Conservative MPs on the justice committee accused the government of a “cover up” after Liberal members used their majority status to ensure the next deliberation on who can testify on the SNC-Lavalin imbroglio will happen in secret.
“I am troubled by an in camera meeting to draw up a potential witness list,” Conservative MP Michael Cooper told the committee. “Make a case (for the witnesses), and make it publicly. Not behind closed doors.”
In a 5-4 vote on Wednesday, the Liberal motion was adopted to conduct the next meeting in camera, slated for February 19. At the meeting’s outset, committee chair Anthony Housefather supplanted the opposition motion that had called for nine individuals to appear, including former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Public Prosecution Service boss Kathleen Roussel as well as senior PMO senior aides Katie Telford and Gerald Butts.
Instead, the Liberal motion names just three witnesses; new Attorney General David Lametti, deputy Justice minister Nathalie Drouin and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick. It also states the committee would “examine remediation agreements (and) the Shawcross doctrine” that guides interactions between attorney generals and the government, as well as sub judice on deliberating the SNC-Lavalin matter that remains before the courts.
Before the vote, Liberal MP Randy Boissonault acknowledged “it’s clear there is concern” over allegations leveled in the Wilson-Raybould/SNC-Lavalin affair but that “the prime minister has been very clear”, which elicited gasps from some in attendance at the packed committee room.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said if there was no political interference then Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should “waive solicitor-client privilege because he is the client.”
“If he refuses to do that and if the members of the committee vote against having additional witnesses, then they will be voting for a cover-up because that is exactly what this is,” said Poilievre. “If (Liberal) members claim that nothing that happened in the PMO’s office was improper. Fine. Bring the witnesses before us, have them testify under oath to say exactly that.”
SNC-Lavalin and two of its subsidiaries are accused of paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan officials to win contracts there between 2001 and 2011. In the wake of revelations in a Globe and Mail story alleging former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould resisted pressure by the Prime Minister’s Office to defer the case to remediation; a new criminal code provision shoehorned into the 2018 omnibus budget legislation passed last year.
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the Justice portfolio on January 14
and The Globe story broke last week. On Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould
resigned from cabinet following remarks from Trudeau that her continued
service in cabinet as the new Veterans Affairs minister “speaks for
itself” in terms of her support of the government.
During the hearing, Liberal MP Iqra Khalid complained that Conservative social media posts preceding the gathering that included telephone numbers of Liberal members of the Justice committee “amounts to bullying” and that opposition members were “making hay out of nothing.”
New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, whose amendment to include Wilson-Raybould, Butts and his senior advisor Mathieu Bouchard as witnesses on the Liberal motion was defeated, said Khalid “might want to reconsider her statement.”
“We have to include an invitation for Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak. It baffles me that her name does not appear,” said Cullen before alluding to multiple meetings between Bouchard and SNC-Lavalin. “It’s incredible the amount of interest by a construction company in justice and law and order.”
While Housefather noted at the beginning of Wednesday’s Justice committee meeting that he was impressed with the interest and that committee’s are typically a non-partisan venue unlike question period, his platitudes were short-lived as political snipping dominated a heated session.
“I find it very interesting that all of a sudden Liberals want to discuss the intricacies of deferred prosecution agreements … rather than talking about the facts,” said Poilievre. “That a massive corporate giant with deep pockets lobbied the Prime Minister’s Office at least 14 times … and the prime minister himself then raised the issue of a special deal for that same corporation with the justice minister, and then only a month later she was suddenly removed from the position.”
“It’s time she had a chance to speak truth to the people. Canadians want to know. The prime minister has the ability to let them know.”