Published: Fri, March 08, 2019
Markets | By Otis Pena

Canadian PM Trudeau's former top aide testifies in his defence

Canadian PM Trudeau's former top aide testifies in his defence

A former key aide of Justin Trudeau, who is at the centre of a major political crisis, has denied he had pressured the then justice minister to allow a major firm to avoid a corruption trial a year ago.

Testifying before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, Butts rebutted accusations made by former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose abrupt resignation last month touched off the crisis.

Butts left his job as principal secretary on February 18, saying it was in the best interest of the government for him to step down.

Gerald Butts, who quit last month as Trudeau's chief aide, is due to testify to the House of Commons justice committee about the allegations on Wednesday.

"Can you imagine, if when we were kids, and the coal mines closed ... the best explanation someone could give us is that they thought about it for 12 days?" said Butts, whose father is a retired coal-miner. "If it's a real relationship and we truly are a team we can always acknowledge when we need to make adjustments".

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the statement Trudeau is scheduled to make at an early morning news conference today.

She claims there were attempts at political meddling in matter. A conviction would keep the company from getting government contracts for a decade. He said Trudeau urged Wilson-Raybould to seek additional legal opinions before deciding how the prosecution would be handled. She also said her chief of staff, Prince, was "urgently summoned" to a meeting with Butts and Trudeau's chief of staff, Katie Telford, on December 18, where Prince was told by Butts that there was no solution on SNC-Lavalin "that does not involve some interference". He said that no inappropriate pressure had been applied.

Butts's explanation that Wilson-Raybould was dropped as attorney general because another cabinet minister, Scott Brison, resigned sounds more ridiculous every time the Liberals trot it out.

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Following Butts' testimony and questions from members, the Liberal majority on the justice committee voted against calling Wilson-Raybould back for another appearance.

Philpott's resignation means Trudeau must appoint a new president to the Treasury Board, which oversees government spending. But he advised Trudeau that he couldn't set a precedent for a minister to refuse to be shuffled, and therefore they moved Wilson-Raybould to Veterans Affairs.

There, she alleged that she faced high-level "veiled threats" and "sustained" political interference from almost a dozen senior officials for months, to seek a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, which is facing bribery and corruption charges over business dealings in Libya. He first learned that fact during her testimony last week, as the rest of the country did, he said, and his "understanding" is that no one at the PMO or PCO knew at the time, either. However, should they persist in saying they have no confidence in Trudeau's government, the source said Liberal MPs would likely demand they be kicked out of caucus and Trudeau would refuse to allow them to run for the party again.

Trudeau thanked Philpott for her service in a short statement that said he would have more to say later in Toronto. Conservatives seem poised to take over the government if he doesn't, and there are few procedures for forcing a Prime Minister to step down.

Justin Trudeau has the power to do all that and, yes, even the ability to have his new attorney general, David Lametti, let SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal charge of bribery and corruption by negotiating a deferred prosecution agreement.

With opposition leaders clamouring for Trudeau to resign - supported by half of Canadians, according to one recent survey - the justice committee and the independent ethics commissioner have both opened investigations.

As a result, Butts said Trudeau and the PMO determined that only Jane Philpott had the capacity and institutional knowledge to take over the complicated role, but anxious what signal it would send by shuffling one of its most capable ministers from the Indigenous Services portfolio. Although Butts had no direct knowledge of that conversation, he was giving the benefit of the doubt to the clerk - anyone but Jody Wilson-Raybould.

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