POLITICS
02/18/2019 17:33 EST | Updated 02/20/2019 08:29 EST

Who Is Gerald Butts? 5 Things To Know About Justin Trudeau's Ex-Principal Secretary

The two go back. Way back.

The brewing controversy surrounding the Prime Minister's Office and Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin reached a new high on Monday after Justin Trudeau's right-hand man announced he was stepping down.

Gerald Butts, the prime minister's principal secretary, categorically denied recent allegations that he pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution. He said he is resigning from his role so he doesn't distract the PMO from doing "vital work."

"My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend. It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away," he wrote in a public letter.

Since the SNC-Lavalin allegations were first reported by The Globe and Mail earlier this month, Wilson-Raybould has resigned from her position as veterans affairs minister and now Butts, a staple in Trudeau's inner circle, has left.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press
Gerald Butts speaks on his phone as Trudeau holds a news conference in North Vancouver, B.C., on May 29, 2015.

Here are five things to know about him:

1) Butts and Trudeau go back. Way back

Butts and Trudeau were born in 1971 and met two decades later at McGill University, where they were both English majors.

Butts was a decorated debater, twice winning the Canadian National Debating Championship. Trudeau was also on the team.

Butts told Trudeau biographer Althia Raj that they talked about Trudeau becoming prime minister, but the discussion wasn't serious. "We talked about it like I'd like to be goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens."

The two remained friends after school, and Butts helped craft Trudeau's well-received eulogy to his father in 2000.

"I knew this was going to be an important moment for me and for the country," Trudeau told Raj at the time.

Three years later, they retraced Pierre Trudeau's famous canoe trip along the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories.

2) He used to run the WWF. No, not that WWF

Before he jumped on the Trudeau train, Butts was the CEO of the World Wildlife Federation's Canadian office. He left the conservation organization in 2012 to help kickstart Trudeau's bid for the Liberal leadership and, ultimately, the 2015 federal election.

"Moving on from a job that you love is tough," Butts wrote in his goodbye message to WWF. "But there are certain things that make it easier. One is knowing, in your gut, that the time is right. The other—and very much related — is feeling positive that what you've helped build will continue to be strong and grow when you step away."

Courtesy of Gerald Butts
Gerald Butts and Justin Trudeau are photographed at Virginia Falls, Nahanni National Park Reserve in 2003.

3) He used to be the principal secretary for another Liberal leader

Before he joined the WWF, Butts spent almost a decade with the Ontario Liberals, starting out as a policy director in 1999 and eventually working his way up to become former premier Dalton McGuinty's principal secretary, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

"I can't even remember a time when Dalton made a big policy decision without Gerald being involved," John Brodhead, one of McGuinty's senior policy advisers, told Maclean's in 2015.

"He was McGuinty's right brain. Gerald is one of the biggest policy brains I've ever worked with in my political career. Some people are pure policy wonk, some people are pure communications people. He was a real hybrid."

4) He played a crucial role in Trudeau's policies

The PM has leaned heavily on Butts for advice and guidance.

"Justin relies on Gerry a lot to give him the facts," several Liberal insiders noted to HuffPost in 2016.

Trudeau's messaging around supporting the middle class in the 2015 election was heavily influenced by Butts, according to Maclean's.

And that whole promise to legalize marijuana? The seeds of it — sorry — were planted in 2013 when Trudeau told a Kelowna, B.C. crowd that he was not in favour of decriminalizing cannabis — he was in favour of legalizing it. But according to the Ottawa Citizen, it was Butts that took that quip and turned it into policy.

Butts was also reportedly instrumental in Trudeau's decision to eliminate the Liberal caucus in the Senate, according to The Walrus, with one senator telling the magazine that "Gerald was key to this."

5) Butts is fiercely protective of Trudeau

During a ride-along with Trudeau in 2013, the then Liberal MP acknowledged a perception existed with Canadians that he wasn't particularly smart. "Most people wouldn't think that I also got 98 percentile on my LSATs," Trudeau told HuffPost somewhat jokingly.

Butts requested that the quote omitted. Justin would never have said that if he thought he would be quoted, he said. "We are not in a position where we need to prove to people through some sort of standardized test how smart he is."

Butts is a dogged defender of Trudeau and his policies online, regularly using his Twitter profile to call out opposition politicians, journalists and columnists. And to cheer on the Habs.

BONUS: Butts' Twitter bio once stated: "Twitter is journalists. Facebook is for your mom." OK, maybe he had a point on that one.

With files from Althia Raj

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