Quebec politicians at the National Assembly are reacting to blistering testimony from Canada’s former justice minister.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Jody Wilson-Raybould delivered a meticulous account, spelling out details of what she describes as a “sustained effort” from the Prime Minister’s Office, the privy council, and the finance minister’s office to stop a criminal prosecution of Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould also testified that various officials raised concerns about job losses in Quebec during an election year as well as worries that if SNC-Lavalin faced prosecution, it may move its headquarters out of Montreal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau denies the allegations, leaving some Quebec MNAs to pick sides while others don’t know what to think.
“I’m not saying that what was said is true, I don’t know. But if it is true, it’s very troubling,” said Quebec Justice Minister Sonia LeBel.
When asked if she thought the prime minister crossed a line, LeBel said, “If it’s true, I would say yes.”
“Why should I not believe her? I mean, she said her story. She said she would speak her truth and we were all listening yesterday to her testimony,” Quebec Liberal MNA Marwah Rizqy said Thursday. “And if she said she had pressure, right now, the prime minister has to answer that.”
Premier François Legault was more cautious with his comments: “I don’t know what happened between Mr. Trudeau and the former minister of justice. I don’t know what kind of pressure he put.”
Earlier this month, Legault said he wanted Ottawa to “settle” a deal with SNC-Lavalin so that the firm can avoid trial in order to save jobs in Quebec. He said Wilson-Raybould’s testimony doesn’t change that.
“We’re already in discussions with Michael Sabia (Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec president and CEO) and the president of SNC-Lavalin to see together how we can protect these very good jobs,” Quebec’s premier said.
Quebec Liberal MNA Gaetan Barrette said he wasn’t defending the Canadian prime minister, but he didn’t believe that Trudeau did anything illegal.
“When we are involved in politics, there is no simple straight line between black and white,” Barrette said. “If I was in his place, the issue of maintaining those jobs would have been something very significant to me.”
Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire react
Interim Parti Québécois leader, Pascal Bérubé, agrees with Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer that Trudeau should resign.
Bérubé admitted that if the PQ were in government, it would have fought for the SNC-Lavalin jobs. “Sure, but we’re never going to interfere in justice,” he said.
“I think, again, we have an example of business people thinking they are kings and that they can do what they want,” said Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Massé.
Massé said she agrees with Raybould’s decision to not intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case and give managers facing criminal charges “a free pass.”
As for the alleged political interference from the prime minister and his office, Massé said, “I hope the government will never do the same thing here in Quebec.”