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Scheer demands PM let Wilson-Raybould talk about SNC-Lavalin discussions

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  • OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has written directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to waive solicitor-client privilege so former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould can publicly talk about what happened with SNC-Lavalin.

    The request is contained in an open letter dated Sunday, in which Scheer says he also wants all communications to or from the prime minister or members of his staff about the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin to be opened up to public scrutiny.

    “Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality are important values in our legal system,” Scheer wrote.

    “But in the present situation, they must be subordinated to a higher value: the confidence of Canadians in the integrity, fairness and impartiality of our criminal justice system.”

    The request follows a Globe and Mail report last week that members of Trudeau’s office leaned on Wilson-Raybould to have federal prosecutors negotiate a “remediation agreement” with SNC-Lavalin rather than move ahead with a criminal prosecution.

    The Quebec engineering and construction giant has faced legal trouble over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to get government business in Libya, which would be a crime under Canadian law and threaten its ability to win future federal work.

    Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted from her role as justice minister and attorney general last month, has said she cannot comment because in her role as the government’s top lawyer, she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

    Government officials have acknowledged to The Canadian Press that Wilson-Raybould was involved in extensive, internal discussions last month about whether SNC-Lavalin should be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution.

    But they maintain there was nothing wrong with that, while Trudeau has publicly denied he or anyone in his office “directed” the minister on the matter.

    Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to comment publicly has nonetheless added fuel to the political fire, sparking opposition demands for transparency and accusations of government interference in a criminal case.

    In his letter, Scheer said Canadians deserve answers “as the allegations surrounding it strike at the very heart of fair and impartial law enforcement and prosecutorial functions, themselves vital to the rule of law and to our democracy.”

    While the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to questions Sunday, a Toronto Star report cited unnamed senior government officials as saying the privilege would not be waived because the case against SNC-Lavalin remains before the courts.

    One senior official also reportedly told the newspaper that the government would not agree to Opposition demands for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons justice committee to hear from Wilson-Raybould and members of Trudeau’s staff.

    Parliamentary committees are supposed to be masters of their own domain because of their role in holding the government to account.

    The chair of the committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, stated on Twitter on Sunday that “nobody has attempted to influence me” about the opposition’s attempts to hold hearings on SNC-Lavalin.

    “I intend to independently determine whether committee study of the issue will be useful for Canadians (and) colleagues will do same,” Housefather wrote, adding the committee will convene on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

    Liberal MPs nonetheless have a majority of members on the committee, meaning they could move to block any opposition request to conduct a probe.

    Current Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould, told CTV’s Question Period in an interview broadcast Sunday that he did not believe there was any justification for a committee hearing into the matter.

    “All we’ve heard are allegations in a newspaper,” said Lametti. “The prime minister has said that these allegations are false. We haven’t had any corroborating evidence there. There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation.”

    Wilson-Raybould, now veterans affairs minister, released a statement on Friday saying she is bound as the former attorney general by solicitor-client privilege and cannot publicly talk about aspects of the case.

    SNC-Lavalin has been charged with bribery and corruption over its efforts to secure government business in Libya and wants a deal, allowed under the law, to pay reparations rather than be prosecuted.

    A guilty verdict on bribery and corruption charges would result in SNC-Lavalin being barred from government contracts in Canada for 10 years. Officials have said it could also cause foreign government contracts to dry up, potentially putting it out of business.

    Consequently, they said, it was natural for internal discussions to have taken place after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, informed SNC-Lavalin last October that a remediation agreement would be inappropriate in this case.

    The company is challenging her decision in court.

    SNC-Lavalin has heavily lobbied ministers, government officials and even Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to make its case for avoiding a prosecution. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also pressured Trudeau to intervene on the company’s behalf.

    Scheer’s office confirmed to the Star on Sunday that the Conservative leader met with the head of SNC-Lavalin last year to discuss the case against the company and a possible remediation deal. Scheer’s spokesman Brock Harrison did not respond to emails.

