I can assure all members of this committee that I will tell the truth.
Thank you for having me here today.
I would like to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin people.
I am not here to quarrel with the former attorney general, or to say a single negative word about her personally. What I am here to do is to give evidence that what happened last fall is, in fact, very different from the version of events you heard last week. It is based on direct communications with the former attorney general and her staff, contemporaneous notes I took in meetings I attended personally, and debriefs from people who attended meetings I did not.
I want to make three important points.
First, everyone working on this file knew that the decision to direct the DPP to enter into negotiations toward a remediation agreement was the Attorney General's to make, and the Attorney General's alone. We also knew that the decision, whatever it was, would have a real impact on thousands of people, and we took our responsibility to these people seriously.
Second, I will provide you with detailed evidence that the January cabinet shuffle had nothing whatsoever to do with SNC-Lavalin.
Third, this is a story of two people who hold high office—the and the former attorney general—both of whom did their jobs to the best of their abilities, as did their respective staff. However, a breakdown in the trust that held the relationship together occurred, and as the point person in the PMO for the Attorney General, I take responsibility for that breakdown.
The gave and maintained clear direction to the PMO and PCO on this file. That direction was to make sure that the thousands of people whose jobs were and, it bears repeating, are at risk were at the forefront of our minds at all times. If anything could be done to protect those innocent people, we were told to work with the professional public service to make sure that option would be given every due consideration.
He told us to keep in mind at all times that the decision to direct the DPP rests with the Attorney General, and the Attorney General alone. We implemented that direction faithfully and with integrity.
I was personally involved in the file on only a few occasions, but it was principally my responsibility to ensure that the 's direction was followed by PMO staff. I have no doubt that they did so to the highest standards.
So it was, and is, the Attorney General's decision to make. It would, however, be Canadians' decision to live with—specifically, the 9,000-plus people who could lose their jobs, as well as the many thousands more who work on the company's supply chain. The believed that this was a real and significant public policy challenge that deserved a robust and thoughtful response.
At no time did the Prime Minister or anyone in the government direct or ask the Attorney General to negotiate a remediation agreement. The former attorney general confirmed that last week to this committee.
So what, exactly, was staff talking to the minister about? We had a view, which was informed by Department of Justice advice, that it would be appropriate for her to seek independent advice from an eminent Canadian jurist or panel of jurists. We believed that this was appropriate, first, because the law empowering the Attorney General to use remediation agreements is new. Indeed, this was the first time that entering into a remediation agreement under the new regime was even possible.
Second, we felt that outside advice was appropriate because of the extraordinary circumstances of a conviction. The fact that the company involved employs so many people across the country heightened the public importance of the matter.
That was the entirety of our advice to the Attorney General, which, we made clear, she was free to accept or not.
We also made clear that if the Attorney General accepted our proposal and took external advice, she was equally free to reject or accept that advice. It was not about second-guessing the decision; it was about ensuring that the Attorney General was making her decision with the absolute best evidence possible.
Fresh in our minds was a recent Federal Court of Appeal decision that had found that the government had not concluded consultations sufficiently in connection with the TMX pipeline. That was the substance of the discussions that the PMO had with the Attorney General and the Attorney General's office.
When you boil it all down, all we ever asked the Attorney General to do was to consider a second opinion.
I am not a lawyer, but I have extensive experience in government. When 9,000 people's jobs are at stake, it is a public policy problem. It was our obligation to exhaustively consider options the law allows and to be forthright with people in explaining the Attorney General's decision, in order to be able to demonstrate that the decision was taken with great care in careful consideration of their livelihoods.
We learned last week that the DPP made her decision not to pursue a remediation agreement on September 4, and that the Attorney General was out of the country until September 12. In that version of events, the Attorney General made the final decision after weighing all of the public interest matters involved, and a new law, in just 12 days.
Imagine for a moment that on September 16, the day the former attorney general told this committee that the decision was made, firmly and finally, that she made a public announcement to inform Canadians of that decision. What would be the rationale? In fact, I learned for the first time while watching the former attorney general's testimony that she had made a final decision on September 16. My understanding is that nobody in the PMO or PCO knew that at the time either. In fact, it is not, to my knowledge, how the law works. My understanding, which was informed by the public service and lawyers in the PMO, is that the Attorney General's power to direct the DPP extends until the time a verdict is rendered. My further understanding is that the Attorney General is free to take advice on the decision up until that point and is obligated to bring fresh eyes to new evidence. I believe the former attorney general confirmed this in her appearance here last week. The DPP considered the matter again itself in late September, when new evidence was presented by the company, and the DPP made a fresh decision on October 9, 2018.
