‘I have lost confidence’: Jane Philpott resigns from cabinet over Trudeau’s handling of SNC-Lavalin affair
The Liberal MP for Markham-Stouffville was named to the post of president of the Treasury Board in January 2019 during the same shuffle that removed Jody Wilson-Raybould from the post of attorney general. Her decision marks a stunning blow to the government as it is fighting to pivot from the controversy to promoting its carbon tax promises while the House of Commons is on a two-week break.
“I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and, after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet,” she wrote in a letter posted on Twitter moments ago.
Her announcement comes after Philpott faced questions over Trudeau’s handling of the affair on Monday morning and refused to comment.
WATCH: Philpott avoids questions on SNC-Lavalin hours before resigning
Philpott said that while she was proud of her own record, the evidence backing allegations of attempted political interference laid out by Wilson-Raybould in her testimony before the House of Commons justice committee last week was too great to ignore.
“The evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former attorney general to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” she wrote. “Those concerns have been augmented by the views expressed by my constituents and other Canadians.”
WATCH BELOW: Jody Wilson-Raybould’s full statement to Commons justice committee
She continued, adding that the “solemn principles” of judicial independence were at stake in the matter.
“Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government had dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised,” Philpott wrote.
Sources told Global News that Philpott had concerns around the cabinet table.
A few members of cabinet knew that she was considering resigning, but they thought it was over when she stuck around fro the cabinet shuffle.
There are questions now about what changed between Friday and Monday — her resignation shocked the PMO and her staff.
WATCH: Justin Trudeau was interrupted numerous times during his Liberal climate rally in Toronto on Monday as hecklers shouted at him in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin controversy
Philpott’s stunning resignation comes just shy of one month after the Globe and Mail first reported that officials within the Prime Minister’s Office had pressured Wilson-Raybould last fall to intervene in the decision of the director of public prosecutions not to offer a remediation agreement to SNC-Lavalin.
It also comes just two days before Trudeau’s former right-hand man, Gerald Butts, is set to testify before the justice committee on the matter.
WATCH: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer spoke on Monday following the resignation of Jane Philpott from the Liberal cabinet, saying it “clearly demonstrates a government in total chaos.”
Speaking at a climate rally at Toronto’s Danforth Music Hall on Monday night, Trudeau thanked Philpott for her service – and said she knew she had felt this way “for some time.”
“While I am disappointed, I understand her decision to step down,” he said.
“In democracies, you get people with a wide range of perspectives and voices, and we need to leave room for as many of them as possible.”
Trudeau went on to say that the SNC-Lavalin matter has generated an “important discussion, how democratic institutions, specifically the federal ministry and the staff and officials who support it, conduct themselves, is critical and core to all of our principles.
“Concerns of this nature must be taken very seriously, and I can tell you, I am,” he said.
Wilson-Raybould responded to Philpott’s resignation on Twitter, sharing a photo of herself and Philpott outside of the House of Commons, calling her a “leader of vision and strength.”
Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who has been a vocal supporter of Wilson-Raybould since the allegations emerged, also tweeted her support for Philpott’s decision; Caesar-Chavannes announced over the weekend that she will not seek re-election.
Her tweet appeared to reference a frequent refrain by Trudeau when talking about the need to recruit more women to political life: “Add women, change politics.”
“When you add women, please do not expect the status quo,” Caesar-Chavannes wrote. “Expect us to make correct decisions, stand up for what is right and exit when values are compromised. Thank you @janephilpott for articulating this beautifully.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said other Liberal cabinet ministers need to look at her resignation and ask themselves tough questions.
“It’s time for every Liberal cabinet minister to ask themselves he same question Jane Philpott did: is this what you got into politics for?” he said in a press conference Monday following the news.
“If not, it’s time for them to stand up and be heard.”
WATCH: Scheer would like to see an investigation, not a snap election over SNC-Lavalin controversy
SNC-Lavalin is facing charges of corruption and fraud for allegedly bribing Libyan officials for over a decade.
