International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr isn’t saying whether he believes there was any undue pressure by officials on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
But he told the West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson he’s taking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at his word and hopes Canadians’ “reasonableness” will prevail.
“Canadians will have to make up their own minds,” said Carr, who the Prime Minister’s Office put up to answer questions on the matter.
“I take the testimony of the Clerk of the Privy Council, who is the chief non-partisan public servant. I take the prime minister’s word that there was no direction, that it was her decision to make. He said so many times and I believe Canadians will — and you have to believe in the reasonableness of Canadians on this.”
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Wilson-Raybould was Carr’s cabinet colleague up until Feb. 12, when she abruptly resigned.
That came after Trudeau responded to questions about allegations of political interference by appearing to suggest Wilson-Raybould’s continued presence in his cabinet suggested nothing untoward had taken place.
The allegations published in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 7 asserted Wilson-Raybould was pressured by unknown officials in the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer an untested legal option called a “remediation agreement” to SNC-Lavalin.
A remediation agreement, created by the Liberals just last year, would have allowed a company to admit wrongdoing, face a fine, and avoid a criminal trial and a potential guilty verdict and a decade-long ban on bidding for lucrative government contracts.
Such a ban could have also had a heavy hit on the Montreal company’s bottom line and the thousands of jobs in an election year.
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Trudeau initially said the report of pressure being applied was “false” and that he never “directed” her to take any specific decision.
The government line has evolved from that over the past three weeks, with officials later saying there had also been no pressure writ large and that Trudeau had spoken with Wilson-Raybould about the case and told her the decision was “hers alone.”
On Friday, he also offered more details on the considerations involved in conversations on the matter.
“One of the fundamental responsibilities of any government is to look for good jobs, to defend jobs and to make sure that our economy is growing in ways that give a real and fair chance to everyone,” Trudeau told reporters when asked about his conversations with Wilson-Raybould.
Michael Wernick, Clerk of the Privy Council, told the House of Commons justice committee last week that he also met with Wilson-Raybould after the decision was made not to offer a remediation agreement, and did so in order to “convey consequences.”
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He said those “consequences” included the potential loss of Canadian jobs — not threats against her.
When asked whether he believed any inappropriate pressure had been applied, Carr would not say but noted it was Wilson-Raybould who made the ultimate decision not to intervene and order a remediation deal be offered — something the company had lobbied heavily for.
“I believe that she made a decision that was hers to make and it was a decision that everybody is respecting,” Carr said, adding that he does not himself know the specifics of why Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet, which came almost exactly one month after Trudeau moved her from attorney general to the lower-profile position of Minister of Veterans Affairs.
“It wasn’t clear in the letter but she has reasons and she will give those reasons as she sees fit to do,” Carr said.
“She’ll be appearing in front of the justice committee on Tuesday and we will learn in more detail what was in her mind and what motivated her. I think that’s reasonable — the system is working.”
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Wilson-Raybould is expected to appear before the House of Commons justice committee conducting a limited probe of the SNC-Lavalin affair on Wednesday.
She has neither confirmed nor denied the allegations, saying instead that she believes solicitor-client privilege prevents her from speaking on the matter.
Wernick said he disagrees and that solicitor-client privilege would not apply.
Wilson-Raybould has retained former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to help her decide what she can and cannot discuss publicly.
It is not yet clear to what extent she will be able to explain unresolved questions before the committee.
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