One month after the eruption of the SNC-Lavalin affair, new revelations are still spilling out.
- Jody Wilson-Raybould – former Attorney-General of Canada
- Justin Trudeau – Prime Minister of Canada, accused of pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould into making a decision on SNC-Lavalin
- Gerald Butts – Formerly Justin Trudeau’s chief secretary, resigned
- Michael Wernick – Privy Council Clerk (the highest civil servant office in Canada, whose job is to provide non-partisan advice and expertise to coordinate ministries)
The SNC-Lavalin affair has brought worldwide attention to an otherwise quiet Canadian cabinet. Though information is scarce, new testimonies from Jody Wilson-Raybould, Gerald Butts, and Michael Wernick have shed new light on an affair that could significantly impact this year’s general election.
For more background information on the SNC-Lavalin Affair, see Edition 38 of The Blueprint.
The affair dates to 2015, when SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering giant, was accused by the RCMP of bribing officials to win contracts in Libya; the resulting charges could mean being blocked from Canadian government contracts for a decade. In 2018, the Liberal government introduced “deferred prosecution agreements (DPAs),” which allowed companies facing economic prosecution to avoid charges by simply making reparations. When SNC applied, however, they were ultimately rejected by the Public Prosecution Office.
And then the controversy began. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his staff were accused of supposedly asking then-Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould to overturn the decision and grant SNC a DPA, a violation of the independence of the judiciary. Wilson-Raybould refused. In a cabinet reshuffle this January, she was demoted to Veterans Affairs Minister for reasons unrelated to SNC. Five days after the SNC story leaked, she resigned from Cabinet and remained silent—until now.
Jody Wilson-Raybould’s Testimony
On February 27th, Wilson-Raybould stood before a parliamentary judiciary committee to testify about her experiences through the SNC-Lavalin affair. A waiver issued by Trudeau’s cabinet allowed her to speak of events prior to January 15th, but a parliamentary motion to extend it to the end of January was voted down by the Liberal majority.
In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould made reference to several “inappropriate” conversations she had with Trudeau and his staff, including Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick and Trudeau’s Chief Secretary Gerald Butts. During these conversations, she reportedly faced a “consistent and sustained effort” to interfere in her independent role as Attorney-General, including “potential consequences and veiled threats” as to what would happen if she did not grant SNC a DPA.
Though Wilson-Raybould did concede that bringing policy issues, such as the fact that over 9000 Canadians are employed by SNC, to an attorney-general was fair game, partisan interests were not. According to her, this included the impact the prosecution of SNC would have on the Liberal Party’s ability to win the next election.
Raybould said that she had repeatedly warned those close to the Prime Minister that the behaviour was unacceptable. Raybould, however, was ignored. In a conversation with Wernick, she was told that she was on a “collision course” with the Prime Minister, a threat which seemed to materialise when she was demoted to Veterans Affairs Minister, though it had nothing to do officially with her action on the SNC case.
On March 6, Wernick and Butts separately testified about their own experiences in the affair and contradicted much of Wilson-Raybould’s statement. Throughout their testimonies, they agreed that no illegal activity occurred nor was Wilson-Raybould ever pressured to favour SNC. They questioned why Wilson-Raybould never expressed her concerns to the Prime Minister in writing, though Wilson-Raybould maintains she mentioned it multiple times.
Opposition parties are giving Wilson-Raybould the benefit of the doubt. NDP Justice Critic Murray Rankin declared that there was no other “reasonable conclusion” to the affair than interference by Trudeau’s government, while Conservative leader Andrew Scheer called on Trudeau to step down, stating that he was “sickened and appalled” that the government would blatantly violate the rule of law. Trudeau, however, has denied any wrongdoing and “strongly disagrees” with Wilson-Raybould.
The ramifications of this affair could be far-reaching in this year’s general election. For the first time in a year, the Liberals have fallen below the Conservatives in opinion polls. Trudeau was hit harder. As more details are revealed in this historic case, the success of the governing Liberals in the next election looks ever-shakier.
- 33% of Canadians have a very or somewhat favourable impression of Justin Trudeau, down 12 percentage points from September
Canada, P. M. N. A Timeline of the Snc-Lavalin Affair | National Post. 6 Mar. 2019, https://nationalpost.com/pmn/news-pmn/canada-news-pmn/a-timeline-of-the-snc-lavalin-affair-3.
Mar 09, Éric Grenier ·. CBC News ·. Posted:, and 2019 4:00 AM ET | Last Updated: March 9. “Liberals Have Taken a Polling Hit over SNC Lavalin – but Trudeau’s Taken a Bigger One.” CBC, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/grenier-snc-lavalin-trudeau-polls-1.5048419. Accessed 12 Mar. 2019.
Meyer, Carl, et al. “Wilson-Raybould Breaks Silence with Explosive Testimony about Trudeau PMO.” National Observer, 27 Feb. 2019, https://www.nationalobserver.com/2019/02/27/news/we-need-get-re-elected-pmo-told-wilson-raybould-about-snc-lavalin-prosecution.
Politics, Canadian. Gerald Butts Live Testimony on SNC Lavalin | National Post. 6 Mar. 2019, https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/gerald-butts-live-testimony-snc-lavalin-livestream.
—. Michael Wernick Testimony on SNC-Lavalin: ‘Profoundly Disappointed’ to Be Accused of Partisanship | National Post. 7 Mar. 2019, https://nationalpost.com/news/politics/michael-wernick-live-testimony-on-snc-lavalin.