POLITICS
03/25/2019 14:59 EDT | Updated 03/26/2019 12:21 EDT

Scheer Accuses Liberals Of ‘Coordinated’ Push For Wilson-Raybould, Philpott To Break Privy Council Oaths

The Tory leader is demanding the prime minister waive cabinet confidentiality for the former ministers.

Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on March 25, 2019.

The federal Conservative leader is accusing Liberals of a "coordinated campaign" to push former ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott to violate the oaths they swore before joining cabinet.

At a press conference in Ottawa Monday, Andrew Scheer again called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to fully waive solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence for Wilson-Raybould ahead of an ethics committee meeting Tuesday on the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Scheer also said Trudeau must waive cabinet confidentiality for Philpott, who told Maclean's magazine last week that there is more to the controversy that must come out.

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The Tory leader noted how some Liberal MPs have, in recent days, publicly challenged Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to speak freely about the matter in the House of Commons, where parliamentary privilege protects members from facing legal action for their words.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould upped the ante in an interview with Global's "The West Block" that aired Sunday, saying that if both ex-ministers feel more needs to be said, they should "put that on the record."

"This is clearly a coordinated communications attempt over the last few days," Scheer told reporters.

There is "now consensus on both sides of the House that both former ministers should be able to speak freely about their involvement in the SNC-Lavalin affair," he said.

If Liberals want to hear more from Wilson-Raybould and Philpott — who resigned as Treasury Board president over the government's handling of the controversy — then the prime minister should "make it official" and absolve them of constraints, the Tory leader said.

'When I take oaths, it's serious'

But Scheer, a former House Speaker, poured cold water on the idea that Wilson-Raybould and Philpott can easily stand up in the House and air things out.

While parliamentary privilege protects MPs from "recourse about what they say," Scheer offered, it does not absolve them of the ethical and reputational consequences of breaking oaths without a greenlight from the prime minister.

"When I take oaths, it's serious. It's a matter of conscience for me," Scheer said. "It's not something that I would break. There are clearly consequences to people's reputations when they've taken an oath. We're saying, don't put them in that position."

Current and former cabinet ministers are part of the Privy Council, a body appointed by the Governor General on the recommendation of the prime minister to "advise the Queen on issues of importance to the country." Membership in the exclusive club comes with the title of "Honourable" and lasts for life, unless the appointment is withdrawn by the Governor General.

As a condition for joining cabinet, both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott swore they would:

"... be a true and faithful servant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, as a member of Her Majesty's Privy Council for Canada. I will in all things to be treated, debated and resolved in Privy Council, faithfully, honestly and truly declare my mind and my opinion. I shall keep secret all matters committed and revealed to me in this capacity, or that shall be secretly treated of in Council. Generally, in all things I shall do as a faithful and true servant ought to do for Her Majesty. So help me God."

Scheer took the same oath when he was sworn into the Privy Council in 2017. The Tory leader thanked Trudeau at the time for the honour.

Trudeau partially waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidences for Wilson-Raybould ahead of her explosive testimony to the House justice committee last month.

The waiver allowed the former attorney general to speak about the issues surrounding SNC-Lavalin's criminal prosecution when she served in the role, but not about the events that transpired after she was shuffled to Veterans Affairs on Jan. 14.

Over four hours, Wilson-Raybould told MPs that she faced sustained and inappropriate pressure from Trudeau and other government officials, when she was attorney general, to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial on fraud and bribery charges.

Though her words sparked immediate calls from Tories for Trudeau to resign, the prime minister denied Wilson-Raybould's version of events. His former principal secretary later testified that Wilson-Raybould did not raise concerns about inappropriate pressure until she was shuffled from her powerful role.

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Speaking about the issue with reporters in Maple Ridge, B.C. Monday, Trudeau said his government issued an "unprecedented waiver" which allowed Wilson-Raybould to speak about the specific issue of whether or not she faced undue pressure over SNC-Lavalin when she was attorney general.

Trudeau also said he had a "cordial conversation" with Wilson-Raybould last week. The Vancouver-Granville MP has said she will seek re-election as a Liberal MP this fall, as will Philpott in the Ontario riding of Markham-Stouffville.

"I look forward to continuing to engage with both Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott as they make their way forward," he said. "They have both indicated that they look forward to running again as Liberals in the next election and I look forward to continuing to have their strong and thoughtful voices as part of our team."

Wilson-Raybould promises more 'evidence'

Asked if he agreed with the growing number of Liberal MPs encouraging Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to speak out in the House, Trudeau said those are decisions to be made by the ex-ministers.

"What we have done as a government is grant an unprecedented waiver so that a full airing could happen at the justice committee of everything in regards to the SNC-Lavalin file and the time that is in question, when the former minister of justice was minister of justice," he said.

Last week, Liberal MPs on the justice committee ended the group's investigation into the matter. On Friday, Wilson-Raybould wrote to the committee to says she will make a written submission to the group and provide copies of emails and text messages she referenced during her testimony.

"I also have relevant facts and evidence in my possession that further clarify statements I made and elucidate the accuracy and nature of statements by witnesses in testimony that came after my committee appearance," Wilson-Raybould wrote.

With a file from The Canadian Press