Trudeau moves to shore up Liberal caucus support as SNC-Lavalin controversy continues

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has moved to shore up support in his Liberal caucus as the aftershocks of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s resignation from cabinet rocked both Parliament Hill and members of his own party.

Multiple caucus sources told CBC News that Trudeau convened an extraordinary caucus meeting by telephone Tuesday evening to reassure them that nothing untoward had taken place in his office’s interactions with Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin case when she was justice minister.

But unlike the party’s normal caucus meetings, this was a one-way call — with Trudeau doing the talking. Caucus members were not able to ask Trudeau questions. MPs were told to follow up with the PMO or regional offices.

MPs on the call that spoke to CBC News on condition their names not be used said they believed Trudeau when he told them neither he nor the PMO had pressed Wilson-Raybould. 

Multiple MPs also told CBC News that while there was a consensus in caucus that Wilson-Raybould should no longer sit at the cabinet table, there was no justifiable reason to remove the MP for Vancouver-Granville from the Liberal caucus. 

The unusual call to Liberal MPs came as Trudeau’s government scrambled to deal with the aftershocks of Wilson-Raybould’s abrupt resignation Tuesday as Veterans Affairs minister. 

Her resignation came only days after a Globe and Mail report, quoting anonymous sources, said members of the Prime Minister’s Office tried to get Wilson-Raybould to help Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges through a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA).

The SNC-Lavalin case is before a court in Montreal, charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments of nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi’s government and allegations it defrauded Libyan organizations of an estimated $130 million. Its preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume Friday.

To date, the director of public prosecutions has refused to allow the company to avoid a trial by negotiating a DPA or remediation agreement.

‘I do wish her well’

During the political firestorm that followed the report, Wilson-Raybould refused to comment on the case, saying she was still bound by solicitor-client privilege.

MaryAnn Mihychuk, who served with Wilson-Raybould in cabinet until January 2017, said neither Trudeau nor his staff ever pressured her when she was minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

« I made a lot of change and I really pushed the envelope … I never had a call from the prime minister or the Prime Minister’s Office to push me in a certain direction. »

Some Liberal MPs suggested anonymously in media reports that Wilson-Raybould was difficult to deal with and didn’t have friends in caucus. Mihychuk said that’s not the case.

« I feel she’s a good friend and she is an amazing leader so I do wish her well. »

Mihychuk said Wilson-Raybould also worked closely with fellow cabinet minister Jane Philpott, who has supported Wilson-Raybould on social media in the wake of her resignation.

« Jane and Jody were a team right from the start. They were working immediately on assisted dying for Canada, which has been a really terrific program, helping a lot of people. But it was complicated, so they spent a lot of time together. »

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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NDP facing an election without a quarter of its caucus as Rankin ponders retirement

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New Democrat MP Murray Rankin said today he’s still thinking about whether to run for his party in this year’s federal election — despite having said he intended to make a decision about his future by early January.

« I’m one of those people in the yet-to-be-nominated, yet-to-confirm category, » Rankin told CBC News.

« I’m thinking about it. It’s four more years. I’m not a spring chicken anymore. I’ve got to figure out with my family whether … taking me into 2023 of my life is something I want. All those things have to be sorted out. I am definitely thinking about it right now. »

Rankin said that he will make a decision within the next month, despite having told the Canadian Press last year that he would make the decision by early last month.

If he decides to join other NDP MPs and leave federal politics before the fall campaign, he’ll leave behind a party facing down an election cycle without a quarter of its current caucus.

Tom Mulcair gave up his seat in Outremont after he was ousted as party leader. Kennedy Stewart, the former NDP MP for Burnaby South, stepped down to launch a successful run for mayor of Vancouver.

Both of those seats go to byelections Feb. 25. Party Leader Jagmeet Singh is hoping to secure the seat in Burnaby South for himself.

Sheila Malcolmson, the former MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, gave up her seat to run as a B.C. MLA in Nanaimo, an election she won last month.

Erin Weir, the former NDP MP who now sits as a party of one representing the defunct CCF, was kicked out of caucus by Singh a year ago after sexual harassment allegations were made against him.

The ones not running again

Another six NDP MPs have announced they will not run in the next federal election: David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre), Fin Donnelly (Port Moody-Coquitlam), Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona), Hélène Laverdière (Laurier-Sainte-Marie), Irene Mathyssen (London-Fanshawe) and Romeo Saganash (Abitibi-Baie-James-Nunavik-Eeyou).

