The SNC-Lavalin scandal is back in the headlines as federal party leaders kick off the first day of the election campaign.
Shortly before the launch of the campaign, the Globe and Mail published a report saying the federal government is blocking attempts by the RCMP to look into the SNC-Lavalin scandal and whether the government’s actions amount to obstruction of justice.
That reportedly includes attempts to speak with individuals who say they are being stymied by the government’s refusal to lift cabinet confidentiality rules.
However, no formal investigation has begun.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer immediately seized on the report Wednesday morning, holding an impromptu press conference with reporters from the tarmac of the Ottawa airport just minutes before his campaign plane was set to take off for Trois-Rivieres, Que., for his campaign launch later in the day.
Scheer has repeatedly called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign over the scandal, and ethics commissioner Mario Dion ruled last month that Trudeau’s attempts to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the court case of the Montreal engineering firm broke federal ethics rules.
Scheer renewed his call for Trudeau to waive cabinet confidence and allow all those involved in the scandal to speak freely.
WATCH: Scheer talks cabinet confidentiality, Quebec’s Bill 21 as federal election campaign begins
“I’m calling on Justin Trudeau to do the right thing and immediately waive full privilege so those individuals can testify to the RCMP,” he said. “If he had nothing to hide, he would waive the privilege and let the RCMP do their work.”
Trudeau disputed some of the findings of the ethics report and refused to apologize for his behaviour in the scandal, saying that while he accepted the report itself, he disagreed with its conclusion that he should not have been contacting Wilson-Raybould about her decision not to interfere in the court case.
He was questioned repeatedly by reporters on Wednesday about the Globe and Mail report that the government is blocking the RCMP from examining whether there was obstruction of justice and declined to answer.
When asked by a Globe and Mail reporter why he was not lifting cabinet confidentiality, Trudeau offered a one-line talking point.
“We gave out the largest and most expansive waiver of cabinet confidence in Canada’s history,” he said.
That referred to the limited waiver that allowed Wilson-Raybould to testify about what she experienced as attorney general — but that also barred her from discussing anything to do with what happened after she was removed from her position.
Reporters continued to push Trudeau to give a clear answer, with another asking him to explain what mistakes, exactly, he believes he made in the scandal.
Trudeau said his job is to defend Canadian jobs but stood silently when pressed two more times with the specific question: “Which mistakes?”
The Globe and Mail report does not indicate who, specifically, was telling the RCMP they could not discuss the matter.
But Wilson-Raybould told Global News earlier in the summer she had also been contacted by the RCMP when the scandal first emerged this spring.
While the report certainly gives fresh ammunition to Scheer and the Conservatives to try to keep the issue in the spotlight, it’s not clear whether it will have any impact on Canadians and their views of the federal party leaders.
Polling conducted after the Dion report found Trudeau had broken the rules by pressuring Wilson-Raybould revealed the finding had little impact on decided support for any of the main federal parties, which suggests public opinion on the matter may already be baked in.
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