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View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I'd like to thank you and all members of this committee for giving independent MPs an opportunity to participate in today's meeting.
One of the things I've really appreciated about being an independent MP is the opportunity to take a more dispassionate look at the issues. That's what I've tried to do in all the committee hearings on SNC-Lavalin.
I'd like to say a few words about my reading of the Ethics Commissioner's report and some of the topics that I think might be worth pursuing if this committee decides to hear from the Ethics Commissioner and perhaps other witnesses.
The commissioner's key conclusion is that there was a violation of section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which says that public office holders should not:
seek to influence a decision of another person so as to further the public office holder’s private interests or those of the public office holder’s relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.
I don't think anyone is alleging that the Prime Minister sought to further the private interests of his family, his friends or himself. I also don't think there's any doubt that many, if not most, public policy decisions will either further or detract from the private interests of various companies and individuals. The key conclusion from the Ethics Commissioner is that the Prime Minister improperly tried to further another person's private interests.
That finding hinges critically on an interpretation of what is “improper”. I think it would be well worth this committee's time to dig into that with the Ethics Commissioner. We've heard a lot about findings of fact but really this conclusion comes down to an interpretation of one word in the Conflict of Interest Act, which is something that I think could be open to challenge and certainly could be open to further exploration.
It's a little bit unclear to me whether the Ethics Commissioner believes the Prime Minister is guilty of any kind of conflict of interest in the classic definition of that term. It does seem clear that the Ethics Commissioner believes that the Prime Minister is guilty of improperly furthering another person's private interests but there's already been some debate about how that language should be interpreted and what's improper. I would suggest that as an appropriate focus for this committee's work.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thanks very much.
Since we seem to have entered a bit of a broader discussion of the SNC-Lavalin case, I just want to make the point that I think it would have been far preferable had there been a more robust investigation and prosecution of the specific executives involved in alleged wrongdoing, rather than being left in this scenario of prosecuting the company as a whole, which inevitably will have negative consequences for people who had no involvement at all in the wrongdoing.
Whether or not members of the committee believe the figure of 9,000 jobs, I don't think anyone would dispute that going after the company as a whole is going to have negative consequences for a lot of people who are totally blameless in this thing. I do think one of the key take-aways from the SNC-Lavalin controversy is that we should have much more effective prosecution of the individual corporate executives who are involved in wrongdoing, rather than relying on the legal fiction of corporate personhood to prosecute whole enterprises.
Thank you.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Mr. Chair, I'd like to begin by thanking you and all members of the committee for enabling me to participate in today's meeting. The reason I want to participate is that China's market has been closed to Canadian canola seed. Notwithstanding the fact that the wheat sheaf continues to be Saskatchewan's provincial symbol, wheat has been surpassed by canola as our most important crop and China has emerged as the most important customer for our canola exports.
My appeal to the committee would be that, to the extent that it decides to undertake a study of Canada-China diplomatic relations, the study not simply focus on the inner workings of our foreign service, but rather try to focus on the practical consequences of that diplomatic relationship for prairie farmers and other Canadians.
Mr. Chair, I think what we need to keep in mind at today's meeting is, first and foremost, the Canadians being held hostage in China, but also the prairie farmers whose livelihoods are being held hostage to this unrelated diplomatic tiff.
Thanks very much.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank members of this committee for giving me a chance to participate, since reopening the Chinese market to Canadian canola is a huge priority for Saskatchewan.
I also want to ask ministers what actions the government will take to support canola producers until the Chinese market is reopened. As you know, the Saskatchewan government has asked for an expansion of the advance payments program to provide interest-free loans of up to $1 million. Is the federal government prepared to do that? And if you need to wait for the working group, when can we expect a concrete answer to that question?
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair. I appreciate the time at this committee.
The closure of China's market to Canadian canola is a huge challenge for Saskatchewan's economy. As an aside, Viterra's head office is on the same block as my constituency office so it's nice to welcome a neighbour to committee.
I think we've heard loud and clear from all witnesses that the top priority needs to be reopening the Chinese market. What I want to ask is, what would be the single best thing the federal government could do to support our canola producers in the meantime? Would it be increasing the loan amounts under the advance payments program? Would it be waiving the interest on those loans, or might it be some other initiative?
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I would just like to add a couple of points that I think would be very worthwhile for this committee to consider.