It was in that spirit that Mathieu Bouchard and Elder Marques had a discussion with the former attorney general on November 22, 2018. They discussed a memo prepared by lawyers in the Department of Justice that described the option to seek counsel from an eminent jurist. It was also the subject of my and the 's chief of staff's one meeting on this file with the Attorney General's chief of staff, which I will happily answer questions about.
In any case, that was our operating assumption—that the decision wasn't made, and that we were free to inform it with advice. In the end, it was the Attorney General's alone to make, and it would be for all of us to explain. Most important, it would be for many thousands of people to live with.
Following the September 17 meeting the Attorney General had with the Clerk and the , I was debriefed that the next step on the file would be to have the Clerk and the deputy minister of justice meet with the minister. That is my full recollection of the content of that meeting, which I can confirm I did not attend. That seemed like a prudent course of action to me, and I went back to doing what I was doing pretty much 24-7 in September, which was working on the NAFTA negotiations.
If the Attorney General had made a decision and communicated it to the and the Clerk, why would there be a next step at all? Why would the Attorney General take and solicit meetings on a closed matter?
Moreover, why would the Attorney General not communicate her final decision in writing to the Prime Minister? Minister Wilson-Raybould's preferred method of communicating complex and/or important matters is in writing, which I very much appreciate. I have studied lengthy memos from the former minister on subjects as diverse as the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, the TMX pipeline process, and the work of the cabinet committee on reconciliation. Yet, in all our texts and emails, which begin in the summer of 2013, there is not a single mention of this file or anyone's conduct on this file until during the cabinet shuffle.
If any minister is made aware of something they think is this wrong, I believe they have an obligation to inform the soon after they become aware of it.
I spoke with the former attorney general once on this file, on December 5, 2018. In three and a half years in government, we had one brief discussion about it. She raised it with me at the end of a two-hour dinner at the Château Laurier hotel. She requested the meeting via text message a few days earlier. On November 26, she wrote, “Hey there GB—do you want to chat? I have a number of things to bring up...maybe you do as well? Tomorrow after Cabinet perhaps? Thx Jod.” I replied, “Sure. I'm heading to Toronto right after, but could delay 10 mins.” She replied, “Happy to chat another time with you if heading to TO. Think this convo may be a bit longer than 10 mins.” We could not arrange our schedules to meet for a couple of weeks. It was a busy time. We were preparing for the G20, the new NAFTA signing ceremony, and the first first ministers' meeting with Premier Ford.
Minister Wilson-Raybould solicited the meeting with me. She also raised the subject with me. She asked if I had a view on the file, and I said I understood that our offices were working together on ideas. We talked briefly about the idea of asking a retired Supreme Court justice for advice, but I noted that I had no expertise in the matter.
I believe that the “Harper” comment she referred to was in the context of that discussion, Mr. Chair. She said that what Elder and Mathieu were proposing had never been done before. I said my understanding is that remediation agreements are brand new to Canada and that the PPSC itself was not very old, having been brought into being during the Harper years. I was not making a partisan point, Mr. Chair. My suggestion was that it is a legitimate public policy discussion to have in this circumstance, and it would help clarify the Attorney General's powers in this and any subsequent case. I suggested she speak with the Clerk or the public service for more expert advice. I said that it was her call, and I knew it was her call. I have no memory of her asking me to do anything or to speak with staff about any aspect of this file. At no time did the former attorney general suggest to me that Elder and Mathieu had done anything wrong.
The context of that meeting for me is that we hadn't seen each other in a while. We had both been busy with files that were not related to each other, and the minister and I hadn't really had a chance to have good catch-up since we last had dinner at the end of July. I talked mostly about climate change, the pollution pricing policy, the Saskatchewan court challenge and the strategy to deal with the first ministers' meeting. I also asked her advice on the LAV contract with Saudi Arabia. She had on her mind the civil litigation directive regarding indigenous peoples and various other matters unrelated to the file you are examining.
We parted that meeting as friends and colleagues and exchanged personal text messages a couple of hours later. I wrote, “Nice to see you.” She replied, “Nice to see you too. Thx for the convo. Please say hello to the PM. Heard him speaking my language in his speech.... Good luck in Montreal—we stick to our guns/plan we will be good.” I just want to note that the reason she talked about that is that I had left the meeting just to go and meet the to go to the FMM in Montreal that evening.
