February 17, 2019 12:00 pm
Updated: February 17, 2019 12:01 pm

‘We need to hear from the attorney general herself’: Navdeep Bains on SNC-Lavalin affair

WATCH ABOVE: “They understood very clearly I would not interfere:” Bains on SNC-Lavalin

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Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains says the government is being as clear as possible with Canadians about the allegations of political interference in what has become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair.

But he says it is difficult to do so without former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould being able to speak.

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READ MORE: Solicitor-client privilege is at the heart of questions on SNC-Lavalin affair. Here’s how it works

“I think right now the challenge is that we need to hear from the attorney general herself. I can’t speak on her behalf,” said Bains in an interview with the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson.

“But the prime minister has stated his position clearly, the government has stated its position clearly. Any meetings we’ve had with SNC-Lavalin or even the opposition members, all of that is registered and public knowledge.”

He continued, adding, “We’re being as transparent and open and accountable to Canadians as much as possible under the circumstances because we cannot, or I cannot speak on behalf of Jody Wilson-Raybould.”

WATCH BELOW: Scandals, criminal allegations cloud SNC-Lavalin’s future

Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin employs thousands of Canadians and is facing charges of corruption and fraud over its business activities in Libya during the rule of its late dictator Moammar Gadhafi and the revolution that led to his downfall.

If convicted, the firm would be banned from bidding on lucrative government contracts for 10 years.

The company has argued it should be allowed to negotiate what’s known as a “remediation agreement” or “deferred prosecution agreement” in order to avoid a criminal trial and the possibility of conviction.

READ MORE: François Legault wants Ottawa to ‘settle’ with SNC-Lavalin so firm avoids trial

Such agreements became an option last year when the Liberals quietly included a provision in the budget bill to enact them.

However, the public prosecution service in October 2018 declined to offer such a deal to SNC-Lavalin, which then appealed that decision in Federal Court.

According to a bombshell Globe and Mail report published two weeks ago, that decision led unknown officials within the Prime Minister’s Office to pressure Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the case and urge the public prosecutors to reconsider.

WATCH BELOW: Trudeau says Wilson-Raybould never reported any alleged ‘pressure’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has acknowledged conversations around the cabinet table about the matter but called the report of interference “false.”

Current Attorney General David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould in a surprise shuffle last month, has also said that it is perfectly normal for cabinet colleagues to express “considerations” around issues being discussed.

Bains said he understands concerns about jobs, which SNC-Lavalin has argued would be at risk if it is convicted and is banned from bidding on government contracts.

READ MORE: Telus says ban on Huawei over national security concerns could set back 5G network plan

He noted that the core purpose of remediation agreements for businesses is “to level the playing field” with countries like the U.S. that have them and that he always made it clear in his conversations with SNC-Lavalin that he would not get involved in their push for such a deal.

“They understood very clearly I would not interfere,” Bains added.

Bains also addressed the ongoing national security review of Huawei’s 5G technology, something Trudeau spoke with Telus executives in Vancouver about last week.

Following that talk, Telus warned a ban on Huawei could drive up costs and cause delays for its plan to upgrade its network — unless it gets compensation.

Bains said there is no decision yet on either the review or the demand for compensation.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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