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Liberals, opposition spar over SNC-Lavalin probe — what the justice committee is doing

WATCH: Justice committee debates investigation into SNC-Lavalin affair

Both the Conservatives and New Democrats have urged the House of Commons’ justice committee to investigate an allegation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

The Liberals, who hold the majority on the justice committee, appear open to conducting an investigation into the controversy — but are balking at the witness list proposed jointly by the opposing parties.

READ MORE: Liberal MP accuses opposition at justice committee of ‘witch hunt’ in SNC-Lavalin affair

The committee held an emergency meeting Wednesday, where representatives from the three parties argued what the investigation should entail.

Here’s a look at how a possible justice committee investigation is shaping up.

Liberals accused of limiting witness list

During Wednesday’s meeting, Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault proposed a list of three witnesses: Justice Minister David Lametti, Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, and the deputy minister of justice.

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Liberals argued the three would talk about the Shawcross Doctrine, which outlines rules about how attorney generals should conduct themselves to keep law enforcement and politics separate.

WATCH: More from Wednesday’s justice committee meeting

Andrew McDougall, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, explained the Liberals are trying to sway the investigation into more of a discussion on the rules that surround the attorney general.

“They want to have a whole discussion about whether or not those rules are clear enough, whether or not they need any amending,” McDougall said.

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What their angle is, is let’s bring out the people that will say, ‘Look, these are the rules, and we followed these rules. If changes are needed, we can talk about that.'”

Committee chair Anthony Housefather suggested the three names are just a start, but opposition MPs weren’t satisfied.

WATCH: Wilson-Raybould quits Trudeau cabinet

Wilson-Raybould quits Trudeau cabinet
Wilson-Raybould quits Trudeau cabinet

NDP MP Nathan Cullen pointed out that Wilson-Raybould — who resigned from cabinet on Tuesday amid the controversy — wasn’t on the Liberals’ list and her account is likely the most important.

Opposition also wanted Trudeau’s principal secretary Gerald Butts, chief of staff Katie Telford, and senior advisor Mathieu Bouchard to speak at the committee. That amendment to the list was shot down by Liberals.

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READ MORE: Liberal MP questions ‘anonymous sources’ behind bombshell PMO SNC-Lavalin political interference report

Liberals also voted down a motion to call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege and allow Wilson-Raybould to speak.

“We don’t have the tools, we don’t have the budget, we don’t have the mechanisms to go through the kind of fishing expedition and witch hunt the Conservatives would like to see,” Boissonnault said.

Other investigation options

The Conservatives have said they will pursue other options if the Liberals block or water down a committee inquiry. Among the options, she mentioned a judicial inquiry or an investigation by a Senate committee.

Deputy Tory leader Lisa Raitt noted they have not ruled out getting the RCMP to investigate.

READ MORE: Some Liberals boost Jody Wilson-Raybould after she resigned from cabinet

“It’s in the hands of those five Liberals [on the committee] to determine whether or not we’re going through the committee process and have the appropriate questions asked and the answers given so we can get to the bottom of the matter for Canadians.”

Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion has initiated his own investigation into the matter, specifically into whether there’s been a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act.

WATCH: Dissecting the legalities of the PMO and SNC-Lavalin allegations

Dissecting the legalities of the PMO/SNC allegations
Dissecting the legalities of the PMO/SNC allegations

What happens next?

The next meeting will be held on Feb. 19. The topics to be discussed at that meeting include any changes or additions to the witness list and the timeline for proceedings.

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Such meetings are normally held behind closed doors, but Cullen argued on Wednesday that it be made public under the exceptional circumstances. Liberals rejected that motion.

READ MORE: Trudeau’s cabinet faces 5th ethics investigation — here’s how Stephen Harper’s office compared

While the Liberals are in the midst of a firestorm over these allegations, McDougall said there is potential for it to “just fizzle out.”

“This story may just fizzle out, especially if it turns out that no lines were crossed, according to the ethics commissioner’s investigation,” he said.

Things could also get worse, of course.

WATCH: Trudeau looking into solicitor-client privilege after Wilson-Raybould’s resignation

Trudeau looking into solicitor-client privilege after Wilson-Raybould’s resignation
Trudeau looking into solicitor-client privilege after Wilson-Raybould’s resignation

The Senate could start its own investigation.

“Technically, the Liberal senators have all been made independent senators, so Trudeau couldn’t do anything to stop them from doing it,” he said.

Much of what happens next depends on whether Wilson-Raybould speaks out, McDougall said.

“At this point, it really just comes back to her, and what she could say.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

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