Politics

Trudeau doubles down on not apologizing for SNC-Lavalin affair

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remained dogged Thursday that he doesn't need to apologize for his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair, a day after Canada's ethics watchdog found he violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence the former attorney general while she was dealing with the SNC-Lavalin case.

Former Liberal MP Philpott says the report 'speaks for itself' on the PM's actions

Justin Trudeau on Wednesday visited the community centre in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., where he made an announcement on infrastructure funding, and later took questions that focused on the ethics commissioner's report on the prime minister's role in the SNC-Lavalin controversy. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remained dogged Thursday that he doesn't need to apologize for his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair, a day after Canada's ethics watchdog found he violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence the former attorney general while she was dealing with the SNC-Lavalin case.

During an announcement in Fredericton on Thursday morning, Trudeau was asked by a reporter how he can take responsibility, but not apologize.

"I'm not going to apologize for standing up for Canadians' jobs because that's my job — to make sure that Canadians, communities and families across the country are supported, and that's what I will always do," he responded.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who testified that she faced intense pressure and "veiled threats" from the prime minister's office on the deferred prosecution issue, said she wants to hear more. 

"In this case, something did go seriously wrong as reflected in the commissioner's report and I would've liked, as a Canadian, to have heard an apology," Wilson-Raybould said in a phone interview on CBC's The Early Edition.

"I was not expecting to get a personal apology, but I think that Canadians expect their politicians to make decisions based on integrity."

Trudeau's comments echoed his resolve Wednesday, following the release of the report by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion, that while he takes full responsibility for the SNC-Lavalin affair, he refuses to apologize.

The report found the prime minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence Jody Wilson-Raybould and get her to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) to the Quebec-based engineering firm.

"The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the attorney general," Dion said in his report

Opposition MPs are demanding an emergency parliamentary committee meeting to hear more from the ethics commissioner about his damning report. 

Conservative MP Peter Kent and NDP MP Charlie Angus have both asked for an urgent meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee.

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer was in Dieppe NB on Thursday 1:26

Angus said he wants Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Morneau's former chief of staff Ben Chin (now a senior adviser to the prime minister) to appear.

The Liberals hold the majority on the committee. 

Trudeau spoke in Fredericton after former Liberal MP Jane Philpott, who resigned as cabinet minister at the height of the SNC-Lavalin controversy, released a statement saying the report "speaks for itself" on the prime minister's actions.

"I am saddened by the impact of these events on our country. At the same time, I trust that Canada can emerge from this stronger than ever," she wrote. "We live in a country where elected officials can and must defend the public institutions that underpin our democracy."

In an interview with CBC Radio's The House, Philpott said she'd like the prime minister to apologize for inappropriately pressuring Wilson-Raybould.

"The conflict of interest and ethics commissioner determined that the prime minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act, and my take from what I hear from Canadians is that they would appreciate greatly an apology from the prime minister for having breached that obligation that he had to comply with the act. I hope that it's forthcoming."

Philpott said she was particularly troubled by just how much access SNC-Lavalin had to the prime minister and senior officials in his office.

Officials from the company aggressively lobbied the government to create an alternative legal avenue for corporate wrongdoing — lobbying efforts that ultimately led to the creation of the DPA regime in the 2018 federal budget.

"Many of the things in the report I was aware of, but I was not aware of all the things that came out in this week's report," Philpott told host Chris Hall. "It was disturbing, it was unsettling to me to realize the extent to which officials took steps to be able to benefit the interests of a private corporation."

Concerns about lack of access

The Markham-Stouffville MP, who is running as an Independent this fall, said it's unfortunate the ethics watchdog didn't have "unfettered access to all information" while writing his condemning report on the prime minister.

Dion wrote in his report that without access to all cabinet documents related to the SNC-Lavalin affair, witnesses he interviewed were not able to provide complete evidence, something he said impacted his ability to investigate Trudeau's role. 

He said Ian Shugart, who became clerk of the Privy Council after the SNC-Lavalin hearings had played out, declined his request for access to all cabinet confidence related to the examination of Trudeau's role in the SNC-Lavalin affair. As the secretary to cabinet, the clerk decides what is a cabinet confidence and what is not. 

Dion was critical of his limited access to cabinet confidences. 

"Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence, should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer," he wrote.

Cabinet confidences are not released publicly unless the prime minister issues a waiver, or expands an existing waiver. Trudeau did not expand the waiver he issued for Wilson-Raybould's parliamentary testimony in this case. 

I am saddened by the impact of these events on our country.- Independent MP Jane Philpott

"I note with regret that Commissioner Dion was not granted 'unfettered access to all information that could have been relevant to the exercise of his mandate.' This is essential to ensure that transparency and accountability for public holders to as it relates to conflict of interest," wrote Philpott.

Philpott stepped down from cabinet in March, saying she "must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations."

Speaking to CBC's Information Morning in Halifax on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she supports Trudeau "unequivocally."

"He has my full confidence," said Freeland, noting she has not yet read the report because she has been on the road.

"I think it's also absolutely the right thing that the prime minister has stepped up and said he accepts full responsibility. It's also fully the prime minister's right to disagree with some of the approaches."

Freeland said it's also a time to reflect on the "complexity" of the dual roles of Canada's attorney general and justice minister.

Watch: Will Trudeau's SNC-Lavalin ethics breach hit Liberals hard in election?

In the wake of a report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ethics violation in the SNC-Lavalin case, the At Issue panel reconvenes to discuss how much the latest chapter in this controversy will hurt the Liberals in the upcoming federal election. 12:47

With files from the CBC's Aly Thomson and Peter Zimonjic

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