The Government of Canada is facing a constitutional crisis, a Conservative MP argued in an emergency debate held in the House of Commons on Thursday — one day after ex-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified at a justice committee hearing that she faced months of pressure to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.
“It’s a crisis about the division of powers in this country, long-held and sacred principles on which these divisions of powers are based,” said Michael Chong, MP for Wellington-Halton Hills.
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“Principles that are enshrined in our constitution, principles that are enshrined in our unwritten constitution and in our constitution. Enshrined in our statutes like the Justice Act, and other acts of Parliament.
“It’s also a crisis about the rule of law,” Chong added.
The emergency debate followed testimony in which Wilson-Raybould alleged a “consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to politically interfere… in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
The former justice minister’s testimony triggered calls to resign from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer — calls that Chong and fellow Conservative MPs Candice Bergen and Michael Cooper repeated during the debate on Thursday.
“I know one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt — I have no confidence in this prime minister or in this government,” he said.
Chong went on to say that if members of the House of Commons don’t consider the situation a crisis, “then we have an even bigger problem.”
“When we adopted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that part of the constitution led with the words that Canada is founded on the principles of a belief in the supremacy of God and the rule of law,” he said.
“Madam Speaker, if we don’t consider this as a House of Commons, as committees of this house, as institutions of state to be a crisis, then we have an even bigger problem.”
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In her testimony, Wilson-Raybould alleged that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approached her and said if SNC-Lavalin did not receive a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), then there would be “many jobs lost and that SNC would move from Montreal.”
Throughout the debate, the Liberals stressed the importance of protecting jobs.
Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, said during the emergency debate that the Criminal Code carries a section that allows for “remediation agreements” that mitigate the effects of wrongdoing on people who didn’t partake it in themselves.
That section reads as follows:
“It is not some sort of ‘laissez passer’ for individuals,” Virani said.
“It is about holding corporate leaders responsible for their activities, making sure they’re held accountable, but not de facto or actually, in fact, holding responsible workers on the front lines, pensioners who rely upon that corporation, for actions that were not taken by them, decisions that were not made by them.
“Those should not be the sacrificial lambs for this kind of policy.”
WATCH: ‘What we heard should shake Canadians faith in the system’ — MP on Jody Wilson-Raybould testimony
NDP MP Murray Rankin said that what politicians heard from Wilson-Raybould should “shake Canadians’ faith in our system.”
He said Virani, a graduate of the University of Toronto’s law school — just like Rankin — was trying to “defend the indefensible.”
Wilson-Raybould alleged an “attempt at the highest level of our system of government to interfere with the decision of an independent attorney general,” Rankin said.
He noted that Virani talked of his interest in constitutional law, and the “rule of law.”
“This is not a rhetorical statement,” Rankin said. “The rule of law, Madam Speaker, this is the foundation of our democracy.”
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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May pointed out that Trudeau chose Frank Iacobucci, a former Supreme Court justice and lawyer for SNC-Lavalin, to run Indigenous consultations on the Kinder Morgan pipeline.
“I wonder if my friend finds it curious in any way?” she asked Conservative MP Michael Barrett.
“Nothing at this point is surprising me, but I continue to be more and more concerned with the tangled web that the prime minister and the prime minister’s office have weaved on this issue,” he said.
WATCH: Liberals argue health of economy is relevant to SNC-Lavalin debate
Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz would suggest, like her colleague Virani, the relevance of jobs in the SNC-Lavalin matter.
“I will tell you that the health of our economy and the importance of jobs to this country is absolutely relevant to the issue at hand with SNC-Lavalin,” she said.
“And so I do think that it’s extremely important to understand the importance of SNC-Lavalin, how many jobs, what we’re trying to do around this economy, why it absolutely occupies this member and this government every day.”
She went on to list the Liberal record on the economy — mentioning initiatives such as the corporate tax rate and the government’s fall economic statement — and went on to address ethics in business.
“We’ve also taken a clear stance that unethical business practices should have no place in the Government of Canada’s business dealings,” Dzerowicz said.
“The fact is that corporate wrongdoing imposes significant economic and social costs, it also places barriers on our economic growth and significantly increases the cost and risk of doing business, as well as undermining the public and business investor confidence.”