Robert Aubin, the MP for Trois-Rivières, has said he is pondering a choice between carrying on in federal politics or making a run for mayor in Trois-Rivières.

Rankin, meanwhile, has accepted a job — an unpaid one, he told CBC News — as the B.C. government’s representative in its Indigenous reconciliation process with the Wet’suwet’en.

The news that Rankin has yet to commit himself to running in the fall comes as his party continues to struggle in Quebec, scene of the ‘Orange Wave’ that propelled the party to the Official Opposition benches in 2011.

Over the past month, three polls have put the NDP below the 12.2 per cent of the vote the party captured in Quebec in the 2008 federal election, when Mulcair was the province’s sole NDP MP. The party stands at 13.8 per cent support nationally in the CBC’s Poll Tracker aggregate of federal polling.

A recent Nanos poll found that just six per cent of Quebecers pick Singh as the best person to be prime minister, well behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (44 per cent), Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (18 per cent) and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier (10 per cent).

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Signes religieux: le «droit acquis» refait surface avant le caucus du PQ

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L’octroi d’un « droit acquis » aux employés de l’État, advenant une obligation de retirer leur signe religieux par le gouvernement caquiste, refait débat au sein du Parti québécois.

Les dix élus du groupe de deuxième opposition à l’Assemblée nationale discuteront cette semaine des conditions de leur appui au projet de loi sur la laïcité de l’État dans les cartons de l’équipe de François Legault. Certains élus appellent à biffer la « clause grand-père » de la liste des demandes du PQ.

En campagne électorale, l’équipe de Jean-François Lisée proposait d’« interdire aux personnes en autorité, aux éducateurs en garderie ou en CPE et aux enseignants des niveaux préscolaire, primaire et secondaire d’afficher leurs convictions, y compris religieuses ». « Un droit acquis s’appliquera », pouvait-on lire dans le programme politique du PQ adopté en congrès au printemps 2018.

Réunis dans un hôtel-spa de Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, les députés péquistes situeront leur « ligne rouge » dans le sempiternel débat sur le port de signes religieux chez les employés de l’État.

Le PQ choisira avec soin les batailles qu’il mènera contre le gouvernement de François Legault. La laïcité ne doit pas en faire partie, estime plus d’un.

D’autre part, le PQ n’appelle plus à renoncer à l’uniformisation du taux de taxe scolaire promis par la CAQ, qui se traduirait par un manque à gagner de 700, voire 900 millions de dollars par année. Mais il demandera à l’équipe de François Legault de prévoir un mécanisme garantissant non seulement aux propriétaires, mais également aux locataires un répit fiscal. « On a des choses importantes à dire et on va les dire, a prévenu M. Bérubé à deux semaines du retour des députés à l’Assemblée nationale. On ne lâchera pas. »

Le Canada, « trop petit »

Après avoir cherché en vain à établir une seule déclaration de revenus, gérée par Revenu Québec, le premier ministre François Legault « réalise déjà les limites d’une province », estime M. Bérubé. « Le Canada est trop petit pour les ambitions du Québec, a-t-il lancé. « Soit on accepte le Canada, soit on est pour le Québec. »

Le PQ a profité de son lac-à-l’épaule dans les Laurentides — où il s’est fait lessiver lors des élections générales du 1er octobre dernier — pour tenir un « 6 à 8 » à la Brasserie Les 2 Richard. Le resto-bar était bondé en ce « mardi italien » à la sauce PQ.

Le chef intérimaire du PQ, Pascal Bérubé, et le nouveau chef du Bloc québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, s’y sont présentés bras dessus, bras dessous sous des applaudissements nourris. « Ça va bien », a répété M. Blanchet devant quelques dizaines de militants. Puis, il leur a confié avoir passé la nuit au domicile du député de Matane-Matapédia il y a quelques semaines. « Même dans les bonnes périodes, Pauline n’a pas dormi chez Gilles. Et Lucien n’a pas dormi chez Jacques », a-t-il ajouté.

Le chef bloquiste a dit avoir reçu un « truck de messages d’insultes » de la part d’anglophones dans la foulée d’une entrevue au réseau de la CBC. « Quand ils ne sont pas contents, on a peut-être des raisons de l’être », a-t-il affirmé.

