Trudeau government leaks support in wake of SNC-Lavalin, Wilson-Raybould matter: Ipsos poll – National

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The Trudeau government is leaking political support in the wake of the resignation of its former justice minister, making its chances of re-election this fall far less certain than they seemed to be at year’s end, according to a new poll provided exclusively to Global News.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s personal approval ratings are down; a declining number of Canadians think his government deserves re-election; and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives narrowly lead the Liberals on the ballot box question.

“This is the worst couple of weeks the PM has had since the India trip,” said Darrell Bricker, CEO of polling firm Ipsos. “The biggest problem is that it hits at what gives the Liberal Party its appeal: the prime minister.”


READ MORE:
Charges against SNC-Lavalin explained — and how the PMO allegedly got involved

Ipsos was in the field last week, after revelations surfaced that, last fall, while she was justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould felt that unnamed individuals in the prime minister’s office were pressuring her to intervene in a criminal court case in favour of Quebec-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin. Those allegations were first reported by the Globe and Mail, citing unnamed sources.

If she did feel pressured, she did not act and did not intervene on behalf of SNC-Lavalin. But a few months later, she was shuffled out of her job as justice minister and attorney general and into the job of veterans affairs minister.

Then, last week, as Liberals themselves seemed divided over the optics of seeing the country’s first-ever Indigenous justice minister being shuffled aside for what appeared to be craven political calculations, Wilson-Raybould stepped down from cabinet altogether.

WATCH: Jody Wilson-Raybould quits Trudeau cabinet






Meanwhile, all through the week, Trudeau and other Liberals struggled to explain what had happened while Wilson-Raybould announced she had retained a former Supreme Court justice to provide her with advice about what, if anything, she might say about the whole matter.

Voters took notice.

Ipsos found that, among the 1,002 Canadians it surveyed online from Thursday through to Monday, nearly half or 49 per cent said they were aware of this rapidly shifting story involving SNC Lavalin, Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould.

And it appears many are changing their opinion of the government as a result.


READ MORE:
Justin Trudeau’s top adviser Gerald Butts resigns amid SNC-Lavalin affair

Support for the Trudeau Liberals is now at 34 per cent, down four percentage points, from a poll Ipsos did in December. In the 2015 election, the Trudeau Liberals won their commanding majority with 39 per cent of the vote.

Scheer’s Conservatives appear to have benefited from this slide. That party is now at 36 per cent support, up three points since the end of 2018.

“The big trouble spot is now Ontario, where the Tories have a six point lead over the Liberals,” said Bricker. “The way the vote breaks in Ontario suggests that the Tories are doing well in the 905, where the Liberals won their majority in 2015.”

The NDP and its leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, continue to languish, with 17 per cent support right now versus 18 per cent at year-end.

The poll was out of the field before Monday afternoon’s bombshell news that Gerald Butts had quit his post as the prime minister’s principal secretary. Butts, one of Trudeau’s closest friends, had played a critical role in the revival of Liberal fortune and was, along with Trudeau’s chief of staff Katie Telford, central to Trudeau administration. Butts said he had done nothing wrong but was resigning to avoid being a further distraction to the government’s agenda.

WATCH: Justin Trudeau’s top adviser Gerald Butts resigns amid SNC-Lavalin controversy







In any event, Ipsos found that even before that additional turmoil, voter approval of the Trudeau government had dropped nine points since the beginning of the year down to 42 per cent in its most recent pulse-taking.

Trudeau’s own personal approval rating is now two points lower than it was after his disastrous trip to India this time last year.

“Those who strongly disapprove of his performance now outnumber those who strongly approve by a margin of four to one,” Bricker said.


READ MORE:
Halifax artist apologizes for controversial cartoon of Jody Wilson-Raybould

And yet, Trudeau is still doing better than his two main rivals, Scheer and Singh, who continue to have lower approval ratings than Trudeau.

“All is not bad for Trudeau,” Bricker said. “When assessed head to head with his major rivals, Scheer and Singh, he still does well on specific leadership attributes. Although the gap appears to be closing now.”

And just 38 per cent of those surveyed believe the Trudeau Liberals deserve re-election, while 62 per cent agreed that it was time to give another party a chance at governing.

A margin-of-error could not be calculated for this poll as the sample surveyed was not drawn randomly. That said, Ipsos says the accuracy of its polls can be gauged using a statistical measure known as a credibility interval. Applying this technique to this poll, Ipsos believes this poll would be accurate to within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, compared to a poll of all Canadian adults

Exclusive Global News Ipsos polls are protected by copyright. The information and/or data may only be rebroadcast or republished with full and proper credit and attribution to “Global News Ipsos.” This poll was conducted between Feb. 14 and Feb. 18, with a sample of 1,002 Canadians from Ipsos’ online panel. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. This poll is accurate to within +/ – 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Trudeau vulnerable in fall election amid growing damage from SNC-Lavalin file

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By resigning his position as principal secretary to Justin Trudeau amid allegations of political interference in the judicial file of the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s longtime friend and alter ego, may hope to deflect the potentially lethal friendly fire that is headed straight for Trudeau.

Butts was the official who had the most dealings with former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould over her time in the cabinet. As he noted in his resignation statement, he recruited her to federal politics.

