THUNDER BAY – Don Rusnak says he still stands behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, insisting what has come out publicly so far as the SNC-Lavalin scandal continues to evolve is only one side of the story.
The Thunder Bay-Rainy River Liberal MP reaffirmed his support for Trudeau on Tuesday, one day after Treasury Board president Jane Philpott joined former attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in resigning from cabinet.
“The (prime minister) I think has been clear. There’s always many sides to a story and we have Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony last Wednesday. I think it’s shocking to a lot of Canadians to see inside how cabinet and the (Prime Minister’s Office) works,” Rusnak told CKPR Radio.
“We all feel pressure. I feel pressure as an MP doing my job and I imagine cabinet ministers feel a lot of pressure. Nothing, and Ms. Wilson-Raybould confirmed it, nothing was illegal and crossed the line.”
Wilson-Raybould has claimed that last year she was put under pressure to order a deferred prosecution agreement for the Quebec-based engineering and construction firm’s fraud and corruption charges, and that her refusal to do so led to her being shifted out of the attorney general post to the veterans’ affairs portfolio.
A conviction against SNC-Lavalin could result in the company being barred from bidding on federal contracts for a decade, potentially endangering as many as 9,000 jobs.
Rusnak, a former trial lawyer, compared the ongoing justice committee hearings to a multi-day legal proceeding where different versions of events that emerge change the perception of what happened.
Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s long-time friend and former principal secretary until his resignation last month, testified before the committee on Wednesday. Wilson-Raybould alleged that Butts was one of multiple senior staffers within the Prime Minister’s Office that applied what she believed was inappropriate pressure.
Butts, in his opening statement, told the committee that he believed any discussions that Prime Minister’s Office officials had with Wilson-Raybould were about asking for her to consider a second opinion.
Philpott, who had previously served as minister of health and Indigenous services prior to her appointment as Treasury Board head in January, announced her resignation on Monday in a statement saying that there “can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
Rusnak, who will run for a second term in Ottawa after already being confirmed as the Liberal candidate in Thunder Bay-Rainy River, acknowledged there is negative feedback in the riding.
“A lot of people are surprised at how government operates that these are real people, there’s emotion, there’s pressure, there’s discussion. Those things aren’t generally out in the public,” Rusnak said.
“I think the public needs to wait and see what other information comes out and make their judgment then.”