PMO denies Trudeau was hostile toward Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes

OTTAWA — A spokesman for the prime minister’s office says Justin Trudeau had “emotional” conversations with Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, but denies her claims the encounters were “hostile” or that Trudeau yelled at her.

Caesar-Chavannes told the Globe and Mail in an interview Trudeau was angry when she told him on Feb. 12 of her plans to announce she was not reoffering in the October federal election.

She alleges he yelled at her in that conversation and that she responded by shouting back at him, and says the prime minister later apologized.

Caesar-Chavannes also detailed another encounter with Trudeau in the House of Commons a week later in which she describes him as acting hostile toward her.

Caesar-Chavannes first raised questions about her interactions with the prime minister in a tweet she published earlier this week following Trudeau’s press conference on the ongoing SNC-Lavalin controversy.

Trudeau told reporters he felt there had been an erosion of trust between himself and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, which was something he regretted because a central tenet of his leadership is fostering an environment in which MPs and staff feel comfortable coming to him when they have concerns.

“I did come to you recently. Twice. Remember your reactions?” Caesar-Chavannes wrote in her tweet.

Caesar-Chavannes told the Globe and Mail he yelled at her in the Feb. 12 telephone conversation, telling her she didn’t appreciate him for all he had given her. The Whitby MP served as Trudeau’s parliamentary secretary from December 2015 to January 2017, when she stepped down from the post voluntarily.

The second encounter happened a week later after a caucus meeting. She approached Trudeau and says she tried to broach the topic of their previous testy conversation, but was met with a hostile “stare down.” He came to apologize to her quietly on the floor of the House of Commons later, and she left visibly upset — an episode witnessed by several MPs in the chamber that day.

An official with the PMO speaking on background told The Canadian Press Saturday that Trudeau makes a regular effort to meet with his MPs as often as possible, and that often these discussions are candid. The official conceded that Caesar-Chavannes’ perception of the encounters may have been different, but added they have never heard Trudeau yell or raise his voice to anyone.

In a statement sent to multiple media outlets, Matt Pascuzzo, a spokesman for the prime minister’s office, denied Trudeau was hostile toward Caesar-Chavannes, adding that he has “deep respect” for her.

“There’s no question the conversations in February were emotional, but there was absolutely no hostility,” Pascuzzo said.

“As the prime minister said (Thursday), he is committed to fostering an environment where ministers, caucus and staff feel comfortable approaching him when they have concerns or disagreements. That happened here.”

Speaking at a teachers’ conference in Ottawa on Saturday, Trudeau was asked to respond to concerns about whether “recent events” involving several women in his caucus call into question his dedication to promoting women’s rights.

Trudeau said he has faced a tough number of weeks involving members of his team who have experienced “some real differences of perspective and opinion.”

“I regret that it has happened this way and it’s certainly something that we’re learning a lot about,” he said.

“I’m rethinking some of the processes of how we support cabinet and caucus members, how we function as an office. I’m getting outside advice that because internal disagreements like this need to be dealt with in a better way.”

He also said he hopes these events will not distract or detract from the work his government has been doing.

When asked whether he is concerned the SNC-Lavalin controversy could hurt his re-election chances, Trudeau pointed to concerns about the rise of divisive politics in other countries: the ”toxic populism” in the United States, the yellow-vest protesters in France and the “total mess” of Brexit in the U.K., which he said was caused by an “impulse of populism and a knee-jerk reaction against institutions and in favour of cynicism and negativity.”

He warned against Canadians embracing the politics of wedge issues, characterizing his government as a “thoughtful, progressive, positive government that believes in the rule of law.”

The Trudeau government has spent weeks defending against allegations his office leaned on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution on charges of offering bribes to do business with Libya.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last month, saying she experienced inappropriate political pressure and veiled threats. Jane Philpott also resigned as Treasury Board president, citing a loss in confidence in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.

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