Those dealings included discussions of the SNC-Lavalin file. Sources say Butts was already in Wilson-Raybould’s crosshairs when she talked with Trudeau hours before she resigned from the cabinet last week.

But based on his categorical assertion that he never crossed into interference territory in his conversations with Wilson-Raybould, Butts may end up only having taken himself out of the direct line of fire.

The sight of PMO blood in the water is unlikely to distract the opposition parties from the main prey that is the prime minister himself. Stephen Harper who abruptly lost chief of staff Nigel Wright over the Senate spending scandal can testify to that.

Those who believe Trudeau sanctioned a plan to try to force Wilson-Raybould to spare SNC-Lavalin a criminal trial that could have negative consequences for its commercial future by offering it a remediation agreement will find validation in his principal secretary’s resignation.

And while no one is irreplaceable losing a central player such as Butts on the eve of a re-election campaign stands to compound the damage to the Liberals.

For even before it became a political hurricane the timing of this crisis had already made it a perfect storm.

It is not just that it will be hard for the government to shovel itself out of this latest hole if Wilson-Raybould — as most expect notwithstanding Butts’ decision to leave — does bury Trudeau in allegations of political interference.

If it comes down to a choice between his word and that of the former justice minister, there is no guarantee the prime minister will come out as the more credible.

At this juncture, many voters — including some who supported the Liberals in the last election — are already preconditioned to believe Wilson-Raybould’s version over anyone else’s. Over the past week, Trudeau had a big hand in that preconditioning.

Since the Globe and Mail broke the story each of his interventions has added fuel to the fire he was trying to put down.

With the House of Commons reopening Tuesday after a weeklong pause, there is little left of Trudeau’s initial denial but still no convincing or consistent government interpretation of the events that have, over the adjournment, led the former attorney-general to leave the cabinet and lawyer up and the prime minister’s right-hand man to resign.

The latest developments on the PMO front only add a new twist to an already confused plot.

Up until the political interference allegations surfaced 10 days ago, the upcoming general election looked like Trudeau’s to lose.

But now it has become easier to trace a path to defeat for the ruling Liberals than at any time since they took office in 2015.

Which in a roundabout way brings one to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s future. By now, his victory in next Monday’s Burnaby South by-election should be a foregone conclusion.

If Singh can’t win in a relatively safe NDP riding that happens to be located at ground zero of the movement against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and after a campaign whose last stretch is unfolding against the backdrop of the worst crisis in Trudeau’s tenure, he truly is a lost cause. (To a lesser degree the same could be said of Outremont, the other NDP riding in play next week.)

Chances are the ranks of the Liberals who are rooting for Singh in Monday’s vote in the belief that his so far unimpressive leadership will help drive support their way next fall have swelled over the past week.

For many of the progressive voters who are turned off by Trudeau’s evasive explanations or unhappy over his treatment of a leading Indigenous female minister or repelled by the notion that the government may have sought to cut a deal with a well-connected firm with a dismal ethical record, turning to the Conservatives is not necessarily an option.

At the rate that the prime minister has been losing control of the SNC-Lavalin narrative and with collateral damage spreading to the highest levels of his own office, all that may keep Trudeau from leading his party back to opposition next fall is a weak NDP.

Chantal Hébert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics. Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

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Affaire SNC-Lavalin: le principal conseiller de Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts, démissionne

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Le secrétaire principal du premier ministre Justin Trudeau — son premier et plus proche conseiller — a démissionné de son poste dans la foulée de la controverse entourant SNC-Lavalin et le départ du cabinet de Jody Wilson-Raybould. Gerald Butts affirme n’avoir rien fait de mal mais devoir partir pour protéger le gouvernement.

« Récemment, des sources anonymes m’ont accusé d’avoir fait pression sur l’ancienne procureure générale, l’honorable Jody Wilson-Raybould, afin d’offrir à SNC-Lavalin la possibilité de négocier un accord de réparation, écrit M. Butts dans son communiqué de presse. Je nie catégoriquement les allégations selon lesquelles moi ou un membre de ce cabinet aurait tenté d’influencer Mme Wilson-Raybould. Nous respectons le rôle unique qu’est celui de procureure générale. Mon entourage et moi avons agi avec intégrité et dans le meilleur intérêt des Canadiens en tout temps. »

Depuis que le Globe and Mail a allégué que l’entourage de M. Trudeau avait fait pression sur la ministre de la Justice d’alors pour qu’elle ne dépose pas d’accusations criminelles contre le géant SNC-Lavalin et négocie plutôt un accord de poursuite suspendue, M. Butts était dans la mire publique. Il a parlé avec Mme Wilson-Raybould en décembre à ce sujet et lui a conseillé de s’adresser au greffier du Conseil privé (le premier fonctionnaire de la fonction publique fédérale). Pour cette raison, les partis d’opposition à la Chambre des communes voulaient entendre sa version des faits en comité parlementaire. Jusqu’à présent, la majorité libérale sur le comité s’y opposait. Le comité doit se rencontrer à huis clos demain pour reconsidérer la question. M. Butts réitère qu’il n’a rien à se reprocher, mais que les apparences ont aussi leur importance.

