Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top political adviser and confidant Gerald Butts resigned on Monday from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), claiming that allegations of political corruption levied against him by “anonymous sources” had become a “distraction” to the prime minister.
Butts held the position of principal secretary in the PMO. He and Trudeau became friends during their university student years. The state-run CBC reported:
In addition to the political partnership, the prime minister is close friends with Butts — a relationship that dates back to their time as students at McGill University in Montreal where they were members of the campus debating club.
Citing anonymous sources, the Globe and Mail accused Trudeau’s government — including then-Principal Secretary Butts — of pressuring then-Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to seek remediation with Quebec-based construction engineering company SNC-Lavalin instead of criminal prosecution.
In 2015, SNC-Lavalin was charged with corruption and fraud by federal authorities. The Globe and Mail reported:
The RCMP [charged] SNC-Lavalin and two subsidiaries with corruption and fraud for allegedly paying nearly $48-million to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to influence government decisions under the Moammar Gadhafi regime. The RCMP also charged the Montreal-based company, its construction division and a subsidiary with fraud and corruption for allegedly defrauding Libyan organizations of about $130-million.
A Globe and Mail opinion editorial accused Trudeau of abusing political power in pursuit of assisting SNC-Lavalin’s desire to evade federal charges:
Breaking an election promise by using an omnibus bill to slip remediation agreements into last year’s budget for the benefit of SNC-Lavalin, and then pressuring the justice minister to play ball, and then demoting her when she didn’t, and then blaming her for not saying anything if she felt pressured, and then standing by while “Liberal insiders” spread rumours about her character – that’s called doing your job in the modern PMO.
Wilson-Ray has since retained former Canadian Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell as legal counsel.
In his resignation letter, Butts denies any wrongdoing while warning of “climate change” as “one issue above all others.” He wrote:
I also need to say this (and I know it’s a non sequitur). Our kids and grandkids will judge us on one issue above all others. That issue is climate change. I hope the response to it becomes the collective, non-partisan, urgent effort that science clearly says is required. I hope that happens soon.
Butts further praised politicians, political staffers, and government bureaucrats as “good” and “hard-working people” who “put service of country above self every day.”
Trudeau and Kate Purchase — the prime minister’s communications director — both praised Butts via Twitter:
Assorted Canadian news media figures offered their analyses on Twitter:
It’s kinda hard to understate how tight Gerald Butts is with Justin Trudeau.
On February 11, Trudeau said Wilson-Raybould’s ongoing presence in his cabinet illustrates the latter’s contentment with his government. He said, “Her presence in cabinet should actually speak for itself.”
On February 12, Wilson-Raybould resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet.