The full story of what happened in the SNC-Lavalin affair has yet to be told, says former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in a scathing new book recounting her time in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.
In “Indian in the Cabinet, Speaking Truth to Power,” Wilson Raybould suggests that while the Trudeau government has considered the question closed, the SNC-Lavalin affair may not be over.
“At the time my office was dealing with the “pressure” to defer the prosecution of the company, my staff and I were not privy to all that the power brokers in Ottawa were doing around us,” wrote Wilson-Raybould, who said some information is still locked behind the walls of cabinet confidences. “We still do not know. I will leave that to others to figure out, if they can or have any desire to do so.”
Wilson-Raybould, who served as both justice minister and attorney general, says that as recently as January 2021, the RCMP was still considering whether to investigate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in the matter.
“At the time of writing this book, the RCMP were continuing to examine this matter carefully with all available information,” she wrote, echoing language in a RCMP statement issued in August 2019, the force’s only statement on the matter to date.
Wilson-Raybould does not offer any evidence to back up her assertion or say how she knows the RCMP was still looking into the government’s actions in January.
The RCMP has been tightlipped in the past about whether it has launched an investigation into possible obstruction of justice charges for trying to pressure Wilson-Raybould to offer the Quebec construction company a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) on charges of fraud and bribery.
In March 2020, the Globe and Mail reported that RCMP’s examination of whether to investigate the matter appeared to have delayed an investigation by Canada’s lobbying commissioner into whether SNC-Lavalin had engaged in improper lobbying. In May of this year, Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger told a parliamentary committee that she had handed three cases over to the RCMP but did not give further details.
In August 2019, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found that Trudeau had contravened the Conflict of Interest Act by using his position of authority to influence Wilson-Raybould to overrule the decision by the Director of Public Prosecutions not to negotiate a DPA with the construction and engineering giant.
In December, prosecutors reached a deal with SNC-Lavalin Construction, which pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud and paid a $280 million fine.
Much of Wilson-Raybould’s account of the affair in her book mirrors what she has previously said publicly and in parliamentary committees, but the book also takes the reader inside, to what was happening behind the scenes.
Recording of Wernick conversation ‘insurance’
Wilson-Raybould said that staff in the Prime Minister’s Office would try to control the actions of her and other ministers on other files, but that the SNC-Lavalin case was different because “it was messing with criminal prosecution,” she wrote.
“The very act crossed a line, even raising questions in some minds about potential criminality.”
Wilson-Raybould also makes no apologies for tape-recording a conversation with then Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick when he called her to discuss SNC-Lavalin.
“I needed the ‘receipts,’ the ‘insurance’ of a recording,” she wrote. “I was the attorney general, and the political actions and reality unfolding around this issue and others – and around me – at this time were a nightmare. I did not trust these people. Their actions were extraordinary and not in a good way. They were trying to do something that crossed the line, and they’d been trying it for months.”
Wilson-Raybould’s book was originally scheduled to be released in mid-October. However, its release was moved up and it hits bookstores as a close-fought election campaign enters its final week.
In her book, Wilson-Raybould paints an unflattering portrait of Trudeau and an even less flattering picture of the Prime Minister’s Office and two of Trudeau’s key advisers over the years – Chief of Staff Katie Telford and former principal secretary Gerald Butts.
She describes how her initial honeymoon with Trudeau and the new Liberal government began to deteriorate and eventually led to political divorce – from being shuffled from Justice to Veterans Affairs, her resignation from cabinet and her expulsion from the Liberal caucus. She paints a picture of a controlling PMO that won’t even allow ministers to meet together without their chiefs of staff, who are often appointed by the PMO, and where unelected PMO staff instruct cabinet ministers to overhaul policies they are drafting.
“As time went on, power became more centralized while ministers were marginalized. Eventually ministers were treated more and more as afterthoughts.”
In February 2019, she said, Trudeau suggested that his office was telling the truth about the SNC-Lavalin affair and her office wasn’t.
“In that moment I know he wanted me to lie – to attest that what had occurred had not occurred.”
‘I wish I had never met you’
Her relationship with Trudeau deteriorated to the point where at one point in March 2019, after Trudeau called her to a meeting to convince her to move on from the SNC affair, she blurted out: “I wish I had never met you.” Elsewhere, Wilson-Raybould likens Trudeau’s attitude to “the great white father.”
After the Ethics Commissioner issued his report in August of 2019, Trudeau admitted he had “made mistakes,” and said “the way that this happened shouldn’t have happened.” But he also defended his intervention with Wilson-Raybould, saying he was trying to protect Canadian jobs and avoid negative consequences of a criminal prosecution of a major employer.
Wilson-Raybould also recounts how the Liberal Party itself reaches into ministerial offices, expecting cabinet ministers to travel the country to raise money and support, including forcing her to attend a fundraising event that she had initially declined when she learned that the guests were likely to include people applying to be named judges.
“I also hated that my political staff – all of them – were told they had to donate to the party and do phone-banking during by-elections and that every chief of staff was expected to become a member of the Laurier Club.”
Laurier Club membership is reserved for the party’s top financial donors. Currently, it takes a donation of $1,600 a year to become a regular member.
Wilson-Raybould also takes readers inside her final days in cabinet and a series of three closed-door meetings with Trudeau. It started with Trudeau saying he wanted her to remain part of the government. She called on him to “clean at least some of the house in some way” and launch an investigation into the handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
After the three meetings, Wilson-Raybould said she knew what she had to do.
“Knowing all that I knew as the former attorney general and now knowing the prime minister was not going to come clean, I had no choice. There was now no trust. I had lost any belief I had in the prime minister. And there is no room in cabinet for someone who thinks the prime minister is untrustworthy. There was also no room for me in a government that would act this way on matters of core principle such as upholding the rule of law.”
Wilson-Raybould’s book also provides glimpses into her childhood, her upbringing, her views on both federal and Indigenous politics as well as very personal moments in her life, such her attempts to start a family and miscarriages – something for which she blames the impact of her work on her health.
“It was while speaking at the 2011 WE Day event in Vancouver at Rogers Arena, and in front of thousands of kids, that I started to have a miscarriage. Literally, while on the stage. I could feel it. After I finished my welcoming remarks, I left the stage, found a toilet, and cleaned myself up. And then went to meet Mikhail Gorbachev, who was also speaking that day. Then I went to the hospital.”