Another Canadian minister quits resenting gov't handling of political scandal

Jane Philpott stepped down as the president of Canada's Treasury Board on Monday, further escalating the corruption scandal plaguing the prime minister.

February 27 - In a highly anticipated appearance in front of the justice committee, Wilson-Raybould says she faced intense political pressure and veiled threats related to the SNC-Lavalin file, and was warned directly by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the negative consequences if the company faced prosecution.

She has not yet been able to explain what that was - the twin muzzles of cabinet confidence and solicitor-client privilege are still firmly on her for the time period after the shuffle - but bets are she learned that the government has found a way, not to mention a more agreeable attorney general (David Lametti), to give SNC-Lavalin the deferred prosecution agreement it desperately wants to avoid a potential criminal trial on fraud and bribery charges.

One of those people - Gerald Butts, who stepped down as the prime minister's principal secretary last month - is set to appear before that committee on Wednesday.

During a Liberal Party rally in Toronto, Trudeau expressed his disappointment over Philpott's resignation but said he understood her reasons for leaving the Cabinet.

In her statement, Philpott said efforts to "pressure the former Attorney General to intervene" in the case raised "serious concerns" for her.

The former family physician has held key portfolios in Trudeau's Cabinet - health, indigenous services and, until this week, Treasury Board President - since being elected in 2015.

Mr Trudeau has denied political meddling in an investigation into engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

Long also said it was "particularly troubling" Philpott's resignation letter noted that while there is a cost to acting on principles, "there is a bigger cost to abandoning them".

February 7 - The Globe and Mail newspaper runs a story, citing unnamed sources, that says Trudeau's aides attempted to press Wilson-Raybould, while attorney general, to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, and that frustration with her lack of co-operation was one reason for shuffling her out of the justice portfolio.

Philpott is the Liberals Member of Parliament for the Ontario constituency of Markham-Stouffville.

Following this meeting, SNC's legal fate in the context of the 2019 federal election was broached by senior PMO staffer Mathieu Bouchard who is alleged to have told Wilson-Raybould's chief of staff: "we can have the best policy in the world, but we need to be re-elected".

Liberal backbencher Celina Caesar-Chavannes, who announced last week she won't seek re-election, tweeted her support Monday for Philpott, as she has done repeatedly for Wilson-Raybould since the SNC-Lavalin controversy erupted a month ago.

In the Canadian political system, party leaders are elected at formal conventions and can not be deposed by a simple vote of legislators, which means any move to push out Trudeau would take a long time.

Wiseman said the last time he can recall something like this was in 1963 when three Cabinet ministers resigned over then Prime Minister John Diefenbaker's opposition to the stationing of American nuclear weapons on Canadian soil.

As attorney general, Wilson-Raybould could legally have instructed the director of public prosecutions to negotiate one with SNC-Lavalin.

"There is quite a bit of damage to Trudeau's brand", said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal.

In other words, Butts' testimony may determine whether Trudeau's efforts to protect SNC-Lavalin are upgraded from "inappropriate" to "illegal".

Much of the controversy hinges on Wilson-Raybould's dual roles as attorney general (nominally a legal official with a responsibility only to the law) and as justice minister (a political executive who answered to the prime minister). Earlier in the day, before Philpott's exit, he said he was still reflecting on Wilson-Raybould's future in the party.

Since taking office in 2015, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become a progressive icon due to his Liberal Party's championing of climate change action and refugee rights, as well as Trudeau's youthful looks and often charming demeanor.

March 2 - Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes says she will not be seeking re-election in October in her riding of Whitby, Ont. Caesar-Chavannes says her decision is not related to the SNC Lavalin controversy, although she adds she has "tremendous respect" for Wilson-Raybould.

  • Joey Payne