Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canadians should listen to the comments of the country’s top public servant when it comes to the questions about whether Trudeau’s office tried to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop a prosecution of Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick delivered a blunt assessment at the House of Commons justice committee Thursday, telling them that there was absolutely no improper pressure applied to former attorney Wilson-Raybould.
Speaking to reporters at Memorial University in St. John’s, N.L., Friday morning, Trudeau said Wernick’s words should carry weight.
“The clerk of the privy council, Michael Wernick, is an extraordinary public servant who has served this country and continues to serve this country under governments of different political stripes, with integrity and brilliance,” said Trudeau.
“He is someone we need to heed very carefully when he chooses to express himself publicly and I’m sure everyone is taking a careful look at his words yesterday.”
Some opposition MPs and several pundits suggested Wernick had gone too far in supporting the government, concerns Trudeau seemed to dismiss out of hand.
“I would recommend people pay close heed to the words of the clerk of the privy council,” he said.
“His service to this country over decades in the public service leaves him well positioned to understand what our institutions are grounded in and make sure we are doing the right things as a government.”
Trudeau’s government has been thrown off course by the allegations that Wilson-Raybould was under pressure by the Prime Minister’s Office to allow SNC-Lavalin to avoid a criminal prosecution for fraud and bribery by entering into a remediation agreement with the federal government.
Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing and repeated that anything done by his office was with the idea of protecting jobs and the economy while ensuring the independence of the judiciary was maintained.
The issue involves several meetings among Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau, Wernick and other members of the Prime Minister’s Office that came after the director of public prosecutions decided not to pursue a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.
Wernick says any information about the matter given to her in those meetings was to ensure she had the context she needed to decide what to do but that she was always told the final decision was hers to make alone.
Wernick also says he doesn’t think Wilson-Raybould is bound by solicitor-client privilege in discussing the events. But Trudeau repeated that he is still receiving advice on whether to waive that privilege because there are potential consequences for two ongoing court cases against the company.
“This is something that we do have to take seriously because it is a fundamental part of our justice system,” said Trudeau.