« Toutes allégations selon lesquelles moi ou un membre de notre personnel aurait fait pression sur la procureure générale sont simplement fausses », écrit-il avant d’ajouter : « Mais la réalité, c’est que ces allégations existent. Elles ne peuvent pas et elles ne doivent pas en aucun cas faire obstacle au travail essentiel qu’effectue le premier ministre et son bureau au nom de tous les Canadiens. Ma réputation est ma responsabilité. C’est à moi de la défendre. C’est dans les meilleurs intérêts du cabinet et de son important travail que je démissionne. »

Dans un bref commentaire publié sur Twitter, M. Trudeau a déclaré que « Gerald Butts a servi notre gouvernement — et notre pays — avec intégrité, sagesse et dévouement. Je tiens à le remercier pour son service et son amitié indéfectible. » 

 

Dans son autobiographie de 2014, Justin Trudeau décrit Gerald Butts comme son « meilleur ami » et son « plus proche conseiller ». Les deux hommes ont étudié ensemble la littérature anglaise à McGill et ont fait partie de la même équipe de débats. Gerald Butts a même aidé Justin Trudeau à rédiger la fameuse eulogie qu’il a prononcée aux funérailles d’État de son père en 2000, eulogie touchante qui avait grandement contribué à allumer l’intérêt du public pour le jeune homme et à générer des spéculations sur ses ambitions politiques.

   

Immanquablement, M. Butts se trouvait aux côtés de M. Trudeau depuis octobre 2012, lorsqu’il s’est joint à sa campagne au leadership. Aucune décision importante n’était prise sans que les deux hommes en discutent. Il était plus que son bras droit : il était aussi ses yeux et ses oreilles. Par exemple, lorsque la ministre Chrystia Freeland voyageait aux États-Unis pour négocier l’accord de libre-échange, M. Butts l’accompagnait.

Gerald Butts, 47 ans, est un opérateur politique de l’ombre depuis toujours. Dans sa jeunesse, sur recommandation de sa tante sénatrice, il travaille pour le sénateur Allan MacEachen à la préparation de mémoires qui ne seront jamais publiées. Il passe ensuite à la scène politique provinciale, devenant en 1999 le conseiller principal du libéral Dalton McGuinty.

Gerald Butts accompagne ce dernier pendant ses deux mandats de premier ministre de l’Ontario. Déjà à cette époque, on le considérait comme le cerveau politique de l’administration McGuinty et il avait conservé ce rôle auprès de Justin Trudeau.

Il fait une pause de la politique en 2008, devenant le président du groupe environnemental World Wildlife Fund (WWF). La cause environnementale lui tenait à coeur. Dans sa lettre de démission, il se permet d’ailleurs quelques commentaires sur l’importance de la lutte aux changements climatiques, disant espérer que la réponse canadienne à ce défi sera « collective, non-partisane et urgente comme la science l’implore ».

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Au-delà de SNC-Lavalin | Le Devoir

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La tempête entourant les allégations d’une possible ingérence politique dans la poursuite contre SNC-Lavalin a accru l’intérêt pour un autre dossier judiciaire qui fait actuellement son chemin devant les tribunaux. La poursuite contre le vice-amiral Mark Norman, accusé d’abus de confiance, a peu attiré l’attention au Québec, mais suscite un intérêt renouvelé dans le reste du pays. De quoi inquiéter les libéraux.

Cette histoire tortueuse, dont voici seulement un aperçu, commence en 2015. La marine canadienne est confrontée à un problème. Le gouvernement a commandé de nouveaux vaisseaux afin de remplacer sa flotte vieillissante, mais il faudra des années avant de les voir amarrés au port, y compris les deux navires de ravitaillement dont les forces navales ont rapidement besoin. Sur les conseils du vice-amiral Norman, alors grand patron de la marine et numéro deux de l’état-major, les conservateurs acceptent d’envisager une solution temporaire, soit la location d’un navire civil transformé en navire ravitailleur. Le chantier naval Davie est en lice avec son projet Astérix.

Pour accélérer les choses à la veille des élections de 2015, les conservateurs modifient les règles en matière d’approvisionnement afin de conclure un marché de gré à gré avec Davie. Celui-ci devra toutefois être scellé par le gouvernement suivant. Élus, les libéraux hésitent et veulent revoir l’entente avant de la signer. Le concurrent de la Davie, la compagnie Irving, profite de l’élection de ce nouveau gouvernement pour revenir à la charge avec sa propre solution, un message qu’aurait relayé le ministre néo-écossais Scott Brison. Inquiet, Mark Norman aurait avisé la Davie du retard.

Le hic est que l’information émanait d’un comité du cabinet et qu’elle a fini par se retrouver dans les médias, mettant les libéraux dans l’embarras. L’entente avec la Davie ira finalement de l’avant, mais le Bureau du Conseil privé (BCP), le ministère du premier ministre en quelque sorte, portera plainte à la GRC pour fuite portant atteinte au secret du cabinet.

Le vice-amiral est l’objet de soupçons et est suspendu de ses fonctions en janvier 2017 sans savoir ce qu’on lui reproche vraiment. Il ne fera l’objet d’une accusation d’abus de confiance que 14 mois plus tard, soit le 9 mars 2018.

