OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts, wants to give his side of the story in the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Butts wrote the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, requesting he be called as a witness.
His request came one day after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified that she faced relentless pressure — and even veiled threats — from Trudeau, senior prime-ministerial aides, Canada’s top public servant and the finance minister’s office to interfere in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Butts was among those she accused of inappropriate pressure tactics.
The Liberal-dominated committee announced later that it will invite Butts to appear next Wednesday or soon thereafter and will also recall Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, and Nathalie Drouin, the deputy minister of justice, both of whom testified last week before Wilson-Raybould levelled specific accusations involving them.
Butts said he believes he has evidence that will help the committee get to the bottom of the affair. He added that he will need a short time to receive legal advice and compile relevant documents before testifying.
Trudeau’s longtime friend and most trusted adviser resigned as his principal secretary last week amid the mushrooming controversy over the government’s attempts to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial on charges of bribery and corruption related to its bid to secure contracts in Libya.
In a statement announcing his resignation, Butts categorically denied that he or anyone else in Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould. He said he was quitting to avoid distracting from the government’s agenda and suggested he wanted to be free to defend himself.
“My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend,” he said in the statement.
On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould specifically accused Butts and Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, of pushing for an external legal opinion on the option of negotiating a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin — a kind of plea bargain that would force the company to pay restitution but avoid the potentially crippling impact of a criminal conviction. In a Dec. 18 meeting, Wilson-Raybould said Butts told her chief of staff, Jessica Prince, that there was “no solution here that does not involve some interference.”
“We believe that it is important that Mr. Butts respond to the account of the meeting of (Dec.) 18th provided by Ms. Jody Wilson-Raybould, in addition to the other allegations about him and PMO colleagues mentioned in her testimony,” the committee said in a statement Thursday.
Wilson-Raybould saved her harshest criticism for Wernick, the country’s top civil servant, whom she accused of issuing “veiled threats” during a Dec. 19 conversation that led her to believe she would lose her job as justice minister and attorney general if she did not agree to the prime minister’s desire for a remediation agreement to be negotiated with SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau shuffled Wilson-Raybould to the veterans-affairs post in mid-January. She resigned from cabinet altogether a month later.
Last week, Wernick asserted that the prime minister’s staff conducted themselves to “the highest standards of integrity” and neither they nor he applied improper pressure on her. He predicted, however, that Wilson-Raybould would complain about the Dec. 19 conversation.
“I can tell you, with complete assurance, that my view of those conversations is that they were within the boundaries of what’s lawful and appropriate,” he told the committee. “She may have another view of the conversation but that’s something the ethics commissioner could sort out.”
Ethics commissioner Mario Dion initiated an investigation into the matter two weeks ago. And on Thursday, Trudeau argued that Dion is best placed to decide who is telling the truth about the SNC-Lavalin affair — the prime minister or his former justice minister.
“Canadians need to know that we have an officer of Parliament who is tasked with a specific role to make sure that in questions where there are disagreements amongst politicians, amongst elected officials, there is an arbiter who is empowered to be like a judge, who is an officer of Parliament, who will make a determination in this issue,” Trudeau said after an event in Montreal, reiterating that he totally disagrees with Wilson-Raybould’s characterization of events.
But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer maintained it’s time for the RCMP to investigate possible obstruction of justice by the prime minister. Scheer wrote RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki on Thursday, calling for an investigation. He also reiterated his call for Trudeau to resign. The Conservatives demanded an “emergency” debate on the matter, which took place Thursday night.
The NDP and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May called for an independent public inquiry into the affair and demanded that Trudeau fire Wernick.
Over nearly four hours of explosive testimony Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould told the committee there were 10 meetings and 10 phone calls involving 11 people between September and December 2018, all aimed at getting her to “politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada.”
In Toronto on Thursday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau denied that his chief of staff, Ben Chin, did anything inappropriate in discussing the SNC-Lavalin case with Wilson-Raybould’s staff.
“My staff, of course, is going to be constantly in communication with other teams across the government, always talking about the importance of the economy, always talking about the importance of jobs and that is their appropriate role,” Morneau said. “I think that Ben was acting entirely appropriately in that capacity.”
Morneau did not directly address Wilson-Raybould’s assertion that Chin pressured her staff to take into consideration the political impact on last fall’s Quebec election if SNC-Lavalin were to move its operations out of the country. He did say that he did not direct Chin to do that.
Morneau emphasized that the company employs 9,000 people across the country and thousands of pensioners depend on its continued operation. It was appropriate to take that into consideration, while respecting the rule of law, he said.
