POLITICS
03/05/2019 08:08 EST | Updated 03/05/2019 15:55 EST

Jane Philpott Resignation Leaves Some Liberal MPs 'Sad' But Not Surprised

Fallout from the SNC-Lavalin controversy continues.

TORONTO — After the prime minister's fractious rally at the Danforth Music Hall Monday night, a handful of Liberal MPs went to grab some dinner at a restaurant next door.

A party supporter, seated and waiting for her order, looked up and asked a passing Toronto Liberal MP: "Was it a shitshow?"

"A little bit," the Liberal MP responded.

The Liberal party rally was organized to kick off a new suite of election-year ads focused on climate change. But the first kind of climate change Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed was Jane Philpott's decision to quit his cabinet earlier in the day.

Philpott, widely seen as among Trudeau's most effective ministers, cited how circumstances had become "untenable" for her to continue on as Treasury Board president. In a statement, she explained she lost confidence in the government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin issue amid "evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former attorney general" to intervene in the criminal case.

"In a democracy like ours and in a space where we value our diversity so strongly, we're allowed to have disagreements and debate. We even encourage it," Trudeau said about Philpott's resignation.

Frank Gunn/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto on March 4, 2019.

"This matter has generated an important discussion. How democratic institutions, specifically the federal ministry and the staff and officials that support it, conduct themselves is critical and core to all of our principles."

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet last month over allegations the prime minister and senior government officials pressured her to take a certain direction on the SNC-Lavalin case.

"Concerns of this nature must be taken very seriously and I can assure you that I am," Trudeau said.

Watch: Andrew Scheer comments on latest Liberal cabinet resignation

The prime minister thanked Philpott for her work, including the "tremendous progress" on boil-water advisories during her time as Indigenous services minister. Trudeau pledged his government will continue this "crucial" work.

Philpott was regarded as a star minister with a deft hand for difficult portfolios. She has led both health and Indigenous services portfolios. In January, she was tapped to be president of the Treasury Board and minister of digital government after former Liberal MP Scott Brison's decision to leave politics. The role put her in charge of overseeing government spending.

Her resignation comes days after the prime minister shuffled his cabinet to fill the role Wilson-Raybould left behind at veterans affairs.

Some Liberal MPs not surprised by Philpott quitting cabinet

Addressing the elephant in the room didn't do much to mitigate tensions in the room. Trudeau found his climate change message a challenging sell after frequent interruptions by anti-pipeline protesters.

Angry protesters shouting during Trudeau's speech were shushed by Liberal supporters. Several activists were removed from the venue by security.

The prime minister was joined by Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. A strong showing of Toronto-area Liberal MPs were also in the crowd, including Deb Schulte.

The King—Vaughan MP told HuffPost Canada she's "obviously" sad about Philpott's resignation.

Schulte said she wasn't completely taken aback by the decision, given her knowledge of Philpott's friendship with the former attorney general.

"Jody Wilson-Raybould and her were very close so I wasn't surprised that she would have difficulty with what is happening there," Schulte said.

Adrian Wyld/CP
Jane Philpott responds to a question Jody Wilson-Raybould looks on during a news conference in Ottawa on June 30, 2016.

Liberal MP John McKay said he's "pretty disappointed" by the former Treasury Board president's decision, calling Philpott a "superb person."

When asked if Wilson-Raybould should remain within Liberal caucus, the Scarborough—Guildwood MP said it's up to the prime minister to decide.

"I hope he takes it sooner rather than later," McKay added. He downplayed the perception that there's crisis within the party that has so far prompted two cabinet ministers to resign within a short period of time.

"These are troubling times, but I don't see trouble with the caucus."

Liberal MP Omar Alghabra echoed his caucus colleague's sentiments about Philpott's cabinet departure, but admitted he wasn't "shocked" by the news.

"She is a valued colleague and I would consider her a friend," Alghabra told HuffPost. "So I'm sad to see her leave."

These are troubling times, but I don't see trouble with the caucus.Liberal MP John McKay

Philpott's resignation comes days after Wilson-Raybould's stunning testimony at the House of Commons justice committee. The former justice minister and attorney general inferred that she was shuffled into veterans affairs in January over her decision to not ask her deputy to issue a directive to initiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

Such a deal would have helped the Quebec-based construction and engineering giant pay a financial penalty related to foreign bribery and corruption charges, but avoid a criminal trial. With criminal prosecution still a possibility, the company faces a 10-year ban on federal contracts.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Jody Wilson-Raybould, former attorney general, arrives to testify before the House of Commons justice committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019.

More evidence is expected to be presented at a justice committee meeting Wednesday with a scheduled appearance by Trudeau's longtime friend and former principal secretary Gerald Butts.

Butts resigned from the Prime Minister's Office last month in wake of allegations reported in The Globe and Mail that he pressured the former attorney general to take a specific direction in the criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin.

Both Trudeau and Butts have denied any wrongdoing, calling allegations of political interference false.

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