Jody Wilson-Raybould grew increasingly agitated about being moved from the justice portfolio — and public perceptions of her shuffle — despite repeated assurances from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his former top adviser, new documents released by the Commons justice committee reveal.
Gerry Butts, the prime minister’s former principal secretary, tabled with the committee dozens of pages of text messages and a transcript of a Jan. 7 conversation between himself, Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould which took place one week before the Jan. 14 cabinet shuffle.
The transcript of that call, which took place while Wilson-Raybould was vacationing in Bali, confirms that the B.C. MP told the prime minister she believed she was being shifted out of justice “for other reasons.” Trudeau told her the shuffle would not be happening if Scott Brison hadn’t resigned as Treasury Board president.
Butts’ submission includes text messages he exchanged with Wilson-Raybould in subsequent days, which show the two finding it difficult to connect for a telephone conversation.
“Timing of pushing me out (which will be the perception, whether true or not) is terrible. It will be confounding and perplexing to people,” reads one text from Wilson-Raybould.
She went on to remind Butts that the government can boast of a “robust and proud record” on advancing justice under her watch, and said that moving her would be a mistake.
“I feel compelled to say, one last time, and it is my unreserved view, that what is being proposed is a mistake, irrespective of where I am going,” she wrote.
‘My eyes are wide open’
“There is no way to explain this. My eyes are wide open on this shift.”
The SNC-Lavalin matter was never specifically mentioned in the texts, which are redacted, but Wilson-Raybould has testified that she believes she was shuffled over her refusal to overturn a decision by the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada not to offer the Montreal-based engineering firm a remediation agreement as an alternative to criminal prosecution.
Butts offered an explanation for the move, insisting that much of the heavy lifting had been done on the Justice file and that a solid minister was required to head up the Veterans Affairs portfolio, a department with one of the biggest budgets.
“I know this is tough, but we have very good ideas to make it all work from a comms perspective,” Butts wrote in one text message. “There’s an opportunity here for you to show people a side of yourself and your talent you did not get as MOJAG.”
According to Butts’ notes, in the initial call with Trudeau on Jan. 7 — when the shuffle was discussed — the prime minister said justice was going to be in “defence” mode up to the election, while Indigenous Services was in “execution mode.”
“Need our best players to move to pitch in. Need Canadians to buy in. You are one of top players and this will show Canadians how seriously we take this,” says Trudeau, according to the transcript of Butts’ notes.
“I know it is not your dream job but it is core to this government to maintain a legacy and to be crass about it to our political legacy,” Butts wrote in his account of Trudeau’s words to Wilson-Raybould.
In a text, Butts said that offering Wilson-Raybould the Veterans Affairs post after she turned down the Indigenous Services file was an “extraordinary” step for the PM to take.
Earlier today, Liberal members of the Commons justice committee used their majority to defeat a Conservative motion to call more witnesses, including Trudeau and several of his top aides, to testify on the SNC-Lavalin matter.
Butts submitted the new documents after Wilson-Raybould tabled 43 pages of new materials — including a written statement, copies of texts and a 17-minute audio recording of a Dec. 19 telephone conversation with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick. The clerk did not know he was being recorded.
The disclosure of the covert recording has angered many Liberal MPs, with some of them calling it inappropriate and dishonourable.
The Liberal caucus is meeting at 5:45 p.m. ET today to discuss the fate of Wilson-Raybould and former cabinet minister Jane Philpott in the caucus. Philpott resigned from cabinet after Wilson-Raybould left, saying she no longer felt confident in the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.
Read the text messages and transcript submitted by Gerald Butts to the Commons justice committee: