Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying that I will split my time with the member for Lethbridge.
Today I rise on a motion to get to the truth in the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Here is a quick recap of how we got here.
A year ago, the Prime Minister had his finance minister introduce a budget amending the Criminal Code to allow powerful corporations accused of fraud, bribery and other forms of corruption to get the charges shelved by signing something called a deferred prosecution agreement. We were all wondering where this was coming from and who was advocating for such special deals. We found out in February of this year, when The Globe and Mail reported that the former attorney general faced interference, veiled threats, pressure, hounding and other inappropriate pressure from the Prime Minister and those around him to offer such a deal to SNC-Lavalin.
SNC-Lavalin is a company facing over $100 million in fraud and bribery charges. Among the charges are that the company bought prostitutes for the former Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi, and that it bribed him and his officials to defraud among the poorest people in the world of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Prime Minister was acting in a manner that was highly unusual. To take direct interest in a criminal trial of any kind would be strange on any day, but to try to defend alleged corporate criminals who engaged in malfeasance on this scale was particularly unusual. Of course, the Prime Minister said he did nothing wrong, that the story was false and that his attorney general was behind him all the way. The next day, she resigned. The Prime Minister dismissed her, saying that he was disappointed and surprised. We found out later, during her testimony, that he should not have been either. The reality is that she told him that she was worried about the level of interference by his office.
That brings me to numerous unanswered questions we now need to pursue. First, the Prime Minister said that she never raised any concerns with him at all and that if she was worried about the 20 times his office and his officials contacted her about this criminal prosecution, why did she not say something? It turns out she did.
Yes, she did, despite the heckling against her, again, by Liberal members across the way. Shame on them for heckling a fellow Liberal member. That is shameful.
On September 17, she asked the Prime Minister, “Are you interfering...with my role as the Attorney General?”, because if he was, she said, “I would strongly advise against it.” The Prime Minister was stating a falsehood when he said otherwise.
Then he said that it was all about jobs. If this powerful, Liberal-linked corporation did not get its charges shelved, 9,000 jobs would vanish into thin air. When his top adviser, Gerald Butts, appeared before committee, the Green Party leader asked him if he had any evidence that 9,000 jobs would disappear. His answer was that he had nothing specific. That was after two hours of testimony during which he claimed that he was tied in knots about all the families who would lose their jobs.
Then we asked Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council, who had been involved in all the meetings and proceedings leading up to this interference, what reports he had to prove that 9,000 jobs would vanish. He said that he had nothing in particular. All of this aroused suspicion that the jobs claim was a bunch of nonsense, a suspicion that is supported by a lot of evidence.
Let me lay out that evidence. First, the company has the five biggest construction projects in Canada now, worth $52 billion. I want to offer a bit of a hint about how construction jobs work, for our friends across the way. They have to be done where the construction projects are. For example, in Ottawa, SNC-Lavalin has been retained to build the north-south mass-transit project, a $600-million project. It will lay track from near downtown Ottawa all the way out to deep in the south end of the city.
Rail cannot be built in Beijing or London, England and be dropped from a helicopter onto the nation's capital. It has to be built in the city. The same is true with all construction projects SNC-Lavalin is doing in the country.
The second claim the government makes regarding jobs is that if the company is convicted, then it will lose all access to federal contracts. We now know that is not true. The public procurement minister is already making revisions to the procurement policy allowing corporate criminals to continue to bid if they get an exemption. SNC-Lavalin already earned such an exemption, or at least was granted one, early in the days of the Liberal government. In fact, it was one of the very first acts the Liberal government rushed to take.
In December of 2015, the company, which had been banned from federal bidding after being charged with fraud and bribery, was then given an exception by the government so it could continue bidding, and it plans to do exactly the same thing even if a conviction occurs. In other words, if the government is just worried about protecting bidding opportunities for federal projects, it can do that without preventing the trial from going ahead. Therefore, that is fallacious excuse is as well.
Back in September, it was said that the Prime Minister told the former attorney general that if she did not immediately shelve the charges into SNC-Lavalin's corruption, the company would move its headquarters to London, England. He made that claim twice in that meeting. The Clerk of the Privy Council also made that claim in that meeting. The chief of staff to the finance minister would go to staff members of the former attorney general and say the same thing. Ben Chin said that the announcement of the move of the headquarters could happen within days and that it needed to be prevented because there was a Quebec election going on.
That seemed mighty suspicious, because a little research on doctor Google would prove that moving the SNC headquarters is impossible. A $1.5-billion loan agreement between the company and the Quebec pension plan requires that the headquarters stay there until the year 2024, another half-decade. The company just signed a 20-year lease on its headquarters there, and is in the process of spending millions of dollars to renovate specifically for the purpose of accommodating its 2,000 employees in that city. It is not only contractually impossible, it is physically unbelievable that the company would leave.
If people do not take any of that as sufficient enough proof, today the CEO of SNC-Lavalin made clear that was not going to happen. In fact, he was asked where this came from. He said that he did not know how people got ideas like that in their heads. Only the Prime Minister knows how that idea came into his head. Today he denied ever making the headquarters claim.
When one does not tell the truth, the problem is that it becomes very difficult to keep track of one's story. Unfortunately for him, we have him on tape, claiming that SNC would leave Canada altogether if it was convicted of fraud and bribery. He said it in his famous non-apology press conference, where he repeated that false claim that he had earlier said to the former attorney general. Therefore, we know he was going around stating that falsehood.
It is bad enough that the Prime Minister of Canada faces allegations of interfering with a criminal prosecution to get charges set aside. However, this scandal reaches a whole new level of criminal culpability if the Prime Minister or anyone around him deliberately stated a falsehood to a law officer in order to shelve criminal charges. It is an offence under section 139 of the Criminal Code to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice. Lying to a law officer to get her to set aside charges would obstruct, pervert and defeat the course of justice.
It is possible that during her testimony, the former attorney general did not realize that this falsehood had been stated to her and that it was not true. However, these are the questions we need answered. That is why we need to end the cover-up, let the former attorney general complete her testimony and proceed with an investigation at the ethics committee.