TORONTO—Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has kicked out two former ministers, who had resigned from his Cabinet over his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, from his Liberal Party caucus.
During an emergency caucus meeting on April 2, Trudeau said former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott would no longer be allowed to sit in the legislature as Liberal members of Parliament. They also will not be allowed to run as Liberal candidates in the upcoming October federal election.
The prime minister said his decision was based on the two legislators’ lack of confidence in the government as well as actions they’ve taken since leaving the cabinet earlier this year.
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott have been outspoken about the government’s handling of the prosecution of Canadian engineering firm SNC-Lavalin. The Montreal-based company is charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments worth CA$48 million ($36 million) to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011.
Wilson-Raybould alleges she was pressured by the prime minister and his senior staff to intervene in the criminal prosecution of the company to reduce the severity of the consequences faced by the company, citing worries over job losses and potential impact on votes for the Liberal party where the company is based.
Wilson-Raybould was shuffled from her role earlier this year. She alleges the decision was made because of her decision not to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case. Philpott resigned from cabinet shortly afterward, her resignation letter citing a lack of confidence with the current government over the way it handled the affair.
The allegations sparked two investigations, one by the parliamentary justice committee and another by the federal ethics commissioner. It also cost Trudeau his principal secretary, Gerald Butts, who resigned but has denied any wrongdoing, and the nation’s top bureaucrat, Michael Wernick, who will step down as clerk of the Privy Council office on April 19.
If criminally convicted, SNC-Lavalin could be barred from bidding on Canadian government contracts for a decade.
Wilson-Raybould said the government pressured her to instruct the public prosecutor to instead pursue a deferred prosecution agreement—a provision that would spare SNC-Lavalin a criminal trial—but she chose not to do so.
On March 29, Wilson-Raybould released a recording of a phone conversation she had with Wernick on Dec. 19 as part of evidence in her claim that she was improperly pressured over the affair. In the call, Wernick repeatedly asked Wilson-Raybould why she was not using all the tools at her disposal on the SNC-Lavalin case. Her decision to record and then release the call was among the factors leading Liberals to have her removed from caucus.
“Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than about them,” said Trudeau. “That’s why I made the difficult decision to remove Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott from the Liberal caucus.”
Wilson-Raybould testified to the parliamentary justice committee in late February that, while she was still justice minister, she had been pressured by the prime minister’s office to intervene in SNC-Lavalin’s case. She says she was told the decision was up to her, but that she had faced a “consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government” to convince her to choose the alternate agreement.
She said those people included members of the prime minister’s office, the Privy Council Office, and the finance minister’s office, as well as the prime minister himself.
Trudeau has maintained that neither he nor his staff did anything inappropriate in their dealings with Wilson-Raybould.
The Liberal-controlled justice committee ended their investigation into the SNC-Lavalin affair on March 19, saying the investigation had served its purpose. The opposition has maintained that there is more to the story.
Andrew Scheer, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, denounced the Liberals for the removal of the two legislators, saying, “They have chosen to condemn colleagues who spoke truth to power and to prop up a prime minister who is drowning in scandal.”