Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a press conference today to address the SNC-Lavalin scandal. According to Trudeau, the 10 calls and 10 meetings his government had with the former AG, each one begging her to intercede and give a top Montreal engineering firm a pass, was really not political pressure at all. From Reuters:
“I can repeat and reassure Canadians that there was no breakdown of our systems, of our rule of law, of the integrity of our institutions,” Trudeau told a news conference…
“There was never any inappropriate pressure,” said Trudeau.
Although Trudeau has addressed the crisis a number of times in previous media availabilities, this was the first time he has called a press conference to specifically talk about the affair.
“As we look back over the past weeks, there are many lessons to be learned and many things we would have liked to have done differently,” Trudeau said…
“We considered she was still open to hearing different arguments, different approaches on what her decision could be. As we now learn through this testimony, that was not the case,” said Trudeau.
In sum, Trudeau’s pitch is that this was all just a big misunderstanding. No “inappropriate pressure” was applied. But former AG Jody Wilson-Raybould testified that the PM himself pressed her to give SNC-Lavalin a non-prosecution agreement on the grounds that it would hurt the party’s electoral chances if the big firm, which employees about 9,000 people, packed up and left for London. To quote Paul Wells on this point, if “ten calls and meetings with the attorney general, during which massive job loss, an angry PM and a lost election are threatened, don’t constitute interference, then what on earth would interference look like?”
As for the idea that Trudeau didn’t realize she had made up her mind, Wilson-Raybould told Trudeau twice, to his face, that she had researched the law and made up her mind:
- Once: “I explained to him the law and what I have the ability to do and not do under the Director of Public Prosecutions Act around issuing Directives or Assuming Conduct of Prosecutions. I told him that I had done my due diligence and made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the DPP.”
- Twice: “In response the PM further reiterated his concerns. I then explained how this came about and that I had received the section 13 note from the DPP earlier in September and that I had considered the matter very closely. I further stated that I was very clear on my role as the AG – and I am not prepared to issue a directive in this case – that it was not appropriate.”
When the PM pressed the issue a third time, Wilson-Raybould bluntly asked “Are you politically interfering with my role / my decision as the AG?” The PM replied, “No, No, No – we just need to find a solution.” If everything had stopped there, maybe Trudeau’s account would hold up. But the search for a solution continued. More calls to her office. More meetings from people pushing her to change her mind. And when she refused to buckle, she was demoted and a new AG was brought in who would be more amenable to having another look at the issue. The idea that this was just a big misunderstanding on Trudeau’s part is laughable.
Trudeau’s pitch to the voters is premised not on his own credibility but on Wilson-Raybould’s. If she had given in to the pressure his administration applied to her and this had still, somehow, come to light, it would have been a clear case of political interference. It’s only because Wilson-Raybould refused to give in that Trudeau can stand there today and say nothing happened. Yes, it’s true nothing happened but not for lack of trying. If Trudeau survives this scandal it will be because the AG he pressured then demoted refused to go along with him.
Here’s the full statement:
Update: I like this detail from the NY Times report on today’s presser.
On Thursday, seven months before a national election, Mr. Trudeau tried to convince the country that he was still a feminist, and still committed to righting the country’s wrongs against Indigenous people and to conducting politics in an open, transparent way.
He pointed out that after his remarks, he was heading straight to the Arctic to apologize to Inuit people for historic wrongs and would be celebrating International Women’s Day in Toronto.
Is he expecting a pass on corruption? I guess we’ll know in 7 months if he gets one.