Five things Canada learned at the justice committee from Butts, Drouin

Dwayne Harmon
March 7, 2019

Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs react to testimony by Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on SNC-Lavalin at the Commons justice committee on Wednesday, March 6.

The two senior bureaucrats testified two weeks ago, but that was before Wilson-Raybould accused Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, of issuing veiled threats that she would lose her post as justice minister and attorney general if she didn't intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case. However, Butts said he was unaware she had drawn any conclusion, she was encouraged to seek independent legal counsel, but the decision was her's alone. Jane Philpott, a close friend of Wilson-Raybould's and a star Cabinet minister, resigned this week, saying she was concerned the ex-attorney general was pressured and because she lost confidence in how the government has handled the scandal.

The decision to move Wilson-Raybould out of the justice portfolio was made because she was a strong performer in cabinet and Trudeau needed a strong minister of Indigenous services, Butts said, and had nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin.

Butts echoed the sentiment at the time of his resignation earlier this month, and again on Wednesday to the House of Commons justice committee.

A leading Cabinet minister in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Prime Minister Trudeau's government resigned Monday, becoming the second minister to step down over a scandal that has shaken the government in an election year.

Which is convincing for a few seconds until you realize that it was Butts' government that drafted the legislation in the first place. If convicted criminally, SNC-Lavalin would be banned from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The event has been postponed to a later date, the Liberals said on Tuesday morning. "The Attorney General could have spoken or written to the Prime Minister at any time during this process to say attempts to contact her office on the meeting were improper and they should cease immediately".

The committee is trying to determine whether the Prime Minister's Office improperly pushed former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to head off a trial of SNC-Lavalin for fraud and bribery by ordering prosecutors to negotiate a remediation agreement with the company.

Based on the briefings he received, Butts said the DPA could be reached anytime before a verdict is rendered, and as such, Wilson-Raybould could not have completely made up her mind.

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"I work at the intersection of the public service and the elected officials, and I am present for many discussions that touch on matters some would see as 'political.' It is my role to be aware of this context but I do not ever give advice that is partisan in content or motivation", Wernick said.

The Liberal majority voted against requiring the government to produce all communications between high government officials, including Butts and the prime minister, on the SNC-Lavalin case.

Butts said: "That is two meetings and two phone calls per month for the minister and her office on an issue that could cost a minimum of 9,000 Canadians their job".

Butts said the only reason Trudeau shuffled his cabinet in January was that Scott Brison quit politics.

If testimony from Gerald Butts was supposed to be the Hail Mary pass that would let the Liberals pull victory from the jaws of defeat after Jody Wilson-Raybould's devastating testimony, the ball ended up six rows into the bleachers.

Butts' testimony is expected to contradict Wilson-Raybould's version of events, in some detail. "My advice was that the prime minister should not set the precedent that a Cabinet minister could refuse a new position and effectively remain in one position for the life of the government".

Canada's ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months.

"I will tell the truth", Butts told the committee as he started his opening statement.

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