In a speech to the Empire Club of Canada, also in Toronto, Justice Minister David Lametti said Wilson-Raybould’s testimony was an extraordinary symbol of transparency in the government. He also said it’s useful for the attorney general to sit at the cabinet table — unlike in some other jurisdictions, where the attorney general and justice minister are distinct.
Liberals, meanwhile, seemed split as to whether Wilson-Raybould can remain in the Liberal fold after pointedly refusing Wednesday to say she has confidence in the leader. Trudeau said he is still mulling over whether she will be allowed to remain in caucus or run for the party in this fall’s federal election.
In a CBC radio interview, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said caucus is a “broad church” that accommodates diverse views. Still, she said internal debate should take place behind closed doors and “at the end of the day, when you leave the room, you have to play as a united team.”
Other ministers left it up to Trudeau to decide Wilson-Raybould’s fate.
However, one Liberal backbencher, British Columbia MP Jati Sidhu, told Abbotsford News that Wilson-Raybould is not a team player, that her father (himself a prominent Indigenous leader) might be “pulling the strings” and that her behaviour suggests she “couldn’t handle the stress.” Those remarks were denounced by Conservatives in the Commons as “misogynist.” Sidhu later apologized.
Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
Gerry Feehan Receives the Legendary Invitation, A World Famous Newfoundland Tradition
By Gerry Feehan
This is the third of four parts in the Newfoundland series. Scroll down to find Part 1, Gros Morne, and part 2 North America’s Oldest European Settlement
If Newfoundlanders weren’t so damn friendly we’d have been on time for our Jiggs dinner.
Terra Nova National Park is situated in eastern Newfoundland, 399 sq km of rugged rock, trees and wetland, wrapped around idyllic fingers of Bonavista Bay. The Trans-Canada highway bisects the park, then continues southeast toward Come by Chance and eventually the capital, St. John’s, on the Avalon Peninsula. It was early October. Terra Nova was still open for business, but quiet, so we had our choice of primo campsites. As we checked in I grabbed a bag of firewood. It was going to be a cold night, with frost expected. The ranger stopped me, “No sense you paying for wood. The folks in site 17 just bought a big load. Just go over and join them when the fire starts.”
And so we did. And that’s how we met Burkey and Bev. Even before we reached their roaring fire, Burkey spotted us timidly approaching from the shadows, and without a word, pulled out spare chairs and began pouring drinks. It was Thursday before Thanksgiving. The Burkes were setting up camp, preparing for the arrival of friends and family, and prepping for the big occasion: Sunday’s Jiggs dinner. After a fun evening of chatter (interspersed with a few tunes from my ever-present ukulele) we rose to bid adieu. “You’ll come for dinner Sunday?” asked Barb. I did some quick calculating. We had a week left on The Rock but had yet to visit St. John’s. Plus there was the Irish Loop and Bonavista Peninsula to explore. And we had a long drive back west to Port Aux Basque, almost 1000km, in order to catch the ferry on Tuesday.
“Sure,” I said.
On Sunday we awoke to a gorgeous morning at the Cabot Highway RV Park, a few kilometers from the town of Trinity, on Bonavista Peninsula. (The intervening 3 days and our St John’s/Avalon/Irish Loop drive will be recounted in the fourth and final yarn of this series.) When we reached Trinity I headed straight through town, bound for the local pier, as I am wont to do. Preoccupied by the brightly painted clapboard homes, 19th century church spires and scenic fishing stages (houses hanging over the water used for cleaning cod), I failed to observe that the roadway was becoming dangerously narrow.
We ended up trapped on the town boat ramp, pointed seaward. There was no way to turn the motorhome around. Florence was starting in on my (justly-deserved) beratement when a boat pulled up to the wharf. “What are you after doing down there, b’y?” asked the operator with an amused look. With his guidance I was able to slowly reverse position and get the RV pointed away from the slippery slope and safely back toward land. I offered my thanks. “No trouble,” said he, bobbing in his boat. “I’m taking friends out for a tour of the bay this lovely morning. Would you and your wife like to join us?” I did some more calculating. It was a two-hour drive back to Terra Nova. Jiggs dinner was at 3pm. “We’d need to be back to shore by 1pm,” I said. “No worries,” he replied, “I’ll have you at the dock by noon at the latest.”
It was a fantastic outing. Skipper Bob and his partner Bonnie run www.trinityecotours.com. The tourist season was almost over and the day’s trip was just for fun. Although the usual fare is $90 a person, they refused to take our money. We followed the rugged coastline, where the remains of the ancient Appalachian Mountains slip into the sea. In Trinity Bay, while a whale spouted to starboard, we came alongside a fisherman hauling up net and cleaning cod. He offered us a bag overflowing with fillets and, with the waive of a hand, made it clear he wouldn’t accept payment.