 
 

Depuis, une véritable guérilla juridique oppose M. Norman à la Couronne et au gouvernement. Les avocats du vice-amiral veulent avoir accès à des documents du cabinet et à des notes sur les échanges entre le bureau du premier ministre, le BCP et la Couronne. Ils sont persuadés d’y trouver la preuve de l’innocence du militaire. Le BCP et le ministère de la Justice rechignent, les requêtes se succèdent. L’automne dernier, une masse de documents a été remise à la Cour, sous scellés, afin qu’un juge détermine ce qui devrait être partagé avec la défense. La semaine dernière, ce sont les notes sur les échanges entre le Directeur des poursuites pénales (DPP) et le BCP qui se sont retrouvées sous la loupe. Et qui ont causé des remous.

À leur lecture, la juge de la Cour de justice de l’Ontario Heather Perkins-McVey n’a pu réprimer un commentaire allant dans le sens des accusations d’ingérence politique de la défense. « Voilà pour l’indépendance du DPP », a lancé la juge en lisant un courriel du DPP expliquant que certains passages étaient caviardés parce qu’ils portaient sur la « stratégie du procès ».

Signe qu’elle a senti la soupe chaude, la directrice des poursuites pénales, Kathleen Roussel, la même qui refuse de négocier une entente avec SNC-Lavalin, a fait une déclaration dès le lendemain pour expliquer que les discussions portaient sur l’identification d’un témoin pouvant expliquer les règles entourant le secret du cabinet. Elle a ajouté qu’elle avait « entièrement confiance » en ses procureurs pour qu’ils « exercent leur pouvoir discrétionnaire en toute indépendance et à l’abri de toute considération politique ou partisane ».

Le procès doit commencer en août prochain, à la veille des élections, et durer quelques semaines. Le gratin militaire, bureaucratique et politique figure sur la liste de témoins potentiels : les anciens ministres Scott Brison et Peter MacKay, le greffier du Conseil privé, le patron d’Irving et ainsi de suite. Voilà la recette parfaite pour un procès médiatisé et dommageable pour les libéraux. À moins que les avocats de M. Norman n’obtiennent d’ici là l’abandon de l’accusation, ce qu’ils comptent demander en mars.

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Les sables mouvants de SNC-Lavalin

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C’est une patate très chaude que Justin Trudeau a entre les mains avec le dossier SNC-Lavalin. Ciblé par l’opposition, le premier ministre nie avoir exercé des pressions sur son ancienne ministre de la Justice pour qu’elle accorde à la compagnie québécoise un accord de poursuite suspendue (comme le souhaite le gouvernement québécois). Le dossier a des ramifications juridiques et économiques, mais il ébranle aussi les relations entre le gouvernement Trudeau et les Autochtones. Décryptage en six aspects.

Panier de crabes politique

Encore vendredi, le premier ministre Justin Trudeau constatait en point de presse qu’il doit « faire très attention par rapport » à ce qu’il peut dire [ou pas] publiquement au sujet des discussions qu’il a eues avec son ex-ministre Jody Wilson-Raybould. Les échanges du Conseil des ministres sont confidentiels… et ils le restent même si Mme Wilson-Raybould a choisi de démissionner.

Ainsi, bien des éléments de ce dossier risquent de ne jamais être dévoilés. Et dans le contexte actuel, il est impossible de juger si les conversations entre l’équipe Trudeau et l’ex-ministre de la Justice au sujet de SNC-Lavalin relevaient de ce qui est permis (discuter de l’enjeu) ou de ce qui ne l’est pas (faire pression sur la ministre). M. Trudeau martèle qu’il a souligné à la ministre que la décision d’accorder un accord de poursuite suspendue à SNC ne pouvait relever que d’elle-même — la procureure des poursuites pénales du Canada ayant pour sa part jugé que SNC n’y était pas admissible. Il soutient aussi que son ancienne ministre ne lui a jamais fait part d’un quelconque problème quand elle était au cabinet.

Reste que, pour les partis d’opposition, le fond de l’histoire permet une conclusion : Mme Wilson-Raybould a été tassée du ministère de la Justice parce qu’elle résistait aux pressions du cabinet du premier ministre, qui voulait donner un coup de main à une compagnie québécoise accusée de corruption. Et le refus des libéraux de laisser les principaux protagonistes de l’histoire témoigner devant le Comité permanent de la justice montrerait qu’ils ont des choses à cacher. « C’est un aveu de culpabilité », tranchait un député conservateur cette semaine.

 

Démêlés judiciaires

Plusieurs dossiers liés de près ou de loin à SNC-Lavalin se trouvent présentement devant les tribunaux. Mais un seul concerne l’accord de poursuite suspendue demandé à Ottawa : celui où SNC-Lavalin (comme compagnie) fait face à deux accusations pour fraude et corruption d’agents publics étrangers pour des actes commis en Libye entre 2001 et 2011. Selon les accusations portées par la GRC en 2015, la firme aurait versé près de 48 millions à des agents libyens dans le but d’influencer les décisions de leur gouvernement. L’enquête préliminaire est en cours.

Un autre dossier mis en lumière cette semaine rappelait que la GRC travaille avec le Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales du Québec afin de déposer des chefs d’accusation pour un stratagème de corruption visant l’obtention du contrat de réfection du pont Jacques-Cartier au début des années 2000.

