandate to hold hearings on Canada-China relationship, “including, but not limited to consular, economic, legal, security and diplomatic relations.”
The committee will include 12 members, of which six will be liberal and six opposition.
The committee will have all the powers of a normal House committee.
This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says he’s willing to help bridge the current divide between Western Canada and the federal government. However, he says that no job has been offered and that speculation over the possibility of his being appointed as a representative of Alberta in a federal cabinet is “silly.”
“No job has been offered, nor no job has been contemplated,” Nenshi told CTV’s Question Period in an interview aired Sunday. “Probably it’s wrong, but I am enjoying all this speculation because it’s so silly.”
Following the election, concern over Western representation in government has been steadily growing, as Conservative candidates, with the exception of one NDP candidate, swept both Alberta and Saskatchewan. This means that the Liberals lack a seat in parliament to represent either of the provinces and their interests.
Recently, Nenshi said he spoke with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, calling #Wexit and separatist sentiment in Alberta “very real.”
“Of course the (Trans Mountain) pipeline has to get built, of course we need to re-examine Bill C-69 which my premier calls the No More Pipelines Bill, but is actually much more dangerous than that,” Nenshi said.
Neshi says that Bill C-69 will not only stifle the oil industry’s growth but will also make other infrastructure projects significantly more difficult in the province.
According to The Canadian Press, speculation over whether Nenshi will represent Western Canada was triggered by comments made by Trudeau following the election.
These comments came Thursday when Trudeau said he has no intention of forming a coalition government but does need to be more collaborative to bridge the regional gaps between Canadians.
Along with Nenshi, former Alberta premier Alison Redford has also been pegged as a possible Trudeau confidant and representative. In a CTV Question Period, she says that she would be happy to assist the Liberals in addressing Western representation at the federal level. However, like Nenshi, she has yet to be asked.
“I haven’t been asked. I am happy to help in any way,” she told CTV’s Question Period.
“This is something Canadians have been thinking about for a long time and I think the key is that there has to be a lot of voices at the table.”
On October 24, Alvin Tedjo, a hopeful candidate vying for leadership of the Ontario Liberals, announced his campaign promise to merge the Catholic and public school boards in Ontario according to the Toronto Star. To achieve this, Tedio says that it is necessary to eliminate all public funding to a separate Catholic school board.
“For students, this change means the convenience of attending their closest school, less time on the bus and access to an optional religious curriculum,” Tedjo said Thursday.
“For teachers and early childhood educators, it means smaller class sizes, availability of more resources and the freedom to teach in any publicly funded school.”
Despite being Catholic himself, Tedjo says his move makes fiscal sense and that it’s necessary to have all four school boards merged into secular French and English schools.
“As a Catholic, I have a choice, but others don’t have that choice.”
Tedjo says that by merging Catholic school boards with the public, Ontario could save between $1.2 and $1.6 billion, citing a 2012 Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods study.
Tedjo has entitled his plan “Learning Together,” and has drawn inspiration from Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland which have done the same.
“For students, this change means the convenience of attending their closest school, less time on the bus and access to an optional religious curriculum. For teachers and early childhood educators, it means smaller class sizes, availability of more resources and the freedom to teach in any publicly funded school,” said Tedjo in a news release.
“Learning Together would also see more class offerings in STEM and the arts, as well as improved mental health resources and supports for students with special needs.”
Despite the controversy, and the fact Tedjo has three children enrolled in Catholic education right now, he says that Learning Together will allow the merged school board to incorporate the strengths of both and provide a better education and school experience for all kids in the province.