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As MPs pull all-nighter, Philpott breathes fresh life into SNC-Lavalin scandal

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — Former cabinet minister Jane Philpott fanned the flames of the SNC-Lavalin fire Thursday as Liberals struggled to douse the controversy and focus Canadians’ attention on their pre-election budget.

Philpott gave an interview to Maclean’s magazine in which she said there is “much more to the story” of improper pressure allegedly exerted on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to avert a criminal prosecution of Montreal engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

The early-morning publication of the interview coincided with a Conservative-orchestrated filibuster, landing like a bombshell in the House of Commons where exhausted MPs were in their 12th hour of non-stop voting, line by line, on the government’s spending plans. The filibuster, which continued into the night Thursday, was intended to protest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s refusal to offer a blanket waiver of privilege and confidentiality that Wilson-Raybould has claimed is necessary if she is to fully tell her side of the story.

In the late afternoon, Conservatives believed they had caught the Liberals shorthanded, with not enough of them ready to vote to pass one item. Since spending votes are confidence measures, the government would have fallen had any of the spending measures been defeated.

Liberals quickly flooded into the chamber, male MPs hastily doing up their neckties for decorum. Assistant deputy speaker Anthony Rota, an Ontario Liberal then in the chair, cited a Commons rule to say that it’s not the speaker’s duty to police whether members were in the chamber at the critical time to be eligible to vote. Liberals eventually carried the motion, as opposition MPs heckled.

Philpott, who resigned early this month as Treasury Board president, told Maclean’s that she raised concerns with Trudeau, during a Jan. 6 discussion about an imminent cabinet shuffle, that Wilson-Raybould was being moved out of Justice because of her refusal to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case.

“I think Canadians might want to know why I would have raised that with the prime minister a month before the public knew about it. Why would I have felt that there was a reason why Minister Wilson-Raybould should not be shuffled?” she said. “My sense is that Canadians would like to know the whole story.”

But Philpott actually appears to already be free to talk about that Jan. 6 conversation with Trudeau: The government has waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality for last fall, when Wilson-Raybould alleges she was improperly pressured, until Jan. 14, when she was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio. The waiver applies not just to Wilson-Raybould but to “any persons who directly participated in discussions with her” relating to the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for alleged corrupt practices in Libya.

That waiver allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee.

Trudeau rejected Thursday the opposition parties’ contention, echoed by Philpott, that a broader waiver is required to cover the period between Jan. 14 and Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet a month later.

“It was extremely important that the former attorney general be allowed to share completely her perspectives, her experiences on this issue, and that is what she was able to do,” he said after an announcement in Mississauga, pumping up the latest budget’s promise to invest $2.2 billion more in municipal infrastructure projects.

“The issue at question is the issue of pressure around the Lavalin issue while she was attorney general and she got to speak fully to that.”

Trudeau also gave his version of the Jan. 6 conversation with Philpott, during which he informed her she would be moving to Treasury Board and that Wilson-Raybould would be taking her place at Indigenous Services. His version echoed the testimony of his former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to the justice committee.

“She asked me directly if this was in link to the SNC-Lavalin decision and I told her no, it was not,” Trudeau said. “She then mentioned it might be a challenge for Jody Wilson-Raybould to take on the role of Indigenous Services and I asked her for her help, which she gladly offered to give, in explaining to Jody Wilson-Raybould how exciting this job was and what a great thing it would be for her to have that role.”

Wilson-Raybould ultimately turned down the move to Indigenous Services and Trudeau moved her instead to Veterans Affairs. She resigned a month later.

Neither Philpott nor Wilson-Raybould voted Wednesday on a Conservative motion calling for a broader waiver. Nor did they speak during debate on the motion in the Commons, where anything they said would have been protected by parliamentary privilege.

While she conceded speaking up in the Commons is “technically possible,” Philpott told Maclean’s that debates wouldn’t give the ex-ministers the “hours of time” needed to fully tell their stories. 

