Philpott concerned about ethics watchdog’s lack of ‘unfettered’ access during SNC-Lavalin probe

Former Liberal MP Jane Philpott, who resigned as cabinet minister role at the height of the SNC-Lavalin affair, says it’s unfortunate the ethics watchdog didn’t have “unfettered access to all information” while writing his condemning report on the prime minister.

On Wednesday, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion released a report that found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence then justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and get her to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement to the Quebec-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

“The evidence showed there were many ways in which Mr. Trudeau, either directly or through the actions of those under his direction, sought to influence the attorney general,” Dion said in his report

However, Dion wrote that without access to all cabinet documents related to the SNC-Lavalin affair, witnesses he interviewed were not able to provide complete evidence, something he said impacted his ability to investigate Trudeau’s role. 

He said Ian Shugart, who became clerk of the Privy Council after the SNC-Lavalin hearings had played out, declined his request for access to all cabinet confidence related to the examination of Trudeau’s role in the SNC-Lavalin affair. As the secretary to cabinet, the clerk decides what is a cabinet confidence and what is not. 

Dion was critical of his limited access to cabinet confidences. 

“Decisions that affect my jurisdiction under the act, by setting parameters on my ability to receive evidence, should be made transparently and democratically by Parliament, not by the very same public office holders who are subject to the regime I administer,” he wrote.

Cabinet confidences are not released publicly unless the prime minister issues a waiver, or expands an existing waiver. Trudeau did not expand the waiver he issued for Wilson-Raybould’s parliamentary testimony in this case. 

I am saddened by the impact of these events on our country.– Independent MP Jane Philpott

Philpott, who was removed from the Liberal caucus along with Wilson-Raybould, released a statement Thursday responding to the report, saying the document “speaks for itself” on the prime minister’s actions.

“I note with regret that Commissioner Dion was not granted ‘unfettered access to all information that could have been relevant to the exercise of his mandate.’ This is essential to ensure that transparency and accountability for public holders to as it relates to conflict of interest,” the Independent MP wrote.

“I am saddened by the impact of these events on our country. At the same time, I trust that Canada can emerge from this stronger than ever. We live in a country where elected officials can and must defend the public institutions that underpin our democracy.”

Philpott stepped down from cabinet in March, saying she “must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations.”

Speaking to CBC’s Information Morning in Halifax on Thursday, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she supports Trudeau “unequivocally.”

“He has my full confidence,” said Freeland, noting she has not yet read the report because she has been on the road.

“I think it’s also absolutely the right thing that the prime minister has stepped up and said he accepts full responsibility. It’s also fully the prime minister’s right to disagree with some of the approaches.”

Freeland said it’s also a time to reflect on the “complexity” of the dual roles of Canada’s attorney general and justice minister.

Watch: Will Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin ethics breach hit Liberals hard in election?

In the wake of a report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ethics violation in the SNC-Lavalin case, the At Issue panel reconvenes to discuss how much the latest chapter in this controversy will hurt the Liberals in the upcoming federal election. 12:47