The Current

Trudeau's speech on SNC-Lavalin would have been great — three weeks ago: writer

The SNC-Lavalin affair has trundled on for weeks, as the drip, drip of information served only to raise further questions. At the heart of the scandal is the accusation that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould faced political pressure over the criminal prosecution of the Quebec company, a claim that officials deny. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out Thursday about the allegations; we discuss and dissect his comments.

Weeks of conflicting testimony has upped the stakes, says Shannon Proudfoot

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out about the SNC-Lavalin affair at a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could have minimized the SNC-Lavalin controversy if he had spoken out sooner, according to a Maclean's writer.

"I think the speech he just gave would have been enormously successful, from a political point of view, if he'd given it three weeks ago," said Ottawa-based writer Shannon Proudfoot.

"The problem is, with every bit of testimony, every message we heard from Jody Wilson-Raybould, from Jane Philpott, it kind of kept upping the stakes," she told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The public now sees the issue in an "adversarial, prosecutorial kind of way," she said.

"And so now, to come out and adopt this very conciliatory tone — acknowledging mistakes were made, we should have handled this better — it's hard not to see that as damage control, as opposed to an authentic acknowledgement."

The prime minister said Thursday that an "erosion of trust" between Gerald Butts, his former top adviser, and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, led to the controversy over the SNC-Lavalin file.

Two versions of SNC-Lavalin affair

3 years ago
Duration 13:43
Compare how Gerald Butts and Jody Wilson-Raybould describe the events surrounding the SNC-Lavalin affair during testimony at the Commons committee. Wilson-Raybould testified on Feb. 27 and Butts spoke on March 6.

In response to that characterization, Lori Turnbull, director of the School of Public Administration at Dalhousie University says Trudeau is hoping to present this as "a breakdown in communication between people who have been positioned as friends, who communicate often."

Butts testified before the Commons justice committee Wednesday, responding to testimony from Wilson-Raybould that she faced pressure from the Prime Minister's Office to intervene in the criminal prosecution case of the Quebec engineering company.

Butts, who resigned as Trudeau's top aide on Feb. 18, told the committee there was no intention to pressure Wilson-Raybould's decision on the criminal prosecution. He said that official engagements were only meant to ensure she had the full facts on the impact of a potential conviction.

SNC-Lavalin is facing allegations of fraud and corruption in Libya, but has pleaded not guilty.

To discuss the prime minister's comments, Tremonti spoke to:

  • Tom Parry, CBC Parliamentary Reporter
  • Lori Turnbull, director of the public administration school at Dalhousie University, who studies political ethics
  • Shannon Proudfoot, an Ottawa-based writer for Maclean's magazine.

Click 'listen' near the top of the page to hear the full conversation.


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Alison Masemann, Anne Penman, Imogen Birchard and Samira Mohyeddin.

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