POLITICS
03/13/2019 13:59 EDT | Updated 03/13/2019 17:13 EDT

Liberals Reject Push For Jody Wilson-Raybold To Testify Again On SNC-Lavalin Affair At Justice Committee

The emergency meeting was suspended in 25 minutes.

OTTAWA — Opposition members of the House of Commons justice committee leapt up from their seats and shouted "coverup" and "shame" Wednesday after Liberals voted to adjourn an emergency meeting that they requested.

The Grit-stacked committee had reconvened to debate a motion to invite former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to return to the committee to offer more details about her allegations of political interference involving SNC-Lavalin.

Francis Drouin, who is not a regular member of the committee, was the first Liberal to speak. He proposed that the meeting adjourn because the committee had already agreed last week to discuss next steps on March 19.

Earlier: Wilson-Raybould says she faced 'veiled threats' over SNC-Lavlin issue

Twenty-five minutes after the meeting started, it was suspended.

"What a shame," said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre. He and NDP MP Peter Julian called the manoeuvre "disgusting."

NDP MP Tracey Ramsey voted against the motion to adjourn, adding that she was "shocked" by the behaviour of the Liberals on the committee.

"It's despicable," said Tory MP Michael Cooper.

Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi later told reporters the issue of whether or not to have Wilson-Raybould return is at the top of the agenda for Tuesday's meeting.

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Wilson-Raybould told the committee in February that she faced months of "sustained pressure" from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other government officials to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial on fraud and corruption charges with a remediation agreement. Her testimony sparked Conservative calls for Trudeau to resign.

Trudeau and his former principal secretary Gerald Butts have denied the former attorney general was inappropriately pressured over the issue. Butts' testimony last week laid out, in his words, a "very different" version of events than the one Wilson-Raybould presented.

Wilson-Raybould issued a statement on March 6 stating that she is willing to return to committee if she's invited. Text of the opposition-backed motion asked for her to appear "no later" than March 14.

Tories want 'gag order' gone

Trudeau issued a cabinet order last month to waive solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence so that Wilson-Raybould could speak to the justice committee and federal ethics watchdog on matters "that were directly discussed with her" in her former role as attorney general.

Opposition MPs have been pressing the prime minister to lift remaining restrictions so she can speak freely about what happened after she was shuffled to veterans affairs on Jan. 14.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called the limitation a "gag order."

In one memorable exchange last month, Tory deputy leader Lisa Raitt asked Wilson-Raybould if she could tell the committee what she discussed with the prime minister the day before her cabinet resignation, why she stepped down as a minister, and what she told her former cabinet colleagues at a meeting on Feb. 19. In each case, Wilson-Raybould replied: "I cannot."

The Conservative party has shared clips of the exchange online.

Watch: Trudeau shares his side of SNC-Lavalin scandal

In his testimony, Butts charged that Wilson-Raybould did not complain about undue pressure on the SNC-Lavalin file until after she was removed from her powerful job. He also revealed that Wilson-Raybould rejected an offer to become Indigenous Services minister ahead of the January cabinet shuffle that set in motion trouble for Trudeau's government.

Butts said Wilson-Raybould explained that she couldn't accept the role because she spent her career fighting the Indian Act, and being charged with the delivery of its programs was out of the question for her.

He told the committee it was a lapse in judgment on his part. "I should have known that, and had we had more time to think of the cabinet shuffle, I probably would have realized it."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Wednesday that both the prime minister and his former principal secretary have mentioned events that happened after the January cabinet shuffle. He suggested Liberals are uneasy with the idea of hearing from the former attorney general again.

"It begs the question, what is this government afraid of?"

The justice committee will next meet behind closed doors on March 19, the same day the government will table its election-year budget.