Liberals defeat opposition call for public inquiry into SNC-Lavalin affair

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Liberals defeat opposition call for public inquiry into SNC-Lavalin affair

Liberals say they are concerned about how Trudeau's team is handling the fallout of a newspaper report that officials put pressure on then justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould past year to ensure construction firm SNC-Lavalin avoided a corruption and bribery trial.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to journalists before the start of a Liberal Party caucus meeting in the West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada February 20, 2019.

Shortly after Wilson-Raybould met cabinet, one of the Liberal members of the justice committee, who had last week rejected calling the former minister to testify, announced that she would propose a motion at committee to hear from her after all.

The Globe and Mail newspaper has reported that Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled into the veterans affairs portfolio in January, was pressured by staff inside the Prime Minister's Office to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution related to contracts in Libya.

Wilson-Raybould maintains that she is unable to speak about the allegations due to solicitor-client privilege.

Gerald Butts, Trudeau's long-time friend who resigned his post as principal secretary on Monday despite saying he had done nothing wrong, will not be called, nor will anyone else from Trudeau's office.

Citing stories that emerged over the weekend that quoted unnamed government sources about Wilson-Raybould being "difficult to get along with", the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs called it an "attempt to save face and initiate damage control about the purported wrongdoings of your office by attacking and discrediting a prominent Indigenous woman".

Trudeau said he took the opportunity of the caucus meeting to offer an apology to Wilson-Raybould for his failure last week to immediately denounce anonymous criticism and cartoons about her that many felt were racist and sexist.

MPs are also scheduled to vote today on a non-binding NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the affair and the waiving of solicitor-client privilege. I understand fully that Canadians want to know the truth and want transparency.

A Liberal MP said that when a parliamentary colleague from any side of the aisle is in trouble, he flips them a note of support.

The ethics commissioner's probe will focus on whether there was a breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, while the justice committee is set to hear from witnesses including Wilson-Raybould.

Court documents show the Director of Public Prosecutions told the engineering and construction giant last September 4 about its decision not to proceed with negotiations towards a remediation agreement to help SNC-Lavalin avoid bribery and fraud charges.

On Tuesday, however, Wilson-Raybould surprised observers by emerging from the weekly cabinet meeting in Ottawa.

When Wilson-Raybould was asked if she was put under pressure by the PMO, she said that she was still consulting with her lawyer. "Have an independent hearing that is not run by the hand-puppets of the Liberal members of the justice committee".

Others say Trudeau's inner circle pays little attention to the concerns of back-bench legislators and have sidelined more experienced advisors.

"The PM's director of communications, Cameron Ahmad, said "for the time being, I don't have anything further" to say when he was asked if Trudeau was aware of the prosecutor's decision when he spoke to Ms. Wilson Raybould on September 17th".

"We have a number of things going on".

Butts has confirmed that Wilson-Raybould briefly raised the matter of SNC-Lavalin during a meeting in December; he advised her to speak with the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick.

"My argument to the prime minister is come clean", he said.

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