Liberal-dominated committee votes to limit investigation into allegations of improper political influence on Wilson-Raybould

[ad_1]

OTTAWA— Liberal MPs have voted to restrict an investigation into allegations of improper political influence on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, blocking opposition efforts to have her and the prime minister’s top aides testify before a Commons committee.

The vote came after a Liberal MP said the Conservatives were embarking on a “fishing expedition” and a “witch hunt” in their bid to hold hearings and summon witnesses — including senior PMO, justice department and Privy Council officials — to tell their stories under oath.

Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 13, 2019. Raitt said that Jody Wilson-Raybould’s surprise resignation from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet underscores the need for an investigation into the affair.
Conservative Deputy Leader Lisa Raitt speaks with the media in the Foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on Feb. 13, 2019. Raitt said that Jody Wilson-Raybould’s surprise resignation from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet underscores the need for an investigation into the affair.  (Adrian Wyld / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

The Liberals used their majority on the justice committee Wednesday to shut down a bid by Conservatives and New Democrats to summon Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau aides Gerald Butts and Mathieu Bouchard to testify.

The Liberals also blocked a motion that called on the prime minister to lift solicitor-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak freely about the allegations that have rocked the government.

“That is not an investigation. That is simply going through the motions,” NDP MP Nathan Cullen said after the meeting, charging that the Liberals sought to “batten down the hatches today and not allow any truth to come to light.”

She was shuffled out of the justice portfolio to veterans affairs in January. On Monday night, she told Trudeau she was quitting her cabinet post — a move Trudeau said “surprised and disappointed” him. Her resignation was tendered hours after the prime minister had publicly suggested that her continued presence in cabinet showed nothing egregious had occurred.

Conservative Michael Cooper charged Wednesday that Liberal MPs on the committee were “acting as agents of a broader cover-up on the part of the PMO.

“It’s very clear they are not serious about getting to the bottom of what happens,” Cooper said.

Instead, Liberal MPs voted to hear from just three officials: current Justice Minister David Lametti, his deputy minister Nathalie Drouin, and the Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick, who serves as Trudeau’s top public servant and deputy minister.

The committee will also take a broad look at the legal rules and standards that apply to how an attorney general interacts with political colleagues, and hear legal opinions on how their work could impact current court proceedings involving SNC-Lavalin.

Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus scoffed at the Liberals’ move to change the focus of discussions, saying “We don’t need a law class here.”

The committee meets again next week and will consider the possibility of expanding the witness list, but Liberal MPs — who have a majority on the committee — voted 5-4 to support a motion by Liberal Randy Boissonault, to shift the debate away from Wilson-Raybould’s as-yet untold version of events.

Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt isn’t holding out any hope that the committee will hear from additional witnesses.

The Conservatives are piling pressure on five Liberal MPs who will determine today whether a House of Commons committee will investigate an allegation that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould was pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution. (The Canadian Press)

During a protracted afternoon meeting that was testy at times, Liberals pushed back on the Opposition’s desire to broaden the inquiry’s scope into allegations that are already the subject of an investigation by the federal ethics commissioner.

At the committee meeting, the Liberals sought to downplay the controversy. Mississauga MP Iqra Khalid accused the opposition of “political posturing” and making hay “out of nothing.”

B.C. MP Ron McKinnon justified his vote opposing a broader investigation, saying, “we don’t have any real evidence of wrongdoing.”

The Liberals used their majority on the justice committee Wednesday to shut down a bid by Conservatives and New Democrats to summon Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau aides Gerald Butts, left, and Mathieu Bouchard, right, to testify.
The Liberals used their majority on the justice committee Wednesday to shut down a bid by Conservatives and New Democrats to summon Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau aides Gerald Butts, left, and Mathieu Bouchard, right, to testify.  (The Canadian Press file photo/Office of the Prime Minister)

Boissonault, MP for Edmonton Centre, accused Conservative MPs of trying to conduct a “fishing expedition” and a “witch hunt” into the SNC-Lavalin affair as the prime minister insisted publicly his government had broken no rules in its dealings with Wilson-Raybould.

As three-hour drama at committee was unfolding, the prime minister was on the defensive in Sudbury, where he again insisted his office had done no wrong.

Trudeau said his officials followed all the “norms and the principles of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law” in discussions with Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin’s fate.

Trudeau indicated the topic — which he cast as discussions about ways “to create jobs and economic growth” — was a pressing concern, saying “this is a constant conversation in cabinet.”

“And all those conversations…have always been carried out based on well-established rules,” said the prime minister.

Trudeau again blamed Wilson-Raybould for failing to come forward with any concerns about improper influence before her sudden resignation Tuesday. He pointed to her acceptance of another cabinet post just last month as evidence she had no real concerns.