Autrement, certaines causes pendantes concernent des ex-employés de la firme de génie-conseil. L’ancien vice-président contrôleur, Stéphane Roy, est personnellement accusé de fraude et de corruption d’agent étranger pour avoir participé au versement de pots-de-vin sous le régime du dictateur Kadhafi. L’ancien vice-président directeur, Sami Bebawi, fait face à des accusations semblables. Au début du mois, l’ancien p.-d.g. de SNC, Pierre Duhaime, a pour sa part plaidé coupable à un chef d’accusation d’abus de confiance pour un autre dossier ayant miné la crédibilité de l’entreprise — celui de la construction du Centre universitaire de santé McGill.

 

Contrats publics en jeu

SNC-Lavalin ne le cache pas : ses activités canadiennes ont généré des revenus de 2,9 milliards en 2017, soit 31 % du total, suivi des États-Unis (17 %), de l’Australie (13 %) et de l’Arabie saoudite (11 %). Essayez de prédire l’effet potentiel d’une condamnation criminelle, cependant, et vous voilà dans le brouillard, car l’entreprise refuse de ventiler la part qui provient des contrats publics au Canada. Qu’adviendrait-il si la compagnie en était éventuellement exclue ?

Selon un portrait sectoriel produit par Industrie Canada en 2013, les « gouvernements, organismes à but non lucratif et établissements publics » représentaient alors 22 % des ventes pour les firmes de génie, comparativement à 40 % pour les services en architecture. Au Québec seulement, 39 % du chiffre d’affaires des firmes de génie-conseil est lié aux marchés publics, mentionnait l’été dernier l’Association des firmes de génie-conseil du Québec dans un mémoire.

Au Québec et au niveau fédéral, SNC-Lavalin a toujours le droit de participer aux contrats publics. Si jamais l’entreprise était reconnue coupable des accusations qui pèsent sur elle, sa santé financière pourrait dépendre de l’étendue précise des marchés publics desquels elle serait exclue. À Ottawa, une condamnation peut mener à une radiation de dix ans pour les contrats publics, comparativement à cinq ans au Québec. Quand Le Devoir a demandé à un analyste financier ses commentaires sur les impacts potentiels, ce dernier a estimé que « personne ne sait ». La situation, selon lui, est tout simplement sans précédent.

 

Accord pour la compétitivité

Dès novembre 2015, le p.-d.g. de SNC-Lavalin annonce ses couleurs. Un régime d’accords de poursuite suspendue — auquel l’entreprise n’a toujours pas accès aujourd’hui malgré ses demandes — permettrait d’éviter un procès. Mais surtout de demeurer compétitif.

« Ça ferait en sorte que les entreprises canadiennes ne sont plus désavantagées par rapport aux entreprises de pays qui en ont, comme le Royaume-Uni et les États-Unis », dit alors Neil Bruce, dont l’argument reviendra plus tard, repris par d’autres, lors de la consultation fédérale. Dans son rapport annuel 2017, la compagnie prend même soin de nommer les multinationales qui en ont bénéficié : « Hewlett Packard, Rolls-Royce, Siemens et Alstom ».

Le projet de loi omnibus C-74, qui a reçu la sanction royale en juin 2018, est toutefois clair : dans les cas de corruption à l’étranger, « le poursuivant ne doit pas prendre en compte les considérations d’intérêt économique national, les effets possibles sur les relations avec un État autre que le Canada ou l’identité des organisations ou individus en cause ».

 

Tensions nationales

Autre particularité du dossier SNC-Wilson-Trudeau ? Sa perception au Québec par rapport à celle du Rest of Canada. Plusieurs chroniqueurs anglophones soulignaient cette semaine que SNC-Lavalin est une multinationale québécoise, qu’elle a des liens historiques avec les libéraux fédéraux, que la province sera au coeur de la bataille électorale cet automne… « Vous pouvez imaginer comment cela va être perçu en Alberta », écrivait Greg Mason dans le Globe and Mail mercredi.

Vu de l’ouest du pays, « Ottawa fait des contorsions pour protéger les emplois d’une firme de Montréal, alors que son inaction sur les pipelines ébranle l’économie albertaine », ajoutait John Ibbitson dans le même journal vendredi. Au Québec, plusieurs voix se sont fait entendre pour réclamer que SNC puisse profiter d’un accord de poursuite suspendue, au premier rang desquelles celle de François Legault : le premier ministre souhaite une entente « le plus tôt possible » entre Ottawa et SNC pour « protéger ce siège social et les milliers de bons emplois ».

 

Remous autochtones

Au-delà des impacts politiques directs que pourrait avoir cette crise pour Justin Trudeau, un dommage collatéral s’ajoute au portrait : l’effet du conflit avec Jody Wilson-Raybould (une femme autochtone) dans les relations entre le gouvernement et les communautés autochtones. Car le traitement réservé à Mme Wilson-Raybould mettrait à mal le projet de réconciliation d’Ottawa, ont laissé entendre plusieurs leaders autochtones cette semaine.

L’Union of British-Columbia Indian Chiefs a notamment appelé le premier ministre à condamner les « sous-entendus racistes et sexistes » de la campagne de salissage à l’égard de Mme Wilson-Raybould. Le chef de l’Assemblée des Premières Nations a rappelé que la nomination de Mme Wilson-Raybould comme procureure générale avait été accueillie comme un « accomplissement extraordinaire »… et ajouté que son départ soulevait conséquemment de nombreuses préoccupations.

