Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he was surprised and disappointed by Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation Tuesday.
The former justice minister resigned from the federal cabinet one day after Trudeau suggested her continuing presence there was proof she didn’t think she’d been improperly pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution.
At an appearance in Winnipeg late Tuesday afternoon, Trudeau said the government did its job on the SNC-Lavalin file and if anyone in the cabinet thought anything improper had happened, they had a duty to raise it with him at the time. Wilson-Raybould never mentioned it, he said.
Nevertheless, her departure added fuel to opposition accusations of political interference in the justice system. And it left Trudeau’s reconciliation agenda with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples in tatters.
Wilson-Raybould had been Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister and the face of Trudeau’s commitment to make reconciliation his top priority.
In a letter to Trudeau published on her website, Wilson-Raybould said she was resigning “with a heavy heart” but did not explain why.
However, she said she’s aware that “many Canadians wish for me speak (sic) on matters that have been in the media over the last week” — referring to the furor that erupted after a news report last Thursday alleged she was demoted to veterans-affairs minister in January from the prestigious justice and attorney general portfolio because she had refused to give in to pressure last fall from the Prime Minister’s Office on the SNC-Lavalin case.
As the former attorney general, Wilson-Raybould has refused to comment on the allegation, citing solicitor-client privilege.
In her letter Tuesday, she said she has hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on ”the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter.”
Wilson-Raybould said she intends to continue serving as the MP for the riding of Vancouver-Granville. For the time being at least, she remains a member of the Liberal caucus.
Her exit came less than 24 hours after Trudeau said he had “full confidence” in her and suggested she would have resigned from cabinet on principle if she had felt anyone had tried to improperly pressure her.
“In our system of government, of course, her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself,” he said following an event in Vancouver — one that Wilson-Raybould didn’t attend, unlike a handful of fellow Liberals from the city.
Trudeau’s office issued a terse statement that made no attempt to put any gloss on Wilson-Raybould’s departure from cabinet or to thank her for her service.
Wilson-Raybould informed the prime minister on Monday night of her intention to resign, the statement said. Trudeau informed the rest of his cabinet Tuesday morning about her decision and named Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to take over responsibility for the veterans-affairs portfolio.
In Fredericton, N.B., Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Wilson-Raybould’s resignation proves there’s more to the SNC-Lavalin story than Trudeau has been letting on.
“Yesterday, he said that her presence (in cabinet) speaks for itself. Well, today, her resignation speaks for itself,” Scheer said. “Clearly, there is something more than he has been forthcoming with.”
Trudeau has denied Wilson-Raybould was pressured to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin rather than pursue a criminal trial on charges of corruption and bribery related to the company’s efforts to secure government contracts in Libya.
On Monday, after meeting with Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau said she confirmed to him that he had specifically told her it was entirely up to her whether to prosecute the Montreal-based engineering giant.
The Canadian Press