POLITICS
03/21/2019 17:28 EDT | Updated 03/21/2019 17:51 EDT

Judy Sgro Calls On Philpott, Wilson-Raybould To Speak On SNC-Lavalin Affair In House Of Commons

MPs are protected by parliamentary privilege.

Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott take part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott take part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.

A former Liberal cabinet minister is calling on Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould to speak freely about the SNC-Lavalin affair in the House of Commons.

Judy Sgro, a Toronto MP who served as minister of citizenship and immigration for two years under former prime minister Paul Martin, threw down the gauntlet while speaking to Parliament Hill reporters Thursday.

"There's no reason that Jane or Jody cannot go into the House of Commons, parliamentary privilege, talk for as long as they want, say anything they want," Sgro said. "They'll be clear of any cabinet issues. Parliamentary privilege is in the House of Commons and there's absolutely no reason that the two former ministers can't do that."

The Canadian Press
Judy Sgro responds to questions in the House of Commons on Nov. 25, 2004.

Parliamentary privilege essentially gives members of Parliament legal immunity over what they say in the House. According to the rules governing Parliament, MPs must have the freedom to speak about issues "without fear of civil or criminal prosecution."

The principle explains why, when an MP says something that could be defamatory, they are often urged by rivals to "say it outside" — to literally repeat their words outside of the chamber, where they are not protected from legal consequences.

Sgro, who was first elected in 1999, told reporters she has "been here a long time" and knows how things work.

She said there is "absolutely no reason that we have to have all this innuendo lurking around" when the House provides an appropriate platform for MPs to speak their mind.

Another Toronto MP, Adam Vaughan, delivered the same message to reporters on Thursday.

"There are forums by which any member of Parliament can... walk into the House of Commons and say what they need to say," Vaughan said. "That's why parliamentary privilege exists. The institutions of Parliament are there and if people have things to say, I have ears to listen."

The Liberal MPs were asked to react to Philpott's bombshell interview with Maclean's magazine, which landed as MPs were stuck in a marathon voting session triggered by Conservatives.

The move is in response to Liberals voting down a motion Wednesday that called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fully waive solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence — the principle that discussions between ministers remain private — for Wilson-Raybould.

Opposition MPs want Wilson-Raybould to discuss the events leading to her resignation as veterans affairs minister in February. The motion called for Wilson-Raybould to be able to "address events" after she was shuffled from Justice to Veterans Affairs on Jan. 14.

Watch: Trudeau says Philpott, Wilson-Raybould still welcome in caucus

Wilson-Raybould told the House justice committee last month that she faced sustained pressure from Trudeau and other officials, when she was attorney general, to help SNC-Lavalin secure a deal to avert criminal prosecution.

The prime minister waived some solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence to allow Wilson-Raybould to testify about the SNC-Lavalin matter, but not about her brief time as veterans affairs minister.

Philpott, who resigned as Treasury Board president weeks ago over the government's handling of the controversy, told Maclean's that "there is more to the story that should be told" and that Canadians deserve answers.

"I believe the former attorney general has further points to make. I believe that I have further issues of concern that I'm not free to share," Philpott told the magazine, referring to cabinet confidence.

Maclean's columnist Paul Wells noted in his interview that it has been argued the parliamentary privilege enjoyed by Philpott and Wilson-Raybould "trumps other privilege" and that she could try to deliver a one-minute member's statement or speak on any bill or motion linked to the controversy.

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"I would prefer to err on the side of caution in terms of the very serious oaths that I made when I became a cabinet minister to respect confidentiality," Philpott told him. "And every supposed legal expert in the country weighing in, saying I can assume that that privilege has been waived does not necessarily give me confidence clearly enough that I am prepared to speak."

Philpott also expressed doubt that she would be given enough time to adequately air things out in the House.

Wilson-Raybould stunned the House last month when she rose to explain why she abstained on voting on an NDP motion calling for a full public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair.

"I hope that I have the opportunity to speak my truth," she said at the time.

In her testimony to the justice committee, Wilson-Raybould said that cabinet confidence placed constraints on her "ability to speak freely on matters that occurred after I left my post as attorney general." She agreed, however, to return to the committee if Trudeau would waive those restraints.

Liberal MPs on the committee voted this week to end the group's investigation into the controversy. In response, Tories heckled Finance Minister Bill Morneau during his budget speech and later stormed out of the Commons in protest.