Trudeau Says Job-Loss Fears Drove Talks About SNC-Lavalin

(Bloomberg) -- Justin Trudeau’s government weighed the merits of ending a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. in part to avoid Canadian job losses, the prime minister said.

His former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit cabinet this month after a report she was pressured by Trudeau’s office to offer a remediation agreement to settle fraud and corruption charges facing the Montreal-based company. The prime minister acknowledged cabinet held talks about the case, but said he didn’t express a preferred outcome to Wilson-Raybould.

“As a government, we take very seriously our responsibility of standing up for jobs, of protecting jobs, of growing the economy, of making sure there are good jobs right across the country -- as there are with SNC-Lavalin,” Trudeau said at a press conference Friday in Ottawa. “But as we do that, we always need to make sure we’re standing up for the rule of law and protecting the independence of our justice system.”

The comments are Trudeau’s widest-ranging yet in a controversy that has rocked his administration. A report last week by the Globe and Mail newspaper raised allegations of judicial interference and the fallout is undercutting his 2015 election pledge to bring “real change” to government. His Liberals, whose fortunes he revived after they were reduced to third-party status by the Conservatives under Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have a long track record of questionable back-room ties to corporate Canada.

Trudeau said his government has been lobbied on the issue by Quebec Premier Francois Legault, unions, industry representatives, and members of parliament. “I can tell you our government did its job,” Trudeau said. “It was concerned about creating jobs, having a solid economy and also protecting jobs in Canada.”

He said it was Wilson-Raybould’s choice to make. She was, at the time, both minister of justice and attorney general and had final say on remediation agreements.

Trudeau said Wilson-Raybould spoke with him about the matter in September. “There were many discussions going on, which is why Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her, or going to direct her, to take a particular decision. And I of course said no, it was her decision to make. I expected her to make it. I had full confidence in her role as attorney general to make the decision,” he said.

The prime minister said, as he has previously, that anyone concerned about pressure created by those discussions should have come to him if they felt they were inappropriate. “It was her responsibility to come forward, it was their responsibility to come forward, and no one did,” he said.

Trudeau’s industry minister said the remediation agreements, also known as deferred prosecution agreements, were to “level the playing field” with other countries.

“There is a deferred prosecution agreement tool in the tool-box, and really now the onus is on the attorney general or the prosecutor to use that tool,” Navdeep Bains told BNN Bloomberg on Friday, while echoing Trudeau’s message that jobs are a priority. “That’ll be our focus going forward -- growth and jobs.”

Trudeau moved Wilson-Raybould to veterans affairs, a less-senior portfolio, in a mini-shuffle last month. The SNC-Lavalin story broke afterward, and she quit cabinet this week. Trudeau said he would have never have moved her if his Treasury Board president hadn’t resigned, forcing the change. “If Scott Brison had not stepped down from cabinet, Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general,” the prime minister said

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