Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that the entire SNC-Lavalin affair that has engulfed the government began with alleged bribes to the Gadhafi family and that now the government, which has become embroiled in that scandal by trying to protect the company from criminal prosecution and interfering in prosecutorial independence, is now so cynical and so sinister that it believes it can bribe Canadians with $41 billion of their own money in this budget.
Unfortunately for the government, Canadians are too smart and too moral to be distracted with billions of dollars of their own money. They understand that the Prime Minister is attempting to bury his unethical behaviour under that $41 billion of irresponsible spending, but they are not buying it.
We have new developments in this scandal just in the last 24 hours and let me begin by highlighting perhaps the most important of those developments. The Prime Minister stood before Canadians, 37 million of his own citizens, in a press conference on February 15 designed to distract from the scandal and there he said, “If anyone, including the former attorney general, had issues with anything they might have experienced in this government or didn't feel that we were living up to the high standards we set for itself, it was her responsibility to come forward. It was their responsibility to come forward, and no one did.”
He said that to 37 million Canadians, that no one came forward to raise any concerns. However, the former attorney general testified before the justice committee:
My response—and I vividly remember this as well—was to ask the Prime Minister a direct question, while looking him in the eye. I asked, “Are you politically interfering with my role/my decision as the Attorney General? I would strongly advise against it.”
That sounds to me like somebody came forward to him personally. In fairness, prior to yesterday, we did not have independent confirmation that she had said those words to the Prime Minister. We had her word, which I had accepted, but beyond her word we did not have documented proof or audio recordings of that exchange.
Yesterday, I rose in the House of Commons and said:
Mr. Speaker, at that September meeting, the former attorney general reports that she looked the Prime Minister in the eye and said, “Are you politically interfering with my role...as the Attorney General? I would strongly advise against it.”
Does the Prime Minister remember her saying any such thing?
The Prime Minister rose and replied, “Mr. Speaker, once she said that, I responded 'No'". The first clause in his response is the most important one. It is an admission and I am going to quote him again. He said, “once she said that”. In other words, he confirms that she looked him in the eye and said, “Are you politically interfering with my role/my decision as the Attorney General? I would strongly advise against it.” The fact that he admits that she raised his political interference to his face in September proves he was stating a blatant falsehood when, in February, he said that no one came forward.
The one final defence on which the Prime Minister could justify his February 15 statement would be that he did not remember when his former attorney general looked him in the eye and asked him if he was politically interfering in her role. However, his admission yesterday that he did remember it proves the memory loss defence is invalid.
Yesterday the Prime Minister remembered it. Therefore, we can conclude that on February 15 he remembered it. We can finally conclude that when he was looking Canadians in the eyes and claiming no one had come forward, he was stating something he knew was false. There is a word for that, a word that would require I violate the Standing Orders to utter. Therefore, I will not do that in this place. However, I will be ever careful and ever cautious that a growing and longer nose from across the floor does not swing around and poke me in the eye as I give these remarks.
That intervention proves that the Prime Minister has not been telling the truth to Canadians. While he was simultaneously sending out the hounds to tear apart his two former cabinet ministers, whistle-blowers who had spoken against him, he was also prepared to state patent falsehoods about them.
The whole narrative he was trying to create in stating those falsehoods was that somehow the former attorney general had testified against him at the justice committee out of political opportunism. She had never raised any concern about this SNC-Lavalin affair and was completely fine with everything he was doing. When she was shuffled out of what Gerry Butts called her “dream job”, only then had she come up with this big story about how the Prime Minister was mucking around in a criminal trial. In order to sell that narrative, he had to state the falsehood that she had never once raised any concern. We now know not only that it was false, but that he knew it was false and said it anyway.
We further know that the Prime Minister stood by and watched as his best friend and principal secretary went before a parliamentary committee and testified that no one had come forward and raised any concerns. If what they were doing was so wrong, Gerald Butts said, then why were they not having that conversation in September, in October, in November, in December?
Why were they not having the conversation? We now have 41 pages of documentary evidence showing that conversation was seemingly never-ending in September, in October, in November, in December. Gerald Butts sat in that committee and looked members of this House in the eyes, as well as the millions of Canadians who were watching live, and stated a patent falsehood. It was a patent falsehood he knew was wrong because much of the documentary evidence shows that he participated in the very conversations he later claimed never happened.
That members of the government are prepared to go before parliamentary committees and state things they know are absolutely false sheds light on why Liberals at the justice committee did not want any of the witnesses to swear an oath before they began their testimony. It is clear that Gerald Butts did not want to swear an oath that he would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He wanted to be able to tell things other than the truth.
That sentence about why they were not having that conversation during the four months, September to December, was one such example. He knew he wanted to say something that was totally false. Therefore, he had his Liberal members on the committee ensure that he would not have to swear an oath that might render him susceptible to allegations of contempt, though we are not ruling out the possibility that he may well have been in contempt for having stated such patent and now disproved falsehoods.
The first new development that we have had in less than than 24 hours is that the Prime Minister has admitted that the former attorney general did come forward to him in September, months before, almost half a year before, the scandal became public. However, he said exactly the opposite in a press conference.
The second new development is actually a big one. I am not sure if people realize the enormity of it. A CBC article that was published yesterday, April 3, at 8 p.m., noted, “Weeks of tense negotiations preceded the PM's highly controversial decision to eject two high-profile MPs.”
While the Prime Minister was trying to put a public face on this scandal, we now know that behind the scenes he was trying to transact a secret deal in order to keep the former attorney general and the former Treasury Board president from leaving caucus altogether. He was trying to make offers to them in order to have them stay so that he could grasp onto the last shreds of the phony feminist and idealistic self-image that he had worked so hard over so many years to create. He wanted to find a way to get them to replace their condemnations and whistle-blowing with yet more praise. Behind the scenes, the whole time the scandal was raging, he was sending emissaries to make offers to them in order to get them to do that.
According to the article, the former attorney general sought five different conditions in order to bring an end to the public controversy. I will note before going into them that as I examined the five conditions she allegedly sought in order to end this public controversy or at least to stop speaking about it, none of them involved any benefit to her. I am going to list them off.
First, she wanted to see the removal of Gerald Butts, the now-disgraced former principal secretary to the Prime Minister.
Second, she wanted to see the removal of the Clerk of the Privy Council, who we have now heard pressured her relentlessly in a 17-minute conversation in which he attempted to change her mind on the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin through veiled threats.
Third, she wanted to see the removal of Mathieu Bouchard, to whom we will return later and at length.
Fourth, she also wanted a commitment that the new Attorney General would not overrule the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, and would not direct her to give SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.
Fifth and finally, which should have been a no-brainer, she wanted the Prime Minister to admit publicly or to caucus alone, as the CBC article notes, “that his office acted inappropriately in its attempts to convince her to consider granting SNC-Lavalin a [deferred prosecution agreement].” In other words, the Prime Minister was asked to just own up to his own behaviour, take responsibility for it, admit it was wrong and commit to never doing it again.
It is not clear which of the remaining conditions were not met, but we do know which ones were. I will list them very quickly.
The former attorney general's demands, according to the article, that Butts and Wernick be removed have been met. These two are gone. Of the five conditions, the disgraced principal secretary is out and the disgraced Clerk of the Privy Council is out.
Now we are down to three remaining conditions. They are that Mathieu Bouchard, the senior policy adviser to the Prime Minister be removed; that the new Attorney General prevent the—