Wilson-Raybould says she never had an ‘end game’ planned in SNC-Lavalin affair
Some have questioned her motives behind speaking out about pressure she felt in the SNC-Lavalin affair
OTTAWA – Former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday she never had long-term plan in mind during the SNC-Lavalin controversy that went beyond her doing the right thing in her previous role.
“For me, in terms of end game … there was no specific end game that had anything to do with power or any specific action other than wanting to do my job and do it well,” Wilson-Raybould said in a wide-ranging interview with The Canadian Press in her Ottawa office on Wednesday.
Some of the Vancouver Granville MP’s former Liberal colleagues and other political observers have questioned what she wanted to achieve by speaking out about pressure she felt to intervene in the criminal prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, suggesting she’s driven by ambition and playing a long game.
The idea might have been fuelled by a moment in 1983 when Wilson-Raybould’s father Bill – a prominent First Nations leader at the time – told then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau his daughters had dreams of holding Trudeau’s job one day.
“I have two children in Vancouver Island, both of whom, for some misguided reason say they want to be a lawyer,” Bill Wilson famously said. “Both of whom want to be the prime minister. Both of whom, Mr. Prime Minister, are women.”
Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday her actions in the SNC-Lavalin controversy were not about political manoeuvring.
“I find it remarkable that it seems inconceivable to so many people that there wasn’t an end game, that I was – through this SNC stuff – that I was actually just doing my job, and by doing my job and doing what I knew was the right thing to do, (it) resulted in this situation that now exists,” Wilson-Raybould said.
In late February, the former minister told the House of Commons justice committee she was subject to approximately four months of “consistent and sustained effort” by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in her role as attorney general.
There was an inappropriate effort to secure what’s known as a deferred prosecution agreement for SNC-Lavalin, she told the committee during a four-hour appearance, a deal akin to a plea bargain that could have headed off any potential for a guilty verdict against the company and its damaging consequences.
On Wednesday, a Quebec judge ruled that SNC-Lavalin should go to trial on charges of fraud and corruption over its dealings in Libya a decade ago.
Wilson-Raybould would not comment on the court case Wednesday, adding the upcoming trial will proceed in the way it is “supposed to proceed.”
“I’m very comfortable and confident with the approach that I took as the attorney general with respect to SNC and with respect to my role generally throughout the three-and-a-bit years that I was in that position,” she said. “I understood that role very well.”
Wilson-Raybould also said she has no regrets about the actions she took, but wishes things had not gone on for so long. She wanted an early acknowledgment from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that something went “seriously wrong” and an assurance it would never happen again.
For his part, Trudeau has denied he or his staff acted improperly but he has conceded there was an “erosion of trust” between his office and the former justice minister.
Though the affair saw her kicked out of the Liberal caucus, Wilson-Raybould said she’s comfortable with being an Independent member of Parliament and she’ll keep doing the work she’s always wanted to do. She said she remains the same person and holds to the same values she had when she ran as a Liberal in 2015.
She stressed she has not sought to speak out on SNC-Lavalin, nor is she seeking to now.
“I know that it is a story that reporters are interested in,” she said.
“There have been some reports that I am wanting to speak more. I was very clear when I sent my final submission into the justice committee that I had provided all the relevant information on this issue.”
This week, she and former Liberal cabinet minister Jane Philpott – who also resigned over the government’s handling of the controversy – announced they would run as Independents in the upcoming general election.
Wilson-Raybould acknowledged Wednesday it won’t be easy to win against candidates backed by party money and marketing machines, but she said she’s already had an “overwhelming response” in volunteers and donations.
“I know it is going to be a tough slog,” she said. “But we are off to a really amazing start.”