Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expelled Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus and as candidates for the party in the federal election this fall, saying their criticism of his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair had broken bonds of trust and helped the government’s political opponents.
Mr. Trudeau called an emergency meeting of the national caucus on Tuesday evening to announce that the two MPs, whom he recruited as star candidates and gave high-profile cabinet jobs, had been expelled. He said that based on his conversations with the caucus chairs, Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Ms. Philpott had lost the confidence of fellow MPs.
“The trust that had previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Mr. Trudeau told his caucus. “Whether it is taping conversations without consent or repeatedly expressing a lack of confidence in our government and me personally as leader, it has become clear that Dr. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould can no longer remain part of our Liberal team.”
Mr. Trudeau made clear that the two MPs’ criticism of his role in pressing the former attorney-general to shelve the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. gave ammunition to the opposition parties and presented the Liberals as a house divided.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s letter came on the same day that text messages Mr. Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts submitted to the justice committee to supplement his testimony on the SNC-Lavalin matter were made public.
Recent polls suggest the Liberal government’s chances of re-election are threatened from the political turmoil triggered by the political fallout from Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s revelations about high-level political interference in the justice system.
“Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them,” Mr. Trudeau said. “Our political opponents win when Liberals are divided. We can’t afford to make that mistake.”
The Prime Minister saved his most biting criticism for Ms. Wilson-Raybould for secretly tape recording a telephone conversation with Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council. In the conversation on Dec. 19, 2018, Mr. Wernick warns Ms. Wilson-Raybould that Mr. Trudeau was firm about wanting her to overrule federal prosecutors and grant an out-of-court settlement to SNC-Lavalin on bribery and fraud charges.
“If a politician secretly records a conversation with anyone, it’s wrong,” he said. “When that cabinet minister is the attorney-general of Canada secretly recording the Clerk of the Privy Council, it is unconscionable.”
Ms. Philpott and Ms. Wilson-Raybould were called separately to the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday and informed of their dismissal from caucus and as Liberal candidates in the October general election.
“I did what I was required to do and what needed to be done based on principles & values that must always transcend party,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould tweeted. “I have no regrets. I spoke the truth as I will continue to do.”
Once hailed by Mr. Trudeau as Canada’s first Indigenous justice minister, Ms. Wilson-Raybould indicated she would talk to supporters in her Vancouver Granville riding before deciding if she would seek re-election, presumably as an independent.
Ms. Philpott, who resigned as president of the Treasury Board saying she had lost confidence in how Mr. Trudeau handled the SNC-Lavalin affair, issued a statement on Facebook denying she was disloyal to the Liberal Party.
“I did not initiate the crisis now facing the party or the Prime Minister. Nor did Jody Wilson-Raybould,” Ms. Philpott said. “Rather than acknowledge the obvious – that a range of individuals had inappropriately attempted to pressure the former attorney-general in relation to a prosecutorial decision – and apologize for what occurred, a decision was made to attempt to deny the obvious – to attack Jody Wilson-Raybould’s credibility and attempt to blame her.”
Hours before the expulsions, Ms. Wilson-Raybould formally pleaded her case to remain in caucus, telling her colleagues in a letter that she shouldn’t be expelled for trying to protect Mr. Trudeau “from a horrible mess” with the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.
She argued that she is not responsible for the political turmoil that has engulfed the government.
“I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings, I am not the one who made it public and I am not the one who publicly denied what happened,” she said in a two-page missive to nearly 180 Liberal MPs.
The Globe and Mail reported on Feb. 7 that Mr. Trudeau’s office put pressure on her when she was attorney-general to help SNC-Lavalin. Mr. Trudeau called the story “false,” but the ensuing controversy led to the resignations of Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Ms. Philpott and Mr. Butts, as well as the retirement of Mr. Wernick.
The Liberals used their majority to shut down inquires into the SNC-Lavalin affair, saying Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is investigating it.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould testified before the House justice committee that Mr. Trudeau and other senior officials pressed her to grant an out-of-court settlement to the Montreal engineering and construction company.
In her letter, the B.C. MP said she has remained true to the values and principles the Trudeau Liberals espoused in the 2015 election campaign, including a pledge to “uphold the highest standards that support the public interest, and not simply make choices to create partisan advantage.”
