Philpott said evidence that politicians and officials pressured Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin has raised ‘serious concerns’ for her
OTTAWA — The Liberal government lost one of its most respected senior cabinet ministers in the fallout from the SNC-Lavalin scandal as Jane Philpott announced her resignation as Treasury Board president Monday, saying she has “lost confidence” in the government after allegations of political interference in the criminal prosecution of the Quebec engineering company.
“In Canada, the constitutional convention of Cabinet solidarity means, among other things, that ministers are expected to defend all Cabinet decisions. A minister must always be prepared to defend other ministers publicly, and must speak in support of the government and its policies,” Philpott said in a resignation letter posted to her website on Monday afternoon. “Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet minister.”
With Philpott’s departure, the Liberals have lost a minister widely recognized as one of the government’s most competent. Her resignation deepens a crisis for a government that has been trying to project an image of unity since former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s explosive testimony before a parliamentary justice committee last week.
Philpott said evidence that politicians and officials pressured Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin has raised “serious concerns” for her. “The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system,” she wrote. “Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.
“There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
Speaking at a climate action rally in Toronto on Monday night, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he’s known Philpott “has felt this way for some time, and while I am disappointed, I understand her decision to step down, and I want to thank her for her service.”
He tried to downplay the significance of her departure, saying that in a democracy, “we’re allowed to have disagreements and debate,” and adding that he is taking seriously the concerns raised about how federal officials conduct themselves.
“But at the same time… we need to keep in mind the bigger picture behind this fantastic movement we have built and continue to build,” he said. “The many issues globally and here at home that we must not let up on. Canadians from coast to coast to coast are counting on us.”
Trudeau has named Carla Qualtrough, minister of public services and procurement, as acting Treasury Board president.
Shortly after Philpott posted her resignation letter on Twitter, Wilson-Raybould responded with a message of support. “For almost 4 years our country has witnessed your constant & unassailable commitment to always doing what is right & best for Cdns,” she wrote in a tweet. “You are a leader of vision & strength & I look forward to continuing to work alongside you.”
Speaking to reporters on Monday evening, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated a call for Trudeau to resign as prime minister. “Jane Philpott’s resignation from cabinet clearly demonstrates a government in total chaos, led by a disgraced prime minister consumed with scandal,” he said. “It’s time for every Liberal cabinet minister to ask themselves the same questions Jane Philpott did. … If Liberal ministers stay silent, Canadians will have no choice but to conclude that the ethical rot that infects this government has consumed it entirely.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, meanwhile, repeated his call for an independent inquiry into the matter. “In addition, the prime minister and all of those mentioned in Jody Wilson-Raybould’s testimony need to testify under oath,” he said in a statement. “Jane Philpott has made her decision based on information she received from cabinet; Canadians deserve to know what happened as well.”
Wilson-Raybould rocked the government last week when she appeared before the House of Commons justice committee and alleged that she “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion” in her role as attorney general.
She claimed that Trudeau, former principal secretary Gerald Butts and Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick were part of a four-month-long campaign to convince her to order the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. The agreement would have allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution on charges of fraud and corruption related to nearly $48 million in payments to Libyan government officials made between 2001 and 2011.
Wilson-Raybould claimed she was pressured to take election considerations into account, and that she was subject to “veiled threats” about what might happen if an agreement was not made available to SNC-Lavalin.
She made it clear that she believed she was shuffled out of the justice portfolio and into veterans affairs in January because she refused to negotiate an agreement. Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet last month, after the Globe and Mail published a story detailing allegations of political interference.
Since her appearance last week, many Liberal ministers and MPs have spoken out in support of Trudeau, saying they still have faith in the prime minister.
“I am clearly of the view that the prime minister would never apply improper pressure, that the prime minister has always been clear about the unique role of the attorney general, and would respect that,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told the CBC last week.
After a speech in Edmonton on Monday, current Attorney General David Lametti told the Post he still has “complete and full confidence in the prime minister,” and he’s confident the government will handle the SNC-Lavalin case “in an appropriate, legal fashion that respects the rule of law and respects the rights of individuals.”
But Philpott was one of a handful of Liberals to offer support to Wilson-Raybould after she resigned from cabinet last month. On Feb. 12, she tweeted a photo of herself with the former attorney general. “You taught me so much — particularly about Indigenous history, rights and justice,” she wrote. “I know you will continue to serve Canadians.”
