Trudeau acknowledges 'erosion of trust' between office and former minister

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancels visit to Regina

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancels visit to Regina

Going forward, Trudeau said he has asked for an outside expert to advise the government on the issues raised in the last few weeks, including whether the roles of attorney general and minister of justice should be separated, as well as the operating policies and practices across cabinet, the public service and other political staff "as they relate specifically to judicial matters".

Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leaves after testifying at the House of Commons justice committee on Parliament Hill on March 6, 2019 in Ottawa, Canada.

As Gerald Butts and Michael Wernick defended themselves before the House of Commons justice committee, they came prepared with not only a carefully curated choice of words, but carefully selected attire.

"These are really important jobs, but at the end of the day we're all people".

Gender and politics have been a running theme throughout this escalating SNC-Lavalin saga, mostly along the lines of how a woman minister was treated by an avowedly feminist prime minister. The huge engineering and construction firm accused of fraud and corruption in connection to an eye-watering $48 million in payments to the Libyan government between 2001 and 2011.

SNC-Lavalin openly lobbied the Canadian government for an out-of-court settlement that would mean paying a fine and agreeing to compliance measures. It would force the company to pay stiff penalties but avoid a criminal conviction that could financially cripple it. "It reveals deep division in the Cabinet about how to deal with Jody Wilson-Raybould". She told him she thought the reason had to do with the SNC matter, but Trudeau denied this.

And while Wilson-Raybould said she made her final decision in mid-September to back the DPP's decision to proceed with a trial and that it was inappropriate for any lobbying to persist afterwards, Butts said he, and likely others in the PMO, only became aware of this while listening to her testimony to the committee.

Trudeau said the only apology he is offering today is to the Inuit later on a trip to Iqaluit for mistreatment during tuberculosis epidemics in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Butts disagrees on the timeline and nature of the interactions, saying that it was "inconceivable" that anyone in the Prime Minister's office would act in such a manner, and he said that no government official, Trudeau included, would "direct or ask the attorney general to negotiate a remediation agreement".

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Under section 715.32 (3) of the Criminal Code, prosecutors are forbidden to consider the "national economic interest" in deciding whether to grant certain deferred prosecution agreements, including the one that was being sought for SNC-Lavalin.

In a statement, Wilson-Raybould said the government's order-in-council, which partly waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow her to testify, only applied to her stint as attorney general.

According to Wilson-Raybould's account, Butts said the statute was passed by Harper and that he doesn't like the law.

Butts also said the December 18 meeting was not urgent and that all Prince was told was that he couldn't see how seeking advice from someone like former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin constituted political interference.

"A difference of opinions obviously exists between the Prime Minister, his team and my Pacific colleague Ms. Wilson-Raybould ..."

The charges relate to the world's largest irrigation scheme - the Great Man Made River Project - to provide freshwater to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte.

Canada's ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months.

The leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, said at a news conference that Philpott's resignation demonstrates "a government in total chaos" and called again for Trudeau to resign and for a police investigation of the affair.

Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott have vowed to remain in the Liberal caucus as MPs, despite saying they don't have confidence in the government under Trudeau. If no one did anything wrong, why have there been three shocking resignations over the SNC-Lavalin affair so far - two respected federal cabinet ministers and the PM's principal secretary?

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