First, in cases of wrongdoing abroad, such as what SNC-Lavalin has been accused of, I think our objective should be to hold accountable the people guilty of the wrongdoing and at the same time not unduly damage Canada's economic resources. There's been a lot of debate about this figure of 9,000 jobs. I and others have been skeptical about that number, but at the end of the day, I think there's no doubt that charges and convictions and a ban from federal contracts against SNC-Lavalin would do some pretty serious damage to a very important Canadian enterprise—the largest construction company in Canada.
It strikes me that there's a bit of a dilemma here about how to go after wrongdoing without having these negative side effects on our economy. There was a disagreement within the government about whether a deferred prosecution agreement would be an appropriate tool to achieve that goal of going after the wrongdoing without damaging the economic assets. It strikes me that something the committee should consider is whether we should entirely focus on penalizing the company, through either a prosecution or a deferred prosecution agreement, or whether that goal might be better achieved through a renewed focus on prosecuting the individuals who actually committed the wrongdoing. It seems to me that there is a place sometimes for prosecuting companies, and there may be a place for deferred prosecution agreements, but one of the best ways to achieve the goal that I think we all want to achieve is to put a renewed emphasis on prosecution of the actual individuals within that enterprise who are accused of paying bribes and corruption abroad.
Mr. Chair, the second point that I would encourage this committee to consider is that in this new area for Canada of deferred prosecution agreements, there clearly needs to be some sort of oversight or some sort of possibility of appeal beyond just one individual, the director of public prosecutions. That oversight or appeal needs to be from someone who is independent, someone who isn't political. A big part of the problem in the SNC-Lavalin case was that the only way to appeal a decision of the director of public prosecutions was to go to an attorney general who was not just a member of Parliament but also a member of cabinet and also the justice minister.
One way that's been suggested to achieve some sort of independent oversight or review in these very complex and difficult decisions is to reinforce the independence of the Attorney General by splitting that portfolio from the justice portfolio. I think that's a possibility that this committee should consider. There might be other ways of coming up with some sort of mechanism for review or oversight of decisions of the director of public prosecutions in an independent, non-partisan way. That's one idea that's been floated. I would encourage the committee to consider it and others.
Thanks very much for this opportunity, Mr. Chair.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thanks very much, Mr. Chair.
I think that Mr. Erskine-Smith raises a valid point that Ms. Wilson-Raybould is in the process of making a written submission to the justice committee and that the written submission would probably be of interest to members of this committee before undertaking a study of some of the same issues.
In the spirit of trying to find a reasonable compromise, I wonder if Liberal members of this committee would be amenable to tabling the motion before us after we have had a chance to see Ms. Wilson-Raybould's written submission, rather than voting it down altogether.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thanks very much.
Mr. Wernick, in your opening statement you indicated that the former minister agreed that entering into a deferred prosecution agreement would have been entirely lawful. My understanding of Ms. Wilson-Raybould's testimony is that she did not believe that SNC-Lavalin was eligible for a deferred prosecution agreement under Canadian law. I wonder if either or both of you could shed any further light on whether SNC-Lavalin would have been eligible for that provision.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Fair enough.
Do either you or Ms. Drouin have any view on whether SNC-Lavalin would have qualified for the provision that is in the legislation?
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
On the possibility of separating the Minister of Justice portfolio from the Attorney General portfolio, Mr. Wernick, you said that it's not a decision to be taken lightly, that there should be more study, and that you might have views to present as part of such a study. Given that you're in charge of the machinery of government in this country, I'm wondering if you have any views that you could present today.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
It must happen on a fairly regular basis that companies come to the government seeking certain concessions and saying that there will be dire economic consequences and job losses if they don't get what they want. I'm wondering if you can speak any more to how the government assesses those kinds of claims or threats from companies.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Well, thank you for the opportunity, once again.
Thank you, Mr. Butts, for your articulate and informative testimony.
To pick up on what you were just saying about deferred prosecution agreements, we heard last week from Ms. Wilson-Raybould that it was clear under the law that SNC-Lavalin was not eligible for a deferred prosecution agreement, and that therefore efforts to push that option were inappropriate.
I think it's clear that you and many other people believed that SNC-Lavalin potentially was eligible for a deferred prosecution agreement. I appreciate that you're not a lawyer, and I am not either, but I wonder if you can shed any further light on the company's eligibility for that type of remedy.
View Erin Weir Profile
CCF (SK)
Thanks for all the light you've shed on the cabinet shuffle in January.
With the benefit of hindsight, do you think that it was a mistake to move Ms. Wilson-Raybould?
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