The House

Midweek podcast: The other side of the SNC-Lavalin affair

In the wake of testimony from the prime minister's former right hand man Gerald Butts and new information from Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, Chris Hall sits down with Peter Donolo, director of communications for former prime minister Jean Chretien, to hear his take on the SNC-Lavalin scandal and what should happen next.
Gerald Butts, who quit last month as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's chief aide, arrives to testify to the House of Commons justice committee in Ottawa February 6, 2019. (Patrick Doyle/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode26:55

First one side — now the other. 

Justin Trudeau's former right hand man was at the House of Commons justice committee Wednesday to offer his perspective on the controversy around SNC-Lavalin's quest for a deferred prosecution agreement that would allow it to avoid trial on bribery charges.

Gerald Butts said he remembers the events surrounding the SNC-Lavalin scandal very differently than former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

"I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government," he said.

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. He added they didn't realize she'd already made her mind up to allow the prosecution to proceed in September.

He also cast doubts on Wilson-Raybould's motivations by pointing out that did not come forward sooner. 

"If this was wrong, and wrong in the way it is alleged to have been wrong, why are we having this discussion now and not in the middle of September, or October, or November, or December?"

Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau's former principal secretary, delivers the beginning of his opening statement before MPs investigating the SNC-Lavalin matter. 2:28

Peter Donolo, who was communications director to Jean Chretien, said this is "definitely" a political crisis for Justin Trudeau.

He told The House the government's SNC-Lavalin ordeal is far from over. Donolo said the high-profile nature of the PMO and Trudeau's high-stakes promises about feminism and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples built up a political backlash.

During his testimony, Butts also rejected Wilson-Raybould's assertion that she was removed from her position at justice because of the SNC-Lavalin decision. He said she was offered the position of Indigenous Services minister but turned it down. 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.

The former principal secretary to Justin Trudeau wasn't the only name on the committee's witness list. Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick and deputy minister of justice Nathalie Drouin also addressed the MPs.

In his opening statement, Wernick said he was "profoundly disappointed" by the fact that his testimony last week was characterized by some as partisan. He repeated his claim that he never applied inappropriate pressure on, or issued veiled threats against, Wilson-Raybould.

"The minister experienced lawful advocacy to consider doing something lawful in the public interest," he said.

In testimony peppered with testy exchanges with opposition MPs, Wernick said Wilson-Raybould's decision not to intervene was not considered final.

"As a matter of law, the decision is never final because she could always take into consideration public interest considerations and was able to take into account new information," he said.