OTTAWA: The crisis facing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government over the SNC-Lavalin affair deepened on Monday with the sudden resignation of one of his most solid cabinet ministers.
Jane Philpott, who served as president of the Treasury Board that oversees federal government spending, wrote in a publicly released letter to Trudeau that she had “lost confidence” in the way the government has dealt with the issue of alleged political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
The resignation came five days after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould told the Justice Committee of the House of Commons that she faced “consistent and sustained” political pressure from Trudeau and senior officials, including veiled threats on the need to shelve the criminal prosecution of the Montreal construction and engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
“The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system,” said Philpott.
“It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our attorney-general should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases.”
At a raucous climate-action rally in Toronto on Monday evening with protesters present, Trudeau said he was “disappointed” by Philpott’s decision to resign but also offered that she “felt this way for some time.”
In a January shuffle, the prime minister moved Philpott to the Treasury Board post from the indigenous services portfolio, and “demoted” Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first indigenous attorney general and justice minister, to the veterans affairs post until she resigned from the cabinet in February.
When the Liberals took office in 2015, Trudeau brought Philpott, a medical doctor, into his cabinet as health minister that found her working closely with Wilson-Raybould on the government’s 2016 bill that legalized medical assistance for dying patients.
The departure of two of Trudeau’s most powerful female cabinet ministers in less than a month “clearly demonstrates a government in total chaos, led by a disgraced prime minister consumed with scandal,” Canadian Official Opposition and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer said on Monday.
“If [other] Liberal ministers stay silent, Canadians will have no choice but to conclude that the ethical rot that infects this government has consumed it entirely. That it is a government that cannot be redeemed. It can only be defeated.”
Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada’s left-of-centre New Democratic Party, reiterated his call for a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin case on Monday, and called on Trudeau and other officials Wilson-Raybould cited in her explosive testimony to also appear before the Justice Committee of the House of Commons of Canada under oath.
One of those people — Gerald Butts, who stepped down as the prime minister’s principal secretary last month — is set to appear before that committee on Wednesday.
In his resignation letter, Butts denied that he or anyone else in Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould, which she refuted last week in her testimony in the justice committee.