As we motored into a protected, hidden bay, the remains of a long-abandoned village came into view. Bonnie told us, “This place is known as Ireland’s Eye. On the other side of the island is a spot called Black Duck Cove. That’s where my dad lived until he was 11years old. In the mid 50’s the government began a resettlement program to get people who lived on remote islands to move to the mainland where there would be better access to services like hospitals and schools.”
In some respects it was forced relocation. Many people, rather than abandon their homes, floated their lodgings to the mainland communities. “The old place on Ireland’s Eye was left behind but my grandfather floated a house from Pope’s Harbour to New Bonaventure in August 1965. It was a saltbox style, with the porch and bathroom added later.”
Life was hard on The Rock 50 years ago.
Time flies when you’re playing on the ocean. It was after 2pm when Bob idled the boat back into the marina. We bid a hasty thank-you and adieu and raced for Terra Nova. When we arrived at the campground it was getting dark. All sites were vacant save one. Bev and Burkey were just breaking camp, headed back to Clarenville.
“We are so sorry,” I apologized. “No problem,” said Bev. “You said you were coming for scoff so I knew you’d be here. I did up a couple of plates. They’re still warm.”
A traditional Newfoundland Jiggs dinner consists of turkey, dressing, gravy, bread pudding, carrots, turnip, cabbage, mashed potatoes, pease pudding, figgy duff – and boiled salt beef. For dessert Barb likes to do blueberry crumble and partridgeberry cake topped with hot vanilla sauce. Simple really. And easy to whip up, especially from the cramped confines of your trailer, in a campground, in the cold. Each platter held enough food for three Jiggs dinners. Burkey laughed and told us that a Newfoundlander’s idea of fine dining is a full plate. I offered him two fresh cod fillets and, although it was a little like carrying coals to Newcastle, he graciously accepted.
Florence and I were the only campers in Terra Nova that night. As they drove away Burkey said, “No sense you buying firewood, there’s plenty left.” Bev waived goodbye and they rolled out of our lives.
I looked at the overflowing feast, loosed my belt and dug in.
Next time: St John’s and the Irish Loop
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.
Gerry Feehan is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence live in Kimberley, BC!
Thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for sponsoring this series. Click on the ads and learn more about this long-term local business.
Click to read more travel stories.
Gerry Feehan takes us to North America’s Oldest European Settlement
By Gerry Feehan
This is the second in the Newfoundland series. Scroll down to find Part 1, Gros Morne.
On a lonely highway in a tempest on Newfoundland’s remote Northern Peninsula, we finally spotted our first moose. Luckily, before moose met grill, the big bull stepped off the road into the ditch and I was able to keep the rig down the centerline, avoiding the frigid Gulf of St. Lawrence to our left and a frightfully deep fen to our right.
We had set out that morning from Gros Morne National Park, 350 km south ‘up’ the coast. The night before had been clear and 7 degrees. By early morning it was rain and 17. This was the muggy aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which long after devastating Key West, was now bringing high winds and warm rain to remote—and distinctly non-tropical—Newfoundland.
We were bound for L’Anse aux Meadows, on the extreme tip of northwest Newfoundland where lie the remains of North America’s oldest European settlement. It was October so, although we arrived before 5 p.m., twilight was nigh as we settled in at the Viking RV Park. We were the only campers. The office was closed. In the morning I deposited cash in the “off-season/$25 per night” bucket by the abandoned office and drove the remaining few km to the National Historic Site.
One of the advantages to a late fall motorhome trip is that, with darkness extant by suppertime, it’s early to bed—and early to rise. (The healthy wealthy and wise part I won’t comment on.) So, uncharacteristically, we arrived at L’Anse aux Meadows first thing in the morning, just as the park gates were being unlocked.
“…Both are horrible!” said the Leif look-alike…”
Leif Ericsson, a Norse explorer, together with his small group of intrepid fellow Viking seafarers, landed here around 1000 AD. They strategically chose this spot near the Straight of Belle Isle, within sight of Labrador. They called the place Vinland, the land where wild grapes grow. Setting up a sturdy encampment of turf-walled buildings, they explored for hardwood lumber, iron ore and arable land.
