Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau holds an election campaign event in Longueuil, Que., Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. New survey results suggest Justin Trudeau's Liberals were clinging to a five-point lead on the eve of the federal election campaign. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Trudeau says he did not want Wilson-Raybould to lie as SNC-Lavalin affair re-emerges

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau denied wanting Jody Wilson-Raybould to lie as the SNC-Lavalin affair — which figured prominently in the last election — burst back onto the campaign trail Saturday with the publication of an excerpt of the former justice minister’s memoir.

The excerpt from the tell-all book “Indian in the Cabinet” — published in the Globe and Mail — revolves around Wilson-Raybould’s recollections of two critical meetings with Trudeau in February 2019, days after the newspaper reported Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister had faced inappropriate pressure from top Liberals in a court case.

That case was the criminal prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which was facing bribery charges related to contracts in Libya. Wilson-Raybould would later testify that senior party leaders wanted her as attorney-general to intervene for political reasons to stop the prosecution.

The full memoir is due to be released on Tuesday.

In the excerpt, Wilson-Raybould says the meetings were held in Vancouver a few days after the Globe story broke. The prime minister by that point was facing pressure after saying the report was false. Wilson-Raybould says she was pushing for transparency with Canadians — and some level of accountability.

“He used the line that would later become public, that I had ‘experienced things differently,’” she writes.

“I knew what he was really asking. What he was saying. In that moment, I knew he wanted me to lie — to attest that what had occurred had not occurred. … Lie to protect a Crown government acting badly; a political party; a leader who was not taking responsibility.”

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet the next day and was followed out the door by then-health minister Jane Philpott before the two were booted from the Liberal caucus. The affair later led to the resignation of Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick.

The allegation exploded onto the campaign trail on Saturday, as Trudeau denied wanting the former justice minister to lie while his opponents praised Wilson-Raybould and held up her account as further proof the Liberal leader can’t be trusted.

“I did not want her to lie,” Trudeau said during a campaign event in Mississauga, Ont., where he started his public remarks by honouring the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. “I would never do that. I would never ask her that. That is simply not true.”

The Liberal leader sought to instead turn the page on the issue by noting the entire affair was the subject of countless parliamentary committee hearings, newspaper articles and other commentary in the lead up to, and during, the last federal election in October 2019.

Trudeau has previously refused to apologize for his handling of the affair, including after the ethics commissioner found in August 2019 that he violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly using his position to pressure Wilson-Raybould to benefit SNC-Lavalin’s private interests.

“It’s unfortunate when two people who share a very similar vision for building a better future end up falling out, end up going in separate ways. I genuinely, obviously, regret how it ended up,” Trudeau said on Saturday.

“But I don’t regret the things that I chose to do to stand up for Canadians and move forward because every step of the way, that’s what has to guide me. That’s my responsibility as prime minister.”

Yet even as Trudeau tried to put a plug in the issue, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole seized on the excerpt to attack the credibility of his chief rival.

“Mr. Trudeau will say and do anything to win, and never has any intention of actually putting Canadians and the needs of the country first,” O’Toole said during a campaign stop in Whitby, Ont. “Canadians no longer believe Justin Trudeau. We saw with how he treated Jody Wilson-Raybould, how he put the interests of a corporate entity lobbying about a judicial proceeding ahead of doing the right thing.”

Both O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also sought to use the re-emergence of the SNC-Lavalin affair as a way to remind Canadians about what they allege is Trudeau’s hypocrisy when it comes to his treatment of strong women in cabinet and government.

“That’s another example of this pattern of behavior that we’re seeing from Mr. Trudeau, of kicking out strong women in his cabinet, whether it was his previous justice minister, or whether it was minister Philpott,” Singh said during an appearance in Vancouver. “We’ve seen this as a trend, and it’s troubling.”