Wilson-Raybould vs. Butts: Two versions of the SNC-Lavalin affair

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Liberal, Conservative and NDP MPs react to testimony by Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on SNC-Lavalin at the Commons justice committee on Wednesday, March 6.

Wilson-Raybould testified she received a call from the prime minister on January 7 to inform her she was being shuffled out of her role as justice minister and attorney general.

As Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick defended themselves before the House of Commons justice committee, they came prepared with not only a carefully curated choice of words, but carefully selected attire.

Bothwell said Trudeau is not like his father, the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who swept to office in 1968 on a wave of support dubbed "Trudeaumania" and governed for most of the next two decades.

When asked, he dismissed suggestions of any inappropriate pressure on her concerning the DPA and SNC-Lavalin issue.

This comes a month to the day after The Globe and Mail first reported that senior members of his government tried to pressure Wilson-Raybould into dropping a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Trudeau has said that he and his staff always acted appropriately and the decision on whether to forgo prosecution and enter a plea agreement with the company was Wilson-Raybould's and hers alone.

"In any case, that was our operating assumption". Everyone involved knew it was her call to make, he said, and they made it clear that even if she were to follow their recommendations and seek outside legal counsel, such as from a former Supreme Court justice, that she was then free to accept or reject whatever advice came of that. "Most importantly, it would be for many thousands of people to live with".

"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", Philpott wrote. "What would be the rationale?"

Wernick disputes Wilson-Raybould's allegation that he made "veiled threats" to her that if she didn't agree to a remediation agreement her job was in jeopardy.

Just yesterday, the Trudeau administration was rocked by the resignation of another Cabinet official, Jane Philpott, who said it was "untenable" for her to remain on and defend the government amid the scandal. "But I have to say, it's been a long time", Butts said, trailing off and pausing awkwardly for a second or two.

Where Wilson-Raybould testified the spectre of massive job losses, partisanship, and references to the Prime Minister electoral fortunes in discussions about SNC Lavalin, Butts rebutted the government was only reminding the Attorney General the legislation was new, and the social costs were tremendous.

Gender and politics have been a running theme throughout this escalating SNC-Lavalin saga, mostly along the lines of how a woman minister was treated by an avowedly feminist prime minister.

Last week Wilson-Raybould outlined for the justice committee 11 meetings and phone calls with 11 different political staff in the Prime Minister's Office, the finance minister's office and the Privy Council Office, which she said were not illegal but overstepped what was appropriate.

"I was not aware of that erosion of trust".

They also voted down a motion to have Wilson-Raybould return to the committee to respond to evidence from Butts that contradicted her own.

Trudeau ultimately moved Wilson-Raybould to Veterans Affairs, and Butts said that days later, Wilson-Raybould accused them of being punishing her for refusing to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

But if Wilson-Raybould and the Director of Public Prosecutions had arrived at their final conclusion, the only goal outside advice could serve would be to have their decision reversed. Butts, of course, never said that directly.

But in his version, unlike Ms. Wilson-Raybould's, no one was hounding the attorney-general to undo a decision. "That is incredible testimony".

In her latest comments, Wilson-Raybould pointed to the limits of her solicitor-client privelege and how she was limited to speaking only about what occurred during her time as Attorney General.

Did Mr. Butts provide a plausible account of why Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the attorney-general's job?

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