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Committee votes down request to have ethics commissioner testify

Last Updated Aug 21, 2019 at 1:49 pm CDT

Liberal members of a parliamentary committee have blocked an opposition attempt to hear from ethics commissioner Mario Dion about his scathing report into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Only one of six Liberal MPs on the 10-member House of Commons ethics committee supported a Conservative motion to call Dion, and possibly others, to testify about the report.

The lone Liberal outlier, Toronto MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, supported the motion only because he said he wanted Dion to explain what he considered the commissioner’s “legally flawed” conclusion that Trudeau broke the Conflict of Interest Act.

Quebec MP Steven MacKinnon spoke for the other Liberal members, dismissing the motion as a blatantly partisan attempt to re-ignite public outrage over the SNC-Lavalin controversy on the eve an election call.

Dion concluded in his report last week that Trudeau broke the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Dion also disclosed in his report that he couldn’t get all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

Trudeau has accepted the report and taken full responsibility for mistakes that were made, but he has also disagreed with Dion’s conclusion and resolutely refused to apologize for what he characterizes as standing up for Canadian jobs.

Conservatives and New Democrats pushed for the emergency committee meeting held Wednesday afternoon on Parliament Hill. Dion had said he would make himself available to testify, and would have done so by video conference.

On Wednesday morning, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Angus said he thinks it is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”