Liberal members of the House of Commons ethics committee have blocked a push from opposition members for the committee to open a new probe and invite former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to testify on the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which continues to engulf the Liberal government.
In a meeting just one week after the justice committee, also Liberal-controlled, shut down its limited probe into the allegations of attempted political interference in the SNC-Lavalin case, wildcard Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith indicated he would not support the call for further study of the matter at this stage.
While he was the only Liberal member to speak to the motion at committee, he said his colleagues were letting him speak for them.
“I think everyone on this side cares about getting at the truth, it’s just a question of how we can best do this,” said Erskine-Smith, whose reputation as a maverick made him a wildcard in how the committee would vote on the issue.
“This is appropriately before justice and we ought to wait and see what justice does in the wake of additional information provided.”
All Liberal members subsequently voted against the motion, while the Conservatives and NDP voted for it.
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Conservative MP Peter Kent had presented a motion to the committee calling for it to study the allegations, ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to waive further privilege allowing Wilson-Raybould and others to speak more openly on the matter.
The motion also asked for Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott to appear no later than April 5, and for the committee to present a report of its findings to Parliament.
In a scrum with reporters following the committee meeting, Erskine-Smith said he believed an upcoming meeting with Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion in early May could be an “very useful” chance to get more details on whether his office has the tools to conduct a sufficient probe of the allegations.
Dion, however, is on prolonged medical leave.
Erskine-Smith said the scheduled meeting could also include his officials speaking for him if Dion is not able to attend.
While the justice committee shut down its study last Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould sent a letter to the chair of that committee saying she will provide follow-up material including copies of the texts and emails she referenced in her explosive testimony last month.
As well, she indicated she will provide a letter addressing some of the rebuttals made to her testimony within the constraints of the limited waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality granted by the government prior to her appearance before the justice committee.
That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to speak about the allegations of pressure applied to her in her former role as attorney general.
But it did not allow her to answer questions about any concerns she had about the matter after she was shuffled from that portfolio or speak to her concerns in venues outside of the justice committee.
Citing that waiver, Erskine-Smith Wilson-Raybould would be even more restricted if she was invited to the ethics committee than she had been at the justice one.
He also told reporters that while he believes both Wilson-Raybould or Philpott could use parliamentary privilege to breach their oaths of confidentiality on the floor of the House of Commons or at a committee, he didn’t think they should be forced to do so.
Instead, he said he would like to see the waiver broadened by Trudeau to let them both speak.
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Philpott resigned earlier this month in protest over Trudeau’s handling of the allegations.
She said in her statement at the time she had “lost confidence” in how he was addressing the matter.
In an interview with Maclean’s Magazine last week, she added that there is “much more” to the issue that Canadians need to hear and warned that Trudeau and his officials were trying to “shut down” the story.
Among the primary reasons opposition members want to see Wilson-Raybould testify for a second time is that they want to ask her questions about her original Feb. 27 testimony that were raised by key figures in the scandal who testified after her and disputed parts of her narrative.
In particular, Conservative and NDP members have said they need more information about the extent of conversations between Wilson-Raybould and senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office on the matter, including descriptions by the former attorney general in which she told the justice committee that pressure on her needed to stop immediately and that she had already made up her mind.
Gerald Butts, former principal secretary and right-hand man to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, disputed that a week later saying no one believed her decision was final and that she never made a request for conversations to stop, even as she told others around her she believed the talks were inappropriate.
Trudeau has refused to apologize and insisted jobs were at risk if the Montreal company did not get a deal to avoid a criminal trial.
A conviction on the fraud and corruption charges against it would ban the company from bidding on lucrative government contracts for a decade.
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Wilson-Raybould has also said she is gagged from speaking about anything related to the controversy that took place after she was removed from the attorney general portfolio on Jan. 14, and made minister of veterans affairs in what was widely seen as a demotion.
Specifically, she argues she cannot speak about what actually caused her to resign from cabinet on Feb. 12, a key issue the opposition wants to dig into.
That’s because the waiver of solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality granted to her do not extend past Jan. 14.
WATCH BELOW: Ethics Committee rejects opposition call for new SNC-Lavalin probe
If there were any further talks about the SNC-Lavalin case — and whether to cut it a deal — around the cabinet table in the one-month period after Wilson-Raybould was removed from her original post but remained a cabinet minister, she would know about that and theoretically be able to tell Canadians about it if the waiver was to be extended.
However, Trudeau has so far refused to do so and said the only matters relevant for her to speak on are those that took place while she was attorney general.