A brief recap of the SNC-Lavalin—Jody Wilson-Raybould controversy
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
On February 27 former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould testified before the House of Commons justice committee that she “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
The SNC-Lavalin scandal has been a staple of national news for the past few weeks. It’s a complex issue with several key points of context that are often left unaddressed in the flash headlines, and yet are crucial for understanding the issues at play.
What is SNC-Lavalin?
SNC-Lavalin is a Montreal-based engineering and construction firm with a significant global presence. The company is very financially important to Quebec and due to its political ties in the province, the infrastructure it’s contributed to the province, and its global reach, it has been referred to as one of the “jewels of Quebec’s business community.”
SNC-Lavalin allegedly bribed Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 to court government business. In 2015 the RCMP charged the company with corruption and fraud, charges which the company denied. If convicted, the company would potentially no longer be able to bid on Canadian government business. This would greatly impact the company and could leave it vulnerable to corporate takeover, which would anger many powerful players in Quebec with vested interests in the company.
In 2018, the Liberal government tabled a bill that would allow corporations to avoid criminal proceedings through “remediation agreements.” These agreements would allow corporations to instead make reparations for their actions. SNC-Lavalin lobbied to be allowed to make such an agreement, but in early September of 2018 the Public Prosecution Service told SNC-Lavalin that it would not be negotiating a remediation agreement with the company.
What is Jody Wilson-Raybould’s role?
Jody Wilson-Raybould was the 51st Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada for the Liberal Party. Wilson-Raybould is, according to Wikipedia, “a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaka’wakw, also known as the Kwak’wala-speaking peoples.” She is the first Indigenous person to have held the office of Attorney General of Canada. She was shuffled from Justice to Veteran Affairs on January 14, which was seen by many as a demotion. Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Trudeau cabinet on February 12 but remained a part of the Liberal Party.
On February 8, the Globe and Mail reported that the Prime Minister’s Office had allegedly attempted to pressure Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the SNC-Lavalin case. According to the Globe and Mail, “As attorney general, Wilson-Raybould could overrule the prosecution service, directing it to negotiate an agreement with [SNC-Lavalin].” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, though admitting that he discussed the SNC-Lavalin case with Wilson-Raybould, said that he told Wilson-Raybould that the situation was entirely her decision. Wilson-Raybould, however, has testified that she was pressured by the government to exert her power as Attorney General and Justice Minister to force a remediation agreement.
Why would the government protect SNC-Lavalin, and what does this mean for the federal election?
According to Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, the prime minister was concerned that if SNC-Lavalin was prosecuted, “there would be many jobs lost and that SNC would move from Montreal.” Quebec is an important province for federal elections. Though it isn’t exactly necessary to win Quebec to win the country, there’s a good many seats in that province that could decide how the country swings in autumn—especially given how the province has slid to the right since Trudeau’s 2015 victory. Prosecuting SNC-Lavalin would certainly be an unpopular move in Quebec.
However, Trudeau’s cabinet—and the Liberal Party with it—has suffered in the eyes of public opinion since the scandal came to light in early February. According to the CBC News Poll Tracker, “In the wake of the SNC-Lavalin controversy, [the tracker] has the Liberals down more than a point and a half and the Conservatives up by the same margin, putting the two parties in a virtual dead heat in terms of the popular vote.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for an independent investigation into the affair on February 18, and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer went a step further and called on Justin Trudeau to resign after Wilson-Raybould’s testimony.
With an already tumultuous federal election on the horizon, the SNC-Lavalin controversy is surely the last thing the federal Liberals need. One way or another, the scandal is sure to affect election results this fall.