Since any vote involving government spending is automatically a confidence vote, Liberals were required to be out in force throughout the all-night, all-day voting marathon to avoid potential defeat of the government. But although Philpott and Wilson-Raybould remain members of the Liberal caucus, they were exempted from having to show up, in the interests of not exacerbating tensions with their sleep-deprived colleagues.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel construed that as further evidence of a “culture of intimidation” against the former ministers who’ve “been put under a gag order” by Trudeau.

“I find it really difficult to watch as two strong female colleagues continue to be shut down,” she said.

However, Trudeau continued to try to paper over tensions among Liberal caucus members, even after Philpott’s intervention added fuel to the fire. He continued to say the ex-ministers are welcome to remain in the Liberal caucus, despite their criticisms of him just seven months before an election. While they disagree over the SNC-Lavalin matter, Trudeau said all Liberals are united on the “big things” like investing in the middle class, fighting climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pounced on Philpott’s interview to bolster his call for a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

“If the prime minister and the Liberal government has nothing to hide, why don’t they waive all solicitor-client privilege and call for all witnesses to testify and answer all questions that Canadians have. If they have nothing to hide, why won’t they do that?” Singh said.

The filibuster resulted in the cancellation of Thursday’s question period and scheduled debate on government bills. Committee meetings were also cancelled as the filibuster continued into the night with no end in sight.

Only a couple of dozen opposition MPs needed to be in the chamber at one time so they had plenty of opportunity to grab a few hours of sleep.

The Liberals, however, were forced to keep most of their MPs in the chamber at all times, to avoid being caught short on any of the votes.

Most Liberal MPs had laptops on their desks and appeared to be doing work, reading or, in some cases, watching movies. A few read books. One, Toronto-area MP Jennifer O’Connell, sat with a blanket wrapped around her legs. They were periodically allowed to leave the chamber to catch a few winks on cots, as reinforcements replaced them.

The Conservatives periodically offered to end the vote marathon, if Trudeau would agree to waive confidentiality and let Wilson-Raybould and all others involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair testify fully. The Liberals rejected each offer and the voting resumed.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press


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As the House rises, which bills made it through — and which ones didn’t

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — The House of Commons has risen for the summer, following a flurry of legislating that rushed numerous significant bills into law before the break. But other potential laws remained mired in the legislative process as of late Thursday, awaiting action in the Senate — or a possible special summer session centred on ratification of the new North American free trade deal.

Some of the high-profile bills that reached final votes after the beginning of last week and now just await royal assent:

Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act, a much-debated bill that would ban oil tankers from a portion of the British Columbia coast. Its journey through parliament has been marked by a committee report that recommended it not pass, the defeat of that report and the House’s rejection of some Senate amendments. Following the adjournment of the House and much debate, the Senate chose not to pursue further changes and passed it Thursday evening.

Bill C-93, which will allow expedited pardons for Canadians who were convicted of simple possession of cannabis before legalization came into effect. The bill passed in the Senate Wednesday, without amendment.

Bill C-59, a bill to establish a national-security review agency, create an “intelligence commissioner” to oversee the conduct of Canada’s spy agencies, and clarify the mandate and powers of the Communications Security Establishment (the government cybersecurity agency). The bill was amended by the Senate but several of those changes were rejected by the House, and the Senate voted Tuesday not to insist on its recommendations.

Bills C-91, a bill that will create a commissioner for Indigenous languages and take other steps to save and revitalize those languages. The Senate voted Thursday, after the House had adjourned, to decline to insist on its amendments, finalizing the bill. Bill C-92, clarifying the jurisdiction of Indigenous people over family and child services in their communities, also passed through the Senate Thursday.

Bill C-75, which will “hybridize” a series of offences so that they can now be prosecuted as either indictable or less-serious summary charges, and establish peremptory challenges of jurors. The bill was passed through the Senate with amendments, the House chose not to accept several of those, and the Senate Thursday decided not to insist on the remaining changes.

Bill C-84, a long-awaited bill that expands the definition of bestiality to any sexual contact with an animal. Those convicted of bestiality will now be registered as sex offenders and banned from owning animals. It also widens the definition of animal fighting so that it applies to the construction of any arena for that purpose. It passed without amendment Tuesday.

