FREDERICTON—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is repeating what’s sure to be his go-to election campaign message on the SNC-Lavalin affair: he’s not about to apologize for what he calls standing up for Canadian jobs, communities, and citizens.
During an event in Fredericton this morning, Trudeau reiterated that he accepts Wednesday’s damning report from federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion and takes full responsibility for what happened.
“I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadian jobs, because that’s my job—to make sure Canadians and communities and pensioners and families across the country are supported, and that’s what I will always do,” he said during a brief, impromptu news conference.
“I disagree with the ethics commissioner’s conclusions, but he is an officer of Parliament doing his job and I fully accept his report, which means I take full responsibility.”
He also says the government intends to implement the recommendations of a separate report from former Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan on the merits of having the justice minister and the attorney general under the same cabinet portfolio, “to make sure this government and no future government gets in this situation ever again.”
That report recommends keeping the two jobs together, but better educating parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, and staff members on how best to consult with federal attorneys general.
Pressure is mounting on Trudeau to say he’s sorry to former cabinet members Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, but the prime minister is making it clear that no such apology will be forthcoming.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion concluded that the prime minister violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring Wilson-Raybould, who was attorney general at the time, to halt the criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Dion concluded that Trudeau’s attempts to influence Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution contravened a provision of the ethics law, which prohibits public office holders from using their position to try to influence a decision that would improperly further the private interests of a third party.
In an interview today with The Canadian Press, Philpott—who quit cabinet in a show of solidarity with Wilson-Raybould earlier this year, about a month before both of them were kicked out of the Liberal caucus—said the prime minister still owes Canadians an apology, not for how the two women were treated but for Dion’s primary conclusion: that he violated the Conflict of Interest Act.
Trudeau has said that while he takes full responsibility for the SNC-Lavalin affair, he will not apologize for what he calls standing up for Canadian jobs and communities. But that’s not why Canadians want to hear him say he’s sorry, Philpott said.
“The immediate reaction I think many people have is, ‘Well, that’s not what we wanted you to apologize for,'” she said. “I do believe that the people of Canada deserve an apology.”
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who held a news conference Thursday in Nova Scotia, was asked whether she believes Trudeau should apologize to Philpott and Wilson-Raybould. The prime minister already gave a “full and clear response,” she said, calling his acceptance of responsibility a “really important act of leadership.”
“Those are important things the prime minister has said and steps he’s taken and I think he’s done the right thing.”
Philpott is seeking re-election in the federal riding of Markham—Stouffville as an Independent while Wilson-Raybould is doing the same in the B.C. riding of Vancouver Granville.
Philpott said she’s not taking anything for granted during her campaign, adding that it’s no secret that getting elected as an Independent candidate is not easy.
“My amazing volunteer team is working incredibly hard,” she said. “We’ve knocked on thousands of doors together and I’m getting very positive feedback at the doors so I am hopeful that I will have the privilege of continuing to represent the people of Markham—Stouffville.”