EAST CENTRAL — Local conservatives are calling for the prime minister to resign after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was pressured to head off a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
“He [Justin Trudeau] does not have the moral authority to continue on as prime minister and should step down for the betterment of all Canadians,” said Randy Hoback, MP for Prince Albert and the chair of the Saskatchewan federal Conservative caucus.
Kelly Block, the MP for Carlton Trail–Eagle Creek, agreed with those sentiments, which have also been expressed by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
According to a timeline published by the Canadian Press, back in February 2015, the RCMP laid corruption and fraud charges against SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering and construction firm, over allegations it used bribery to get government business in Libya.
In March 2018, the federal Liberal government tabled a budget bill that included a change to the Criminal Code that allows “remediation agreements”, plea-bargain-like deals between prosecutors and accused corporations in which they can avoid criminal proceedings by making reparations for previous bad behaviour.
Even before the new provisions came into force on Sept. 21, SNC-Lavalin contacted the Public Prosecution Service to negotiate a deal. On Sept. 4, the service said it would not invite SNC-Lavalin to negotiate a remediation agreement.
The prime minister and Wilson-Raybould talked about the issue Sept. 17. Wilson-Raybould had the power to override the Public Prosecution Service’s decision to negotiate a deal.
“For a period of approximately four months, between September and December of 2018, I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred-prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin,” Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee on Feb. 27.
Trudeau rejected Wilson-Raybould’s version of events, saying he and his staff “always acted appropriately and professionally.”
On Oct. 9, the service confirmed it would not negotiate a deal, a decision SNC-Lavalin is contesting in court.
In a cabinet shuffle in January, Wilson-Raybould was moved from attorney general to veterans’ affairs.
Hoback said Wilson-Raybould’s testimony on Feb. 27 is enough to call for Trudeau to resign, rather than taking the intermediate step of calling for a public inquiry into the matter, something the New Democrats are calling for.
“The reality is, we’ve heard such [clear] evidence from the attorney general and her evidence is very detailed, very precise and she made claims of threats made against her if she didn’t do what the prime minister wanted and actually change and interfere with judicial decision on whether or not SNC-Lavalin should get a non-conviction trial versus a conviction trial.”
Hoback said Trudeau has tremendous amount of damage to Canada’s reputation, especially when it comes to its devotion to the principle of rule of law. He said Trudeau was telling Chinese authorities that he couldn’t do anything for Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou when she was arrested in December at the request of US authorities because his respect towards the rule of law.
“Yet at the same time, he would go to the next room and sit down with the attorney general to change the outcome of a prosecution,” Hoback said. “It’s totally, totally hypocritical.”
At a Liberal party event in Montreal covered by the Canadian Press Feb. 27, Trudeau indicated he had no intention of resigning.
The prime minister said Canadians will have “a very clear choice in a few months” in the October election about who they want to form government.
As for what the Conservative party would do to prevent such a situation from happening again, Hoback said he thinks the practice of having the justice minister and the attorney general be the same person needs to be looked at, as a justice minister has to represent the government politically, while the attorney general is a non-partisan role.
“I would not be surprised after the next election that the role will be split apart into two different people so we will never end up in a scenario that we have today,” he said.