POLITICS
03/21/2019 14:00 EDT | Updated 03/22/2019 11:32 EDT

Trudeau Says Philpott’s Explosive Interview Shows How Liberals Value 'Diversity Of Perspectives'

Another twist for Liberal caucus morale.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives remarks at a transit maintenance facility in Mississauga, Ont. on March 21, 2019.
Christopher Katsarov/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gives remarks at a transit maintenance facility in Mississauga, Ont. on March 21, 2019.

OTTAWA — The prime minister is adamant a diversity of opinions is healthy for his party, despite new comments from his former Treasury Board president that there's still much to learn about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Jane Philpott told Maclean's magazine in an explosive interview published Thursday that "there's much more to the story that should be told" about the controversy, but she isn't in a position to elaborate because of "an attempt to shut down the story" by the prime minister and his inner circle.

She quit Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet earlier this month, saying the government's handling of SNC-Lavalin controversy made circumstances "untenable" for her to continue as a minister. Her resignation came weeks after former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould left cabinet.

"I made the very difficult decision to step down because my conscience demanded," she said in the Maclean's interview.

Watch: PM says ex-ministers still welcome in caucus despite criticism on SNC-Lavalin

Trudeau was asked about Philpott's comments during an infrastructure announcement in Mississauga. He was pressed to defend why Philpott and Wilson-Raybould remain members of the Liberal caucus.

"We recognize that a diversity of perspectives, experiences, opinions, is extraordinarily important if we're going to fully reflect the extraordinary diversity of Canadians," he said.

The prime minister told reporters that their intentions to stay in caucus and to run under the Liberal banner in the upcoming election is an indication of their faith in the party.

"We are pleased to have a diversity of voices in the Liberal party."

Trudeau has been under weeks of pressure from the Opposition to release the former attorney general from remaining solicitor-client privileges and cabinet confidence to allow her to speak about events that happened after she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs on Jan. 14.

Partial restrictions were waived after the prime minister issued an Order in Council right before Wilson-Raybould's justice committee testimony in February. The order allowed her to speak about what she alleged were "consistent and sustained" efforts of political interference to help SNC-Lavalin avoid trial when she was attorney general.

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Trudeau has repeatedly said that issuing the order was "unprecedented" and satisfactory for the bounds of the justice committee study about what happened up until the January shuffle.

The Opposition are not convinced, and gave notice of 257 motions Wednesday to protest what Tories have called a "gag order" over Wilson-Raybould. MPs voted throughout the night, taking turns sleeping.

Because the votes relate to government funding, an election would be triggered if Liberals lose even one.

Liberal MP suggests Philpott 'dangling something' is inappropriate

Neither Philpott nor Wilson-Raybould were present during the overnight marathon votes.Celina Caesar-Chavannes, an Ontario MP who quit the Liberal caucus earlier in the day, participated in the voting session from her new seat in the back row.

The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that Philpott and Wilson-Raybould were given permission to skip the all-night voting marathon to avoid potential confrontations by sleep-deprived MPs, according to an anonymous source.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel raised the point with reporters Thursday.

"I find it really difficult to watch as two strong female colleagues continue to be shut down when I watch their male colleagues putting words in their mouth," she said, calling the prime minister a "fake feminist."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh again called for a public inquiry to investigate allegations of political interference between the Prime Minister's Office and the former attorney general.

Watch: As MPs pull all-nighter, Philpott breathes fresh life into SNC-Lavalin scandal

Echoing a point Philpott raised in her interview, Singh said if Liberals have nothing to hide, then "why don't they waive solicitor client privilege." Philpott herself said Canadians deserve to learn the truth, he said.

Singh claimed, "If the prime minister was cooperative, the public inquiry would not take very long."

Some Liberal MPs were more frank than others about the latest layer in the SNC-Lavalin affair — and challenge to caucus morale in an election year.

Toronto MP Adam Vaughan told reporters on Parliament Hill that he wasn't bothered by Philpott's comments. "She still supports the party, that's good enough for me," he said.

Philpott told Maclean's that "of course" she wants a Liberal government, adding she doesn't want to see Andrew Scheer become prime minister after the October election.

Vaughan suggested that the Liberal party is "big enough and strong enough" to withstand its current internal challenges.

Another Toronto MP, Julie Dzerowicz, said despite Philpott's latest comments, she still regards the former cabinet minister as a valuable colleague and mentor.

I understand from an opposition standpoint that this is a political gift that keeps on giving.Liberal MP John McKay

Despite neither Philpott nor Wilson-Raybould having explicitly said in public remarks that they have confidence in Trudeau, Dzerowicz said: "I think you don't stay in the party if you don't believe in the prime minister."

Scarborough—Guildwood MP John McKay was borderline critical of Philpott's latest remarks.

"I understand from an opposition standpoint that this is a political gift that keeps on giving," he said. Referencing Philpott's interview, he said if someone believes in cabinet confidence, "then you can't say something like, 'Well there's more to come.'"

He called Philpott and Wilson-Raybould "really talented and able people" who were well-liked up until the SNC-Lavalin affair engulfed the government's focus.

When asked if he thought the controversy will pose as a "significant" issue in the upcoming issue, he said he wasn't sure. McKay said Liberal MPs are awakening to the reality that each new layer to the controversy increases the risk of "political consequences."

"It's one thing to take a hit from the opposition or circumstances beyond caucus or cabinet," he said. "It's another thing to take political hits from your own people"

McKay suggested if Philpott and Wilson-Raybould haven't crossed a line already with their actions, then they're now "awfully close to that line."