Trudeau drops deeper into squabble

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was already up to his neck in the SNC-Lavalin mess.

On Wednesday, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould pushed his head down further. It will be harder for the Liberal government to dig itself out of the deep hole she dug before the next campaign.

Less than a minute into her first comprehensive statement about the SNC-Lavalin affair, Wilson-Raybould had already announced her colours, stating that yes, she had been under “inappropriate” high-level political pressure to intervene in the judicial file of the Quebec-based engineering giant.

Over the course of the next 40 minutes, she methodically laid her cards face up on the table and each of them featured a leading figure in Trudeau’s power structure — including the prime minister himself.

In a detailed chronological narrative, the former attorney general implicated almost a dozen key government players in a sustained operation to pressure her into intervening in the SNC-Lavalin file so as to spare the firm a possible criminal conviction that would see it barred from bidding on federal contracts for a decade.

Those include Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick and Trudeau’s top lieutenants in the PMO.

She says she warned all those who came her way to push SNC-Lavalin’s case over the course of 10 face-to-face or phone conversations stretching over four months that they were crossing into political interference territory. According to her, her warnings did not deter them.

Even more devastating for the Liberals, she placed Trudeau at the very centre of the action.

In her words, the prime minister was the driving force behind the efforts to have her overrule her prosecutor’s decision to pursue criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin.

As any Parliament Hill watcher will testify, such sustained persistence in the face of brightly lit danger signals is rare, absent the expressed will of the prime minister.

Indeed, Wilson-Raybould says she was told by Wernick in their last conversation prior to her being shuffled out of the justice portfolio that Trudeau was determined to see the SNC-Lavalin problem fixed.

For the first time since allegations of high-level political interference in SNC-Lavalin’s judicial file surfaced three weeks ago, Canadians now have Wilson-Raybould’s version of events.

It only matches that of every other protagonist in this saga as it pertains to the timeline of her interactions with each of them.

Trudeau, his former principal secretary Gerald Butts and Wernick are all adamant that they crossed no line. They all say it was their duty to look out for the thousands of jobs potentially at stake in the SNC-Lavalin issue by looking for alternatives to a criminal trial.

They will not move from that common stance.

The fact that in the end the firm did not get the remediation agreement it had so heavily been lobbying for is their prime exhibit.

But while their focus is on the outcome, Wilson-Raybould’s emphasis is on the process and the fact that the issue of SNC-Lavalin kept resurfacing. She believes her decision to stand firm on her call to not change the judicial course of the file cost her the post of attorney general in the January shuffle.

Where does the prime minister and the government go from here? Almost certainly not to the swift closure they have been craving.

Wilson-Raybould’s testimony amounted to a full round of close-range friendly fire on her government. It is hard to think of a case of someone turning on one’s own team in so comprehensive a fashion.

On Wednesday, she said she resigned as veterans affairs minister because she no longer had the confidence to sit in the cabinet.

When asked point blank, she would not say whether Trudeau still had her confidence.

It is not clear how the two of them can continue to cohabit in the same government caucus.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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