Michael McLeod, MP for Northwest Territories, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the SNC-Lavalin scandal following the bombshell testimony by Jody Wilson-Raybould last week.
Wilson-Raybould, former Attorney General and Justice Minister with the Liberal government, told the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in the House of Commons on Feb. 27 that staff in the Prime Minister’s Office, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself, “pressured” her to intervene in a bribery case involving Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.
McLeod admitted the federal government’s caucus is divided between their loyalties to Prime Minister Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould.
“It is clear something inappropriate happened,” McLeod said of Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, adding that her account was well presented and very credible.
“At the same time, it is also clear that it was not illegal. We have to be able to fix that so (political pressure) doesn’t happen again.
“I don’t think I had any doubt that she felt inappropriately pressured by the prime minister and staff. It is something that is still being under review and we don’t have all the information.”
McLeod said it’s important that people close to the case who want to testify to the justice committee have the chance to speak. Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s top adviser who resigned amidst the scandal, is among those who will testify, and there are others who should step forward to clear up the matter, McLeod said.
“So there are many names that were mentioned and many people that talked to Jody Wilson-Raybould and to her staff on the SNC file,” he said. “If we are going to believe in due process and fairness, we have to give the opportunity to those people to also talk and give recollections of discussions that they had. These individuals deserve the opportunity.”
McLeod said he is disappointed that Wilson-Raybould is no longer in cabinet because he feels he had a positive working relationship with her. He supported her in many of her efforts of reconciliation toward Indigenous people and justice-related files. He said he would like to see Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould reconcile their differences and continue governing together.
Wilson-Raybould is the second Indigenous Liberal cabinet minister on the outs with the prime minister since the Liberals took power in 2015. Nunavut’s Hunter Tootoo resigned as Fisheries and Oceans Minister in 2016 after accusations surfaced of inappropriate conduct involving a staff member.
Losing another Indigenous person in cabinet is obviously not positive for the Liberal brand, said McLeod.
As for his faith in Trudeau’s leadership, he was non-committal.
“I think there are two positions on this,” he said. “Jody Wilson-Raybould has indicated very clearly — and she is a very credible person and very honourable person — that there was inappropriate pressure. The prime minister is saying that there was not (anything) inappropriate. So I think we need to hear more on the matter.
“There will be a number of witnesses and then I’ll make a decision based on that… I want a better handle on where this is going.”
McLeod has announced he is running again in the October federal election. He feels accusations that his party is unfit to govern are unwarranted.
“I don’t think so and I don’t feel that way,” he said. “Jody Wilson-Raybould has brought forward a serious situation that she has encountered and maybe we need to learn from that.”
It may be necessary for the position of the Attorney General of Canada to be placed outside of cabinet in the future to avoid conflicts of interest, he said.
In the meantime, McLeod is anxious about the March 19 budget and that the Northern projects he’s been promoting are recognized.