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Atlantic Canadian cabinet ministers stand by their PM

Atlantic Canada's members of Parliament are lining up behind Justin Trudeau, including, from left: Bernadette Jordan, Seamus O'Regan, and Wayne Easter.
Atlantic Canada's members of Parliament are lining up behind Justin Trudeau, including, from left: Bernadette Jordan, Seamus O'Regan, and Wayne Easter. - Herald composite

All 32 Atlantic region members of parliament also have 'full confidence" in Justin Trudeau

HALIFAX, N.S. —

Atlantic Canadian MPs are continuing to back the PMO amid the growing SNC-Lavalin scandal.

Treasury board president Jane Philpott shocked Canadians when she announced she was leaving cabinet as she has lost confidence in the Trudeau government due to its handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.

But all five Atlantic cabinet ministers have since provided statements to the SaltWire Network stating they continue to have “full confidence” in the PMO, as did a number of the region’s 32 Liberal MPs. Others have remained silent on the issue.

The only MP in the region to have openly spoken against the government’s handling of the affair is Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long. He issued a statement Tuesday calling on a “full and transparent” investigation.

Philpott, former minister of health and Indigenous services, took on the treasury board president role to replace longtime Nova Scotia MP Scott Brison. Brison resigned from cabinet in January, and vacated his seat last month in order to take a job with BMO. It was the same Jan. 14 cabinet shuffle that saw Wilson-Raybould moved from her role as justice minister and attorney general to the Veterans Affairs portfolio — now largely seen as a demotion, fuelled by her refusal to bend to pressure from the PMO.

In Wilson-Raybould’s lengthy testimony in front of the House of Commons justice committee last week, she said she received pressure and thinly veiled threats from the PMO to intervene in the criminal prosecution of Montreal-based engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

South Shore-St. Margaret’s MP Bernadette Jordan, who was appointed to the newly created cabinet position of minister of rural economic development in the January shuffle, told SaltWire she was “disappointed” by Philpott’s resignation, but said her confidence in the PM and his commitment to gender balance remains unshaken.

“We still have a lot of very strong women in caucus, in cabinet. We are still a government that is working hard to promote women in business, women internationally,” she said.

Jordan said she does not have concerns that her own future decisions as a cabinet minister could be undermined, and said she’s always felt that Trudeau has “had her back.”

"We are still a government that is working hard to promote women in business, women internationally." — Bernadette Jordan

“I’ve always felt open to talk to him about any issues that I’ve had. We’ve had good conversations, we don’t always agree, but we’ve always had respectful dialogue and that’s why he continues to have my support,” she said.

Jordan did not echo calls for further investigation into the matter.

“I was happy that (solicitor-client privilege) was lifted so that (Wilson-Raybould) was able to appear before a committee,” Jordan said. “She’s had her say, and the committee is still studying this and I guess we’ll find out more (...) this week.”

Seamus O’Regan, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl MP and Indigenous services minister, also said in a statement that he was disappointed in Philpott’s decision to resign, but still has confidence in the prime minister.

“As the first ever minister of Indigenous services, Jane Philpott’s leadership helped shape and advance critical initiatives in the new department — work that I continue in my role as minister. I thank her for her service,” he said.

Wayne Easter, MP for the P.E.I. riding of Malpeque and a Chrétien-era cabinet minister, called the the situation a “simple as a misunderstanding on what pressure can be applied on a cabinet minister.”

“You’ve got to be part of a team if you’re going to accomplish the goals you want to achieve and the team has to stick together,” he said.

Butts’ up

Philpott’s resignation is the second major departure to hit the PMO recently — Trudeau’s longtime adviser and friend, Cape Breton native Gerald Butts, resigned as principal secretary to the PM several weeks ago. In his resignation letter, Butts denied that he or any other staff in Trudeau office put pressure on the justice minister to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case, however, Wilson-Raybould’s testimony referenced a number of meetings with Butts where she felt pressured.

Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is appearing before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding the SNC Lavalin Affair, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa today. - Justin Tang / The Canadian Press
Gerald Butts (right), former principal secretary to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre), is appearing before the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights regarding the SNC Lavalin Affair, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa today. - Justin Tang / The Canadian Press

With Philpott’s resignation fresh on the minds of Canadians, Butts is set to speak before the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday.

But according to Tom Urbaniak, professor of political science at Cape Breton University, his testimony may not budge public impressions of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

“It seems like this story has run far ahead of him ... it has taken on such a life of its own that I’m not sure he can dramatically change the narrative at this point unless there is some spectacular new evidence that we haven’t suspected,” he said.

And despite those who have characterized Butts’ resignation as falling on the sword for his party, Urbaniak doesn’t see a scenario where he attempts to take all the blame upon himself.

Though there have many political scandals over the years, Urbaniak said the SNC-Lavalin affair is new territory for a number of reasons, from the questions of cabinet confidence to the proactive role the justice committee is taking.

“Often committees will play very limited roles and investigations because they’re not well structured for research due to partisan composition. But I have to say the justice committee has done not too badly ...,” so far it has taken its task seriously,” he said. “There’s an understanding on the part of, at least some of the members, that this isn’t politics as usual.”

Urbaniak said there’s no doubt there is considerable anxiety within the Liberal caucus right now due to Philpott’s resignation.

“It will force the prime minister to rethink his reaction to this whole affair,” he said.

As for how it will play out in the minds of Atlantic Canadians when they head to the polls in October, barring an early election call or vote of non-confidence against the government (both of which Urbaniak says are unlikely), that remains to be seen.

“Mackenzie King would say that six months is an eternity in politics, and it still is,” Urbaniak said.

“This story has more twists and turns, there are many unanswered questions.”

With files from David Maher, The Telegram


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