Justice committee votes to invite Wilson-Raybould to testify over SNC-Lavalin affair
The House of Commons justice committee has voted to invite former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to answer questions about allegations of political interference at the heart of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
However, it’s not yet clear how much Wilson-Raybould will be able to reveal. Earlier Tuesday, she said she was still consulting with her lawyer about whether she will be able to speak if called to testify.
WATCH: Wilson-Raybould meets with cabinet after Butts resigns
The committee will also hear from Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick, current Justice Minister David Lametti, and deputy justice minister Nathalie Drouin.
NDP committee member and justice critic Murray Rankin said the invitation falls short of being able to shine a more complete light in the matter. He noted the motion did not spell out what Wilson-Raybould can say or whether anyone from the Prime Minister’s Office will be able to speak.
No date has been set for Wilson-Raybould to speak.
The news comes as the Conservatives attempt to launch an investigation in the Senate legal affairs committee, with Senator Larry Smith, the Leader of the Conservatives in the Senate, giving notice of a motion to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself as well as the nine witnesses the opposition originally sought to call before the House of Commons justice committee last week.
News of that motion came as Conservatives tried to persuade Liberal members of the House justice committee to expand the list of witnesses they are willing to call as well as to open up the closed-door meeting to reporters.
WATCH: NDP MP Murray Rankin says he’ll support Wilson-Raybould being invited to Justice Committee
At the very least, it appears there will now be at least four witnesses called by the Liberals on the House committee.
In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Iqra Khalid, one of the members of that Liberal-dominated committee, said she has given a notice of motion to the committee to invite Wilson-Raybould, who confirmed to reporters shortly before that she remains a Liberal MP, to appear and face questions.
Khalid is one of the members who last week refused to commit to calling Wilson-Raybould when the Liberals blocked an opposition motion to call nine key political and bureaucratic figures to answer questions on the case.
While other Liberal members of the committee have not indicated if they will support the motion, Government House Leader Bardish Chagger acknowledged it during question period.
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau government has ‘no knowledge’ of RCMP probe of PMO in SNC-Lavalin affair
“I understand that a Liberal member will be putting forward a motion today at committee to have the access that members are asking for,” she said.
However, Wilson-Raybould would not say whether she will be able to speak if called.
“I’m still working with my lawyer,” she told reporters when asked about the solicitor-client privilege she has suggested is barring her from talking, before being asked if she remains in the party caucus.
“I am a Liberal member of Parliament.”
Trudeau told reporters afterwards that she had asked to meet with cabinet members but would not say what they discussed.
During question period, Wilson-Raybould could be seen again sitting in her seat in the front row of the government benches.
She did not answer any of the questions on the matter posed by the opposition.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet after Trudeau called the allegations of political interference “false” and suggested her continued presence in cabinet was an indication there was nothing to the reports.
She retained a former Supreme Court justice as her counsel to determine what, if anything, she can say.
The Liberals are facing a hammering from the opposition over unanswered questions in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Both a meeting of the House of Commons justice committee to discuss potential witnesses for a probe of the matter, as well as an NDP motion calling for Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege and demanding a judicial inquiry are dominating the political agenda as MPs return from a week in their constituencies.
But as they do so, the government is missing a prominent figure following the Monday resignation of Gerald Butts, principal secretary to Trudeau.
WATCH BELOW: Trudeau heckled while addressing resignation of Gerald Butts amid SNC-Lavalin affair
Trudeau addressed the resignation in question period on Tuesday as well.
“He made the decision to step down, to step away, because the work this government is doing and indeed the confidence Canadians must have in their institutions … comes before all else,” Trudeau said.
Many Liberals including Treasury Board President Jane Philpott — a friend of Wilson-Raybould’s — were tight-lipped about his sudden resignation as they headed into a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning.
WATCH BELOW: Morneau says Gerry Butts has ‘enormous’ respect for Canada’s institutions
Others, including Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, called the news “sad” but vowed things will continue as before.
“It’s obviously a sad moment for me and Gerry’s many friends, and people who really admire the tremendous work he’s done for Canada,” she told reporters in a scrum.
“Having said that, our work goes on, as Gerry said in his own letter.”
WATCH BELOW: Freeland calls Butts resignation a ‘sad moment’
Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, also told reporters Butts resignation was unfortunate but said she has “total confidence in the prime minister.”
‘I think it’s sad whenever a team gets broken up but we will put one foot in front of the other and get the job done for Canadians,” she said.
Indigenous leaders have criticized Trudeau for the government’s handling of the allegations and unnamed officials who criticized her work to media.
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs called comments suggesting Wilson-Raybould was difficult to work with and self-centred both “sexist” and “racist.”
Bill Wilson, a Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief and Wilson-Raybould’s father, told Global News it was “a bloody insult to her and Indians across the country” that she was moved from the high-profile portfolio of Attorney General to Minister of Veterans Affairs, shortly after the political interference is alleged to have taken place.
“She upholds integrity and dignity and the rule of law and she gets kicked in the teeth and moved down to veteran affairs. As important as that is, the reality is that it’s near the armpit of the cabinet,” he said.
Butts, one of Trudeau’s closest advisers and a friend since the two were students at McGill University, issued a statement on Monday saying he denies the allegations contained in a bombshell Globe and Mail report two weeks ago of attempts from within the Prime Minister’s Office to pressure Wilson-Raybould into intervening in the criminal case of SNC-Lavalin to help the firm avoid a trial.
He said the allegations were distracting from the “vital work” being done and that his resignation was in the best interests of the government.
WATCH BELOW: Liberal House Leader says Butts stated his decision on resignation
Butts is one of nine witnesses opposition members of the House of Commons justice committee tried to call on last week to answer questions about the allegations, including Wilson-Raybould herself.
Liberal members of that committee blocked attempts by the Conservatives and NDP to call either of them, instead limiting the immediate witness list to three and refusing to commit to calling either Butts or Wilson-Raybould at a further meeting to be held Tuesday afternoon behind closed doors.
Also on Tuesday, MPs will debate a motion from the NDP in the House of Commons that calls on Trudeau to waive solicitor-client privilege and launch a public inquiry into the allegations of political interference.
WATCH BELOW: SNC-Lavalin controversy corroding Trudeau’s credibility, he sounds ‘guilty’: NDP
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is already investigating but the Liberals have so far rebuffed calls from the opposition to allow for broader study of the matter through an inquiry or through the extensive witness list proposed at the justice committee last week.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said on Tuesday his party will unanimously support the NDP motion, which will still not bring it enough votes to pass given the Liberals hold a majority of seats in the House of Commons.
He also warned the resignation of Butts will not calm calls for answers.
“We cannot claim to be a country under the rule of law when political agendas can dictate the course of justice,” he said, noting Trudeau has “yet to credibly refute” the allegations.
“He’s blaming everyone from the personnel of his own office to Scott Brison, including the former attorney general herself, for the situation he finds himself in. That is not how a prime minister should act. If he thinks the resignation of his closest adviser will solve the situation, he is mistaken.”
The closed-door justice committee meeting is scheduled for 3:30 PM ET.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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