“Now I know many of you are angry, hurt and frustrated. And frankly so am I,” she wrote to fellow Liberal MPs. “I am angry, hurt and frustrated because I feel I was upholding the values that we all committed to … I was trying to protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer criticized Mr. Trudeau for expelling the two women.
“Elected officials are supposed to protect individuals who blow the whistle on government misconduct and corruption, not punish them,” he said in a statement.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wrote on Twitter that Ms. Wilson-Raybould “wanted to do politics differently – putting integrity & what’s right for Canadians over what helps the Liberals.”
“Today PM Trudeau & the Liberal gov’t showed us exactly what they think about integrity. Thank you Jody for being loyal to Cdns. You deserve better,” he tweeted.
Ujjal Dosanjh, a former federal Liberal health minister, said ousting Ms. Wilson-Raybould won’t stanch the diminishing support for the federal Liberals in British Columbia, and that the “rot in the PMO” needs to be cleared, excising staff that advised Mr. Trudeau on SNC-Lavalin.
Mr. Dosanjh, a former attorney-general and premier in B.C. NDP governments, said the pressure placed on Ms. Wilson-Raybould over the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin was of far greater concern than taping of Mr. Wernick.
He said, based on his experience in both a provincial and federal caucus, he could see how the federal Liberals made their decision today. “A certain momentum begins in a particular direction, and people stop thinking. Anger builds up. I just believe this is not going to solve any of the Prime Minister’s problems.”
Liberal MPs left the caucus meeting on Tuesday evening with resounding support for the Prime Minister, some taking aim at Ms. Wilson-Raybould for recording the conversation with Mr. Wernick, and others citing loss of trust.
“It’s a matter of trust,” said Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett, who worked closely with both former ministers.
Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly said the caucus tried for weeks to “have the right conversation,” but the trust had been broken. She also defended Mr. Trudeau’s credentials as a feminist, saying “loyalty has nothing to do with gender.”
“You’re either loyal or you’re not,” she said.
The text messages Mr. Butts released on Tuesday show how the B.C. MP tried to resist the Prime Minister’s decision to remove her as justice and attorney-general in early January.
Mr. Butts’s texts follow Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s submission last week and his previous testimony that the former attorney-general was angry at being demoted to veterans affairs.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould has testified that she believed her demotion stemmed from her refusal to shelve the SNC-Lavalin prosecution. PMO senior adviser Mathieu Bouchard told Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s chief of staff last fall that “we can have the best policy in the world, but we need to be re-elected,” according to her testimony in February.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould argued in text messages to Mr. Butts that her demotion would send the wrong message to the Indigenous community.
“Timing of ‘pushing’ me out (which will be the perception – whether true or not) is terrible,” she wrote.
“It will be confounding and perplexing to people. This is not about me – believe me when I say this – but this is about an approach to Indigenous peoples … This situation is only going to deepen and I am very worried about it. I am getting texts/emails from Indig[enous] leaders and B.C. etc.”
Mr. Butts responded: “Nobody is ‘pushing you out.’ In fact, the PM has taken the extraordinary (in my experience unique) step of offering an alternative cabinet post to you.”
In her letter to the Liberal caucus, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said she still believes in the Liberal Party and what it stood for in 2015.
“We committed to break old and cynical patterns of centralizing power in the hands of a few unelected staffers, the marginalization of hundreds of Members of Parliament with expertise and insights to offer, and the practice of governing in the shadows, out of sight of Canadians,” she wrote. “I believed we were going to uphold the highest standards that support the public interest, and not simply make choices to create partisan advantage.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould attributed her determination to stand up to the government on the SNC prosecution to her background as an Indigenous woman.
“Growing up as an Indigenous person in this country I learned long ago the lesson that people believing what they wish about you does not, and cannot ever, make it the truth – rather than letting authority be the truth, let the truth be the authority,” she said.
“Indeed, if I had succumbed to interpreting the beliefs of others to be the truth, I never would have been able to push forward in the face of the racism and misogyny that far too many Indigenous women, and others, still experience every day.”
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, April 2, 2019