Le dégel de la relation entre le PQ et le Bloc s’est fait « naturellement » après l’arrivée de l’ex-ministre péquiste à la tête du parti fédéral, explique un stratège péquiste. « Avec Martine, c’était moins évident. »

La suite

La présidente du PQ, Gabrielle Lemieux, et la vice-présidente, Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac, ont fait la route jusque dans Les Pays-d’en-Haut pour discuter avec les députés péquistes de façons de « renouveler l’approche du PQ », de « moderniser [ses] structures » et d’être « représentatif de la société québécoise », mais aussi de poser les jalons d’ici aux prochaines élections générales. Le moment de la désignation du prochain chef — avant ou après l’adoption du programme 2022 ? — demeure à déterminer.

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NDP puts off winter caucus meeting to focus on Singh’s byelection campaign

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The NDP has postponed its winter caucus meeting to free up MPs to help leader Jagmeet SIngh campaign in the Burnaby South byelection, CBC News has learned.

The party retreat, traditionally held before the resumption of Parliament in late January, will instead be held in March or early April, a party official told CBC News.

It is customary for the three main parties to gather ahead of each parliamentary sitting to plan strategy. The Liberals and Conservatives are holding their meetings in Ottawa on the weekend of Jan. 26-27.

The meetings are seen as particularly important this time around as parties are trying to fine tune their strategies and focus their message for this election year.

But the NDP has a more imminent concern: getting its leader into the House of Commons.

Singh is running in a byelection to fill the vacant Burnaby South seat in B.C., one of three byelections called by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this month. Singh has been without a seat since he was elected leader in October 2017.

« Since (Singh) is focusing on his byelection in Burnaby South, and some MPs are focusing on helping our candidates in the three by-elections throughout the country, we have postponed our strategic discussions to the next few weeks, » said NDP caucus chair Matthew Dubé.

As another NDP MP put it, « is time better spent here (Ottawa) for a couple of days gazing into the next eight months or on the doorsteps over the next two weeks. »

« Most, if not all, of the B.C. caucus and others will be going out to help out Jagmeet, » the MP said. « All of this hinges on what happens in Burnaby. »

At the outset, it looked like Singh would have an uphill climb in Burnaby South. A poll in the fall put the NDP in third place in the riding. But a new survey published Tuesday by the same polling firm found Singh ahead of the Liberal and Conservative candidates.

Still, Singh shouldn’t take anything for granted. Riding-level polling, particularly in byelections and in diverse ridings like Burnaby South, has a mixed track record.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also called byelections for the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe and Montreal’s Outremont, which was vacated in the summer by Singh’s predecessor, Tom Mulcair.

The byelections will be held Feb. 25.

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Raj Grewal no longer a member of Liberal caucus: chief whip Mark Holland – National

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Following Liberal MP Raj Grewal reversing his pledge to resign, MP Mark Holland from the Ajax-Durham region tweeted that Grewal is no longer a member of the Liberal caucus.

“I confirmed, in writing, earlier this morning to the Speaker of the House of Commons that Raj Grewal, MP for Brampton East, is not a member of the Liberal Caucus,” Holland’s tweet read.

While this suggests that Grewal will remain in his post as an independent, Global News has reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office for confirmation.

Grewal announced his plans to resign due to “personal and medical reasons” in a post on his Facebook page on Nov. 22. The Prime Minister’s Office later confirmed, referring to “gambling problems” as a factor in his resignation.

Holland previously commented on Grewal’s resignation when questions arose about whether the Brampton East official’s gambling addiction had anything to do with his removal from a role on the finance committee on Sept. 19, two months prior to the resignation announcement.

WATCH: Questions linger over the departure of Liberal MP Raj Grewal






“I can confirm his movement had zero to do with the problems before us,” said Holland, the government-whip, who is in charge of membership on committees and handled Grewal’s move off the finance committee and onto the health committee.

“Absolutely not.”


READ MORE:
Liberal MP Raj Grewal says he may not resign due to gambling addiction

NDP MP Peter Julian, one of the vice-chairs of the finance committee, told Global News prior to Holland’s comments that he believed the Liberals must have known about Grewal’s gambling problem when they moved him off the committee.

“Obviously, Liberals knew months ago,” he said. “They wouldn’t have moved him off without knowing this.”

Shortly after pledging to resign, however, Grewal sent an additional video to the Globe and Mail retracting that statement and calling it “ill-advised.” He added that the job he was elected to do as MP for Brampton East remains unfinished.


READ MORE:
Raj Grewal move from finance committee ‘absolutely not’ linked to gambling, police probe: feds

He said at the time that he would make his final decision after Parliament resumes in the new year, though this is now unclear.

–With files from Amanda Connolly. 

