Jane Philpott resigns from federal Liberal cabinet

Another key member of the Liberal team has resigned from cabinet.

Treasury Board president Jane Philpott says she’s stepping down from her post amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy. The Markham-Stouffville MP was also the minister of digital government.

“I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities, constitutional obligations,” Philpott wrote on Twitter. “There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”

The Ontario politician says evidence that emerged in recent weeks has made it “untenable” for her to continue as a cabinet minister. Philpott is now the second Liberal minister to resign over the scandal.

“Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me,” Philpott wrote in her resignation letter.

The move is the latest shoe to drop in the SNC-Lavalin controversy. The affair has dogged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals since an explosive newspaper report was published on Feb. 7.

The Globe and Mail reported Jody Wilson-Raybould faced pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the criminal case against Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin while she was the federal justice minister and attorney general of Canada.

Trudeau denied the allegations, but a lot has happened since then. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet and Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal adviser and longtime friend, also called it quits.

Last Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould testified at the House justice committee, where she claimed she faced “veiled threats” in an “inappropriate effort” to sway her into providing the company with a deferred prosecution agreement.

“The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system,” Philpott said. “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.

“Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.”

Before Philpott’s resignation was announced, the prime minister was in Prince Edward Island where he told reporters he will always stand up for good jobs and defend the interests of Canadians.

“That’s what Canadians expect us to do as a government. That’s what we will always continue to do,” Trudeau commented. “We will do that, however, in a way that respects our institutions, respects the independence of our judiciary. Canadians expect us to do those two things at the same time and that’s what we will always do.”

The allegations of political interference have captivated the other major parties. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer held a news conference in wake of Philpott’s resignation where he said it’s time for other Liberal cabinet ministers to ask themselves what they got into politics for.

“This corruption scandal has engulfed this government,” Scheer said. “I believe he’s lost the moral authority to govern.” The Tory leader also challenged other Liberals to stand up against what Scheer calls an “ethical rot” that has encompassed the government.

Last week, Scheer called on Trudeau to resign, and he repeated that call Monday. Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wants an independent inquiry into what really happened behind the scenes.

In an online poll on Yahoo Canada, 72 per cent of nearly 30,000 respondents said they believe Trudeau should resign as prime minister over the controversy.

Butts, Trudeau’s former top aide, is set to testify before the House justice committee on Wednesday after making a request to do so.

A trained medical doctor, Philpott was the federal health minister from 2015 to 2017 and the minister of Indigenous services from 2017 to 2019.

Ontario MP Jane Philpott, seen here in January, is stepping down from the Liberal cabinet amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy. She cites “serious concerns” with allegations of political interference in the criminal case. Photo from The Canadian Press.