Trudeau's Regina events cancelled: PMO

A onetime senior aide to Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts, defended the Canadian Prime Minister in a testimony given to the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, arguing that there was no misconduct involved in the dismissal of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, or in her investigation into engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.

In his heavily anticipated address to the committee, Butts, who resigned as Trudeau's principal secretary last month, largely disputed the allegations made last week by Wilson-Raybould, saying the PMO only appealed to her to seek out an external legal opinion on the DPA, which she refused.

"We know what it's like when a company or a community collapses", he said, referring to the shutdown of the coal mine operations in which thousands of people lost their jobs.

After Wilson-Raybould resigned, Trudeau repeatedly called her "Jody" in defending his actions toward her - a small indignity but one many noticed.

The firm, which employs 9,000 people in Canada, is based in the province of Quebec, where Trudeau's Liberals need to pick up seats to win October's federal election. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott was one of the most respected members of government.

Citing the RCMP investigation now underway, Conservative MP Michael Cooper made a motion at the start of the meeting to compel Butts to testify under oath, saying if he lied he would not only be in contempt of parliament but contempt of court. But last week, Wilson-Raybould testified in front of Parliament, telling her story in "meticulous detail", according to Canadian reporter Ezra Levant, parsing out "how Trudeau and his staff tried to get her to drop criminal charges against a corrupt company that he liked".

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Wilson-Raybould quit on February 12 after less than a month in her new job.

"The attempt by the cabinet to highlight a personal relationship as an explanation as to why the cabinet minister resigned is completely false", Conservative deputy leader Lisa Raitt said in an interview.

Butts said all officials working on the file knew that the decision to direct Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussel to enter into negotiations on a DPA or remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin was exclusively at the discretion of the attorney general.

The prime minister's office is confirming that a rally and a carbon pricing event scheduled to be held in Regina on Monday have been cancelled. "It wasn't an accusation, it wasn't a threat, it was genuine surprise that someone I had spent so much time with, and the Prime Minister had spent so much time with, could interpret the move in such a dark light".

He said he thinks that most ministers and Liberal lawmakers want to kick her out of the party and that Philpott does not agree with them.

"Can you imagine, if when we were kids, and the coal mines closed ... the best explanation someone could give us is that they thought about it for 12 days?" said Butts, whose father is a retired coal-miner.

  • Sonia Alvarado