Federal Conservative MPs were gloating on Monday following the resignation of a key advisor and friend of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the midst of a political crisis.
Gerald Butts, Trudeau's principal secretary and long-time friend, announced he would be resigning due to a scandal that has rocked the Trudeau government. The departure instantly provided more fuel to the political turmoil that has engulfed the prime minister's office ever since a report in the Globe and Mail this month about the prosecution of Quebec engineering company SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges. The newspaper report quoted anonymous sources who alleged that Trudeau's office had pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the criminal case against the company, which employs thousands of people across the country.
The Conservatives pounced on the news that Butts, a key member of the prime minister's inner circle, was leaving, less than a week after the resignation of Wilson-Raybould as minister of veterans affairs.
"The latest resignation shows a gov't in chaos as Trudeau desperately tries to cover up this scandal," Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer wrote on Twitter, a few hours after the news broke. "Canadians are rightly concerned about the allegations of political interference in a criminal prosecution. Trudeau needs to stop hiding behind other people and come clean."
This latest resignation shows a gov’t in chaos as Trudeau desperately tries to cover up this scandal. Canadians are rightly concerned about the allegations of political interference in a criminal prosecution. Trudeau needs to stop hiding behind other people and come clean. https://t.co/4yneSa0dVP— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) February 18, 2019
Other MPs, such as Calgary-area MP Michelle Rempel, piled on with their own attacks, while making light of the situation.
And in a video that appeared to have been filmed outside in a residential neighbourhood, an excited Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre invited people to sign a petition calling on the prime minister to waive attorney-client privilege to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak about what she knew about the situation.
"This is a massive new development," Poilievre said. "Gerald Butts has been the entire brain power behind Justin Trudeau and it was all of his brain power and authority that directed Justin to win the last election and over the last several years as prime minister. He would not be leaving the job if this were not extremely serious."
Manitoba Conservative MP Candice Bergen also suggested that the government was "in chaos."
Butts is a long-time political strategist, who also served as chief executive officer of conservation group WWF-Canada prior to joining Trudeau in his bid to win the leadership of the Liberal party and the 2015 election. Butts also made a point of ending his resignation statement by stressing the importance of taking action on climate change since it will be the most important issue from today that future generations will judge us on.
Major question: who is running Canada now? It sure as heck isn’t Trudeau. pic.twitter.com/MLBlVMeqTb— Michelle Rempel Garner (@MichelleRempel) February 18, 2019
A government in chaos https://t.co/RwFGmuo4Tt— Candice Bergen (@CandiceBergenMP) February 18, 2019
Andrew MacDougall, an ex-spokesman in the office of former prime minister Stephen Harper, explained why Tories might appear to be gloating.
"Political staff give an unholy amount to the job, especially in the PMO," MacDougall said on Twitter. "You can’t properly explain the grind to someone who hasn’t been there. Anyone who serves there deserves respect. The reason so many Tories are joyous today is because they feared (Butts)."
Jenni Byrne, also an ex-senior advisor to Harper who later served briefly as an advisor to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, also offered praise for Butts.
"Playing at the highest level in politics isn’t always easy," Byrne wrote on Twitter. "Partisanship and politics aside (Gerald Butts) has had tremendous success at numerous levels. I’m happy to call him a friend and wish him & his family good luck in whatever comes next."
Political staff give an unholy amount to the job, especially in the PMO. You can’t properly explain the grind to someone who hasn’t been there. Anyone who serves there deserves respect.— Andrew MacDougall (@AGMacDougall) February 18, 2019
The reason so many Tories are joyous today is because they feared @gmbutts.
Playing at the highest level in politics isn’t always easy. Partisanship and politics aside @gmbutts has had tremendous success at numerous levels. I’m happy to call him a friend and wish him & his family good luck in whatever comes next. #cdnpoli— Jenni Byrne (@Jenni_Byrne) February 18, 2019
SNC-Lavalin has been aggressively lobbying all politicians to push for a plea bargain that would allow it to avoid a criminal conviction that would result in it being banned from bidding on federal government contracts for a decade. This lobbying has included private meetings over the past year with Tory Leader Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, as well as meetings with officials from the prime minister's office.
Curiously, the Conservatives aren't saying whether they would have said "no" to a deal with SNC-Lavalin if they were the ones in government. Instead, Scheer's deputy leader, Toronto-area MP Lisa Raitt, is suggesting that they'd be more transparent about any decision to help the company avoid a criminal conviction.
"You have to have the debate at cabinet and if a deal were to be made it would be made and the Canadian public would know what the deal was instead of trying to use the office of the prosecutor to do it through the back door," Raitt told CBC's Wendy Mesley in an interview that was broadcast on Sunday.
.@AndrewScheer was lobbied by #SNC-Lavalin too. If he were PM would he want a deal cut to avoid a trial? @lraitt tells me her party would have handled it differently. But would they have said no to a deal? #CBCTheWeekly #SNCLavalin #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/dZUZFUfeyn— Wendy Mesley (@WendyMesleyCBC) February 17, 2019
Meantime, Singh, the NDP leader, has joined Green Leader Elizabeth May in calling for a public inquiry to get to the bottom of the scandal.
Scheer said in a statement that his party would continue to press for a "thorough and public investigation" by the House of Commons justice committee and that all other options remain on the table to get answers.
Maxime Bernier, who was previously in the Conservative caucus and a minister in Harper's cabinet before forming his own political movement called the People's Party of Canada, said that "crony capitalism" is the real problem. He also said in a tweet that the Tories would have done the same thing as Trudeau's Liberals, but "more openly."
Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:02 a.m. on Feb. 19, 2019 with additional comments by Candice Bergen and Maxime Bernier.