The Ground is Shifting in the SNC-Lavalin Affair. Stay Tuned.

Don Newman


Former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould did not complain about being pressured on the SNC-Lavalin file until after she was shuffled out of her cabinet job.

That was the testimony of Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, before the House of Commons Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Butts didn’t say it directly but he certainly implied it. Wilson- Raybould is mad about being moved from her so called “dream job” as Justice Minister and Attorney General, and facilitated the leak of a story claiming she was inappropriately pressured to cut a deal with SNC Lavalin as a measure of revenge.

Butts also said differences over whether to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with SNC-Lavalin had nothing to do with moving Wilson-Raybould to another cabinet job.

SNC-Lavalin is facing bribery and corruption charges and wants to enter into a DPA to settle, rather than facing the charges in court. Conviction could mean that the company would not be able to compete for government contracts for ten years.

The option of DPAs became available in Canada just this past year. Because it is “unsettled law” and has yet to be used, Butts said he and others in the Prime Minister’s Office wanted Wilson- Raybould to take the advice of a retired Supreme Court justice, or a panel of retired justices, on whether or not a DPA would be appropriate for SNC.

Perhaps not by chance, at a meeting with Jessica Prince, the chief of staff for Ms. Wilson-Raybould the name of retired Chief Justice Beverley McLaughlin was mentioned  as one who might be asked for an opinion.

Butts described Wilson-Raybould as a “friend and colleague”, said meetings between them on SNC-Lavalin were usually part of wider discussions and were always convivial.

He did not dispute that the PMO was concerned about the effect a conviction of SNC-Lavalin would have on the company’s workers, pensioners, companies in it supply chain and the economy in general.

“Just at SNC-Lavalin there were nine thousand jobs possibily at stake. That is not a legal issue. That is a public policy problem.”

Butts also revealed the maneuvering around the January cabinet shuffle that took Wilson-Raybould out of the Justice and Attorney General positions.

He said the priority was to replace the retiring Scott Brison as president of the Treasury Board, and the obvious choice was Jane Philpott, the minister of Indigenous Services.

Philpott was delighted with the move and agreed that Wilson- Raybould would be a good replacement at Indigenous Services. However, according to Butts, Philpott warned that the Justice minister might see the move as a demotion, and tied to the SNC-Lavalin issue.

Apparently, Wilson-Raybould saw it as more than that. When Trudeau told her of the move she said she would not go to Indigenous Services because she had worked against the Indian Act all of her life, and would not not be in charge of administering programs under it.

So, Wilson-Raybould ended up at Veterans Affairs. Then the story about her being “pressured” was planted in the Globe and Mail, and a week later she resigned from cabinet.

At the beginning of this week, her friend who thought she would be great in Indigenous Affairs also quit. Jane Philpott said she had lost confidence in the way the Prime Minister was handling this issue.

Now, Opposition members are trying to have Jody Wilson Raybould come back to the Justice Committee. Stay tuned.


Don Newman is Senior Counsel at Navigator Limited and Ensight Canada, and a lifetime member of the Canadian Parliamentary Press Gallery.