POLITICS
02/15/2019 11:53 EST | Updated 02/15/2019 12:06 EST

Anthony Housefather Apologizes For Suggesting Jody Wilson-Raybould Was Demoted For Not Speaking French Fluently

It's been a long week for the Liberal chair of the justice committee.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Anthony Housefather is questioned by reporters as he arrives for a meeting of the House Justice and Human Rights Committee in Ottawa on Feb. 13, 2019.

The Liberal chair of the House of Commons justice committee has apologized online to Jody Wilson-Raybould for suggesting her inability to speak French fluently may have been a reason she lost her job as attorney general.

"I never should have tried to speculate about something like this," Anthony Housefather tweeted Thursday. "I have no direct knowledge."

In another tweet, the Montreal MP apologized to anyone offended by his remarks.

"I was simply trying to say that the whole world stating with no knowledge as to why a shuffle happened was unfair," he said. "I made clear I had no specific knowledge and as such we should all stop speculating."

Watch: Liberal MP accuses opposition of "witch hunt" on SNC-Lavalin issue

Housefather floated the idea Wednesday in a discussion with HuffPost Canada's "Follow-Up" podcast on the escalating SNC-Lavalin controversy that has rocked the Liberal government.

He told HuffPost that he could think of "a lot of reasons" why Wilson-Raybould might have been shuffled in January from her role as attorney general and justice minister to veterans affairs. Wilson-Raybould resigned as veterans affairs minister, a role widely seen as demotion, this week.

"There are a lot of issues coming up in Quebec, where you need a French-speaking minister that is able to articulate things to Quebec with the Charter of Values that they are planning to propose ... and that was an issue expressed by Quebec members of caucus," he said.

Housefather repeated similar comments in radio interviews Thursday, suggesting Trudeau may have tapped David Lametti to serve as justice minister and attorney general because he needed someone who speaks French fluently to handle "legal issues coming up in Quebec."

His remarks yielded some pushback online, including from deputy Tory Leader Lisa Raitt who questioned if Housefather would "have the guts" to say such a thing to Wilson-Raybould if she appears before his committee.

In a press conference in Kanata, Ont., Friday, Trudeau denied that anyone in the Prime Minister's Office encouraged Housefather to advance that particular theory.

"That line of speculation is absolutely false," Trudeau said. "Of all the different considerations that could have come into play on the reasons to shift roles in cabinet, the former attorney general's proficiency in both official languages was not one of them.

"Mr. Housefather's comments were wrong and ... I was pleased to hear him apologize for them."

At the same presser, Trudeau also said that Wilson-Raybould would still be serving as attorney general had Scott Brison not resigned "suddenly" in January as Treasury Board president, forcing a cabinet shuffle.

Of all the different considerations that could have come into play on the reasons to shift roles in cabinet, the former attorney general's proficiency in both official languages was not one of them.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

With Brison's exit, practice suggests Trudeau needed to appoint a Nova Scotia MP to cabinet — something he accomplished by naming Bernadette Jordan to a new portfolio as minister of rural economic development.

But it remains unclear why Wilson-Raybould needed to be affected by the move. She was not chosen to replace Brison as Treasury Board president nor tapped to take over for his replacement, Jane Philpott, at Indigenous Services Canada.

Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould was pressured to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin rather than pursue a criminal trial on charges of bribery and fraud linked to the company's business practices in Libya.

Trudeau has denied he directed Wilson-Raybould. She has said she can't comment because of solicitor-client privilege, and has hired a former Supreme Court justice to advise her on what she can publicly say.

More from HuffPost Canada:

Earlier this week, Liberal MPs on the justice committee thwarted an opposition push for Wilson-Raybould and other top Trudeau aides, including his chief of staff, Katie Telford, and his principal secretary, Gerald Butts, to appear before them to answer questions on the controversy.

The matter placed an unusual spotlight on Housefather, first elected in 2015, in his capacity as committee chair.

On Thursday, he tweeted that, "on a difficult and tiring day," he had some chuckles about all of the tweets and emails he received noting that he bears a resemblance to "Friends" actor David Schwimmer.

With files from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj