Canadian Treasury Board President Jane Philpott resigned from Cabinet on Monday saying she has “lost confidence” in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau amid the SNC-Lavalin scandal. In her resignation letter, Ms. Philpott said her confidence in the Prime Minister’s leadership was shaken by former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony that she was improperly pressured to avoid prosecuting engineering giant SNC-Lavalin for corruption. This week, SNC-Lavalin lost their bid to have the lawsuit against them, on bribery and corruption charges, settled out of court.
Ms. Philpott wrote, “The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system. It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our Attorney General should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases.”
Crucially, she said, “There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.” In response, Ms. Wilson-Raybould hailed Philpott as “incomparable” and acknowledged her “constant and unassailable commitment to always doing what is right and best for Canadians.”
The most damning evidence put forward by Ms. Wilson-Raybould are two text messages her Chief of Staff Jessica Prince sent to her following meetings she had with the Prime Minister’s Office. PM Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts, who subsequently resigned, apparently told her “there is no solution here that does not involve some interference” and Chief of Staff Katie Telford apparently also told her “we don’t want to debate legalities anymore.”
According to the latest polls, PM Trudeau’s defense strategy of casting doubt on Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s credibility without accusing her of lying outright is not working, as his support collapses: Canadians say they are following the story closely, and 67 percent of them believe Ms. Wilson-Raybould instead of PM Trudeau.
Butts testified at the House Justice Committee on Wednesday. He said Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s behaviour was “inconsistent” with the idea that her mind was made up and she simply had to inform the PMO that this was the case. Mr. Butts said he resigned because he didn’t want PM Trudeau to be perceived as favouring him. The Liberal members on the Committee defeated a Conservative a motion to produce all government communications between Mr. Butts and others involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The next day, the Prime Minister reiterated Mr. Butt’s points, saying there was “no inappropriate pressure” placed on Ms. Wilson-Raybould but acknowledged an “erosion of trust.” PM Trudeau did not apologize for the interactions he and other senior officials had with the former Attorney General and Justice Minister about the Quebec engineering giant's case.
Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough is assuming Ms. Philpott's portfolio in an acting capacity, though Treasury Board President is a role typically held by a more senior Minister. All 33 remaining Ministers confirmed they still have confidence in the Prime Minister and many also added that they have no intention of resigning from Cabinet.