Vendredi, Justin Trudeau a fait écho à ces tensions en disant que « les commentaires racistes et sexistes qu’il y a eus sont absolument inacceptables ».

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Former SNC-Lavalin exec, accused in Libyan bribery case, has obstruction of justice charge stayed

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Sami Bebawi, a former SNC Lavalin executive, has had an obstruction of justice charge stayed because it took too long for his case to get to trial.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer handed down the decision Friday, citing unreasonable delays.

Cournoyer invoked the Jordan decision, a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling which sets out timelines to deal with criminal matters.

He said the case was dormant for 11 months, calling it a « ship without a captain. »

Bebawi is accused of laundering $33 million between 2001 and 2012 in connection with contracts SNC-Lavalin negotiated with the former regime of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

He still faces charges of fraud, extortion, bribing a foreign official, possession of the proceeds of crime, and money laundering.

A request to have those charges stayed was rejected.

The Crown said it would take time to decide whether to appeal the decision. Bebawi declined to comment.

The decision comes amid a firestorm in Ottawa involving the engineering firm.

Jody Wilson-Raybould resigned as veterans affairs minister earlier this week — just days after a Globe and Mail report alleging that, as attorney general, she was pressured to order the director of public prosecutions to draft a « deferred prosecution agreement » to avoid taking SNC-Lavalin to trial on bribery and fraud charges in relation to its Libyan contracts.

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Liberals line up behind Justin Trudeau’s handling of SNC-Lavalin allegations

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There is some tension in the ranks as the drama plays out — one MP called the situation “appalling” and condemned Trudeau’s criticism of Wilson-Raybould for her alleged inaction in flagging any improper pressure.

But another MP seemed to capture of the mood of many as he downplayed the potential political impact, noting he had encountered no reaction from constituents during this break week spent in the riding. “I’m not at all convinced this is a tipping thing,” the Toronto-area MP said.

In fact, he said, the issue may play to Trudeau’s advantage in Quebec, where there are concerns that a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin would exact a steep financial penalty on the Quebec firm and with it, job losses.

On Thursday, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, chair of the Commons justice committee that will hold hearings into the affair, floated the idea that Wilson-Raybould was replaced by Quebec MP David Lametti as justice minister because of language.

“There’s a lot of legal issues coming up in Quebec and the prime minister may well have decided he needed a justice minister that could speak French,” Housefather said in an interview with Montreal radio station CJAD.

“The idea that she was shuffled because of this unproven allegation to me is quite ridiculous,” Housefather said.

The MP for Mount Royal said it was “fairly clear” that Wilson-Raybould was “unhappy” at being shuffled but said those decisions are always the prime minister’s prerogative.

“The prime minister has the undisputed right to choose who is in what cabinet position, and there’s millions of reasons that people can be shuffled from one position to another,” Housefather said in the radio interview.

Wilson-Raybould has not yet spoken on the matter, citing solicitor-client privilege. But in the letter announcing her resignation, she said she was seeking the advice of former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell “on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter.”

Conservative and New Democrats have urged Trudeau to waive privilege, giving Wilson-Raybould freedom to speak if she wants.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen, whose motion to call the former attorney general and key political staff was struck down by Liberals on Wednesday, said pressure might be the only thing to convince Liberal members of the justice committee to call Wilson-Raybould to answer questions about the affair.

“Canadians are really concerned about this. They are maybe having flashbacks to the sponsorship scandal and days of denial and insider corruption,” he said. “If that continues to be the reaction, then that pressure will build, and I think that’s the only thing that will crack open the lid.”

Caucus sources said the prime minister sought to reassure MPs during a teleconference call from Winnipeg on Tuesday, hours after Wilson-Raybould’s sudden resignation. The call was for MPs only, not staff.

Trudeau told his caucus that Wilson-Raybould’s resignation was a surprise, reiterated what he’d said publicly, and assured them “that ‘guys, we’re OK here, we’re absolutely confident that nothing untoward or nothing outside of what we could do was done,’” according to one caucus source.

“He said just keep your powder dry and this will all sort itself out,” the MP said.

The MP said Trudeau was “confident that we’re OK,” adding that many MPs recognize that “he needs our help and support now.

“There are a lot of newcomers in caucus who haven’t been through this kind of thing before. It’s been a lot of rainbows and unicorns and this is the first bit of rough water that we’ve faced, but people believe in Trudeau. They know him to be a good person, an honest person. He’s a principled guy.”

On the other hand, the MP said, “nobody knows” what Wilson-Raybould is thinking but in the dispute over whether there was pressure, “most are thinking it is an issue of interpretation.”

However, the MP was not critical of Wilson-Raybould, and suggested it’s not unusual for a rookie minister not to have a lot of allies in caucus because they’re new to Ottawa and suddenly land busy jobs.

“She was there to make a difference, not really to make a lot of friends.”

Another MP said it’s obvious the Prime Minister’s Office is concerned about how the caucus would react, because in addition to the Tuesday conference call there were followup phone calls by PMO officials the next day to caucus members.

The MP said Trudeau was clearly seeking to shore up support with his call.