At the time the House adjourned for the summer Thursday, several bills still required further consideration in the upper chamber, which continued sitting. Among them were several controversial and consequential bills:

Bill C-69, also fiercely criticized by the Conservatives, is the second of the government’s two major environmental bills, and would create a new environmental-impact assessment process for major projects in Canada. The House rejected a majority of the Senate’s amendments. It was due for a vote late Thursday.

Bills C-98, which gives a review commission powers to review the Canada Border Services Agency,  was accelerated through the House Wednesday, when it was read a third time and passed in one swift motion.

Bill C-83, which aims to eliminate the use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. The House rejected several key amendments proposed by the Senate, which some have said are needed to make the bill constitutional.

Bill C-262, a law that would ensure federal laws are brought in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But the government’s representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, announced Wednesday he did not see a path forward for the bill in the Senate and that the Trudeau government would campaign on fulfilling the intent of the bill.

Bill C-97, a sprawling budget-implementation bill which includes changes to Canada’s refugee system, support for news journalism, and introduces the Canada Training Credit.

And then there’s the one bill that could affect all the others:

Bill C-100, the government’s bill to ratify the new NAFTA agreement among Canada, the United States and Mexico. It has only been introduced and read for the first time in the House of Commons, but might move quickly through Parliament before the election should the United States complete its own ratification of the deal in Congress. If Parliament returns for that bill, the Commons and the Senate could also take up others at the same time.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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B.C. tanker-ban bill squeaks through final vote in Senate

The Canadian Press

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OTTAWA — Legislation barring oil tankers from loading at ports on the northern coast of British Columbia slipped over its final hurdle in the Senate Thursday, despite last-minute attempts by Conservative senators to convince their colleagues to kill it.

Bill C-48 is one of two government bills Conservatives in both the House of Commons and the Senate say are kneecapping Alberta’s oil industry by limiting the movement of its oil. It passed the Senate by a vote of 49 to 46.

The tanker ban and Bill C-69, an overhaul of federal environmental assessments of major construction projects, have together become a flashpoint between the Liberals and Conservatives over how Canada can protect the environment without driving investment away from the fossil-fuel sector.

C-69 imposes more requirements for consulting affected Indigenous communities, widens public participation in the review process and requires climate change to be considered when major national resource-exploitation and transportation projects are being evaluated. It applies to a wide range of projects including interprovincial pipelines, highways, mines and power links.

C-69 was set for its final dance in the upper chamber late Thursday evening. The Senate made more than 200 amendments to that bill earlier this month but the government accepted only 99 of them, mostly to do with reducing ministerial discretion to intervene in the review process.

The unelected Senate has generally bowed to the will of the elected House of Commons when there is a dispute between the two parliamentary chambers about legislation.

The bills, both expected to be fodder for Liberals and Conservatives on the campaign trail to this fall’s election, were on a long list of legislation the Senate pounded through as it prepared to rise for the summer.

The House of Commons called it quits earlier Thursday. The House closed after MPs delivered condolence speeches following the death of Conservative MP Mark Warawa, forgoing the rest of the day’s planned activities out of respect for the veteran MP who died of cancer.

Bill C-48 imposes a moratorium on oil tankers north of Vancouver Island, but after the government accepted an amendment from the Senate, it will now undergo a mandatory review in five years.

The Senate committee that reviewed the bill recommended in May the entire Senate vote down the bill in its entirety, but that didn’t happen, leading Conservatives to accuse the Independent senators who make up a majority in the chamber of being Liberals in disguise.

Conservative Sen. Michael MacDonald was one of a few from his caucus to make final pleas with his colleagues to not proceed with the bill.

He said it “will be devastating for the Alberta and Saskatchewan economies.”

However several Independent senators rose to speak in favour of the bill, including Yukon Independent Sen. Pat Duncan.

“I believe we should be doing it,” said Duncan.

Ontario Sen. Donna Dasko, who was on the committee that studied the bill in the Senate, said she thinks “it is quite a good bill.”

“This bill does not actually ban tankers from the Hecate Strait; it simply landlocks Alberta and Saskatchewan oil, and destroys the possibility of economic development in northern Indigenous communities,” said Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, after the Senate passed it.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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