OTTAWA — Conservatives accused Liberals of a different sort of SNC-Lavalin cover-up in question period Tuesday after a report revealed the names of employees involved in the Montreal firm’s illegal attempts to influence Canadian politics between 2004 and 2011.
A CBC investigation revealed new details about the scheme and listed for the first time individuals accused of indirectly funnelling almost $110,000 of the company’s money to the Liberal Party, and another $8,000 to the Conservative Party. The parties became aware of the lists during a 2016 investigation by the Commissioner of Canada Elections.
On his way into cabinet on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his party has “moved forward on transparency and openness and that is not what happens anymore.”
During question period, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer accused him of a lack of transparency for sitting on the information for three years. “It took investigative reporting to uncover it,” he said. “Why did the prime minister’s recent election financing changes not take action to expose this cover-up?”
Trudeau responded: “These improper donations to two political parties were made over a decade ago. Under my leadership, we have raised the bar on openness and transparency.”
The Montreal construction giant has become a dicey subject for Liberals after several months of controversy. Trudeau’s former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould accused him and other top officials of trying to politically interfere in Canada’s judicial system by pressuring her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid an entirely different criminal prosecution, on fraud and bribery charges for dealings in Libya.
Drawing that link, the Conservatives’ deputy leader, Lisa Raitt, questioned whether the prime minister’s office had any contact with Elections Canada in 2016, when SNC-Lavalin signed a compliance agreement with the Commissioner of Canada Elections, Yves Côté, thereby saving them from a criminal prosecution over elections violations.
“We have seen this before,” Raitt said, alluding to Wilson-Raybould’s testimony.
Bardish Chagger, the leader of the government in the House of Commons, didn’t give a yes or no answer but said Elections Canada is independent and “decisions are taken separate from any government.”
CBC’s The Fifth Estate reported that it obtained the names from a leaked confidential document, which Côté had sent to the Liberal Party in 2016. It lists 18 former SNC-Lavalin employees or their spouses who donated almost $110,000 to Liberal Party riding associations and leadership campaigns. The commissioner’s investigation revealed the company reimbursed the donors, which is illegal.
SNC-Lavalin also made about $8,000 worth of contributions to the Conservative Party in this way, as recently as 2011. Since 2004 it has been illegal for corporations to donate to federal parties at all.
In the compliance agreement with the commissioner in 2016, the company agreed not to break the law again. Lists of names went to the Liberals and Conservatives so they could reimburse the receiver general for the associated donations, which both did. CBC reported that Tories provided the names when asked, but Liberals repeatedly refused.
None of the people whose names are on the list still work for SNC-Lavalin and several of them, including a sitting Quebec MNA, Kathleen Weil, denied to CBC that they had been involved in such a scheme — but others confirmed they received bonuses as compensation, and former senior employees confirmed being aware of, or being a part of, an effort to solicit political donations from employees.
The compliance agreement itself, which is available on the commissioner’s website, states that SNC-Lavalin implemented compliance measures and mechanisms as recommended by elections officials. But it did not preclude individuals from being charged as a result of the then-ongoing investigation. One former SNC-Lavalin vice president was ultimately charged for the breaches in May 2018. Normand Morin pled guilty to two violations of the Canada Elections Act in November, for “collusion” with senior executives on behalf of political parties, and paid a $2,000 fine.
In 2014, Tory MP Dean Del Mastro faced criminal prosecution and served jail time for financial violations of the Elections Act that involved considerably less money.
“It just boggles the mind that the so-called watchdog of elections would not have taken the (SNC) matter to court and prosecuted that offence,” Pierre Poilievre told reporters after question period. “It’s insane. He’s got a lot of explaining to do.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019