November 18, 2019

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SNC-Lavalin saga unravelling fast for Trudeau

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2019 (278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/2/2019 (278 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Well, that certainly went from bad to worse to hell-in-a-handbasket disastrous in a hurry.

Tuesday’s resignation from federal cabinet by Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould — most recently minister of veterans affairs, but much more notoriously Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general — turned the simmering scandal over alleged prime-ministerial interference in the justice department’s handling of a high-profile bribery and corruption case into a full-blown political conflagration.

At issue, of course, is the court case involving the Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, which is facing corruption charges in relation to alleged bribery of Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 in exchange for government contracts. The company, a longtime Liberal party supporter, actively lobbied federal officials for the past two years, seeking a stay of court proceedings and a negotiated settlement instead of a trial.

If convicted, SNC-Lavalin could be barred from receiving Canadian government contracts for up to 10 years — a penalty the company has stated could lead to its demise. Setting the stage for such potential damage in vote-rich Quebec during an election year would be an unsettling prospect for any ruling party.

Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet on Tuesday.</p>

ADRIAN WYLD / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Vancouver-Granville MP Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet on Tuesday.

Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s Office and government officials attempted to pressure Ms. Wilson-Raybould, in her role as justice minister, to intervene by directing the director of Public Prosecutions to arrange an out-of-court settlement with SNC-Lavalin.

According to the report, the minister’s refusal to interfere in the case led to her demotion last month from her high-profile post to the decidedly less-prestigious veterans affairs portfolio.

Since the Globe’s initial story was published, each day has brought a new and more damaging cycle of deflections and carefully worded non-denials from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and current Attorney General David Lametti.

For her part, Ms. Wilson-Raybould remained mostly silent, invoking attorney-client privilege as her reason for not commenting on the issue.

Until, that is, Tuesday’s release of her resignation letter, which was delivered "with a heavy heart" but included the acknowledgement many Canadians wish to hear her speak on "matters that have been in the media over the last week."

Wilson-Raybould’s resignation could not possibly be unfolding in a manner more damaging to the election-year aspirations of Justin Trudeau, whose ways, in recent days, seem to have taken a deliberate turn from sunny to murky. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

Wilson-Raybould’s resignation could not possibly be unfolding in a manner more damaging to the election-year aspirations of Justin Trudeau, whose ways, in recent days, seem to have taken a deliberate turn from sunny to murky. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press files)

To that end, Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s letter states she is seeking legal advice regarding what she can say and has hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to represent her.

This could not possibly be unfolding in a manner more damaging to the election-year aspirations of Mr. Trudeau, whose ways, in recent days, seem to have taken a deliberate turn from sunny to murky.

First, the PM was accused of parsing words by stating he never "directed" Ms. Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case; then he was forced to admit he did meet with the erstwhile justice minister last fall to discuss (but not direct action in) the file.

Under intense scrutiny from opposition parties and the national media, Mr. Trudeau said he welcomes the investigation that has been launched by the federal ethics commissioner. He added Monday that Ms. Wilson-Raybould still had his complete confidence, and her continued presence in cabinet "should actually speak for itself."

If that were true, then Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s sudden and self-directed exit from cabinet qualifies as an emphatic rejection of the PM’s supportive sentiment and, more importantly, a loudly bellowed warning things are likely to get a lot worse for Mr. Trudeau between now and when Canadians head to the polls this fall.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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