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PM up to his old Kokanee Grope excuses: people see same situation differently
PM up to his old Kokanee Grope excuses: people see same situation differently
Canadian News

PM up to his old Kokanee Grope excuses: people see same situation differently 

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today fell back on a familiar excuse: that people can “experience situations differently”. Last summer the PM employed it against allegations he groped a local female reporter at a festival some 18 years ago – on Thursday morning, he rehashed it to explain to reporters the vast discrepancies between his version of events and that of his former attorney general surrounding SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau told a packed National Press theatre that attempts to convince Jody Wilson-Raybould to defer criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin was only about securing jobs and safeguarding the economy, contrary to her testimony that election success was part of the prime minister’s motivation.

“I stressed the importance of protecting Canadian jobs and reiterated this was of significant national importance,” Trudeau said of his and his office’s interaction with Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled out of the Justice portfolio in January.

“Each of these interactions was a conversation among colleagues about how to tackle a serious issue,” said the prime minister. “I now understand that she saw it differently.”

Relegated to Veterans Affairs in a Januray cabinet shuffle that was viewed as demotion, Wilson-Raybould is at the centre of a political scandal over allegations the Prime Minister’s Office pressured her to instruct the Public Prosecution Service to defer bribery and corruption charges against SNC-Lavalin for a remediation deal. When she refused, according to Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau replaced her with Québec Liberal MP David Lametti.

While Wilson-Raybould has implicated senior PMO staff and even Trudeau himself for suggesting electoral success was a large part of their metric for going easy on the Québec construction firm, Trudeau did not answer several direct questions on this issue at the early-morning press conference.

“I said to her that I was preoccupied with the number of jobs involved in Québec and across the country,” Trudeau said of a September 17 meeting with Wilson-Raybould. “I had heard she had made a decision … I asked her if she could revisit that situation and she said that she would.”

Three times the PM deflected direct questions by different reporters about his alleged partisan rationale – that Liberal success in last year’s provincial election in Québec and the looming federal election this year – formed part of the overtures he and other PMO staff made to Wilson-Raybould on the SNC file.

“I’m sure there was a broad range of issues discussed in these conversations,” said Trudeau. “Certainly the Ethics commissioner will be looking into this to ensure the highest level of ethics were maintained.”

But the former attorney general, who resigned from cabinet altogether on February 12, viewed her interactions with the prime minister markedly different. During her testimony to the Justice committee last week Wilson-Raybould spoke of “the barrage of people hounding me and my staff” to reverse her decision. She also testified that election considerations were front-and-centre, not only for senior Minister of Finance staff who allegedly pressured her, but for the prime minister himself.

Of the September 17 meeting between her, Trudeau and Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, Wilson-Raybould said after informing them she “had made up (her) mind”, she alleged Wernick told her that “(SNC) will likely be moving to London is this happens’ … ‘and there is an election Québec soon.’”

“At that point, the PM jumped in stressing that there is an election Quebec, and that ‘I am an MP in Québec – the member for Papineau,’” said Wilson-Raybould who challenged Trudeau. “I was quite taken aback … ‘Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision as the AG?’”

“No, no, no – we just need to find a solution,” she alleged of how Trudeau responded.

On Thursday, Trudeau skipped answering questions about his potential political interference and responded with his subjective realities argument, “that situations were experienced differently” with respect to all interactions between the PMO, himself and Wilson-Raybould and that he “regret(s) that”.

The PM’s message dovetails with testimony his former principal secretary Gerry Butts provided a day earlier to the Justice committee, in which Butts said economic considerations were “at the heart of the matter,” and they “deserv(ed) a robust and thoughtful response.”

“(The decision for deferred prosecution) was and is the Attorney-General’s decision to make,” Butts testified on Wednesday. “It would, however, be Canadians’ decision to live with. Specifically, the 9000-plus people who could lose their jobs, as well as the many thousands more who work on the company’s supply chain.”

SNC-Lavalin and two if its subsidiaries are awaiting trial for charges they bribed officials in Libya with $48 million between 2001 and 2011 to win contracts there. Without a deferred prosecution agreement, if convicted the company would be banned from bidding on federal contracts for 10 years. More than 10 times during Butts’ testimony he noted thousands of jobs at the Québec construction firm that could be at risk.

Allegations of political interference by the PMO into the affairs of the country’s top prosecutor appeared in a February 7th Globe and Mail story. Claiming he had become “a distraction” for the prime minister as the SNC-Lavalin scandal was gaining traction, Butts resigned from his job as Trudeau’s chief advisor on February 18, six days after Wilson-Raybould quit.

In addition to Butts’ and Wilson-Raybould’s resignations, former Treasury Board president and Liberal MP for Markham-Stoufville Jane Philpott resigned her post Monday, stating she had “lost confidence” in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

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