OTTAWA — Former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire Thursday as Liberals struggled to douse the controversy and focus Canadians’ attention on their pre-election budget.
Philpott gave an interview to Maclean’s magazine in which she said there is “much more to the story” of improper pressure allegedly exerted on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to avert a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
The early-morning publication of the interview coincided with a Conservative-orchestrated filibuster, landing like a bombshell in the House of Commons where exhausted MPs were in their 12th hour of non-stop voting, line by line, on the government’s spending plans. The filibuster, which continued into the afternoon Thursday, was intended to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story.
In the late afternoon, Conservatives believed they had caught the Liberals shorthanded, with not enough of them ready to vote to pass one item. Since spending votes are confidence measures, the government might have been at risk.
Liberals quickly flooded into the chamber, male MPs hastily doing up their neckties for decorum. Assistant deputy speaker Anthony Rota, an Ontario Liberal then in the chair, cited a Commons rule to say that it’s not the speaker’s duty to police whether members were in their seats at the critical time to be eligible to vote. When the tally came, as Tories heckled, the Liberals got the motion carried.
Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean’s that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a Jan. 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.
“I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it. Why would I have felt that there was a reason why Minister Wilson-Raybould should not be shuffled?” she said. “My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story.”
Philpott appears already to be free to talk about that Jan. 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until Jan. 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. The waiver applies not just to Wilson-Raybould but to “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” relating to the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.
That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee.
Trudeau rejected Thursday the opposition parties’ contention, echoed by Philpott, that a broader waiver is required to cover the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet a month later.