Canada's SNC Lavalin eyes ways to protect business amid political crisis


Former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire Thursday as Liberals struggled to douse the controversy and focus Canadians' attention on their pre-election budget.

There are still multiple options beyond the justice committee for how Wilson-Raybould or Philpott could discuss the matter.

"That should happen right away", Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Friday.

Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin finds itself at the centre of a national political storm over allegations prime ministerial aides crossed a line in leaning on Wilson-Raybould to help the company avoid criminal prosecution on corruption charges.

But Philpott actually appears to already be free to talk about that January 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until January 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio.

In a letter to the committee, Wilson-Raybould said she will provide "copies of text messages and emails" that she referred to last month when she testified for almost four hours before the committee.

Her written statement will be "within the confines of the waiver of cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege" she was granted before testifying orally, she said.

The prime minister's former advisor Gerald Butts and the clerk of the privy council had contradicted her claims of improper pressure.

Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean's that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a January 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case. She resigned a month later.

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Sgro was one of the MPs attending a meeting of the Liberals' Ontario caucus on Wednesday - a meeting described by people in the room as "rough" and "uncomfortable".

The Conservative Opposition triggered the voting marathon in Ottawa after the Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down further investigation into the SNC-Lavalin scandal, which has led to high profile resignations by two cabinet ministers and an outspoken Liberal MP over the government's handling of the controversy.

"They have parliamentary privilege and it's up to them to do so and it's a decision that they must take", Joly said.

"Let's just rip the Band-Aid off, let's get this done, bring them in, have a conversation, lift the waivers, relieve them of their oaths, get it done", Raitt said. Conservative MPs eventually walked out of the Commons, after Scheer delivered a parting shot, calling the committee's decision "an assault on democracy".

But Conservative House leader Candice Bergen said suggestions that parliamentary privilege frees the former ministers to say what they like is "a smokescreen". "I doubt that I would get four hours of time, or she would, or others would, to be able to explain the story in the House of Commons".

Cotler himself had a similar experience as Wilson-Raybould under then-prime minister Paul Martin.

At an event in Thunder Bay, Ont., on Friday afternoon, Trudeau once again shrugged off the Opposition's demand for a broader waiver, arguing that the original waiver was "unprecedented" and allowed Wilson-Raybould to talk "entirely and completely" about the question he puts at the core of the controversy: whether she was pressured unduly on the SNC-Lavalin case during her time as attorney general.

"They have the opportunity, three ways: Before Parliament; through the ethics commissioner; and if the parliamentary committee on justice wants to continue to study this issue, it's up to them to decide", Joly said.