March 6, 2019
OTTAWA (Reuters) – A former key aide of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is at the center of a major political crisis, on Wednesday denied he had pressured the then-justice minister to allow a major firm to avoid a corruption trial last year.
Gerald Butts, addressing an incident that has cost Trudeau two senior cabinet ministers so far, said he had one short conversation with the minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, at the time about helping construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. Butts quit as Trudeau’s principal private secretary on Feb 18.
“I do not see how our brief discussion on that file constitutes pressure of any kind,” Butts told the House of Commons justice committee.
Wilson-Raybould told the committee last week that Butts and other senior officials had subjected her to persistent and inappropriate pressure to help SNC-Lavalin.
The firm, which employs 9,000 people in Canada, is based in the province of Quebec, where Trudeau’s Liberals need to pick up seats to win a federal election set for October.
“When 9,000 people’s jobs are at stake, it is a public policy problem,” said Butts, adding that saving those jobs had been a major priority for Trudeau.
A second member of Trudeau’s Cabinet resigned on Monday, saying she had lost confidence in how the government had dealt with the matter. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott was one of the most respected members of government, and political observers described her departure as a major blow.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum)