Trudeau’s Ex-Adviser and Close Friend to Testify in Political Crisis
OTTAWA — Canadians are rarely riveted by televised meetings of the House of Commons justice committee.
But they are likely to pay attention on Wednesday morning, when Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s close friend and former political aide, testifies before it about the political crisis that has engulfed Mr. Trudeau just seven months before a national election.
The crisis began last month when Mr. Trudeau and top officials in his government were accused of improperly pressuring Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was then the justice minister and attorney general, to settle a criminal case against a major Canadian construction and engineering company. That company, SNC-Lavalin, had been charged with bribing Libyan officials during the dictatorship of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and defrauding the Libyan government.
A criminal conviction against SNC-Lavalin would bar it from doing government business for a decade, potentially imperiling jobs in Quebec, where it has its headquarters.
Shortly after the accusations were first reported in The Globe and Mail, Ms. Wilson-Raybould resigned her post. Last week she testified before the justice committee, detailing the pressure she said she felt from Mr. Trudeau and his team to settle the case.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Butts abruptly resigned from his position, denying in his resignation letter that he had pressured Ms. Wilson-Raybould and saying that he and “those around me acted with integrity.”
Now it is his turn to tell his side of the story to the justice committee. And while he is technically outside of government, he will effectively become the first person to present the government’s view of the controversy.
When Ms. Wilson-Raybould appeared before the committee, she spent nearly four hours laying out a detailed narrative of how she was, in her view, improperly pressured by Mr. Trudeau and his aides, including Mr. Butts.
She described 10 meetings, 10 calls and several emails in which, she said, she was asked to order prosecutors to use a new law to cut a deal with the company that would see it pay a multimillion-dollar fine to avoid a criminal verdict.
The testimony by Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister, was as provocative as it was detailed. At one point, she compared her treatment to President Richard Nixon’s infamous move to quash the Watergate investigation.
In the end, SNC-Lavalin’s case is going to criminal court. But in January, Ms. Wilson-Raybould was moved from justice to the less prestigious post of veterans affairs, prompting some to say she was punished.
After Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Mr. Trudeau faced more criticism. Some said it appeared that a prime minister who describes himself as a feminist and who has made a priority of reconciling past wrongs with Canada’s Indigenous communities had joined with a mostly male group of political enforcers to gang up on an Indigenous woman.
Mr. Butts faces a delicate task in his testimony, political analysts say. While he must outline a compelling alternative to Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, he cannot suggest that she was not telling the truth.
While the justice committee hears its witnesses, Parliament’s ethics commissioner is also examining the accusations. Andrew Scheer, the Conservative opposition leader in Parliament, has called for Mr. Trudeau’s resignation and has asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to open a criminal investigation of the matter, an idea Mr. Trudeau rejects.
Mr. Trudeau’s political troubles greatly intensified on Monday when Jane Philpott, a cabinet minister who led the treasury board and is widely respected, handed in her resignation.
“I’ve been considering the events that have shaken the government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet,” Ms. Philpott said in her resignation letter.