Mar 6, 2019

Canada's political drama deepens as Trudeau confidante testifies

Butts (L) and Trudeau in 2015. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Justin Trudeau’s former top aide, Gerald Butts, denied in testimony before a parliamentary committee today that the prime minister made “inappropriate” interventions in a sensitive legal case, as Canada’s former attorney general has alleged.

Why it matters: Trudeau is facing the deepest scandal of his political career ahead of what is likely to be a tight re-election bid in October.

  • Butts testified that he is "firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government.” Butts, sometimes described as Trudeau's "right-hand man," resigned 2 weeks ago as his principal secretary in an effort to slow the fast-moving scandal. That hasn't worked.

Catch up quick: Global engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin is at the heart of the controversy. The firm faces fraud and corruption charges over its dealings with the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya from 2001 to 2011.

  • SNC would be banned from bidding for government contracts for 10 years if convicted. Butts testified that such a ban would put at least 9,000 jobs in jeopardy, most of them in Trudeau’s home province of Quebec.
  • Jody Wilson-Raybould testified last week that from September to December of last year, when she was serving as attorney general, she was the subject of a “consistent and sustained effort” from Butts and other top officials to settle the matter out of court through a “deferred prosecution agreement.”
  • She claims that Trudeau personally “asked her to ‘find a solution’ that would avoid SNC-Lavalin having to cut jobs or move from Montreal,” an intervention she considered “inappropriate” but not illegal, per the FT.
  • The Globe and Mail newspaper first reported last month that Trudeau’s office had pressed Wilson-Raybould over the case. Wilson-Raybould, who was shifted to the veteran affairs ministry in January, resigned from the Cabinet.

What they’re saying: Butts claimed Wilson-Raybould’s demotion had “absolutely nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin” and that she hadn’t raised any concerns about inappropriate pressure prior to the Cabinet reshuffle.

  • “All we ever asked the attorney-general to do was to consider a second opinion,” he said, arguing that was prudent when “so many people's livelihoods are [at] stake.”
  • Trudeau last week denied any wrongdoing and said he “completely disagreed” with Wilson-Raybould’s characterization of events.

The latest: Jane Philpott, president of the Treasury Board, resigned from the Cabinet yesterday over her “serious concerns” about the allegations.

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