THUNDER BAY – Patty Hajdu is defending Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after a tumultuous week in Ottawa that has included claims his office attempted judicial interference.
Allegations in a Globe and Mail story published Thursday accuse the Prime Minister’s Office of attempting to pressure then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into negotiating a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec-based engineering and construction firm charged with fraud and corruption.
The story alleges that Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to interfere in the criminal proceedings motivated her being moved from the attorney general post to veterans affairs minister in last month’s cabinet shuffle.
Trudeau denied the allegations on Thursday.
Hajdu, the minister of employment, workforce development and labour, as well as the MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, on Friday stood behind Trudeau.
“Listen, the prime minister has been very clear. Never did he influence nor directly advise the attorney general to interfere in the case,” Hajdu said.
Opposition leader Andrew Scheer said Conservative and NDP members on the justice committee will force an emergency meeting next week to consider a motion to call on nine individuals – including Wilson-Raybould and senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office – to testify before the committee.
“If the prime minister has nothing to hide – as he has suggested – then he should have no reason to fear these individuals appearing before the justice committee,” Scheer said at a Friday morning news conference on Parliament Hill.
Scheer added that a refusal by the Liberals to allow those committee meetings to proceed should be seen as a sign of a government cover-up.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has called on the ethics commissioner to probe the allegations.
Responding to a follow up question, Hajdu indicated she is confident the issue will not be a factor in this year’s federal election.
“I think the delivery of a strong economy – we just added 66,000 jobs in January – making sure middle class families feel their prosperity is growing, that their children have a better life, making sure that we have a society where everybody has a fair chance to succeed, those are the things Canadians will be thinking about when they go to the ballot box in October,” Hajdu said.
Earlier this week, Trudeau came under fire after an answer in the House of Commons where he said that low-income Canadians don’t pay taxes.
“I think his comments were misconstrued in their simplicity,” Hajdu said. “I think there are obviously sectors of the population who receive tax credits that result in little or no income tax being paid. What we know is what he was talking about, effectively, was the ineffectiveness of tax credits where money has to be spent in order to gather that credit.”
Hajdu pointed to a children’s fitness tax credit that had been introduced by the former Harper Conservative government that was later eliminated by the Liberals as an example of an initiative that wasn’t accessible to those who needed it most.
“As a single mother, I was never able to take advantage of the fitness tax credit to its full capacity because I just didn’t have the money to spend on that fitness tax credit,” Hajdu said.
“What (Trudeau) was trying to explain in Question Period, which isn’t the best place to try to get into a complex policy discussion because you only have 30 seconds to respond, is that the application of credits are only valuable for people who have the money to spend.”