Trudeau Cabinet Minister Quits Amid SNC-Lavalin Controversy

(Bloomberg) -- Canada’s former attorney general has resigned from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet amid a report she was pressured by the prime minister’s office to intervene in a legal case involving SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.

Jody Wilson-Raybould announced her resignation Tuesday, after days of saying she couldn’t comment on work she did as the government’s chief lawyer. She was moved from the justice ministry to veterans affairs last month.

The statement doesn’t offer a reason for her departure. Wilson-Raybould has retained former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell to advise on what she is able to say in public.

Wilson-Raybould said she ran for office “with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change” and a “different way” of doing politics. “My resignation as a Minister of the Crown in no way changes my commitment to seeing that fundamental change achieved,” she wrote.

A report last week by the Globe and Mail newspaper about pressure on Wilson-Raybould to seek an out-of-court settlement for the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant has dominated political debate in Canada ever since.

Trudeau told reporters Tuesday that Wilson-Raybould had never raised any concerns when the two spoke about the issue. Separately on Monday, Trudeau said he told the Vancouver lawmaker that any decision to direct prosecutors in the case was hers alone.

“The government of Canada did its job and to the clear public standards expected of it,” Trudeau said at a press conference in Winnipeg. “If anyone felt differently, they had a clear obligation to raise that with me. No one, including Jody, did that.”

“Frankly, I am both surprised and disappointed by her decision to step down,” Trudeau said.

SNC-Lavalin has long lobbied for a negotiated settlement in the case, which dates back to 2012 and has cost the company at least C$5 billion ($3.8 billion) in lost revenue, Chief Executive Officer Neil Bruce said in December. The new justice minister David Lametti has signaled he may still ultimately intervene in the case of the Montreal engineering and construction giant.

The company’s shares rose 0.8 percent Tuesday to C$34.28, and are down 29 percent since late last month after SNC issued two separate profit warnings unrelated to the Wilson-Raybould matter.

Her resignation adds to political damage for the governing Liberal Party heading into the campaign for an October election, coming the day after the parliamentary ethics watchdog opened an investigation into the matter. The opposition Conservative and New Democratic parties have said any interference from Trudeau’s staff would be improper and Trudeau’s explanations lack detail.

The House of Commons justice committee is set to meet on Wednesday to decide whether to investigate the issue as well, though members of Trudeau’s Liberal Party can assemble a majority votes to block that inquiry.

Wilson-Raybould will stay on as an member of parliament, but was silent on whether she’d stay in the Liberal caucus or sit as an independent. After being moved last month from the justice file, she published a statement that didn’t mention SNC-Lavalin but said “it is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference.’’ Wilson-Raybould, who is of aboriginal descent, also highlighted “dire social and economic realities that Indigenous peoples continue to face.’’

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