As It Happens

'Nicey-nicey' Trudeau should toss Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from caucus, says Sheila Copps

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deals with losses in the Liberal cabinet, Sheila Copps argues Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are putting themselves before the survival of the government — and should be removed from caucus.

Former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps says it's time for Justin Trudeau to 'crack the whip'

Former deputy leader Sheila Copps says Trudeau should 'crack the whip' and remove Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from caucus. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

If Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have lost confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — why are they still in caucus?

That's the question Sheila Copps is asking after the two senior Liberals announced their resignation from the cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin controversy.

Copps was the deputy prime minister in the Liberal cabinet of former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

She spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off on Tuesday, before Trudeau's former principal secretary Gerald Butts and privy council Michael Wernick testified before the justice committee about the SNC scandal. 

Here is part of their conversation.

You have said that Justin Trudeau needs to "lance the boil" inside his caucus. What do you mean by that?

You've had two ministers who've come out and basically said that they have no confidence in the government.

These are not people who really believe they can follow Justin Trudeau's leadership. So it really doesn't make sense for them stay in caucus.

I think Jane Philpott, when she resigned, she's sort of set out the challenge that there are ethics, and there's cabinet, and then there are bigger issues.

And I would say to her that, in the case of the caucus, it's untenable for other people to be able to speak in caucus because, with the two of you so off side the government, and with the public mud-dragging that you've taken the prime minister through, how will people feel free to speak internally?

Wilson-Raybould, left, and Philpott, right, have both resigned from the cabinet over the SNC-Lavalin affair. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

So you feel they should be tossed from caucus?

Yes, I do. I believe they can stay in the party. I know Jody Wilson-Raybould's father, a couple of weeks ago, mused about Jody Wilson-Raybould taking down the government and her running as prime minister. So maybe that's part of her end game. I don't know.

I think Mr. Trudeau needs to be tougher and maybe crack the whip a little bit. I know that's not the new way. Everybody is all supposed to be nicey-nicey, but sometimes in politics you have to go beyond nicey-nicey.

It's doing big damage to his brand. Most people don't understand the intricacies of the whole thing, and it could cost him the election.

They have completely controlled the agenda from the very beginning.

But let's go back to what originally begins this — because she said in her statements, Jody Wilson-Raybould, said that for four months she experienced a consistent and sustained efforts by many people in the government to seek to politically interfere in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution for the corporation SNC-Lavalin. A pretty serious charge, isn't it?​

But she also said, if you actually listen to what she said, she said she received the notice from the prosecutor — which was not unanimous, by the way, it was a split view — she received that notice in early September and she had her meeting with the prime minister on the 17th of September, less than a week later.

And she said to the committee that she had made her decision before she met with the prime minister on the 17th September.

That's why, when Trudeau met with her and when other people met with her, they reinforced the fact that, look, is there another way that we can try and square the circle because there are lots of people's jobs at stake.

Frankly, for her to say before the committee that as a member of Parliament you shouldn't speak about your riding — I don't know.

It's obvious that she's never served in the trenches in politics. She came in. She became immediate attorney general. She's a star. And she doesn't really like to listen to other people, including the prime minister.

You said elsewhere that she has a victim narrative that she is pursuing.

Oh, absolutely. Not only does she have a victim narrative but she keeps saying that she cannot speak on things. Nobody's stopping her from saying why she quit Veterans Affairs — or why she accepted, and then quit.

There is no limitation on what she can say. I mean, we've all resigned at different times in our lives and people can speak. We live in a democracy. There's no lawyer lawyering her up. She's the one that lawyered herself up, right away, and then decided to choose the moment.

Copps, left, and former prime minister Jean Chretien in 1991. (Ron Poling/Canadian Press)

You, as a woman cabinet minister, a woman in politics — it was bruising. I watched you over those years, and I've known from reading what you've written, and what you've said, about how difficult that was. At some level, can you appreciate what that pressure must've felt like for her?

Unfortunately, when you're in a cabinet, you're there at the grace of everybody else getting elected and you're also there at the pleasure of the boss, who is the prime minister.

You said that you think that Mr. Trudeau should get tougher. But there's suggestions that what's coming in the next day or so is some kind of statement of contrition — that he has to be more contrite and take ownership.

[Editor's note: After this interview aired, Trudeau responded to the testimonies. Read more at CBC News.]

I wouldn't be contrite. He hasn't done a single thing wrong. 

And I did write a column [in The Hill Times] saying, I think, had there been 9,000 Aboriginal jobs involved in her decision, she would have viewed it differently.

And that's why you have to hear colleagues out. You can't just come and say, "Oh, I'm not doing this and I'm not talking to anybody. You can't talk to me. Oh my god, 11 people have called me." 

Heavens to Betsy! Eleven people is nothing in politics. Usually you get about 11 calls an hour.

Written by Kevin Robertson and John McGill. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.