OTTAWA — Opposition parties will work to keep the SNC-Lavalin affair in the public eye in the remaining weeks before the federal election campaign, even as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear on Thursday that he has no intention of apologizing for his actions.
Conservative and NDP MPs have both requested an urgent meeting of the parliamentary ethics committee in an attempt to hear directly from the federal ethics watchdog about his damning report on the scandal, published Wednesday morning. Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, the committee chair, has confirmed the meeting will take place next Wednesday.
Ethics commissioner Mario Dion found that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. The company is accused of paying $48 million in bribes to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011.
In a letter sent to Zimmer on Thursday afternoon, Conservative committee members Peter Kent and Jacques Gourde requested the meeting, where they will move a motion to have Dion appear. “This is incredibly concerning. These findings show that Justin Trudeau used the power of his office to reward his friends and punish his critics,” the Conservatives wrote. “Canadians deserve fulsome answers to the many remaining questions.”
In a separate letter on Wednesday, NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus made a similar request, and also asked that the committee consider inviting Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his former chief of staff, Ben Chin, “on account of their intimate connection to the matters at the heart of the report.”
Zimmer had the authority to call the meeting on his own, but the Liberals hold a majority on the committee and could vote down the motion to have Dion appear.
Speaking to reporters in Fredericton on Thursday, Trudeau reiterated his response from the day before, signalling that no apology is forthcoming. “I’m not going to apologize for standing up for Canadians’ jobs, because that’s my job — to make sure that Canadians and communities and pensioners and families across the country are supported — and that’s what I will always do,” he said. “I disagree with the ethics commissioners’ conclusions, but he is an officer of Parliament who’s doing his job, and I fully accept his report, which means I take full responsibility.”
The opposition parties are evidently looking for ways to keep the scandal in the headlines as the election campaign nears, and will likely accuse the Liberals of a cover-up if their motion is voted down next week. Much of the SNC-Lavalin affair unfolded very publicly before the House of Commons justice committee last spring, where Wilson-Raybould, former principal secretary Gerald Butts and former privy council clerk Michael Wernick all testified.
In March, the NDP moved a motion to have the ethics committee investigate the affair, but it was voted down by the Liberal majority, who pointed to the fact that the ethics commissioner’s investigation was already underway.
The Conservatives are arguing that allowing Dion to appear would be consistent with past practice, as former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson testified to the House committee in January 2018 after reporting on Trudeau’s first breach of conflict-of-interest rules — his family vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer also called on Wednesday for an RCMP investigation of the scandal. “What we have now is a clear picture (of) who Justin Trudeau truly is, and it’s not who he promised he would be,” Scheer told reporters. “He promised he would be accountable and ethical. Instead, time and time again, he has used the power of his office to enrich himself, reward his friends and punish his critics.”
The NDP and Green Party leaders, meanwhile, have both renewed their calls for a public inquiry into the scandal. “Canadians … deserve answers about the troubling new information in (Dion’s) report showing the close relationship between the Liberals and SNC-Lavalin’s corporate leadership,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement to the National Post. “We still need a fresh process to look at this scandal in its entirety.”
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said a public inquiry is necessary to investigate what she called a “broken” system that saw SNC-Lavalin working closely with the federal government to try and avoid a criminal prosecution. “I’m very concerned about what this says about the system,” she said. “How did SNC-Lavalin get its tentacles so deeply into the political side of government and the civil service side?”
Neither leader would say whether they would make a public inquiry a condition of their support for a Liberal minority government, if that were the result of the October election. But May said “corporate control” of the government “needs to be rooted out.”
“This is not going to go away and I will do everything I can to keep it from being swept under the carpet,” she said. “It needs an inquiry.”
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