At issue are allegations made by Canada's former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, who says Trudeau and his inner circle intervened inappropriately in the criminal prosecution of a powerful engineering firm, SNC Lavalin, headquartered in Trudeau's home city of Montréal in Quebec province.
In his morning testimony before the Commons justice committee Wednesday, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's former principal secretary, presented the face of the Liberal government they want the Canadian public to see.
In a bombshell testimony last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould said she was subjected to a "consistent and sustained effort" and "veiled threats" to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement for the Montreal-based construction giant which would have protected it against a criminal conviction. "And we also made it clear that she was free to accept that opinion, or not". It was not about second guessing the decision.
The decision to move Wilson-Raybould out of the justice portfolio was made because she was a strong performer in cabinet and Trudeau needed a strong minister of Indigenous services, Butts said, and had nothing to do with SNC-Lavalin. One of those was successful last summer, when the Federal Court of Appeal tore up cabinet approval for the expansion project on the grounds of insufficient environmental and Indigenous consultations. "But I have to say, it's been a long time", Butts said, trailing off and pausing awkwardly for a second or two. He also wondered aloud why Wilson-Raybould - someone he said tended to communicate in writing on the most important topics - failed to so on this one.
"I firmly believe that nothing inappropriate occurred here and that nothing inappropriate was alleged to have occurred until after the cabinet shuffle".
As a result, Butts said Trudeau and the PMO determined that only Jane Philpott had the capacity and institutional knowledge to take over the complicated role, but anxious what signal it would send by shuffling one of its most capable ministers from the Indigenous Services portfolio.
"I take my fair share of responsibility for that tragic state of affairs".
With opposition leaders clamouring for Trudeau to resign - supported by half of Canadians, according to one recent survey - the justice committee and the independent ethics commissioner have both opened investigations.
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Her department prepared the report, which she said constituted legal advice, but before sending the report to the Privy Council Office, Drouin consulted Wilson-Raybould.
"Can you imagine, if when we were kids, and the coal mines closed ... the best explanation someone could give us is that they thought about it for 12 days?" said Butts, whose father is a retired coal-miner. Conservatives seem poised to take over the government if he doesn't, and there are few procedures for forcing a Prime Minister to step down.
Butts will provide a rebuttal to Wilson-Raybould's testimony at a Parliamentary justice committee Wednesday. Wilson-Raybould had the power to scrap the decision to go to trial, but decided against it.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters that Butts' testimony "in no way" addressed the key questions of the controversy.
Liberals on the committee, for now, are refusing - no doubt sensing that whatever benefit arises from Butts' appearance would be lost if Wilson-Raybould returns to testify.
Butts said: "That is two meetings and two phone calls per month for the minister and her office on an issue that could cost a minimum of 9,000 Canadians their job".
In Butts's version of the December 5 dinner, Wilson-Raybould asked if he had a view on the file and they talked briefly of asking a retired Supreme Court justice for advice.
"What happened last fall is in fact very different from the version of events you heard last week", Butts said.