OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is hunkering down in Ottawa after the second resignation from his cabinet in less than a month over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
He has cancelled a planned visit to Regina today, where he had been scheduled to attend an afternoon event to promote his government’s plan to battle climate change and a Liberal fundraiser in the evening.
Trudeau did take part this morning in an armchair discussion at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada convention in Toronto before returning to Ottawa for what his office says are “private meetings.”
The prime minister’s urge to stay close to home comes one day after Treasury Board president Jane Philpott quit cabinet, saying she no longer had confidence in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Her departure was less than a month after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned over what she has described as improper pressure on her to halt the criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering and construction giant.
Wilson-Raybould testified last week that she was relentlessly pressured — and even received veiled threats — from Trudeau, his senior staff, the clerk of the Privy Council and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s office to ensure a remediation agreement was negotiated with the company. A remediation agreement is a kind of plea bargain that would force the company to pay stiff penalties but avoid a criminal conviction that could financially cripple it.
She told the House of Commons justice committee that she believes the pressure was inappropriate but not illegal.
Trudeau has tried to maintain business as usual since the controversy erupted a month ago. But at public events he’s been dogged by questions about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
He now appears to have decided to keep a low profile at least until after his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, testifies at the justice committee on Wednesday. Liberals are hoping Butts, a long-time friend of Trudeau’s, will finally provide another side to the story that will help the government defend itself against accusations of political interference in the justice system.
Butts resigned from Trudeau’s office last month, insisting neither he nor anyone else had done anything wrong but saying he didn’t want to be a distraction to the government’s work. His letter of resignation suggested that he’d be freer to defend his reputation from outside the Prime Minister’s Office.
After Wilson-Raybould’s testimony last week, Butts asked to appear before the justice committee, where he said he would “produce relevant documents.”