Finally, on Tuesday, December 11, the minister texted me for the last time about the December 5 meeting. It read, “Hey there—couple of things. 1. KSA/LAVs—thought about it more. Have some thoughts would not mind discussing. 2. Re: Directive—I made most of changes from Elder already prior to Cabinet—can this go out? Honestly not clear as to what result was at Cabinet—hear PM wants changes but I am confident I have addressed all concerns. This is a big deal to me as you know.” The directive she is referring to is the Attorney General's directive on litigation matters involving indigenous peoples, which was issued just before Ms. Wilson-Raybould became Minister of Veterans Affairs in January.
As you will note, SNC-Lavalin is not mentioned in these exchanges at all.
I am fully aware that two people can experience the same event differently. I believed that the minister shared my interpretation of our dinner, and I only quote these messages so you can appreciate why I was so surprised to hear months later that the minister experienced that dinner as pressure. I do not see how our brief discussion of that file constituted pressure of any kind.
The second and final meeting I had on the file was with Jessica Prince, the minister's chief of staff, and Katie Telford. There was no urgency to attend that meeting. I remember that meeting very, very differently from the account given last week.
I remember Ms. Prince saying that the minister didn't want to consider “political factors” in the decision and was worried about the appearance of political interference. I said that it's the minister's decision, of course, but to my mind, 9,000 people are not a political issue. It was a very real public policy problem. Either way she decided, I could not see how having someone like Beverley McLachlin give the minister advice constituted political interference.
Ms. Telford's comments were reported here last week out of context. Ms. Telford was simply saying what we say all the time when legal matters come up in the presence of lawyers: that we are not lawyers and cannot debate the law. On the op-ed point, she was simply saying that we would do our best to support the minister, whatever decision she chose to make.
That's the sum total of my personal interactions with the Attorney General on this file: a brief conversation at the end of what I thought was a good dinner, and a meeting with her staff where I sought to understand her reticence to receive advice from an independent jurist.
This, to me, begs the entire question of what exactly constitutes pressure.
According to the former minister's testimony, 11 people made 20 points of contact with her or her office over a period of close to four months. Four of these people never met with the Attorney General in person. In my case, the Attorney General solicited the meeting. That's two meetings and two phone calls per month for the minister and her office on an issue that could cost a minimum of 9,000 jobs. The minister confirmed last week that nobody ever asked her to make or not make the decision.
You now know that the subject of those interactions was whether she would take independent, external advice on the matter. We did what those 9,000 people would have every right to expect of their .
The Attorney General could have written or spoken to the at any time during this process to say attempts to contact her office on the meeting were improper and should cease immediately. The minister could have told the people who raised it with her that they were close to or crossing a line. The minister could have texted or emailed me at any time. However, the PMO's interactions with the Attorney General's office were only called into question by the Attorney General at the time of the cabinet shuffle.
I'd like now to turn to my role in providing advice for that shuffle. The January cabinet shuffle had absolutely nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin. In fact, I spent at least as much time working to prevent the shuffle from happening as I did preparing my advice for it.
On December 12, minister Brison approached me and Ms. Telford to tell us that he was not running again and that he would tell the later that day. The minister said that he didn't have to leave cabinet right away, but that he was going to tell his constituents two or three days later. We did all we could to dissuade him...to take Christmas to think about it, and at least give the Prime Minister a chance to talk him out of it. It would trigger a cabinet shuffle, and the Prime Minister was happy with the team he had.
I immediately sought help from people who know Minister Brison well to talk him out of it, at home in Nova Scotia and here in Ottawa. We spent the next couple of weeks trying to get him to stay.
Not to give away a political strategy in this forum, but my main political concern was our position in Nova Scotia. had announced his retirement, and had told us he was thinking of not running again, but he had not yet announced it. I knew that if the chose a minister from the class of 2015, and could interpret that as a signal and perhaps not run again either. In short, in the span of a few months, we would go from holding all 11 seats in Nova Scotia with strong incumbents to having five of them open in the next election.
Minister Brison's departure would put us in a difficult position. Nobody is irreplaceable in government, but Minister Brison was very important to our team. Neither the Prime Minister nor anyone around him wanted a cabinet shuffle to happen at all.
Why is all this so important? If Minister Brison had not resigned, Minister Wilson-Raybould would still be Minister of Justice today. That is a fact, and facts are very stubborn things.
