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Jane Philpott's Cabinet Exit Further Shows Need For Public Inquiry Into SNC-Lavalin Affair, 2 Liberal MPs Say

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Wayne Long supported an NDP motion calling for a full investigation.
Liberal MPs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott take part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.
Sean Kilpatrick/CP
Liberal MPs Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott take part in a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Jan. 14, 2019.

The two Liberal backbenchers who broke ranks to support an NDP motion for a public inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin affair are suggesting a full hearing into the matter is needed now more than ever.

Nearly two weeks ago, Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and New Brunswick's Wayne Long voted with New Democrats and Conservatives in favour of an inquiry. The motion was easily defeated by the Liberal majority in the House of Commons.

Since then, former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified before the Commons justice committee that she faced months of sustained pressure from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his top aides, and other senior government officials to help SNC-Lavalin avoid a criminal trial through a remediation agreement.

Jane Philpott, widely seen as one of Trudeau's best ministers, resigned as Treasury Board president Monday. Philpott said she had "lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised."

Watch: Justin Trudeau addresses latest exit from his cabinet

Erskine-Smith told CBC Radio's "Metro Morning" Tuesday that while he is "frustrated" to see issues he cares about pushed to the sideline — such as the fight against climate change — Liberals must do more to be open and transparent.

A lawyer, Erskine-Smith said while Wilson-Raybould's testimony was "compelling," there needs to be full airing of facts in a non-partisan setting.

"Before issuing judgment, one doesn't only hear from a couple of witnesses," he said.

Asked if he has confidence in the prime minister, Erskine-Smith said that he does but conceded there have "been moments" of frustration, such as when the government abandoned its pledge to reform Canada's electoral system.

Still, he touted Statistics Canada figures showing hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been lifted from poverty under the Liberals. "Meaningful but imperfect progress" has also been made on climate change and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, he said.

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 11, 2018.
Adrian Wyld/CP
Nathaniel Erskine-Smith speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Dec. 11, 2018.

He claimed a government led by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer would be much worse.

"There are a number of people who are incredibly worried we are going to lose the progress we have made; and we are going to see a government led by an individual who has coddled Yellow Vesters; and who has really cultivated support from groups and organizations that he should be shunning and pushing away," Erskine-Smith said.

The MP was referencing Scheer's controversial appearance before a "United We Roll" protest on Parliament Hill last month. At least some protesters were linked to "Yellow Vests Canada," a populist group that has stoked xenophobia and promoted violence.

Erskine-Smith suggested he could lose confidence in Trudeau's leadership if it is found that Wilson-Raybould was pressured to intervene on SNC-Lavalin's behalf for "naked partisan gain and electoral gain."

'I might well find myself as a lawyer again'

In her explosive testimony last week, Wilson-Raybould said a provincial election in Quebec, Trudeau's status as a Quebec MP, and the looming general election all surfaced in conversations on the issue that continued after a decision was made.

Like Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, Erskine-Smith says he intends to run again as a Liberal this fall.

"But I will say this inquiry is not complete and I can imagine a situation where if it winds up in one place, I'll be very happy to run again, and if it winds up in another place, I might well find myself as a lawyer again instead."

Long, meanwhile, released a statement Monday after Philpott's exit from cabinet that reiterated the need for a "full and transparent investigation."

"I am deeply troubled by the fact that Ms. Philpott felt the need to resign as a result of our government's handling of this matter," he said in the release.

Long also said it was "particularly troubling" Philpott's resignation letter noted that while there is a cost to acting on principles, "there is a bigger cost to abandoning them."

"I am advocating for our government to ensure that Canadians are able to get all of the answers they need," he said. "I believe that we will not be able to successfully return our focus to this work until they have those answers."

While Scheer has called for Trudeau to resign, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said this week that Trudeau and "all those mentioned" by Wilson-Raybould need to testify under oath.

Witnesses who testify under oath are expected to speak truthfully. If they are caught lying, they risk being found in charge of contempt of the House and charged with perjury.

"It's clear Canadians need a public inquiry now more than ever," Singh said.

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