Jody Wilson-Raybould — the former justice minister who has kept largely silent since a news report claimed the Prime Minister’s Office pressured her to help Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution — has resigned from cabinet.
She tweeted a link to her resignation letter this morning.
“With a heavy heart I am writing to tender my resignation as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence,” she wrote.
With a heavy heart I have submitted my letter of resignation to the Prime Minister as a member of Cabinet… <a href=”https://t.co/Ejjh8smwYO”>https://t.co/Ejjh8smwYO</a>
“When I sought federal elected office, it was with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians and a different way of doing politics.”
Wilson-Raybould, who was shuffled to the Veterans Affairs portfolio in January, has been under intense scrutiny since a Globe and Mail report alleged last week that the PMO wanted her to direct federal prosecutors to make a “deferred prosecution agreement” (DPA) to avoid taking SNC-Lavalin to trial on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.
In a brief statement, Cameron Ahmad, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said Wilson-Raybould tendered her resignation when she and Trudeau spoke last night. The PM informed the rest of his cabinet in a meeting this morning and announced that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will serve as the acting minister of Veterans Affairs, said Ahmad.
Trudeau is expected to speak about the resignation during a stop in Winnipeg this evening.
Wilson-Raybould, who plans to stay on as MP for Vancouver-Granville, has been quiet since the story broke, saying she can’t comment because she’s bound by solicitor-client privilege.
In her resignation letter, she said she has retained the services of lawyer Thomas Cromwell, a former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, to advise her on “topics that I am legally permitted to discuss on this matter.”
In an email to CBC News, Cromwell said he would not be making any statements or doing any interviews.
A spokesperson for MP Francis Scarpaleggia, chair of the national Liberal caucus, said that as of Tuesday morning, Wilson-Raybould hadn’t left caucus.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the resignation “a sign of a government in disarray.”
“Trudeau’s ethical lapses and his disastrous handling of this latest scandal have thrown his government into chaos,” he wrote in a statement.
Scheer said he also sent a letter to Trudeau asking him to preserve all the documents related to the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.
Justice committee MPs meeting tomorrow
Her resignation marks a significant turning point in the emerging SNC-Lavalin affair.
Just a day earlier, Prime Minster Justin Trudeau told reporters he continues “to have full confidence in Jody.”
He also insisted that he did not direct Wilson-Raybould to come to any specific conclusions on whether to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to reach an agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
“She confirmed for me a conversation we had this fall, where I told her directly that any decisions on matters involving the director of public prosecutions were hers alone,” Trudeau said Monday.
“I respect her view that, due to privilege, she can’t comment or add on matters recently before the media. I also highlight that we’re bound by cabinet confidentiality. In our system of governance, her presence in cabinet should speak for itself.”
The House of Commons justice committee is meeting Wednesday to decide whether to launch a study of the SNC-Lavalin case.
The Tories and New Democrats want nine high-ranking officials — including members of Trudeau’s inner circle and the new justice minister, David Lametti — to testify before the committee.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen, the party’s critic for democratic reform, said the opposition members plan to meet Tuesday to discuss adding the prime minister himself to that list.
Ethics investigation launched
Wilson-Raybould’s resignation likely will cast a shadow over the upcoming election campaign — so will a recently-launched probe by the federal ethics commissioner.
On Monday, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion informed the NDP MPs who had requested an investigation that there is sufficient cause to proceed with an inquiry into Trudeau’s actions in the case.
Responding to a letter from NDP MPs, Dion said he would investigate the prime minister personally for a possible contravention of Section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits any official responsible for high-level decision-making in government from seeking to influence the decision of another person so as to “improperly further another person’s private interests.”
SNC-Lavalin faces charges of fraud and corruption in connection with nearly $48 million in payments made to Libyan government officials between 2001 and 2011.
The company has pleaded not guilty.
If convicted, the company could be blocked from competing for federal government contracts for a decade.
The case is still at the preliminary hearing stage.