Liberals on the House of Commons ethics committee have blocked a push by the opposition members to get the ethics commissioner to testify about his scathing report on the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
In a vote of 5-4 on Wednesday, five Liberal MPs voted down a motion supported by the Conservative and NDP members — as well as wildcard Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith — that asked for the committee to invite Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to answer questions about the conclusions of his report last week which determined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke federal ethics rules by interfering in the Quebec firm’s court case.
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The defeat came after the committee heard Dion was standing by to speak to them immediately if they so wished.
Liberals Steve MacKinnon, Mona Fortier, Michel Picard, Frank Baylis and Anita Vandenbeld — who was herself found last month by Dion to have broken federal ethics rules — voted against the motion to invite the watchdog.
Liberal Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Conservatives Lisa Raitt and Peter Kent, and the NDP’s Charlie Angus supported the motion.
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All the Liberals then voted in unison on a second motion by Angus asking a variation of the same, after which Raitt moved a motion asking to call a CBC News journalist to table all records from interviews conducted with Trudeau for a recently-published book about the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
That motion was immediately condemned and quickly withdrawn.
Tensions quickly flared during the meeting as opposition MPs raised repeated points of order during Liberal statements in an attempt to force the Liberals to table evidence to support their claims that jobs would be at risk if SNC-Lavalin were to face prosecution.
Six of the 10 members of the committee are Liberals and previously voted to shut down an opposition request to study the SNC-Lavalin scandal earlier this year.
The opposition members would have needed to flip at least two Liberals in order for the motion to have a chance at succeeding.
Flipping two Liberals would have triggered a tie-breaking vote by the chair of the committee — Conservative MP Bob Zimmer.
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Shortly after the meeting got underway, opposition members began to speak about why they wanted to hear from the commissioner and stressing they sought more answers not because of the upcoming election campaign but because of the specific violations of the rules flagged by Dion.
“This is red meat right before an election and we all know that,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who also added she would ultimately like to see the committee invite former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to appear again.
“But something was really wrong here.”
She also said that while she isn’t calling herself for Trudeau to resign, she thinks what he did warrants it.
“The prime minister is guilty of the kind of offence for which resignation is appropriate.”
Trudeau broke ethics rules by trying to exert influence in SNC-Lavalin scandal — report
Conservative MP Peter Kent, who along with his Conservative colleague Jacques Gourde and NDP MP Charlie Angus asked for the emergency meeting, said the report by Dion was “unprecedented” and that the committee has already established precedent to call the commissioner.
The committee previously called former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson to testify on her report into Trudeau’s vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas, for which he was found to have broken ethics rules for the first time.
Dion’s finding marks the second time Trudeau has been found to have broken federal ethics rules.
Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt also spoke during the committee.
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Raitt, a lawyer by training, said the report represents “uncharted territory” given Trudeau has claimed to accept the findings while at the same time rejecting some of its determinations in public statements rather than the established legal channel of seeking a judicial review of it in the Federal Court.
She also stressed the committee needs to hear from Dion given he detailed in his report being barred from accessing a significant amount of information.
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Dion said in his report that he repeatedly asked for access after nine witnesses came forward, telling him they had relevant information about the allegations of political interference in the case but could not disclose it because of cabinet confidentiality rules.
When Dion asked Trudeau and the clerk of the Privy Council for access, he was denied.
Trudeau has since repeatedly refused to apologize for breaking the rules.
More to come.