“If anyone, any minister, including the former attorney general, felt that there was — that we were not living up to that standard — it was her responsibility to come and speak to me directly about that. She did not do that in the fall, and she accepted another position in this government when I made the cabinet shuffle.”

But at committee, Conservative Pierre Poilievre lashed into Trudeau’s reasoning, saying Wilson-Raybould is unable to respond to the prime minister’s “attack” because she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

“He directly attacked her, saying it was her job to stop wrongdoing from happening in his office,” Poilievre said.

“But what is most despicable and cowardly about this attack is that he was attacking someone who is legally incapable of defending herself. She can’t fight back. She can’t speak,” he said.

“It’s time that we let her speak,” he said.

After the meeting, Boissonault said there’s nothing preventing Wilson-Raybould from speaking out now, even as he acknowledged she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

Featured stories:

Wilson-Raybould did not raise concerns about the handling of the SNC-Lavalin case, Trudeau says

‘This is modern-day slavery’: Police describe rescue of foreign workers in Simcoe County

Meet a Halifax woman who did ‘everything right,’ and still had a heart attack

“I think it’s important for Ms. Wilson-Raybould to speak to Canadians on her own terms. It’s not something we need to do here at the justice committee,” he said.

But the Conservatives and the NDP say others needed to be called including the director of public prosecutions Kathleen Roussel; chief of staff to the prime minister Katie Telford; senior PMO advisers Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques who were lobbied by SNC-Lavalin, and Wilson-Raybould’s former chief of staff Jessica Prince.

The Liberal MP denounced Opposition suggestions that SNC-Lavalin had gotten the Liberal government to change the law to allow deferred prosecutions for companies like the Quebec engineering giant facing fraud charges.

In the closest thing to an explanation anyone on the government benches has offered for the change since the scandal broke last week, Boissonault said Canada adopted the legal change to allow deferred prosecutions for companies facing fraud charges to align with its trading allies and called Opposition allegations of political favouritism “specious.”

Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau’s director of communications, said in an interview the prime minister spoke with Wilson-Raybould about SNC-Lavalin once last fall, on Sept. 17, some three weeks before the public prosecutor’s office declined, on Oct. 9, SNC-Lavalin’s pleas to negotiate a deal.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again blamed Jody Wilson-Raybould for failing to come forward with any concerns about improper influence before her sudden resignation Tuesday. He pointed to her acceptance of another cabinet post just last month as evidence she had no real concerns.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau again blamed Jody Wilson-Raybould for failing to come forward with any concerns about improper influence before her sudden resignation Tuesday. He pointed to her acceptance of another cabinet post just last month as evidence she had no real concerns.  (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian PRess file photo)

Ahmad said Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould discussed “a variety of things including this issue” but declined to provide further details, saying only what Trudeau told reporters: that the government had conducted itself appropriately. Ahmad said that goes for all the prime minister’s team.

Ahmad said Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford had no conversations with Wilson-Raybould about the matter.

The government had previously confirmed that Butts also met with the former justice minister on Dec. 5, that she had raised SNC-Lavalin, and he told her to speak to Wernick about it.

The lobby registry shows SNC-Lavalin lobbied Trudeau’s office 18 times on the subject of “justice and law enforcement” since February 2016, with 15 of the 18 contacts involving Bouchard. Two of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying contacts were with senior adviser Elder Marques. Trudeau’s Principal Secretary Gerald Butts and former senior adviser Cyrus Reporter were each lobbied once by the company, the registry shows.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer did not rule out referring it to the RCMP saying “all options are on the table” and again called on Trudeau to waive “whatever privilege he thinks he may have.”

With files from Alex Ballingall

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

Alex Ballingall is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @aballinga

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers moves to limit government’s overriding of Charter rights

[ad_1]

Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers wants the provincial government to be more transparent about overriding Charter rights.

Des Rosiers, a legal scholar and co-editor of the 1,168-page Oxford Handbook of the Canadian Constitution, said Monday there must be greater scrutiny when governments decide to invoke the “notwithstanding clause.”

Liberal MPP Nathalie des Rosiers is tabling a private member’s bill so Ontarians would be told when any government legislation or regulation may violate their rights and freedoms.
Liberal MPP Nathalie des Rosiers is tabling a private member’s bill so Ontarians would be told when any government legislation or regulation may violate their rights and freedoms.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star file photo)

That’s why she is tabling private member’s legislation so Ontarians would be told when any government bills or regulations may violate their rights and freedoms.

It would also force the attorney general to table any legal arguments used to justify such a move.

Premier Doug Ford, elected in June, threatened to use the measure for the first time in Ontario history — to slash the size of Toronto city council — and has warned he “won’t be shy” about doing so again if courts try to thwart him.

