House Call with Carol Hughes

SNC Lavalin debacle is dividing the government

Two weeks back, I wrote about the resignation of Jody Wilson-Raybould as a difficult circumstance for the government. That was before she appeared as a witness at Justice Committee which is investigating the events that led to her being shuffled out of the Justice portfolio and eventual resignation from cabinet. When she appeared at committee last week, all of Ottawa seemed to stand still. Her testimony tore holes in the government’s narrative and outlined systemic, sustained political pressure from the prime minister and his officials to interfere in the decision of the Public Prosecution Service to deny SNC-Lavalin (SNCL) a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) for charges of corruption and fraud.

The subsequent resignation of Jane Philpott from the federal cabinet only added to the government’s grief. That was followed up by testimony from long-time advisor and former Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, Gerald Butts, at Justice committee which seemed to only confirm the notion that the Justice Minister was free to make any decision she wanted on SNCL receiving a DPA, so long as it was the decision the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wanted.

The testimony of Jody Wilson-Raybould laid bare the government’s intentions with respect to SNCL, even to the point that she was reminded of a shareholder’s meeting—on more than one occasion—and the company’s desire to have the case cleared up in advance of that. She recounted that the PMO told her they could arrange to have opinion pieces written in support of a DPA which shows how deep their reach into news outlets is. She also told committee she was reminded of the political cost for prosecuting SNCL and how it could affect the outcome of the Quebec provincial election. That she stood resolute in the face of this pressure is incredible. That she was so quickly punished for sticking to her principles is telling.

The government is defending itself on the pretext of jobs. They claim up to 9,000 people will lose their jobs if SNCL is found guilty and subsequently forbidden to bid on government contracts for 10 years. This ignores the fact that other firms would not only win those contracts, but the possibility that they could also hire the experienced professionals currently working for SNCL. In the end the biggest cost would be paid in the upper echelons of the corporate structure.

With that in mind, the NDP asked where the urgency was for this government when GM announced its plans to shutter the plant in Oshawa, when Sears closed abruptly leaving its pensioners on the sidelines, or when steel and aluminum tariffs threatened (to this day) thousands of jobs across the country? Or, what makes SNC Lavalin’s fate more important to this government than those jobs?

But is this really an issue, or just standard operating procedure for the government? Jane Philpott’s resignation from Cabinet points us toward the belief that this is a big issue. Her abrupt departure supports Jody Wilson-Raybould’s version of the story, not that of the prime minister or his inner circle. It clearly points to PMO interference and the use of improper pressure on the Attorney General.

New Democrats are saying the prime minister may have missed his best opportunity by refusing to deal in the truth when Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned and are concerned the government still hasn’t ruled out the DPA. Canadians deserve to know what that information is, which is why the NDP are calling for an independent public inquiry and for the government to waive solicitor-client privilege so Jody Wilson-Raybould can tell the whole story. After that, Canadians will be able to decide for themselves.