OTTAWA — Opposition MPs erupted in fury Wednesday after the Liberals used their majority on the House of Commons justice committee to delay an opposition attempt to call Jody Wilson-Raybould to testify again on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The meeting was called as an emergency session by the three Conservatives and one New Democrat MP, after the Liberals used their majority last week to put off having the discussion on future witnesses until March 19. That is also the day the federal government will drop the 2019 budget.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre kicked things off with a motion to summon the former attorney general back no later than tomorrow, saying she ”was not allowed to complete her testimony” the first time.
But after two Conservatives and NDP MP Tracey Ramsey laid out the reasons the committee should bring the former star cabinet minister back to speak a second time, Liberal Francis Drouin moved to suspend the sitting and reconvene on March 19 as originally planned.
Thus far no Liberals have said publicly whether they will agree to call her a second time. She testified the first time on Feb. 27, in a four-hour session where she laid out her case that the Prime Minister’s Office had put sustained pressure on her over four months last autumn to change her mind on diverting a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. The engineering and construction giant faces charges of bribing foreign officials in Libya.
Poilievre tried in vain to raise point of order demanding his motion be fully dealt with before Drouin’s but according to committee rules, a motion to adjourn takes precedence over anything else the committee might do.
The Liberals, with five MPs to the opposition’s four, prevailed. The discussion on future witnesses, including Wilson-Raybould, will now be next week, in private.
Opposition MPs were incensed, leaping to their feet and shouting out epithets like “shame,” “coverup” and “despicable!” Conservative Michael Barrett pointed across the committee room floor at Drouin and yelled that he hoped Drouin knows how to “translate ‘coverup’ ” into French when he spoke with reporters outside the room.
Drouin shrugged off the criticism.
“The committee has already expressed its wishes on March 6 to have this particular hearing on March 19 so it’s as simple as that,” he said as he left the room.
Poilievre told the committee he wanted Wilson-Raybould to appear again to answer claims made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former top aide Gerald Butts.
Wilson-Raybould quit the federal cabinet in mid-February, a few days after the allegations of improper pressure arose.
When he testified, Butts put the dispute down to a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings.
Poilievre said it wasn’t fair that Butts got to speak about things that happened between the time Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from the Justice Department to Veterans Affairs in January and the day she quit cabinet a month later, while the former minister herself felt bound by cabinet-secrecy obligations.
Trudeau could have let her speak openly, he said.
Both Butts and Wilson-Raybould were freed to speak about matters often protected by cabinet confidences, and in her case, solicitor-client privilege, by a waiver issued by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in late February.
The waiver does not, however, allow Wilson-Raybould to speak about the period after she was shuffled from Justice to Veterans Affairs, including her conversations with Trudeau about why she quit cabinet. Poilievre said Trudeau needs to extend the waiver because something clearly happened in that time that was so “egregious” it pushed Wilson-Raybould to quit.
But Poilievre said Trudeau doesn’t want Canadians to know what that is.
“He sent in his majority to shut down that discussion without a debate and ensure that Canadians will never know the truth,” Poilievre said after the abrupt end of the meeting.
“If they were going to let her speak, they could have done it today … Justin Trudeau is transforming the justice committee into the Justin committee.”
New Democrat MP Tracey Ramsey said Trudeau himself has benefited from a double standard.
“We’ve heard the prime minister speak very freely about a period of time that Ms. Wilson-Raybould has not been able to speak about,” Ramsey said. “Today, (Liberals) signalled to Canadians that they aren’t interested in the truth.”
The opposition also points out the committee did hear a second time from Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick and deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin, after Wilson-Raybould’s first appearance raised additional questions to pose to them.
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press