“So this private member’s bill, if passed, would oblige the attorney general to inform the house — and to inform Ontarians — about what the possible violations would be of their rights,” she said, noting the Charter is essential in protecting the rights of all: “anyone who is a member of a religious minority, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Mennonite.”

“I think today we particularly are sensitive to the way in which we must protect the rights of religious minorities throughout the world.”

Hamilton lawyer Wade Poziomka, chair of the human rights section of the Ontario Bar Association, said Des Rosiers’ law could save taxpayers’ money.

“MPPs of every political stripe should support this bill,” said Poziomka.

“When we bring in bills that are unconstitutional and that violate the Charter, we’re inevitably going to find ourselves in litigation, which is lengthy and expensive, wasting taxpayers’ dollars and resources,” he said.

After Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba in August struck down Ford’s bill as unconstitutional shrinking the size of Toronto council from 47 members to 25, the premier threatened to use the “notwithstanding clause” to overrule the court.

The province ultimately did not need to invoke the clause as the Court of Appeal granted a stay of the ruling in September.

Correction: On Oct. 29, 2018, this article was edited from a previous version to reflect that the province did not need to invoke the clause after the Court of Appeal granted a stay.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس

Thanks to Doug Ford, the sky’s the limit for marijuana in Ontario

[ad_1]

Ontario’s cannabis conundrum is coming out of the closet.

Come Wednesday, marijuana will waft across our parks, jogging trails and beaches with impunity. For better or for worse, the pungent odour will float in the open air — while weighing down our public spaces.

The smell of marijuana will soon be present in all of our public spaces thanks to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, Martin Regg Cohn writes.
The smell of marijuana will soon be present in all of our public spaces thanks to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, Martin Regg Cohn writes.  (DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

If you have forgotten the stale aroma of cigar or pipe smoke in our past, brace yourself for a trip back in time as the smell of cannabis wends its way into your nostrils, even if it’s too far away to inhale.

Thanks to the federal Liberal government, dope has been decriminalized.

But thanks to the provincial Progressive Conservatives, marijuana has been liberalized — far beyond what Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals had announced. Where once dope was driven underground, now the sky’s the limit in Ontario.

Rather than restrict sales to an initial 40 government-owned outlets, the Tories have opened it up to as many as 1,000 privately run stores. Instead of limiting its use to private dwellings, now you can toke joints just about anywhere you can puff cigarettes — and in far more places than you can guzzle a bottle of beer, wine or spirits.

Premier Doug Ford clearly has strong views about the entrepreneurial component of cannabis sales, but relied on Attorney General Caroline Mulroney, the chief law officer of the Crown, and Finance Minister Vic Fedeli, the chief guardian of the treasury, to foist it on municipalities.

City governments will have until January to opt out of private cannabis stores in their jurisdictions, after which they will be locked in for all time. It amounts to local buy-in by default, because municipalities can hardly take it upon themselves to be cannabis-free any more than they can declare themselves dry zones.

Marijuana store too close to your school? Not the province’s problem, talk to your local mayor.

Smell of weed turning your children’s soccer field into a zombie zone as the players gasp for breath? Queen’s Park can’t help, it’s up to your local city hall.

No one ever said it would be easy for the province to find the middle ground between the freedom to consume marijuana and the right to be free of its smell. Instead, Queen’s Park is not only passing the buck, but adding costs to regulatory authorities at all levels.

By enabling a private sector free-for-all, municipal authorities will have to play whack-a-mole in scrutinizing appropriate locations (no special cannabis zoning restrictions allowed). And provincial regulators will have to enforce underage sales (no one under 19) by private owners motivated by the profit motive, rather than the unionized, public sector staff that would have operated outlets controlled by an LCBO monopoly under the previous Liberal plan.

That go-slow approach, which proved broadly popular in public opinion polls, would have restricted cannabis to private dwellings (where permitted). The PC government now argues for a misleading equivalency between cannabis and tobacco, concluding that people should be able to toke cannabis anywhere they can puff on a cigarette.

That false analogy is oblivious to the differences between odours (cannabis smells travel far and wide), and intoxication (alcohol consumption remains banned in many public places where toking weed will be permitted).

No one is suggesting these decisions are easy. But the provincial government has decided to duck.

Off-loading in-store sales on the private sector, and downloading implementation onto municipalities, makes for a cheaper rollout as Ontarians start to roll their own weed. But when problems arise, it will be much harder to rein in.

Notwithstanding the premier’s penchant for cloaking himself in the guise of family values on matters such as sex education, he is relying on a fig leaf to camouflage his naked expediency on cannabis consumption. Amid the haze, it is not so much an ideological decision as a political dodge.

Martin Regg Cohn is a columnist based in Toronto covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @reggcohn

[ad_2]

Source link

قالب وردپرس