From the visitor center we followed a Parks Canada interpreter down the winding boardwalk toward the sea. He showed us the faint remains of the original sod buildings: the Leader’s Hall, labourer’s quarters, a women’s workshop and the smelting hut where a charcoal kiln produced iron from bog ore. But the terrain was unwelcoming—as perhaps was the indigenous native population—and after only a decade or two, the Vikings abandoned the site, burning everything as they departed.
“….I die at you, she said laughing….”
The interpreter’s talk ended at the ruins and, with somber thoughts, we continued down the trail to where the National Park service has artfully reconstructed a series of replica sod huts by the cold sea. The Norse may have been fierce warriors but they couldn’t have been very tall—I had to stoop as we entered the longhouse. The room was dimly lit by a smoky peat fire. When our eyes adjusted to the low yellow light, we noticed a man and a woman clad in Viking attire seated by the comfortable fire. The man, a Leif Ericsson doppelganger, whittled a talisman while the young woman wove fabric on a traditional loom. They explained in detail how the first Viking explorers had lived, eaten, slept and toiled here 1000 years ago, eking out a meagre existence on this inhospitable shore by the frigid north Atlantic.
Newfoundlanders are the friendliest, most outgoing of people, so when I asked the young woman if she lived nearby, her Parks Canada persona evaporated like ‘tick fog’ and the talk immediately turned to the upcoming weekend, her two hard-earned days off and fall berry-picking. “I was born just over that side of the ‘arbour. My father ran trawler ‘til the fish ran out.” (In Newfoundland ‘fish’ means cod. Everything else, haddock, flounder, plaice, etc. is known by its usual name.) She winked and said, “Growing up, it was always cold in the house. In winter me mom would open the fridge to warm the place.”
I then inquired about the merits of partridgeberry vs. bakeapple jam. We had been looking for souvenir gifts and both berry varieties were available at the Dark Tickle Chocolate store just down the road. “Both are horrible!” said the Leif look-alike, unable to resist joining in. Our new lady-friend disagreed and told him so in no uncertain terms. “Oh me nerves, he’s got me drove.” Apparently, partridgeberry-picking was number one on her weekend agenda.
In an effort to segue the subject I asked whether the town of Quirpon or Great Brehat—each just down the coast—were worth a visit. She and Leif chuckled at my accent. “I die at you,” she said laughing. Nothing will more quickly label you a tourist in Newfoundland as the mispronunciation of local place names. Quirpon is ‘Car-poon.’ Great Brehat is pronounced ‘Great Bra’. Happily, I didn’t inquire about the town of Ferryland.
“Where are youse from?” our Viking-ess asked. “Alberta,” we replied. “Alberta,” she continued. “I’ve got a brother in Ft. McMurray.” (I can report that we didn’t meet a single Newfoundlander who did not have at least one family member working out west. But, no matter where a Newfie might live, a trip ‘home’ is always in the works. Famously, it is a 63-hour drive from Ft McMurray to the Rock.)
I tried to get her back on Viking track—but to no avail. All pretense of the 11th century Norsewoman was abandoned. She continued, talking about her husband, the small family garden, the incessant rain. “And there was himself last night,” she continued. “Luh, standing in a downpour, coat wide open, staring at lord knows what, sopped to the skin and stunned as me arse.” Then she politely adjusted her bonnet and resumed weaving.
CBC radio had gravely informed us that morning that the Doomsday Clock had been moved to two minutes before midnight. The world was closer to self-destruction than it had been at any time since the Cold War. I asked her if she was worried.
“Why, not a bit. After all, with the half-hour time change here on the Rock, us Newfies got ‘til 12:30.”
I love Newfoundland.
Gerry Feehan, QC is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He lives in Kimberley, BC.
Special thanks to Kennedy Wealth Management for supporting this series.
'It was a going concern': Remaining bar and hotel in Alberta coal ghost town for sale
Alberta cracking down on mask exemptions – Note required
Masks off, Poles cheer reopening of bars and restaurants
Ottawa forward Connor Brown leads Canada's roster at world championship
- Top Story CP2 days ago
Masks off, Poles cheer reopening of bars and restaurants
- Top Story CP2 days ago
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up
- Top Story CP2 days ago
Western MP pitches Conservative carbon price with a 24-pack of Pilsner
- Lifestyle11 hours ago
Gerry Feehan Receives the Legendary Invitation, A World Famous Newfoundland Tradition
- Alberta1 day ago
Pastor, candidate under restraining order arrested for allegedly breaking COVID laws
- Business12 hours ago
Downtown Business Spotlight: Century 21 Advantage
- Edmonton2 days ago
My European Favourites – Rome, Italy
- Top Story CP1 day ago
Feds face growing calls for answers after general overseeing vaccine effort sidelined