“I could feel he was under stress, but he sounded sincere, thoughtful. There was no cockiness. Sometimes he can be cocky and shoot from the hip, but there was no cockiness,” the MP said, adding that it was a “confidence-building call.”

The MP, who has since spoken to others as well, said it was clear that many MPs are giving the prime minister “the benefit of doubt.”

He ascribed support for Trudeau to the “level of affection and loyalty towards the prime minister.” There would be “no comparison” to whatever might be felt toward Wilson-Raybould, he said.

That MP suggested the dispute is the result of perceptions and signals crossed: “A message given and a message received will always be different.

“So the message given by the PMO, obviously there was a message given about this: Are you doing this? What’s this? What are the consequences? That’s appropriate conversation. Message received: Could be pressure. Message received after the divorce papers are filed, after you find out there’s a girlfriend, after you find out all those things: Oh, I was being pressured.

“To me this looks like revisionist feelings.

“She hears it when she’s justice minister one way then when she’s demoted and looking at her career and her reputation and all that stuff she hears it differently, and says why was I demoted, maybe I didn’t do what they wanted me to do, maybe I was being pressured.”

The MP had spoken to about half a dozen other MPs, and said, “I’m hearing the benefit of the doubt going to the prime minister.”

But not all Liberals are on board. One MP called the situation “appalling” and said the government’s poor handling of the controversy has only highlighted issues of arrogance, running roughshod over MPs and the problems of centralized decision-making in the prime minister’s office.

“There is a great political risk because it all attacks the credibility and character of the leader. He’s not coming across well, not at all,” the MP said.

He said prime minister’s strategic decision to publicly declare that the onus was on Wilson-Raybould to flag any improper pressure only invites her to fight back.

“Why would you put her into a situation where you’ve ruffled more feathers, caused more irritation, caused anger, a bit of anguish? What do you expect her to do?” the MP said.

And there have been public expressions of support for Wilson-Raybould from her former cabinet colleagues.

In a statement to the Star Thursday, Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, said that Wilson-Rayboud’s advice was “invaluable as a candidate and member of our team.”

“Her dedication to fundamental change in Canada’s relationship with First Nations is unparalleled — she will continue to be a strong voice and I hope to continue working with her on these critical issues,” Bennett said.

Toronto-area MP Jane Philpott, the President of the Treasury Board, took to Twitter earlier in the week to post a picture of her with Wilson-Raybould and an encouraging note: “You taught me so much — particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice … I know you will continue to serve Canadians.”

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

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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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SNC-Lavalin receives credit rating downgrade from Standard & Poor’s

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The woes won’t stop piling up for SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.

Debt rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded the company Tuesday, citing diplomatic tensions and criminal charges against the beleaguered engineering giant as among the financial headwinds buffeting a firm now swept up in a political firestorm.

A pair of slashed profit forecasts from SNC-Lavalin in the past three weeks — which first halved the per-share earnings target and then cut it again by more than 40 per cent — will make for a higher debt ratio, the agency said, prompting the downgrade to BBB- from BBB.

An ongoing feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia, where the company has 9,000 employees, is jeopardizing future contracts in a volatile oil and gas industry, the agency suggested.

« In our view, tension between the two countries has weakened SNC’s competitive position in the Middle East, and will likely affect a meaningful share of the company’s future growth. »

The company generates between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of its revenues in the region, the agency estimates.

Standard & Poor’s also highlighted the prospect of a ban of up to 10 years on contracts with the federal government in Canada.

The ban is one possible outcome that could flow from a conviction on fraud and corruption charges stemming from alleged dealings with the Libyan regime under Moammar Gadhafi between 2001 and 2011. The company has pleaded not guilty.

The pie’s getting awfully small to survive.  They’re going through very, very tough times.– Ian Lee, associate professor of business, Carleton University

In 2013, SNC-Lavalin was debarred from bidding on any construction project backed by the World Bank for up to 10 years, constraining its options.

« The pie’s getting awfully small to survive, » said Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s business school. « They’re going through very, very tough times. »

Adding to the « modest degree of uncertainty in the company’s earnings » are problems at a mining project and the risk of a global economic slowdown, the agency said.

The Montreal-based company has halted all bidding on future mining projects following a contract dispute with Chile’s state-owned copper mining company Codelco. Now entering arbitration, the tiff could yield a $350-million loss for SNC-Lavalin’s mining and metallurgy business in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Ethics investigation

The downgrade came after the federal ethics commissioner launched an investigation into allegations that the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help the company avoid a criminal prosecution.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied directing Wilson-Raybould, who resigned from cabinet Tuesday, on the matter.

Analyst Yuri Lynk of Canaccord Genuity said the reputational damage of a looming corruption case could hurt the company more than a decade-long ban on federal contract bidding.

« In my mind, it’s worse just to have this hanging over the company’s head for another several years. It hurts their reputation, » he said. « Their competitors would always be reminding clients that you’re dealing with someone with outstanding charges against it in its own country. »

Possible remediation agreement

Lynk said a remediation agreement would likely lead to a major stock bump, sorely desired after shares dove to a 10-year low of $34 on Monday.

It might also lessen the appeal for SNC to sell part of its 16.77 per cent stake in Ontario’s 407 ETR highway. The company has been mulling a partial sale for at least six months, which would hand it a slice of the $2.2 billion some analysts say the stake is worth.

