Prime minister cares more about wealthy friends than regular Canadians: Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton

Northern Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton and Winnipeg Centre NDP candidate Leah Gazan said Aug. 14 that the conflict of interest commissioner’s report into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handing of the SNC-Lavalin affair shows that the Liberal party puts wealthy people ahead of ordinary Canadians.

“Imagine what type of country we’d have if we had a government who fought poverty with the same level of zeal the prime minister fights for his rich pals at SNC-Lavalin,” said Ashton, who represents the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding in Parliament. “Trudeau’s Liberals have put the wealthy and well-connected ahead of everyday people. This is shameful. The NDP will put people at the heart of every decision.”

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Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said in a report released Aug. 14 into Trudeau and other members of the government attempting to influence then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision not to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement with Quebec-based corporation SNC-Lavalin that the prime minster’s actions violated section 9 of the Conflict of Interest Act, which prohibits public office holders from using their positions to seek influence over another person in order to further their own private  interests or to improperly further another’s person’s private interests.

“I found that Mr. Trudeau used his position of authority over Ms. Wilson-Raybould to seek to influence, both directly and indirectly, her decision whether she should overrule the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision not to invite SNC-Lavalin to enter into negotiations towards a remediation agreement [also known as a deferred prosecution agreement],” Dion wrote in his report.

The decision related to charges laid against SNC-Lavalin for criminal offences that allegedly occurred between 2001 and 2011. Amendments to the Criminal Code in 2018 allowed remediation agreements, or deferred prosecution agreements, to be made, but Wilson-Raybould let it be known in September of that year that she would not change the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Trudeau, other government officials and the Clerk of the Privy Council attempted to influence the attorney general’s decision. In January of this year, Wilson-Raybould was removed as justice minister and attorney general as part of a cabinet shuffle and then resigned from cabinet before being expelled from the Liberal caucus. She plans to seek re-election in the Vancouver Granville riding as an independent in the October federal election.

“For the second time, this prime minister has been found guilty of breaking the law, a first in the history of Canada, ever for a prime minister," said Gazan, referring to a 2017 report that found Trudeau contravened sections of the Conflict of Interest Act when he accepted gifts and the use of a private island from someone with ongoing business with the Canadian government.

Wilson-Raybould said in a statement posted on her Facebook page that the commissioner’s report was a vindication of the independent role of the attorney general and reinforced how important it is for democracy that the rule of law and prosecutorial independence be upheld.

“The report confirms critical facts, consistent with what I shared with Canadians and affirms the position I have taken from the outset,” Wilson-Raybould wrote. “The commissioner was not distracted by inaccurate information about the event or about me personally – and drew conclusions based on the true facts of what occurred.”

Trudeau said he accepted the report and full responsibility but that he disagreed with the commissioner’s opinion.

“My objective was, and always will be, to stand up for people’s jobs and livelihoods across the country, while upholding the rule of law and respecting the role of the attorney- general. When thousands of jobs are on the line and communities stand to suffer, it is the government’s responsibility to stand up for them.”

Federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said in an Aug. 16 statement that Trudeau “waged a sustained campaign of misinformation, deceit and manipulation to cover up the truth from Canadians” and called on Liberal House of Commons Ethics Committee members to vote in favour of an investigation into these revelations at an emergency committee meeting next week.

“Your leader has betrayed your trust.,” said Scheer. “He has told falsehoods to you and to this country. This Wednesday, you have a choice to make. You can be complicit in this cover-up and stand by a leader who has deceived Canadians. Or you can put Canada first and shine a light on the truth. Your first duty is not to the Liberal party, it is to Canadians.”

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