Green Leader Elizabeth May calls upon Trudeau government to fire the clerk of the privy council, Michael Wernick
Before this month, most Canadians had never heard of Michael Wernick.
But when he stepped out of the shadows to defend the Trudeau government's handling of the SNC-Lavalin case before the Commons justice committee, it was clear that he was a central player in the story.
As clerk of the privy council and secretary to the cabinet, he's Canada's most powerful bureaucrat.
Now, the leader of the Greens, Elizabeth May, is calling for his dismissal.
"Advice from my heart to my friends in the Liberal party," May said in Parliament. "Do not dispute the truth of what our former minister of justice has said.
"Do not attempt to question or undermine or impugn her integrity. No one will believe them if they do.
"What they must do is tell the truth, let the chips fall where they may, starting with these three steps," May continued. "Call for a public inquiry. Release the former minister of justice from restrictions in her evidence, and fire the clerk of the privy council office!"
That elicited a standing ovation by opposition MPs.
On February 27, former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony to the justice committee suggested that Wernick was somewhat less partisan than he had often been portrayed.
According to Wilson-Raybould, Wernick mentioned to her on September 17 in a meeting with the prime minister that there was about to be an election in Quebec. This came as Wernick made the case for a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin in which he also cited potential job losses if a court case proceeded.
Two days later, according to Wilson-Raybould, Wernick again brought up job losses but stated that the issue of granting a deferred prosecution agreement was not about the Quebec election or Trudeau being an MP from Montreal.
"I told the clerk again that I had instructed the deputy minister is not to get in touch with the director [of public prosecutions] and that given my review of the matter I would not speak to her directly regarding a DPA," Wilson-Raybould testified. "I offered that if SNC were to send a letter to me expressing their concerns—their public interest argument—it would be permissible and I would appropriately forward it directly to the DPP."
SNC-Lavalin never sent such a letter, according to Wilson-Raybould.
She also described a "fairly lengthy call" with Wernick on December 19. She claimed that Wernick told her that Trudeau was going to find a way to get a deferred prosecution agreement, one way or another.
"I told the clerk that I was 100 percent confident that I was doing nothing inappropriate. I, again, reiterated I am confident in where I am at on my views on SNC and the DPA have not changed—this is a constitutional principle of prosecutorial independence," she added.
"I warned the clerk that we were treading on dangerous ground here—and I issued a stern warning because as the AG, I cannot act in a manner and the prosecution cannot act in a manner that is not objective, that isn’t independent, I cannot act in a partisan way and I cannot be politically motivated. And all of this screams of that."
According to her, Wernick expressed concerns about a "collision" between her and the prime minister because he was "pretty firm on this" and that "this is really important to him."
In a question-and-answer session with MPs on the committee following her opening statement, Wilson-Raybould said that she interpreted Wernick's comments to have been made in a "threatening manner".
In earlier testimony, Wernick maintained that there is not two-tiered justice in Canada.
"Despite the most extensive government-relations effort in modern times, including meetings with officials, political staff, the opposition leaders, paid advertising, advocacy by two consecutive premiers of Quebec, the company did not get what it wanted—demonstrably, because they're seeking judicial review," Wernick said. "Are we soft on corporate crime? No."
Wernick also insisted to the committee that there was "no inappropriate pressure" put on Wilson-Raybould—a claim that she later rejected.
Two of Trudeau's more vocal defenders in the national media have been Jonathan Wilkinson and Carla Qualtrough, two Liberal cabinet ministers from Metro Vancouver.
Wilkinson, the fisheries and oceans minister and the MP for North Vancouver, appeared on CBC Radio's As It Happens program last night; Qualtrough, the public service minister and MP for Delta, appeared earlier this month on CTV's Question Period.
Both are first-term MPs who were promoted to cabinet by Trudeau after winning seats that had previously been held by the Conservatives.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, on the other hand, has asked the RCMP to conduct an investigation and called on Trudeau to resign.