    Under the law, the attorney general may issue a directive to the director of public prosecutions on how to handle a specific case, provided the directive is in writing and made public.

    — Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press



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    All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

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  • After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince Edward Island appear poised to stir things up and make some history when they cast their ballots Tuesday.

    The Island’s Green party, led by Scottish-born dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, has recorded upward momentum in the polls for more than a year, suggesting the smallest province may be ready to elect Canada’s first Green government.

    “It has not been a particularly fascinating campaign, but I think it’s going to be a fascinating election night,” says Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island.

    “There’s something going on here. You can’t deny that after a whole year of solid numbers for the Green party that they’ve attracted attention and are being regarded with great favour.”

    A Narrative Research poll for the Charlottetown Guardian released this week suggests the Greens had maintained a lead, but it was within the margin of error and the Tories and Liberals were not far behind.

    The close numbers also raised the spectre of a minority government, which would itself mark a historic moment for the Island: The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    Islanders have been electing either Liberal or Conservative governments since Confederation. And a clear pattern has held since the mid-1960s, with majority governments being regularly replaced after serving three terms — though the Liberals eked out a fourth term in 1978, only to lose power a year later.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on April 23, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    Though the province’s economy is among the strongest in the country, voters have been reluctant to attribute any of that success to MacLauchlan.

    Donald Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration at the Universite de Moncton, says he’s bewildered by the lack of credit given to the Liberals.

    “It is difficult to imagine how the MacLauchlan government could have produced a better report card on the economy before going to the polls,” Savoie wrote in a recent editorial, noting the numbers look great for wages, employment, immigration, housing starts, exports, retail sales and tourism.

    “And yet public opinion surveys reveal that the MacLauchlan government is confronting a serious political challenge. This suggests that there are forces at play in the Maritime provinces that are playing havoc with the region’s political landscape.”

    So what is it about the Greens that has moved the Island’s traditionally small-c conservative voters to consider a more progressive party?

    Bevan-Baker says the shifting political sentiments on P.E.I. are a reflection of a broader movement away from traditional, mainstream politics. He’s called it the local expression of a global phenomenon.

    “People are looking for something that doesn’t sound or smell or taste like a conventional politician,” he said in an interview late last year.

    Bevan-Baker became the first member of the Green party to win a seat in the P.E.I. legislature in 2015, having failed to win a single election after 10 attempts on the Island and in Ontario.

    As party leader, he has spent the past three years carefully crafting the party’s brand by consistently challenging the notion that the Greens are a single-issue entity devoted only to environmental activism.

    During the election campaign, Bevan-Baker made a point of broadening the party’s public appeal by focusing on social issues.

    When the party released its entire $30-million platform at the beginning of the campaign, the largest chunk of that planned spending — $10-million — was earmarked for increasing social assistance rates. Increasing the inventory of affordable housing was also a top priority.

    “They’re really broadened out their platform to talk about socially progressive issues,” says Desserud. “It’s a rebranding of the party that has been extremely successful.”

    The party has been talking about environmental issues, “but they have not foregrounded them,” the professor said.

    And when it comes to climate change and carbon taxes, Bevan-Baker has been careful to link a healthy environment with a prosperous economy.

    As for the Progressive Conservatives, the party may have deep roots on the island, but it has been plagued by infighting. In the past eight years, the party has had no fewer than six leaders, including Dennis King, who was elected in February.

    The party enjoyed a boost in the polls in March, when it was in a virtual dead heat with the Liberals and this week’s Narrative poll suggests they have continued momentum.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    On Tuesday, voters will also learn the results from a binding referendum on electoral reform, which will determine if Islanders want to keep the first-past-the-post system or change to a mixed-member-proportional-representation model.

    In a 2016 plebiscite, 52 per cent voted in favour of switching to a mixed-member system, but MacLauchlan rejected the results, saying the 36 per cent turnout rate was too low.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to abolish the first-past-the-post system federally during the 2015 election, but he later abandoned that pledge, saying Canadians were not eager for change. Voters in British Columbia rejected making such a change in December 2017.

    Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


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    National

    All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

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  • After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince Edward Island appear poised to stir things up and make some history when they cast their ballots Tuesday.

    The Island’s Green party, led by Scottish-born dentist Peter Bevan-Baker, has recorded upward momentum in the polls for more than a year, suggesting the smallest province may be ready to elect Canada’s first Green government.

    “It has not been a particularly fascinating campaign, but I think it’s going to be a fascinating election night,” says Don Desserud, a political science professor at the University of Prince Edward Island.

    “There’s something going on here. You can’t deny that after a whole year of solid numbers for the Green party that they’ve attracted attention and are being regarded with great favour.”

    A Narrative Research poll for the Charlottetown Guardian released this week suggests the Greens had maintained a lead, but it was within the margin of error and the Tories and Liberals were not far behind.

    The close numbers also raised the spectre of a minority government, which would itself mark a historic moment for the Island: The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    Islanders have been electing either Liberal or Conservative governments since Confederation. And a clear pattern has held since the mid-1960s, with majority governments being regularly replaced after serving three terms — though the Liberals eked out a fourth term in 1978, only to lose power a year later.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on April 23, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    Though the province’s economy is among the strongest in the country, voters have been reluctant to attribute any of that success to MacLauchlan.

    Donald Savoie, the Canada research chair in public administration at the Universite de Moncton, says he’s bewildered by the lack of credit given to the Liberals.

    “It is difficult to imagine how the MacLauchlan government could have produced a better report card on the economy before going to the polls,” Savoie wrote in a recent editorial, noting the numbers look great for wages, employment, immigration, housing starts, exports, retail sales and tourism.

    “And yet public opinion surveys reveal that the MacLauchlan government is confronting a serious political challenge. This suggests that there are forces at play in the Maritime provinces that are playing havoc with the region’s political landscape.”

    So what is it about the Greens that has moved the Island’s traditionally small-c conservative voters to consider a more progressive party?

    Bevan-Baker says the shifting political sentiments on P.E.I. are a reflection of a broader movement away from traditional, mainstream politics. He’s called it the local expression of a global phenomenon.

    “People are looking for something that doesn’t sound or smell or taste like a conventional politician,” he said in an interview late last year.

    Bevan-Baker became the first member of the Green party to win a seat in the P.E.I. legislature in 2015, having failed to win a single election after 10 attempts on the Island and in Ontario.

    As party leader, he has spent the past three years carefully crafting the party’s brand by consistently challenging the notion that the Greens are a single-issue entity devoted only to environmental activism.

    During the election campaign, Bevan-Baker made a point of broadening the party’s public appeal by focusing on social issues.

    When the party released its entire $30-million platform at the beginning of the campaign, the largest chunk of that planned spending — $10-million — was earmarked for increasing social assistance rates. Increasing the inventory of affordable housing was also a top priority.

    “They’re really broadened out their platform to talk about socially progressive issues,” says Desserud. “It’s a rebranding of the party that has been extremely successful.”

    The party has been talking about environmental issues, “but they have not foregrounded them,” the professor said.

    And when it comes to climate change and carbon taxes, Bevan-Baker has been careful to link a healthy environment with a prosperous economy.

    As for the Progressive Conservatives, the party may have deep roots on the island, but it has been plagued by infighting. In the past eight years, the party has had no fewer than six leaders, including Dennis King, who was elected in February.

    The party enjoyed a boost in the polls in March, when it was in a virtual dead heat with the Liberals and this week’s Narrative poll suggests they have continued momentum.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    On Tuesday, voters will also learn the results from a binding referendum on electoral reform, which will determine if Islanders want to keep the first-past-the-post system or change to a mixed-member-proportional-representation model.

    In a 2016 plebiscite, 52 per cent voted in favour of switching to a mixed-member system, but MacLauchlan rejected the results, saying the 36 per cent turnout rate was too low.

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to abolish the first-past-the-post system federally during the 2015 election, but he later abandoned that pledge, saying Canadians were not eager for change. Voters in British Columbia rejected making such a change in December 2017.

    Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press


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