OTTAWA — The Liberals’ efforts to put the SNC-Lavalin affair behind them were stymied once again Tuesday by the former cabinet ministers at the centre of the political storm, as Jane Philpott argued that Justin Trudeau violated MPs’ rights when he expelled her and Jody Wilson-Raybould from the governing party’s caucus.
Philpott asked the Speaker of the House of Commons to rule on whether the prime minister violated parliamentary privilege when he ejected the pair from the Liberal caucus last week, without holding a caucus vote on the matter. She argued that the Parliament of Canada Act, which was amended in 2015 to give MPs the right to a final say on expulsions, was breached.
However, Trudeau insisted the law was followed. And, in any event, Speaker Geoff Regan had already ruled Monday in a similar case that he has no authority to interpret or enforce the statute.
All of which led Tourism Minister Melanie Joly to conclude that Philpott has “a need for attention.”
“I think we’re moving on and I think my colleagues need to move on, too,” Joly said of the former ministers.
Later Tuesday, Liberals on the Commons ethics committee agreed, voting down Conservative and NDP motions to initiate a new inquiry into the entire SNC-Lavalin affair. The opposition parties had pinned their hopes on Toronto Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has in the past supported a full, independent inquiry into the matter.
But even Erskine-Smith, who has a reputation for bucking the party line, voted against the motions. He said that Wilson-Raybould, in a written submission to the Commons justice committee following up on nearly four hours of oral testimony, concluded that she had nothing more to say. And he noted that Philpott has said she believes Canadians have enough information before them now to pass judgment on the affair.
All the other witnesses the opposition wanted to call could have made written submissions to the justice committee if they’d wished, Erskine-Smith said. He added that it “does not make sense” to launch a second inquiry when ”the two principal people in this who have raised these concerns have said they have nothing more to add.”
Wilson-Raybould has said she was inappropriately pressured last fall by the Prime Minister’s Office and others to intervene to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. The Montreal engineering giant is facing bribery charges related to contracts in Libya.
Wilson-Raybould believes she was moved out of the prestigious justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a mid-January cabinet shuffle as punishment for refusing to override the director of public prosecutions, who had decided not to offer SNC-Lavalin a remediation agreement, a kind of plea bargain. She resigned from cabinet a month later. Philpott followed suit a few weeks after that, saying she’d lost confidence in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.