Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's political crisis

Canadian PM Justin Trudeau's political crisis

A former key aide of Justin Trudeau, who is at the centre of a major political crisis, has denied he had pressured the then justice minister to allow a major firm to avoid a corruption trial previous year.

Trudeau's Liberal government has been rocked for weeks by the snowballing scandal, which has triggered the resignation of two cabinet ministers and badly tarnished the image of the golden boy premier. The company is a major employer in Quebec - Trudeau's home province.

(When asked why he had made it a priority to have a half-female, half-male cabinet when he formed his government, he famously replied "Because it's 2015").

Gerald Butts, his closest adviser and best friend, also resigned last month and is scheduled to testify Wednesday before a Parliament justice committee in Trudeau's defense.

Gerald Butts is testifying at the House of Commons justice committee, to tell what he describes as a "very different" version of events from former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's explosive testimony last month. He said, "Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues". Also, administrative staff in its Montreal headquarters would be more likely to retain their positions, as the company has a large global portfolio. He was accused of interfering in a criminal investigation of SNC-Lavalin, a powerful engineering firm. The firm is accused of an global bribery and fraud scheme worth tens of millions of dollars.

The Liberals' strategy in this scandal is to deny that anyone pressured Wilson-Raybould to give SNC-Lavalin a get-out-of-jail-free card. It would force the company to pay stiff penalties but avoid a criminal conviction that could financially cripple it. But Butts went further in his flannel-throated minimizing of Wilson-Raybould's testimony.

The odd thing is that everyone in Ottawa seemed to know that Ms. Wilson-Raybould never wanted the Indigenous portfolio - that she was against the Indian Act, and would not be the one to administer it - everyone, it seems, except Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Butts.

"When you boil it all down, all we ever asked the Attorney General to do was to consider a second opinion", said Butts. "Most importantly, it would be for many thousands of people to live with".

He thoroughly explained the government's rationale for moving Wilson-Raybould, reiterating Trudeau's assertion that the shuffle only happened because Scott Brison announced he would resign as Treasury Board president.

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"I did not threaten the attorney general", an often combative Wernick told the committee later on Wednesday.

That's why opposition MPs on the justice committee kept asking Mr. Butts whether he was claiming Ms. Wilson-Raybould was lying - and why he refused to answer. He maintained all involved recognized that the final decision was the attorney general's alone and no one crossed the line into applying inappropriate pressure.

That pressure was not illegal, she said, but "raised serious red flags in my view".

He said he only learned of Wilson-Raybould's perception of events when she testified at the committee last week, and that she made up her mind in September to not provide SNC-Lavalin a deal.

"I did not and I do not see how our brief discussion on that file constituted pressure of any kind", Butts told the House of Commons justice committee.

The former attorney-general and justice minister had painted a picture of "inappropriate pressure" from the PMO with respect to the SNC-Lavelin legal case.

SNC-Lavalin, its worldwide arm and another subsidiary are accused of having offered $36m in bribes to Libyan officials and of defrauding the Libyan government of $96m.

Moreover, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has requested that the RCMP investigate the matter and the federal ethics commissioner is conducting his own investigation into it - either of which could yet add fuel to the SNC-Lavalin fire. However, should they persist in saying they have no confidence in Trudeau's government, the source said Liberal MPs would likely demand they be kicked out of caucus and Trudeau would refuse to allow them to run for the party again.

The controversy for Trudeau's Liberal Party comes as Canada prepares for federal elections in October.

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