POLITICS
02/25/2019 12:13 EST | Updated 02/25/2019 21:08 EST

Conservatives Want Trudeau To Face Justice Committee Grilling On SNC-Lavalin Affair

The party has tabled a motion calling for a two-hour, televised hearing.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer speaks with the media in the foyer of the House of Commons on Feb. 25, 2019.

Federal Conservatives are insisting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appear before a Commons committee to face a grilling on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Tories tabled a motion Monday calling on the House to "order" the prime minister to testify under oath at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights for a "televised, two-hour meeting" before March 15.

UPDATE: Liberals easily defeated the Conservative motion Monday by a vote of 155-106.

"We are a country of the rule of law and nobody, no matter their status, their wealth, or their connections should be entitled to special treatment under it," Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer told reporters in Ottawa.

"Quite simply, what we've seen over the last two weeks is a textbook case of government corruption," he charged.

Watch: Scheer explains motion calling for Trudeau to appear before committee

The text of the motion notes how Trudeau touted the justice committee's examination into the controversy, and outlines his "alleged direct involvement in a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin's criminal prosecution."

While the motion is unlikely to pass, the gambit will force Liberal MPs to vote on whether they think Trudeau should answer questions publicly. Last week, two Liberal backbenchers — New Brunswick's Wayne Long and Toronto's Nathaniel Erskine-Smith — supported an NDP motion calling for a public inquiry into the controversy. The NDP motion was quashed by the Liberal majority in a vote of 160-134.

House committees do not have the power to summon members of Parliament, including the prime minister, to appear before them. However, Scheer said a motion adopted by the House would compel the prime minister to appear.

"As you may remember, when the House makes an order as it did with the former leader of the NDP, that order does have impact... the prime minister will have to attend," he said.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair is shown at the Commons House affairs committee, where he defended his party's use of House of Commons resources by the Official Opposition on May 15, 2014.

In 2014, Tory MPs — then in the majority — passed a motion in the House demanding then-NDP leader Tom Mulcair appear before a House committee to answer questions on the party's use of controversial satellite offices. Scheer, who was the Speaker of the House at the time, later ruled that the motion that forced Mulcair's appearance was technically out of order.

(Last week, the satellite office matter was finally settled after the Federal Court of Appeal ruled the court does not have jurisdiction to hear appeals on rulings by Parliament's internal economy committees. The NDP had appealed a ruling of the Commons' Board which ordered the party's MPs to repay $2.7 million for improperly expensing office space outside of Ottawa. The party argued the Board — made up of Conservative MPs and a Liberal — was politically motivated and had acted in bad faith.)

Mulcair appeared at committee, where he was accused of being evasive but insisted his party had done nothing wrong.

The Liberals also insist they have done nothing wrong. But the prime minister has been squeezed for weeks over allegations, made in The Globe and Mail, that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould faced inappropriate pressure from Trudeau's office to direct the public prosecution service to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

More from HuffPost Canada:

Such a deal would have allowed the Quebec-based engineering giant, facing fraud and bribery charges from its dealings in Libya, to avoid a trial that could hurt the company and spur layoffs.

Though the controversy led to the resignation of Trudeau's principal secretary Gerald Butts, the prime minister maintains his office did not put undue pressure on Wilson-Raybould. She stepped down as veterans affairs minister earlier this month.

Wilson-Raybould has said she cannot discuss the matter because of solicitor-client privilege, but during question period Monday Trudeau announced his former attorney general will be able to discuss some details when she appears before the justice committee. Last week, she stunned the House by saying she looks forward to "speaking my truth" about the issue.

Asked to comment on the motion, a spokesperson for the prime minister referred HuffPost Canada to Trudeau's past comments about the independence of parliamentary committees.

The prime minister also said Friday that Canadians should "pay close heed" to the testimony of Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick, who told the justice committee that no "inappropriate pressure" was placed on Wilson-Raybould. The top bureaucrat, however, also confirmed discussions about the case continued weeks after a decision not to intervene had been made by Wilson-Raybould.

Watch: Wernick talks about SNC-Lavalin and the state of Canadian politics

Scheer said Monday that Wernick's testimony showed an "unsolicited, co-ordinated and sustained effort by the prime minister himself to get the former attorney general to change her decision."

Canadians need to be outraged, Scheer said, because of the "implications for our entire justice system." Trudeau must explain his role in what "could very well be obstruction of justice," the Tory leader said.

This is not the first time a motion has been tabled to try to force a prime minister to show up at committee amid an escalating controversy.

In November 2013, Liberals under Trudeau tried to force then-PM Stephen Harper to testify before a House committee for three hours on "the conduct of the Prime Minister's Office regarding the repayment of Senator Mike Duffy's expenses." Tory MPs easily voted down the motion.

The full text of the Tory motion:

That, given the Prime Minister's comments of Wednesday, February 20, 2019, that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights is the appropriate place for Canadians to get answers on the SNC-Lavalin affair, and given his alleged direct involvement in a sustained effort to influence SNC-Lavalin's criminal prosecution, the House order the Prime Minister to appear, testify and answer questions at the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, under oath, for a televised, two-hour meeting, before Friday, March 15, 2019.

With a file from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj