Cross Country Checkup

Liberal MP Carla Qualtrough would have 'gone to the prime minister' if colleague faced pressure

Speaking with Cross Country Checkup on Sunday, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Carla Qualtrough responded to former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony on SNC-Lavalin affair.

Procurement minister worked alongside Wilson-Raybould from Sept. to Dec. 2018

Carla Qualtrough, who is the MP for Delta, B.C., is overseeing changes to the 'integrity regime' that would provide flexibility in the length of time a corporation convicted of criminal wrongdoing would be barred from federal contracts. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Listen11:27

A Liberal cabinet minister says she was unaware that Jody Wilson-Raybould felt improper pressure from the Prime Minister's Office and would have intervened had she known.

Carla Qualtrough, the minister of Public Service and Procurement, worked closely with the former minister of justice and attorney general from September 2018 to December 2018, she told Cross Country Checkup Sunday.

Over that period, Wilson-Raybould has said she faced pressure from the prime minister and his staff to intervene in a fraud charge facing engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

"If I was in a position where I felt that a cabinet colleague was being unduly pressured ... I would have gone to the prime minister," Qualtrough told host Duncan McCue.  Qualtrough is now also the acting President of the Treasury Board after Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet Monday, citing the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Following Wilson-Raybould's testimony Wednesday into the SNC-Lavalin affair, Opposition leader Andrew Scheer called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign and for the RCMP to launch a criminal investigation.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh demanded a public inquiry.

Jody Wilson Raybould delivers her opening statement as she appears at the Justice committee meeting last Wednesday. She told the committee she faced pressure and 'veiled threats' related to a fraud case against engineering firm SNC-Lavalin from Sept. to Dec. 2018. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press )

On Sunday, Wilson-Raybould told CBC News that she was confirmed as a Liberal Party of Canada candidate in the upcoming federal election.

In her interview with Checkup, Qualtrough discussed Wilson-Raybould's status in the party, the Opposition's reaction, and efforts to provide corporations greater flexibility in contract procurement with McCue. This is part of their conversation:

On Wilson-Raybould remaining in Caucus

Duncan McCue: Jody Wilson-Raybould has told what she says is her truth. The prime minister has denied her characterization of those conversations. Whose side are you on?

Carla Qualtrough: You know, it's a very difficult and very charged situation we're in here because, on the one hand, I campaigned with Jody Wilson-Raybould. We became friends over the past three, four years.

We've travelled back and across the country, back and forth for four years. We've worked on difficult files together. I have a lot of respect and consider her to be thoughtful and direct.

At the same time, I've become, you know, close and have a lot of respect for the prime minister. I sit next to him in the House of Commons. We spend hours kind of sitting together voting and discussing things and committees and everything. And I consider him to be very thoughtful and direct and truthful.

So, you know, we're in this situation where I wasn't part of these conversations, but I have every confidence in the prime minister and I, you know, will definitely believe that he has kind of the moral and legal and political authority to run this country.

She is still a member of the Liberal Party and she says she would like to continue to serve as an MP. Are you supporting her to stay in caucus?

I support anybody to stay in caucus, especially somebody like Jody. For me, I'm in caucus because I have confidence in the leader. I share the Liberal values, and I share the vision for the country.

And if Jody is saying that she has confidence in the leader, shares our values and our vision for the country, I absolutely welcome her. 

"I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the gov't to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion..." 1:08

On public inquiry and RCMP investigation

Why don't you think that your party needs an independent public inquiry to help clear the name of the prime minister, if that's what you're looking to do? If you want to shed more light on this?

I think that between the Justice Committee and the ethics commissioner, there's sufficient processes underway now that will get to the bottom of this. I'm not sure another layer of another public process is the way to get resolution to this.

So you don't feel there should be a public inquiry?

None at this time, no. I can't see the value added of it personally. But if that changes, a decision will have to be made. But not right now, no.

Now the Conservative Party has called for an RCMP investigation. How worried are you about that?

Oh, I'm not worried about an RCMP investigation at all. The RCMP is completely independent. If they decide to pursue an investigation, they will have reasons to do so and if they decide not to, they won't.

Like we don't really weigh it at all, kind of politically about the RCMP. If something is ongoing or not, that's really not known unless you're implicated and I don't know of anything. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that he would review Wilson-Raybould's testimony before making any decisions on her status in the Liberal Caucus. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

On efforts to change the 'integrity regime' for corporations 

SNC-Lavalin, if it's convicted of corruption and fraud charges for using bribery while doing business in Libya, would be disqualified for up to 10 years. Now you're putting up a proposal to loosen up those rules and, in some cases, they would not be ineligible for federal contracts. Is that correct?

Well, this is one tiny little clarification on what you just said. Right now there is a strict 10-year rule. It's not up to 10 years.

So right now if someone is charged criminally for an offence that is listed under our ineligibility and suspension policy, the company would be barred for 10 years.

What the new proposal is proposing, first of all, is an increase in the number of offences that could trigger debarment [when companies are forbidden from federal contracts]. It's an increase of the kind of unethical behavior that could trigger debarment, as well as a flexibility in the term.

So we are introducing — we're proposing, because it hasn't been decided — up to 10 years. So whereas before it was strict 10 years, now it's going to up to 10 years. 

SNC-Lavalin faces charges of fraud and corruption charges over allegations it used bribery to get government business in Libya. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Carla Qualtrough, click Listen above.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.