Mr. Chairman, you've told us that the Ethics Commissioner is standing by ready to testify about the guilty verdict he rendered against the Prime Minister last week. Now, the Prime Minister's MPs across the way will decide whether, after silencing Jody Wilson-Raybould, they will silence the Ethics Commissioner as well by voting to ban the Ethics Commissioner from appearing at the ethics committee. If so, what does that indicates about the ethics of this government?
It's important to recap why we're here.
SNC-Lavalin is accused of over $100 million in fraud and bribery. It's accused of stealing over $100 million from among the poorest people in the world. Instead of going to trial, the company convinced the Prime Minister to change the Criminal Code to allow alleged corporate criminals to get off of a trial by signing a deal to apologize and promise never to do what they did again. The Prime Minister passed that in an omnibus bill and then demanded that his Attorney General extend such a deal, against the earlier decision of the top prosecutor not to. She refused, so he fired her. She spoke out, so he kicked her out and shut down numerous parliamentary inquiries into the matter.
Since then he has told us to wait for the Ethics Commissioner to issue his verdict. We all waited, assuming that when that verdict came we'd all be able to hear about it right here in the ethics committee. Here today, we will decide if in fact that will happen. We know there's a lot more to this story that the Ethics Commissioner has not been able to tell. At least nine witnesses were prevented by the Trudeau government from telling their full story because of a government-imposed gag order under the guise of cabinet confidentiality.
There are many mysteries that we need to unravel in this matter and only by hearing witnesses can we do so. One of them is the famous 9,000 jobs claim. Most of SNC-Lavalin's jobs are for construction work done in this country. They're going to be building a north-south transit project here in Ottawa. Well, they can't build that in Hong Kong or Munich and then drop it out of a helicopter on the nation's capital; that work will have to be done here. The headquarters must stay in Montreal until the year 2024 according to a loan agreement with the Québec pension plan. The CEO of the company has said that the company is not moving anywhere, and we know that leaving Canada would not exempt the company from prosecution or conviction.
We tried to ask the government where this claim about jobs had come from. In fact, Ms. May asked some of the best questions on this matter. She asked Mr. Wernick:
In the public interest then, Mr. Wernick, in preparing advice to cabinet, what work did you do to assess the threat to jobs? Did you look at the commitments made to the Government of Quebec not to move headquarters, as mentioned? Did you look at the current financial status of SNC-Lavalin? Did you in fact have an independent assessment of whether there would be any impact on jobs from a decision to proceed as the director of public prosecutions had decided to proceed?
His response was:
No, because the file was entirely in the carriage of the then minister of justice.
Apparently, the justice department now does job assessments.
Gerald Butts had a different story when Ms. May asked the same questions. She asked:
Is there any evidence that jobs were actually going to be at stake by letting this go through the courts and letting the independent director of public prosecutions and the Attorney General do their jobs?
Gerald Butts responded:
I can't recall anything specific.
He said, regarding the jobs claim:
That's my understanding from Department of Finance briefings, but I have to say it's been a long time.
Now they're claiming that the Department of Finance has proof of this 9,000 jobs claim. Therefore, let's turn it over to the finance minister.
In the Ethics Commissioner's report, the commissioner states:
When asked if he, or his office, had undertaken a study or analysis of the economic impacts of the Director of Public Prosecutions' decision, Mr. Morneau testified that none had been conducted.
Then a reporter, on March 7, asked the Prime Minister, “Both Mr. Wernick and Mr. Butts testified they had no direct, empirical evidence of this 9,000 potential job loss.... Did you have any evidence of 9,000 jobs potentially being lost?”
The response was “We had heard representations from various sources, including the company itself, that this was an issue of deep concern to them and that it would potentially have consequences as dire as the company having to leave Canada altogether”. You'll notice he didn't provide any evidence, but he did claim that the company might leave the country altogether.
Let's turn to the Ethics Commissioner's report on that. It says that top Trudeau adviser “Mr. Bouchard's notes from the same October 23, 2018 meeting with senior officials of the Privy Council Office show that they also discussed SNC-Lavalin's board of directors' potential plan to move the corporate headquarters but the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec...would not let that happen.” In other words, Mr. Trudeau's office knew in October, months before he made the claim that the headquarters would leave, that the eventuality was impossible.
Given that this was not about jobs, the most important question I want to ask is this: What motivated this? What on God's green earth would compel a Prime Minister to pass a law, at the request of one company, exempting corporate criminals from prosecution, put pressure on his Attorney General to overturn his top prosecutor and then fire her when she refused to do so?
We know that SNC-Lavalin gave $100,000 in illegal donations to the Liberal Party. We know they swarmed Parliament Hill and the PMO with lobbyists. There was a revolving door between the government and SNC-Lavalin. We need to know the real motive for helping protect this company.
We are here at a meeting of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics to hear the testimony of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
The current government tried to silence the former attorney general. Are Justin Trudeau’s Liberals going to use their majority to do the same? Are they going to stop the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner from appearing before the ethics committee? Are they going to attempt another cover-up so that Canadians don’t find out the truth before the election? Such is the decision before us.
Thank you very much.