If convicted, the company faces a 10-year ban on bidding for lucrative federal contracts and has threatened to move its headquarters out of Montreal.
Trudeau initially called the report by the Globe and Mail “false” but has changed his remarks on the matter multiple times in the month since.
He has since shifted from denying the report itself to asserting that the government was focused on protecting Canadian jobs and has done that in a way that “respects our institutions.”
Following Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Trudeau told reporters that while he had not seen the former attorney general’s full remarks, “I completely disagree” with her descriptions of what happened. Trudeau also characterized allegations of political interference as “disagreements in perspective.”
However, her testimony at the justice committee lobbed a political grenade into the heart of the government’s brand that has yet to settle.
In her remarks, Wilson-Raybould outlined a “consistent and sustained effort” by 11 individuals, including the prime minister, to pressure her into cutting SNC-Lavalin a deal.
Over the course of four hours, she also described “veiled threats” made by the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick, who had previously told the committee he pressured her to consider the potential loss of jobs if SNC-Lavalin moved out of Canada but denied that there was anything inappropriate.
WATCH: Wilson-Raybould says Wernick told her Trudeau would get a DPA ‘one way or another’
Wilson-Raybould painted a different description of the meeting, saying Wernick told her that the prime minister was in a “mood.”
“I think he is going to find a way to get it done, one way or another,” she said Wernick told her of Trudeau’s mindset after she had repeatedly made it clear that her mind was made up against offering to cut a deal with the firm.
That meeting on Dec. 19 was the last discussion Wilson-Raybould had on the matter before she was informed on Jan. 7, 2019 that she was being removed from her job.
The news came on the heels of what she described as months of pressure following the decision of the director of public prosecutions in early September 2018 to pursue criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin and not to use a newly created legal tool, introduced just months earlier by the Liberals following extensive lobbying on “justice and law enforcement” issues by the firm.
WATCH: Wilson-Raybould reads transcript of remarkable conversation with her chief of staff
By Sept. 17, 2018, Wilson-Raybould said she told Trudeau and Wernick that her mind was made up in a meeting on reconciliation in which Trudeau immediately raised the issue.
Wernick, she said, raised the issue of the Quebec election, which was at that time less than a month away.
Trudeau also raised his status as a member of Parliament for Papineau, a Montreal-area riding.
“I asked, ‘Are you politically interfering with my role, my decision?’” Wilson-Raybould told the committee she said to Trudeau at that time.
“No, no no,” she says Trudeau told her. “We just need to find a solution.”
Between then and Dec. 19, Wilson-Raybould described an unyielding campaign of pressure targeting her from officials within the PMO.
Those included repeated requests to reconsider the matter and the upcoming federal election from two senior advisers to Trudeau, Elder Marques and Mathieu Bouchard, as well as meetings with now-former principal secretary Gerald Butts.
Wilson-Raybould said she told Butts the pressure needed to stop — but it did not.
Instead, it escalated.
Wilson-Raybould read out text exchanges between herself and her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, after Prince was summoned to a meeting with Butts and Katie Telford, Trudeau’s chief of staff, on Dec. 18, 2018.
She said Prince raised concerns of political interference, to which Butts responded: “Jess, there is no solution here that does not involve some interference.”
Telford was also quoted by Wilson-Raybould as telling Prince that they were “tired of debating legalities” and wanted the matter dealt with.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced an investigation into the matter last month, but his office has, for days, refused to confirm whether that investigation remains ongoing.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer asked the RCMP to investigate last week, citing potential attempts to obstruct justice and “provoke fear” in the attorney general, both criminal offences.
RCMP has so far been mum on whether it will pursue an investigation.
Under the Conflict of Interest Act, the ethics commissioner must halt any investigation underway if a matter before that office becomes the subject of an investigation by the RCMP.
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