The Liberals escalated their criticism Sunday of Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision to secretly record a phone call with the country’s top bureaucrat, with a prominent cabinet minister declaring her unease with the former attorney general remaining in caucus.
Labour Minister Patty Hajdu told the CBC she believed it was “unethical” for Wilson-Raybould to secretly record her Dec. 19 conversation with Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick. A 17-minute audio clip of the call was released on Friday by the House of Commons justice committee, along with a 43-page brief from Wilson-Raybould that includes emails and text messages.
In a CBC interview Sunday, Hajdu said she has never recorded a colleague’s phone conversation and would never do so covertly.
“I think it’s unethical. I think it’s deceptive,” Hajdu said.
“If you’re going to record a conversation and it’s between colleagues, I think it’s the responsible, ethical thing to do to advise the person on the other end of the phone that you are recording.”
In the call, Wernick repeatedly asks Wilson-Raybould why she was not using all the tools at her disposal on the SNC-Lavalin case. She pushes back, saying she would not override the decision of the director of public prosecutions to pursue a criminal prosecution against SNC-Lavalin for bribery and fraud related to its activities in Libya.
Wernick told her Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was “quite determined” on the matter and would likely “find a way to get it done one way or another.”
In her written submission, Wilson-Raybould acknowledged recording the conversation was an “extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate step,” but said she felt it necessary to have an exact record of what was discussed.
Wernick declined to comment but his lawyer, Frank Addario, said recording the call was “inappropriate.”
The former attorney general testified earlier this month that she believes she was moved out of the justice portfolio to Veterans Affairs in a mid-January cabinet shuffle as punishment for refusing to succumb to relentless pressure last fall from Trudeau, his senior staff, Wernick and others to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case. She resigned from cabinet a month later. Treasury Board President Jane Philpott resigned a week afterward, citing a loss in confidence in how the government has dealt with the ongoing affair.
Some Liberal MPs have been growing increasingly upset with Wilson-Raybould and Philpott’s seeming desire to keep fanning the flames of the controversy, and have been quietly discussing among themselves how to deal with the pair. The expectation now is that caucus members will insist on expelling them at their next meeting on Wednesday, or earlier if an emergency meeting is called.
Hajdu told the CBC she will defer to the prime minister and her Liberal colleagues on whether Wilson-Raybould and Philpott should remain, but added her discomfort at sharing a caucus with someone who might be recording conversations.
“I, personally, don’t feel comfortable, personally, with a colleague who may be recording me without my knowledge,” she said.
Meanwhile, Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts provided information to the justice committee Sunday in response to materials filed last week by Wilson-Raybould.
Butts said in a tweet his information comprised notes and texts of exchanges between himself and Wilson-Raybould.
He told the justice committee in March he believes nobody from the Prime Minister’s Office did anything wrong and that Wilson-Raybould never complained about facing undue pressure.
Butts resigned as Trudeau’s principle secretary last month.
The documents he submitted to committee must be translated into French and their release approved by panel members before public release.
Liberal MLA Anthony Housefather, who chairs the committee, said Sunday he was not exactly sure how long this process could take, but said it would normally be a day or two.
Speaking in Brampton, Ont., Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Butts’ latest action shows the Liberal government was too quick to shut down the justice committee investigation into whether undue political pressure was brought to bear on the attorney general over prosecuting SNC-Lavalin.
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt now, we know that there was high-level attempt to interfere in this process,” Scheer said. “Now we’re calling on the ethics committee to allow an investigation to proceed.”
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press