Cabinet selections are among the most difficult tasks for any first minister. I have advised two first ministers on 13 of them. They're all unique. In this case, the would have just a handful of days to factor in all of these complex considerations, and I can say to you with absolute certainty that SNC-Lavalin was not one of them.
The directed us to think about options over the holidays, just in case. He told us he wanted to move the fewest number of people possible. He said he had done his pre-election cabinet shuffle in the summer and wanted to minimize the disruption. He reminded us that Treasury Board is an important job that few people outside Ottawa understand, but that it was vital for the basic functions of government.
We came back after Christmas to the news that Minister Brison would indeed resign. This left us with two large challenges: We needed a Nova Scotia minister and a Treasury Board chair with ministerial experience. No Nova Scotian except Mr. Regan had been a minister before, and he is the Speaker of the House of Commons. All signs pointed to Minister Philpott moving to Treasury Board. She had been vice-chair, so she had the experience to do the job. The agreed with this, but he was worried about the signal it would send to indigenous people.
This, to me, is the saddest part of this whole story. Indigenous people have been sent precisely the opposite message from the one the intended.
The most valuable thing in any government is the first minister's time. The spends a lot of his time on indigenous issues—a lot. He cares about the relationship deeply. He was preoccupied with the fact that we had the child and family services legislation coming up. He thought it would be one of the most important bills the government would pass. He wanted a person in Indigenous Services who would send a strong signal that the work would keep going at the same pace and that the file would have the same personal prominence for him. The right and perhaps only person who could do that was Minister Wilson-Raybould.
The knew there were several capable and experienced lawyers in caucus. The short list for Justice included several eminent lawyers with good backgrounds, including David Lametti. The Prime Minister chose Mr. Lametti because he is a distinguished McGill law professor, with graduate degrees from Yale and Oxford. He was also aware that it would raise eyebrows if he had three ministers in very large portfolios who all represented ridings on the subway line in downtown Toronto. That was the context in which the Prime Minister made the decision to move Minister Wilson-Raybould. It had nothing whatsoever to do with SNC-Lavalin.
The plan was a simple one, Mr. Chair: Philpott to Treasury Board, Wilson-Raybould to Indigenous Services; bring Lametti into Justice and Jordan into the new rural affairs portfolio that caucus had been lobbying for. It was a simple plan for a small, tidy shuffle.
The situation started to change on the weekend of January 5. The spoke to Minister Philpott in person, one-on-one, in his office on Sunday the 6th. The Prime Minister debriefed us right afterward. He said Minister Philpott was excited by the challenge, especially the digital government aspects of her new file. She said that Minister Wilson-Raybould was an excellent choice for Indigenous Services, but worried that she would see it as a demotion. Minister Philpott then told the Prime Minister that she worried that Minister Wilson-Raybould might wonder if her move were connected to the “DPA issue”.
That was the first time I ever heard anyone suggest that this cabinet shuffle was in any way related to the SNC-Lavalin file.
The assured Minister Philpott that the shuffle had nothing to do with the file and asked her if she would help with the transition of her ministry to Minister Wilson-Raybould. She said that she would.
After that meeting, I spoke to the privately. He was surprised by what Minister Philpott had said. I said to him that he had to factor into his thinking the possibility that the assertion she had made would be made publicly, however far-fetched it seemed. He replied that he knew that was not why he was moving her, and he would not change his mind.
On January 7, 2019, the phoned the Minister of Justice and Attorney General to inform her that he was shuffling cabinet and that she would be part of that shuffle. I was present for the entire conversation, as was Ms. Telford.
The following is from a contemporaneous note I took during the conversation. I also have the text messages Ms. Wilson-Raybould and I exchanged afterward, and I will summarize them. We would have many conversations in the following week, and I am at liberty, under the terms of the order in council, to discuss and answer questions about them. I will do so to the best of my abilities.
The began the call by saying that Minister Brison's sudden departure had put us in “a tough spot”. He said that he didn't want to shuffle cabinet, but that he needed our “best players” to move in order to “pitch in”. He said the indigenous agenda was really important to him and to the country, as the Attorney General knew well. He said he didn't want to move Minister Philpott, but that she was the best qualified person to do Treasury Board because she had been vice-chair. He then said that would leave a large hole at Indigenous Services, and he didn't want people to think he was relenting at all on the agenda. He said he knows how much she “loves being MOJAG” but that she was one of our top people, and moving her to Indigenous Services would “show Canadians how seriously we take this.”
