Ethics Watchdog’s SNC-Lavalin Finding Comes Just as Liberals Had Recovered in Polls

August 14, 2019 Updated: August 14, 2019

If the Liberals had been hoping that the intervening months since the SNC-Lavalin scandal broke in February would help them rebound in the polls, the ethics commissioner’s finding this week that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act in the affair may have put a damper on that.

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was quick to point out that Tudeau is “the only PM in history to be found guilty of breaking federal ethics law not once, but twice,” referring to findings by a previous ethics commissioner that the prime minister violated the same act by going on an all-expense-paid family vacation on a private Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims.

A recent poll by Leger showed that the cloud of the SNC-Lavalin controversy had largely lifted, leaving the Liberals facing a closer fight with the Conservatives with less than three months to go until the election. But given the commissioner’s findings, it remains to be seen what the impact on public perception toward the Liberals will be.

Commissioner Mario Dion’s report released on Aug. 14 supports allegations made by former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybold that Trudeau pressured her to help Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.

Dion ruled that Trudeau’s actions violated section 9 of the act, which prohibits public office holders from using their position to influence a decision that would improperly further the private interests of a third party.

“The authority of the Prime Minister and his office was used to circumvent, undermine and ultimately attempt to discredit the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions as well as the authority of Ms. Wilson‑Raybould as the Crown’s chief law officer,” Dion said in a release.

Dion also found that Trudeau’s government cited partisan political interests when it sought to influence Wilson-Raybold on the issue, adding in his report that “any partisan political interest that was put to Ms. Wilson‑Raybould in the context of her evaluation of the matter in question was improper.”

In addition, Dion said he was impeded in his investigation because the Privy Council Office, one of the government departments involved in the case, refused to release information related to the issue.

“I am convinced that if our Office is to remain truly independent and fulfill its purpose, I must have unfettered access to all information that could be relevant to the exercise of my mandate,” Dion said in his report. “I must be satisfied that decisions made by the most senior public office holders, including those discussed at Cabinet, are free from any conflicts of interest.”

Responding to the report, Trudeau said he accepts the report and takes full responsibility for what happened, but he also said he disagrees with some of Dion’s findings.

“We recognize the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened. I take responsibility for the mistakes that I made,” Trudeau said. “Where I disagree with the commissioner is where he says that any contact with the attorney general on this issue was improper.”

Scheer said there should now be enough evidence of misconduct by Trudeau to warrant an investigation by the RCMP.

“He may never face a court of law, but he will have to face the Canadian people over the next few weeks,” Scheer said.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called Dion’s findings a “bombshell report,” while also noting that it’s unprecedented for a prime minister to be found contravening the Conflict of Interest Act twice.

“And this one specifically, the deep concern is that Mr. Trudeau, the prime minister, was working to benefit the interest of a multi-millionaire corporation and was working to benefit his own self-interest to get re-elected,” Singh said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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