The prime minister vowed to learn lessons from a political crisis that has rocked his Liberal government but insisted there was no unethical or illegal behaviour involving his senior officials. He admitted he had made mistakes in the handling of the SNC-Lavalin scandal and claims he had tried to cover up alleged government interference in criminal proceedings against the Montreal-based engineering and construction firm. At a press conference today, he admitted speaking to former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about the case and subsequently instructing his office to keep tabs on proceedings.
But he insisted there was never any inappropriate pressure placed on Ms Wilson-Raybould and said the final decision to drop the trial and instead subject the company to a so-called deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) was hers alone.
Mr Trudeau acknowledged there had been a breakdown in trust and communications between his office and Ms Wilson-Raybould.
He said: “I was not aware of that erosion of trust, and as prime minister and head of cabinet, I should have been.”
SNC-Lavalin was facing a corruption and fraud trial over accusations it used bribery to get government business in Libya.
The company was eventually handed a large fine rather than a criminal conviction which could have resulted in a ban from bidding for Canadian government business, bringing job losses and a potentially devastating hit on the local economy.
Ms Wilson-Raybould, who resigned her cabinet post earlier this month after being demoted to veterans’ affairs minister, has since said she faced pressure and “veiled threats” to pursue the deferred prosecution agreement against SNC-Lavalin.
Mr Trudeau said Ms Wilson-Raybould never told him she believed those contacts were inappropriate pressure.
He said: “She did not come to me, and I wish she had.”
The prime minister said he had now asked for external opinions on the dual role of the justice minister and attorney general, as well as the operating policies for cabinet ministers and staff related to dealings on judicial matters.
“I have and will continue to take many lessons from these recent weeks. Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having dealt with these issues.”
Published at Thu, 07 Mar 2019 13:32:00 +0000