There was a long pause on the phone. Minister Wilson-Raybould said that she was “a little bit shocked” because MOJAG was her “dream job”. She said, “IS is not my dream job. I’m not going to lie about that.” The said, “I know it is not your dream job, but it is core to this government’s mission.” Minister Wilson-Raybould said, “I feel I’m being shifted out of Justice for other reasons.” The Prime Minister replied that he was doing this shuffle because he had to, and because he thought it was the best thing for the government and the country. He repeated that he wouldn’t be doing it at all if it weren’t for Minister Brison's departure. He said that when you lose a team member, everyone else has to pitch in. The call concluded.
Then Minister Wilson-Raybould did something I didn’t expect. I had never seen anyone do it before, in 13 shuffles, over many years. The former attorney general turned down a cabinet portfolio. She said she could not do it for the reason that she had spent her life opposed to the Indian Act, and couldn’t be in charge of programs administered under its authority. I want to say here, Mr. Chair, that I should have known that, and that, had we had more time to think of the cabinet shuffle, I probably would have realized it.
I undertook to ask the to consider alternatives, but I also said I had never seen a minister turn down a ministry. The obvious question is, why did the Prime Minister not leave the minister in her old job if she turned down a new one? My advice was this: If you allow a minister to veto a cabinet shuffle by refusing to move, you soon won't be able to manage cabinet. Cabinet invitations are not the product of shared decision-making. My advice was that the Prime Minister should not set the precedent that a cabinet minister could refuse a new position and therefore remain in one position for the life of the government.
Over the next few days, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and I talked and corresponded many times. I knew from those exchanges that trust had broken down between our office and the minister. I was deeply concerned by what the minister was saying. I tried to counter her misapprehensions with repeated and, believe me, honest efforts. In the end, I was unable to do so, and here we are today.
I am firmly convinced that nothing happened here beyond the normal operations of government. Highly trained legal staff in the PMO worked closely with PCO’s legal team on all aspects of the file, to make sure that the Shawcross doctrine was adhered to.
I have had some time on my hands for the first time in a long while. I have used that time to review all of my existing texts and emails with Ms. Wilson-Raybould since we met on October 3, 2013. There's a caricature in the press about what a relationship between PMO staff and a minister looks like. This, Mr. Chair, was not that.
I came to trust Ms. Wilson-Raybould as a valued colleague and friend over the next five and a half years. We had long, thoughtful, challenging discussions, both professional and personal. She and her husband Tim have had dinner at my house with my wife Jodi and our children.
To you, Chair, and to members of this committee, I want you to know this. I know it from long personal experience with the : If something improper had been happening and that impropriety had been made known to him, the Prime Minister would have put a stop to it, even if the impropriety were his own. I deeply regret that the former minister's trust and faith in the many colleagues she served alongside for three and a half years has eroded so much, and I take my fair share of responsibility for that state of affairs.
But what is happening here is not fair to the people named in her statement. They are good, hard-working people of extraordinary talent and integrity. They care deeply about their country, and they and their families have sacrificed much so they can serve it. I suspect that, like me, they learned of the former attorney general's specific allegations against them for the first time last week while watching this committee's proceedings.
It is the highest honour of my professional life to have worked with all of these people and so many others on so many important matters for so many years. I bear Ms. Wilson-Raybould no malice or animus, and I wish her and her husband Tim well in the future. Most of all, I hope that this sad episode can be resolved quickly so that people who still have the privilege of being temporary occupants of high public office can get on with their vital work.
I want to thank the many, many friends who have reached out over the past few weeks. Your kindness is the stuff of life.
I hope that what I have said today gives you the context and rationale for my resignation that I could not give you before now. It is one thing to be accused of something on the front page of the paper. It is another to be accused of it by a friend and a cabinet minister. One happens all the time; the other has never happened to me before.
The and I have been close friends for almost 30 years. That is well known. If I had stayed on, his actions or inaction towards me could have been used to accuse him of playing favourites—that he was choosing his best friend over a minister. I could not allow our friendship to be held against him, so resigning was the right and necessary thing to do for the office and for the Prime Minister. I appreciate the opportunity to put that on the record, Mr. Chair.
I hope my testimony today will provide the necessary information to allow the people I have worked with on critical issues, from climate change to job creation and to helping people escape poverty, to refocus their energies and efforts on their vital work.
Thank you all for your patience today, and thanks to all of you from all parties for your many years of dedicated public service.
I look forward to your questions.