Another of those who voiced support for Wilson-Raybould, Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes, was quick to respond to Philpott’s announcement on Monday. “When you add women, please do not expect the status quo,” she wrote in a tweet. “Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised.” Caesar-Chavannes announced on Saturday that she will not seek re-election this year, but insisted in a statement that her decision was unrelated to the unfolding controversy.
Since her election in 2015, Philpott has handled some of the government’s most challenging and high-profile portfolios. A longtime family physician, she was named health minister in November 2015 and then became the inaugural minister of Indigenous Services in August 2017, after Trudeau split the Indigenous Affairs department in two.
Philpott oversaw a number of contentious files, including the government’s promise to eliminate long-term drinking-water advisories on First Nations reserves by March 2021 and the development of new Indigenous child welfare legislation, meant to reduce the number of Indigenous children in foster care. She was well-respected in her role, frequently speaking candidly about the challenges of improving conditions for First Nations communities, and often made herself available to reporters.
On Monday, NDP MP Charlie Angus, who has been outspoken on a number of Indigenous files, called Philpott’s resignation a “watershed moment.”
“It is a sad day for Canada to lose a minister with such integrity,” he tweeted. “Nobody in government has done more to push reconciliation than Ms. Philpott.”
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde also praised Philpott on Monday. “The resignation of @janephilpott is a major loss,” he wrote in a tweet. “We worked together on many key files including First Nations child welfare, improving drinking water & improving the quality of life for First Nations. She acts with integrity, honesty and commitment in all her efforts.”
In January, in the same shuffle that saw Wilson-Raybould moved out of the justice portfolio and into veterans affairs, Philpott was named president of the Treasury Board. She replaced Liberal MP Scott Brison, who was leaving politics.
Both Philpott and Wilson-Raybould plan to remain members of the Liberal caucus. Wilson-Raybould says she’s planning to seek re-election as the Liberal MP for Vancouver Granville, though Trudeau has not yet said publicly whether he will allow her to remain in caucus.
Philpott’s resignation comes just days before Butts, Trudeau’s former principal secretary, is scheduled to speak to the House justice committee on Wednesday to give his version of events. Butts resigned from his role last month, shortly after Wilson-Raybould left cabinet. Wernick is also expected to testify for a second time Wednesday.
SNC-Lavalin faces a 10-year ban on federal contracts if it’s convicted. The company employs roughly 9,000 people in Canada, including 3,400 in Quebec.
— With files from Tyler Dawson
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The full text of Philpott’s letter to Trudeau, as she posted it online:
Dear Prime Minister,
It is an enormous privilege to be the Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville and to have served as Minister of Health, then Minister of Indigenous Services, then President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government. It has been an honour to play a leading role in progress that has shaped our country: bringing Syrian refugees to Canada; legislating a balanced approach to Medical Assistance in Dying; negotiating a health accord with new resources for mental health and home care; improving infrastructure for First Nations to provide clean water on reserve; and reforming child welfare to reduce the over-apprehension of Indigenous children.
However, I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of Cabinet.
In Canada, the constitutional convention of Cabinet solidarity means, among other things, that ministers are expected to defend all Cabinet decisions. A minister must always be prepared to defend other ministers publicly, and must speak in support of the government and its policies. Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet minister.
Unfortunately, the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former Attorney General to intervene in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin, and the evidence as to the content of those efforts have raised serious concerns for me. Those concerns have been augmented by the views expressed by my constituents and other Canadians.
The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system. It is a fundamental doctrine of the rule of law that our Attorney General should not be subjected to political pressure or interference regarding the exercise of her prosecutorial discretion in criminal cases. Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.
It grieves me to leave a portfolio where I was at work to deliver on an important mandate. But I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.
Although I must regretfully resign from Cabinet, I will continue to serve Canadians in every other way that I can. I was elected as a Liberal Member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville and I intend to continue in that role. I am firmly committed to our crucial platform priorities, especially: justice for Indigenous peoples; and implementing a plan to tackle the existential threat of climate change. Canadians need the assurance that, in all matters, Members of Parliament will act in the best interests of the public. My decision has been made with that spirit and intent.
The Honourable Jane Philpott MD PC MP
Story: Calgary Herald