Canadian PM Trudeau's former top aide testifies in his defence

Posted March 07, 2019

The scandal has rocked Trudeau's government in an election year and led to the resignations of two top Cabinet ministers as well as Trudeau's top aide and best friend. It could threaten the political future of the country's leader and the rule of the Liberal Party, seven months ahead of national elections.

Testifying before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, Butts rebutted accusations made by former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose abrupt resignation last month touched off the crisis.

Senior Trudeau government figures lobbying Wilson-Raybould on the DPA were doing so because of concerns of how a guilty conviction against SNC-Lavalin on bribery charges would affect its 9,000 employees and countless others working as suppliers for the engineering and construction firm, according to Butts.

"I did not attempt to influence her decision".

"I never said at any point in any conversation that this is what the company will do".

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Butts told the committee cabinet decisions are "not the product of shared decision-making", though he tried to reassure Wilson-Raybould that her eventual move to Veterans Affairs had nothing to do with the SNC-Lavalin matter.

During her testimony, Wilson-Raybould alleged that she faced high-level "veiled threats" and "sustained" political interference from almost a dozen senior officials between September and December 2018 - including Wernick and former principal secretary Gerald Butts - to seek a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, which is facing bribery and corruption charges over business dealings in Libya. He is expected to back up his version of events with emails, text messages and other documentation, much as Wilson-Raybould did in her testimony.

Gerry Butts told the House justice committee Wednesday that the former attorney general only raised the issue of the DPA with him once before the shuffle - at the tail-end of a dinner at the Château Laurier hotel - and never framed the overtures of PMO or Privy Council Office staff on the issue as inappropriate. The event has been postponed to a later date, the Liberals said on Tuesday morning. Trudeau denies the allegations, accusing Wilson-Raybould of mischaracterizing the events.

Wiseman said the last time he can recall something like this was in 1963 when three Cabinet ministers resigned over then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's opposition to the stationing of American nuclear weapons on Canadian soil.

Wilson-Raybould refused to ask prosecutors to settle, and the trial is set to proceed.

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Speaking of good efforts, Butts put his heart into pushing the idea that the reason he (a non-lawyer) was so desperate for Wilson-Raybould (a lawyer) to have the benefit of outside legal advice that she didn't ask for and didn't want, was that the Remediation Agreement legislation was so new, they desperately needed help interpreting it and figuring out what was legal.

Butts maintains no pressure was exerted on Wilson-Raybould - that the government officials who spoke to her about the file merely wanted her to consider a second opinion on a deferred prosecution agreement.

The Liberals say they found Butts credible while Conservative and NDP MPs say they did not.

In a further blow to Trudeau, his treasury board chair, Jane Philpott, stepped down Monday after blasting the prime minister's team in a scathing public letter.

Wilson-Raybould said the same last week but declined to say she had confidence in Trudeau.

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Small Business Minister Mary Ng said in an interview that she does not see the cabinet departures as having an impact on the Liberal government's feminist agenda.