Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that, if Scott Brison had not stepped down from cabinet, “Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general.”
Trudeau’s remarks come after reports that the Prime Minister’s Office allegedly tried to influence Wilson-Raybould to ask prosecutors to strike a deal with the Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, which is facing corruption charges. Shortly after being shuffled to the Veterans Affairs file, Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet.
She made no mention of the prime minister in her resignation letter and said she would seek legal counsel on whether she can speak publicly about SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau would not confirm whether the SNC-Lavalin allegations had anything to do with Wilson-Raybould being shuffled out of the justice portfolio.
“There are always a wide range of factors that go into making that decision,” he said. “If Scott Brison had not stepped down suddenly over the Christmas break there would not have been a cabinet shuffle a number of weeks ago and Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be attorney general and minister of justice.”
He also rejected speculation that Wilson-Raybould’s inability to speak French was a factor in her resignation, calling the suggestion “absolutely false.”
Wilson-Raybould has yet to publicly share the catalyst for her stepping down.
In her resignation letter she said, “we must stand together for the values that Canada is built on, and which are the foundation for our future.”
In the time since her resignation, there have been multiple reports of quotes attributed to Liberal insiders that characterized Wilson-Raybould as “difficult to work with” and “a thorn in the side of cabinet.” Critics, including Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt and the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, slammed the comments as “gendered.”
Trudeau condemned the comments during Friday’s press conference.
“The sexist comments, the racist comments that have been made by anonymous sources are unacceptable and I condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” he said.
Trudeau was also pressed further on the SNC-Lavalin allegations and the discussions that allegedly took place around the cabinet table. SNC-Lavalin is a Quebec-based engineering giant that employs thousands of Canadians. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has been outspoken about its importance to Quebec and, as recently as Thursday, has urged the federal government to settle with the firm.
Trudeau said that jobs are a priority, but insisted that the SNC-Lavalin discussions were all above-board.
“But at the same time, we absolutely will defend and uphold the principles of judicial independence, of the rule of law, and that is what we did at all times,” he said.
The ethics commissioner has launched an investigation into the allegations of PMO interference in the SNC-Lavalin case. The justice committee is also slated to study the issue. They will hold a closed door meeting next week to determine which witnesses to speak with during the probe.
To date, that list does not include Wilson-Raybould nor does it include top PMO staff.