UPDATE: March 25 — SNC-Lavalin issued a statement saying that it never threatened the Government of Canada, but that it did say a remediation agreement (RA) was the best way to protect as many as 9,000 jobs.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to affirm that he was trying to protect Canadian jobs when he and his staff spoke with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould about a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau said this in the same week that the engineering firm’s CEO has insisted he never brought up potential job losses with the prime minister.
WATCH: Trudeau says extraordinary concessions already made on SNC-Lavalin file
Trudeau faced questions over the SNC-Lavalin affair at a town hall in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Friday night.
The prime minister was asked why he continues to say that he was trying to stand up for Canadian jobs, when SNC-Lavalin CEO Neil Bruce has said he never raised the issue with him as part of discussions toward a DPA.
He was also asked, “If nothing inappropriate really happened, why have two former ministers quit, your staff member quit, your clerk quit and another MP quit? It just doesn’t seem to add up.”
Trudeau began by explaining how a deferred prosecution works.
When a company is facing criminal charges, he said the attorney general has an opportunity to say, “Let’s give you massive penalties and financial sanctions instead, and not cause you to go through the challenge of criminal sanctions, which have direct impact, not just on your ability to do business in Canada but around the world.”
SNC-Lavalin, he said, has as many as 10,000 jobs across Canada (the number was previously pegged at around 9,000).
“And if the company were to go through full criminal prosecution, those jobs absolutely could be at risk,” Trudeau said.
The prime minister said he discussed a DPA with Wilson-Raybould in the fall, but that he directly told her it was “her decision to make.”
“But at the same time, it’s also a decision that can be visited and revisited all the way up to the end of the trial and because of that, we kept having discussions about it, because we really didn’t want to see all these jobs potentially at risk, and yes, potentially lost,” Trudeau said.
He said he and the former attorney general disagree on whether she faced inappropriate pressure when it came to a DPA for SNC-Lavalin.
WATCH: Conservatives continue call for PM Trudeau to testify on SNC-Lavalin
When Wilson-Raybould testified before the House of Commons justice committee in February, she said Ben Chin, chief of staff to Finance Minister Bill Morneau, met with the then-attorney general’s own chief of staff and said that if SNC-Lavalin doesn’t receive a DPA, then they’ll leave Montreal — potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk.
Wilson-Raybould later formed the view that it would be inappropriate for her to intervene in a decision that was being undertaken by the director of public prosecutions and pursue an agreement.
But people with the PMO and the Privy Council Office (PCO) continued to push her, she said.
In interviews this week, Bruce shot down the notions that he raised the issue of jobs with the prime minister, or the prospect of the company leaving Montreal.
Bruce said that if SNC-Lavalin is convicted and prevented from bidding on federal contracts, then its employees could take up work with the company’s foreign rivals.
“There would be a reduction with us but these are talented folks. They’ll get a job,” he said.
“This thing that somehow they’re going to be unemployed is not true because they are highly qualified, highly experienced people.”
He also said SNC-Lavalin did not have plans to move out of Montreal.
The House of Commons justice committee spent five weeks looking into the discussions around a DPA for SNC-Lavalin, Trudeau said.
And that, he said, is where matters stand.
WATCH: March 18 — Trudeau names Anne McLellan as special advisor in SNC-Lavalin affair
Trudeau also addressed the resignations of former treasury board president Jane Philpott from cabinet, and of MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes from the Liberal caucus.
He said they have made “decisions about their own positions and their own perspectives on this that I absolutely respect, but to a certain extent, I disagree with.”
Trudeau went on to note that an ethics commissioner will look into the matter, and that an “objective look at what actually happened” is taking place.
He has also named ex-Liberal justice minister Anne McLellan as a special advisor who will examine questions that have been raised amid the controversy.
- With files from The Canadian Press