NDP Questions If Trudeau's 'Running The Show' After Dion's Decision On Saudi Export Permits

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested Tuesday that there was nothing unusual about his foreign affairs minister not seeking his input before signing export permits for the $15-billion Saudi arms deal.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion told The Globe and Mail a day earlier that Trudeau and his advisers were not involved in the call to approve permits covering most of the deal, though he said he consulted with International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

justin trudeau stephane dion
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion is congratulated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a ceremony at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Dion told The Globe it was a "minister’s decision," not one for cabinet.

In question period Tuesday, NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière said Canadians were led to believe everything was a "done deal" and deserve to know "who is running the show."

"Is it true that the prime minister and the PMO were kept completely in the dark about the signing of the export permits?" she asked.

Trudeau said he has been clear since the election campaign that a Liberal government would honour the contract, adding such a step sends a signal to the world that "when Canada signs a deal, it is respected."

But he also reminded the House that his is a "government by cabinet," which evidently means he won’t be involved in every decision.

"I have tremendous confidence in the ministers in our government to make the right decisions on files that cross their desks, and they do so with the full support of the prime minister because that is why we put them in this job," he said.

Laverdière shot back that Liberals were a long way from openness and transparency.

'Government by cabinet is back'

At a press conference with his cabinet in November, shortly after he was sworn in as prime minister, Trudeau hinted that his approach to government would be much different than his predecessor. Former prime minister Stephen Harper had a reputation for being a one-man band during his decade in power.

"This is going to be a period of slight adjustment in the political world in Canada, because government by cabinet is back," Trudeau said at the time.

But giving ministers a long leash could also help insulate Trudeau from controversy.

Last week, BuzzFeed Canada reported that Trudeau did not attend the emergency debate in the House on the Attawapiskat suicide crisis. Trudeau instead went out for dinner with his wife and made an appearance at a book launch.

The Prime Minister’s Office told the website that Trudeau’s cabinet was "well-represented" at the debate by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, and others.

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