Conservatives are pouncing on what they claim is an admission from the prime minister that he hasn't been truthful with Canadians on the SNC-Lavalin affair.
"The prime minister has been caught again, trying to deceive," Tory House Leader Candice Bergen charged while leading off question period Thursday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Tory Leader Andrew Scheer were not in the House of Commons.
"Just yesterday he accidentally admitted that on September 17, the former attorney general told him very directly to back off," Bergen said. "The prime minister cannot seem to keep his story straight. Is that because it is just not true?"
Government House Leader Bardish Chagger responded by lauding Trudeau for partially waiving solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidence so that his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, could testify about the matter before the House justice committee.
"The reason why the facts are all now on the table and why the public is able to see for themselves is because the prime minister took that step," she said. "The committee confirmed through testimony that the rule of law is intact in Canada and that the rule of law was followed."
Tory MPs repeatedly pressed Liberals about a fateful September meeting between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould.
In her testimony to the House justice committee in February, Wilson-Raybould alleged she faced sustained, inappropriate political pressure from Trudeau and other officials to halt the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. The Quebec-based engineering giant has been seeking a remediation agreement on corruption charges.
In one moment, Wilson-Raybould described a Sept. 17 meeting with Trudeau at which she says he brought up SNC-Lavalin. Wilson-Raybould said she was "taken aback" when Trudeau noted that he was a Quebec MP, the member from Papineau.
"My response — and I vividly remember this as well — was to ask the prime minister a direct question, while looking him in the eye," Wilson-Raybould said. "I asked, 'Are you politically interfering with my role... as the attorney general? I would strongly advise against it.'"
According to Wilson-Raybould's testimony, Trudeau replied: "No, no, no. We just need to find a solution."
'Caught himself in a trap of his own making'
In the House Wednesday, a day after Trudeau removed Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, Tory MP Pierre Poilievre questioned if the prime minister recalled being asked directly if he was interfering in his former attorney general's role.
"Once she said that, I responded, 'No, I am not,' and said it was her decision to make," Trudeau replied. "She then committed to revisit and look into the decision once again."
With that, Poilievre pronounced Trudeau "caught himself in a trap of his own making" because of what he told Canadians on Feb. 15, mere days after Wilson-Raybould quit cabinet.
Speaking to reporters at the time, Trudeau said Wilson-Raybould asked if he was going to "direct" her on the file, and that he said the decision was for her alone.
"If anyone, including the former attorney general had issues with anything they might have experienced in this government or didn't feel that we were living up to the high standards we set for ourselves, it was her responsibility to come forward, it was their responsibility to come forward, and no one did," Trudeau said.
Watch his remarks in a clip from CTV News:
In the House Thursday, Tory MP Mark Strahl said Trudeau admitted that he was warned in person by the former attorney general that his actions on the file were inappropriate.
"Fabricator, fabricator, pants on fire," Strahl belted out, in an apparent attempt to get around House rules that forbid calling another MP a liar. "Why can the prime minister not tell the truth?"
After Strahl received a scolding from the House Speaker, Chagger responded by accusing Tories of having come to a conclusion before Wilson-Raybould and others testified at committee.
"The Conservatives recognize that there is an ongoing investigation when it comes to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner," she said.
Earlier, Chagger said it is the Tories who know about misleading "because that is what they continue to do day after day after day in the House."
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