OTTAWA—Conservative MPs are turning up the pressure on Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to “do the right thing” and allow a parliamentary investigation into whether his senior aides pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to cut a deal to allow SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.
Speaking ahead of an afternoon meeting of the Commons’ justice committee, Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt said that Wilson-Raybould’s surprise resignation from cabinet on Tuesday underscores the need for an investigation into the affair.
“This matter strikes at the heart of the rule of law,” Raitt told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“Canadians want answers and we’re going to find the best avenue to find the answers,” she said.
Conservative and NDP MPs want the committee to hold hearings into the allegations that broke last week that officials in Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould to mediate a deal with SNC-Lavalin instead of pursuing criminal charges that could prove financially crippling for the Quebec company.
But the five Liberal MPs hold the majority on the committee and can block the motion. A senior government official told the Star on the weekend that the Liberals would not agree to go ahead with the parliamentary inquiry. But Wilson-Raybould’s resignation may have changed the dynamic as the Liberals are coming under increasing pressure to clear the air.
“I say this, the truth is not partisan,” Raitt said.
“If the Liberals on the committee believe that the prime minister and his office have done nothing wrong, then they should pass this motion without hesitation,”
“But if they defeat or water it down in any way, it is nothing less than an admission of guilt,” Raitt said.
Asked Tuesday whether he supported the committee probe, Trudeau said he would not prejudge the outcome, adding that parliamentary committees “are independent in the decisions they make.”
Raitt, who was joined by Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, said that if the Liberals block a Commons’ inquiry, “there are lots of options” including the possibility of Senate hearings. The federal ethics commissioner has already launched his own inquiry into the affair.
Wilson-Raybould herself has declined to speak on allegations, citing solicitor-client privilege. In her resignation letter, she said that she is seeking advice from a former Supreme Court justice “on the topics I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter.”
Trudeau said Tuesday that he was “surprised and disappointed” at Wilson-Raybould’s resignation, saying that she not only had a special “obligation” as his attorney general to raise any concerns last fall if she felt pressured — as unnamed sources have reportedly told the Globe and Mail she did — but also had the freedom to do so.
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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not rule out referring it to the RCMP saying “all options are on the table” and again called on Trudeau to waive “whatever privilege he thinks he may have.”
Scheer blasted Trudeau’s comments Tuesday which he said amounted to “publicly impugning her character.”
“Unbelievably yesterday he publicly questioned the integrity of Jody Wilson-Raybould without giving her an opportunity to speak for herself.
“And now he’s trying to paint himself as the victim in all this. I don’t think Canadians are buying that. I’m certainly not buying it and that’s why we need these answers at the committee today,” Scheer said.
The Liberals have faced questions around who spoke with Wilson-Raybould and the nature of those conversations.
Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s director of communications, said that the prime minister spoke with Wilson-Raybould about this once last fall, on Sept. 17, some three weeks before the public prosecutor’s office declined, on Oct. 9, SNC-Lavalin’s pleas to negotiate a deal.
Ahmad said Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould discussed “a variety of things including this issue.”
Ahmad declined to provide further details, saying only what Trudeau told reporters, that the government had conducted itself appropriately. He said that goes for all the prime minister’s team.
Ahmad said Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford had no conversations with Wilson-Raybould about the matter.
The government had previously confirmed that Butts also met with the former justice minister on Dec. 5, that she had raised SNC-Lavalin, and he told her to speak to Wernick about it.
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier
Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc
Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga