Committee sets time for Wilson-Raybould testimony on SNC-Lavalin controversy

OTTAWA — Jody Wilson-Raybould will finally give her side of the SNC-Lavalin story on Wednesday, breaking almost three weeks of silence that has fuelled the anonymously-sourced controversy and shaken the Trudeau government to its core.

The former justice minister and attorney general has accepted an invitation to testify Wednesday afternoon before the House of Commons justice committee about allegations the Prime Minister’s Office improperly pressured her to drop a criminal prosecution against the Montreal engineering giant.

Her agreement to appear at committee came one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted the solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality provisions that Wilson-Raybould has repeatedly said were keeping her from commenting thus far on the allegations.

Trudeau, who has denied any wrongdoing, said Tuesday that he’s looking forward to the former minister’s testimony.

“It is important that people get an opportunity to testify or share their point of view with the committee,” he said.

“As we said, waiving privilege, waiving cabinet confidentiality is something that we had to take very seriously, but I’m pleased that Ms. Wilson-Raybould is going to be able to share her perspective.”

The committee will allow Wilson-Raybould to make a 30-minute opening statement, as she requested, to be followed by at least an hour of questions from committee members.

It has been nearly three weeks since the allegation first surfaced that Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould last fall to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, rather than pursue a criminal prosecution for corruption and bribery related to government contracts in Libya. Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the prestigious justice portfolio to veterans affairs in early January, which some allege was punishment for her refusal to drop the criminal proceedings.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet several days after the Globe and Mail first reported the allegation. Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, resigned a week later, but insisted neither he nor anyone else in the PMO had unduly pressured Wilson-Raybould.

Some of her former cabinet colleagues seemed relieved Tuesday that whatever complaint Wilson-Raybould may have about the way the SNC-Lavalin matter was handled, it will finally be out in the open after weeks of shadow boxing with anonymous sources.

“It’s absolutely necessary for her to tell the truth,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, whose relationship with Wilson-Raybould was reportedly strained.

“It’s just important that she speak and that all the mystery goes (away).”

Wilson-Raybould was last week allowed to speak to her former cabinet colleagues to give her side of the story. Given what he heard then and subsequent assurances from the country’s top public servant that there was no undue pressure, Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said he’s not expecting anything surprising or dramatic.

“I think that what was done was entirely appropriate in this case and I think that this story is one that’s been created a little bit by the Ottawa bubble,” he said.

Last week, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, told the committee that in his view everyone in the PMO conducted themselves with “the highest standards of integrity,” that no inappropriate pressure was put on Wilson-Raybould and that Trudeau repeatedly assured her the decision on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was hers alone. He acknowledged, however, that the former minister might have a different interpretation of events and predicted she will zero in on three in particular: A Sept. 17 meeting with Trudeau and Wernick; a Dec. 18 meeting of Butts and Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, with Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff, Jessica Prince; and a Dec. 19 conversation Wernick had with Wilson-Raybould.

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