« They’ve got a lot on their plate, but I would say trying to get the remediation agreement settled would be at the top of their to-do list, » Lynk said.

The upside from signing a remediation agreement far outweighs any potential fine that SNC would have had to pay.– Mona Nazir, Laurentian Bank Securities analyst

Nearly one-third of SNC’s revenue stems from work in Canada, though much of it through contracts that are not with the federal government, said Laurentian Bank Securities analyst Mona Nazir.

A remediation agreement could stick SNC with a potential fine of between $200 million and $500 million or more, analysts say.

« The upside from signing a remediation agreement far outweighs any potential fine that SNC would have had to pay, » Nazir said.

Analyst Derek Spronck of RBC Dominion Securities noted that the rating downgrade will result in pricing increases on the company’s $500-million term loan.

Further clouding the legal and fiscal horizon are court documents that show Quebec prosecutors are working with the RCMP on the possibility of new criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin tied to a contract to refurbish Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge.

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Is the SNC-Lavalin scandal’s biggest victim Trudeau’s relationship with Indigenous people?

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The appointment of Jody Wilson-Raybould, a We Wai Kai First Nation woman, to serve as the first Indigenous minister of justice was a powerful symbol for Indigenous people and a signal to all of Canada.

Her resignation from cabinet is equally powerful.

Trudeau was elected promising that the relationship this country has with Indigenous people was, to him, of the utmost importance. When Wilson-Raybould was appointed attorney general, it signalled that maybe he meant it, that maybe this time would be different. Maybe Wilson-Raybould would finally be the one to uphold basic human rights and fairness for Indigenous people.

A First Nations woman was the top lawyer in a country that still has the paternalistic Indian Act on its books, that consistently fails to properly “consult” Indigenous communities on decisions that profoundly affect them, that claims it desperately wants to reconcile yet fights not to deliver equitable health, education and social services to Indigenous kids.

Perhaps, it seemed for a moment, she could change history.

But it wasn’t long before that old familiar feeling of doubt crept in.

There was double speak on what nation-to-nation actually meant. There was little progress on bringing clean drinking water to First Nations. There was big talk but no action on revising the Indian Act. More inadequate consultations. And on and on.

It must have been increasingly uncomfortable for Wilson-Raybould in cabinet, watching as the government ignored its promises on making First Nations, Métis and Inuit proper partners in everything from drafting legislation to fulfilling funding commitments.

And then, abruptly, she was no longer the country’s top lawyer, fired from her historic role and shuffled off to Veterans Affairs.

Why?

There were planted whispers in the corridors of power that she had been demoted because she was a “thorn in the side” of the Trudeau government, because she was “difficult to get along with,” because she was someone people had “trouble trusting.”

Read more:

Trudeau ‘frankly surprised and disappointed’ by Jody Wilson-Raybould’s sudden resignation

Opinion | Susan Delacourt: ime to break the silence that has defined the relationship between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould

Opinion | Thomas Walkom: Wilson-Raybould resignation from cabinet overdue

How much of that perception was created because she was too honest and too blunt about the government’s empty rhetoric on reconciliation?

Incensed, First Nations leaders stood staunchly by Wilson-Raybould.

The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs accused the Trudeau government of racist and sexist overtones in a whisper campaign against her after she left Justice.

“I’m familiar with her work ethic, her deep dedication and commitment,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the union, who has known Wilson-Raybould for years.

“She is an amazing individual but to see her publicly humiliated and the subject of a deliberate smear campaign is infuriating,” he said.

“We are completely disgusted with the Trudeau government and its handling of this issue … I know Jody. She is full of integrity.”

Eventually, of course, a new story about her demotion emerged — that she had been pressured to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and was punished for her refusal.

She said on Tuesday that she resigned from cabinet with a “heavy heart.” When she first sought elected federal office — after practising law on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and serving as the British Columbia regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations — she truly felt she could make a difference. She wanted to pursue “a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians,” she wrote in her resignation letter, “and a different way of doing politics.” Maybe she could change things using the master’s tools in the master’s house.

But that is harder than it looks. Even the purest of intentions and hope are rarely a match for 150 years of colonial history.

Then, on Tuesday night, the prime minister seemed to throw Wilson-Raybould under the bus. He said if she had any problem with what was happening, it was her “responsibility” to come directly to him, and she did not. Trudeau said he was “disappointed” with her decision to leave cabinet. He also mentioned that Canadians are “puzzled” by her resignation and so was he.

Not all of us are. She clearly had her reasons.

Perhaps she had enough of the colonial power system.

In any case, the result is the same: she is no longer in a position potentially to overhaul that system from within, and so yet another symbol has soured.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald tweeted, “Ninanaskamon 4 your groundbreaking work as the 1st Indigenous woman to serve as the top lawyer in Canada. I know this will only be a temporary setback for you. Your kind of strength and leadership is unstoppable in the long run. Remember who you REALLY are @Puglass.”

Wilson-Raybould signed her letter with her traditional name, Puglass. It means “a woman born to noble people.”

We should wait and listen to hear what this noble woman has to say.

Tanya Talaga is a Toronto-based columnist covering Indigenous issues. Follow her on Twitter: @tanyatalaga

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