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Caucus caught off guard by Pallister’s carbon tax decision

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Brian Pallister’s abrupt about-face on a carbon tax came after the Manitoba premier felt like he was being used as a prop by Ottawa, and sources say it was a surprise to most in his own caucus.

The move, which aligned Pallister’s Progressive Conservatives with other Canadian conservative leaders, came after months of his insisting that a Manitoba-made tax that met the federal Liberals halfway was better than having a levy imposed by Ottawa.

Things took a sharp turn last month when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Manitoba and wished publicly that Pallister « would encourage some of the other conservative voices around the country to recognize that having a plan to fight climate change is something that all Canadians … have a right to expect. »

Pallister gave no indication at the time, but on Wednesday he suddenly announced he was dropping his plans for a carbon tax and said he did not appreciate Trudeau’s comments.

« I don’t think anybody likes to be used as a prop, and I certainly am not inclined that way, » Pallister said a day later.

The Canadian Press interviewed three Manitoba government sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, and used documents along with comments from Pallister to piece together what happened.

Timeline of a tax 

Pallister ruffled some feathers in PC circles during the April 2016 provincial election when he included a promise to put a price on carbon in the party’s platform.

Conservatives don’t generally run on promises of new taxes, but the federal Liberals had already signalled their intention to enact a nationwide carbon price.

In October 2016, the federal government said provinces would have to bring in a cap-and-trade system or charge a rising carbon tax on gasoline and other items. The tax would start at $10 a tonne in 2018 and reach $50 per tonne in 2022. Any province that balked would be hit with an equivalent « backstop » tax collected by Ottawa.

A year later, Pallister’s government announced it would charge a flat $25-a-tonne carbon tax and argued the federal government shouldn’t push further because of the billions Manitoba has invested in clean hydro.

Manitoba also released a legal opinion that stated the federal government had the constitutional authority to enact a carbon tax, but the province might be able to rebuff the move if it came up with its own tax that was equally effective at reducing emissions.

That’s when Pallister began the mantra that billed his tax as the better of two options.

« If we just say no, we get Trudeau, » became the slogan.

There were concerns in caucus. Legislature members didn’t like the idea of having to sell a tax.

But with an agriculture exemption, and with the Opposition NDP open to the full $50 federal plan, the feeling was the Tories were going to be on the right side of public opinion.

During a September visit to Manitoba, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wished publicly that Premier Brian Pallister ‘would encourage some of the other conservative voices around the country to recognize that having a plan to fight climate change is something that all Canadians … have a right to expect.’ (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

« The caucus was united, but we were hearing noise from party members, » one source said.

« There was cautious acceptance, and an understanding that the provincial plan was better than the alternative, » said another source. « Plus, we would have control over how the carbon tax revenues would be spent. »

Pallister promised to use the cash from the carbon tax to cut other taxes and help offset rising energy prices.

And if Manitoba had to go to court to fight further increases, it would likely come in 2020, an election year. The Tories could promote the dispute on the campaign trail.

Also helping Pallister at the time was that only Saskatchewan had come out firmly opposed to the carbon tax. Former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown had supported a carbon levy that could be offset by other tax cuts.

But Brown was replaced by Doug Ford, who has firmly opposed the tax. New Brunswick Tory Leader Blaine Higgs then promised to fight the federal plan in court. And Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley pulled her province out of further carbon tax increases because of a court ruling that put the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on hold.

The political landscape was shifting, but Pallister held firm at a premiers conference in New Brunswick in July, where he met with Ford and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe.

« Pallister was quite adamant in his explanation of ‘this is why we’re doing this, »‘ one source said. « It was kind of an agree-to-disagree thing. It wasn’t acrimonious or anything. »

A post on Twitter from Ford’s account after the meeting said Pallister had reaffirmed opposition to carbon taxes. It was quickly deleted.

« One of Ford’s staffers was overly enthusiastic … and the premier immediately corrected that, » a source said.

Trudeau trip a tipping point 

Then Trudeau came to Winnipeg in September.

In a private meeting, Pallister said, the prime minister gave no ground on the federal backstop. In public, Trudeau held Pallister up as an example to other conservatives.

Pallister said last week it was at that point that he lost any hope the federal government might budge.

« It became pretty clear, » he said.

Pallister said he had not been in contact with Moe or Ford in the two weeks before he announced he was pulling out.

He told a small number of people of his plan to scrap the provincial carbon tax several days before his announcement, one source said.

For the Tory caucus, it came as a surprise. Members were told just before or found out when Pallister stood in the legislature Wednesday and announced Manitoba would not enact a tax.

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