Canadians may have a reputation for saying sorry, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to do so for his role in the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Speaking to reporters Thursday in Ottawa, Trudeau took responsibility for not being aware of an “erosion of trust” that developed between his former principal secretary, Gerry Butts, and the former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
“There was no breakdown of our systems, of our rule of law, of the integrity of our institutions,” Trudeau said. “There was never any inappropriate pressure.”
The prime minister’s speech was longer than 10 minutes, but there was one glaring omission.
“Conspicuously, there was no apology,” said Frank Buckley, a founding professor of law at George Mason University who’s written several books and served as a former speechwriter for U.S. President Donald Trump. “It really was remarkable for what a skeptic would regard as a cover-up.”
Trudeau has been embroiled in a political crisis for a month now. The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that Wilson-Raybould faced pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office while she was the attorney general to offer a remediation agreement to Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. This would help the company avoid a criminal prosecution for allegedly offering bribes to secure contracts in Libya.
SNC-Lavalin has 9,000 employees in Canada and a criminal conviction could potentially put those people out of work because it would prohibit the company from applying for government contracts for 10 years.
Wilson-Raybould testified last week that she faced “inappropriate effort” that included “veiled threats” from “many people within the government” over a four-month period in late 2018 to secure a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for SNC-Lavalin.
In January, Wilson-Raybould was shifted out of the justice ministry and into the veterans affairs portfolio during a cabinet shuffle. Trudeau has maintained that she would still be attorney general if former Liberal MP Scott Brison hadn’t decided to resign, prompting a cabinet shakeup. However, the move from the justice ministry to veterans affairs is mostly viewed as a demotion.
Butts testified Wednesday that “nothing inappropriate” took place, and this was simply “the normal operations of government.” He contended that Wilson-Raybould had a “different version of events” and no lines were ever crossed by government officials.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer came out swinging again following Trudeau’s speech, accusing the prime minister of being “fake” and “phony” in his address.
“He had an opportunity today to show some leadership, to accept responsibility for what he, himself, has done. And instead, he chose to duck and hide.”
‘Deeply scandalous’ allegations
Scheer repeated his call for Trudeau to resign as prime minister. The Opposition leader also wants Trudeau to appear before the House justice committee to testify on the matter. So far, none of that has happened.
Buckley told Yahoo Canada that no matter how you slice it, the allegations are “deeply, deeply scandalous” and it was frustrating to see that Trudeau would not apologize.
“There are a number of things he could’ve, at a minimum, apologized for,” Buckley said. “He had a lot of sleazebags working in the Prime Minister’s Office.”
Earlier this week, University of Toronto assistant politics professor Renan Levine noted the scandal has “gotten worse” for Trudeau since Jane Philpott, one of Trudeau’s top ministers, resigned from cabinet over the handling of the matter.
The prime minister admitted he could’ve done a better job communicating with his minister, especially given the challenge of balancing potential job losses while maintaining the rule of law.
“She did not come to me, and I wish she had,” Trudeau said, adding that conversations were “experienced differently.” He admitted it had been a “tough few weeks” as prime minister.
“Canadians expect and deserve to have faith in their institutions and the people who act within them.”
However, Scheer repeatedly claimed that Trudeau acted inappropriately for partisan gain and trust between the prime minister and Canadians had been broken.
“The truth cannot be experienced differently,” he said. “There is such a thing as right and wrong and real leaders know the difference between them.”