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Scheer seeks guarantee SNC-related documents will be saved by bureaucrats

DRUMMONDVILLE, Que. — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has written to the government’s top bureaucrat to ask him to keep a list of any requests he gets to delete records — suggesting that a defeated Liberal government might illegally try to destroy documents related to the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Scheer is reminding the clerk of the Privy Council that all records related to SNC-Lavalin, like other government documents, must be preserved.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been accused of improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to head off a criminal prosecution of the Quebec engineering giant.

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A copy of the letter was obtained by The Canadian Press. The Privy Council Office confirmed it has been received and said “it is being given the appropriate consideration.”

The letter begins with a lengthy preamble laying out the Conservatives’ view of the affair and says that if Scheer forms government, he intends to launch a judicial inquiry into the matter and it will need access to all the records that exist. It reminds the clerk, longtime public servant Ian Shugart, that destroying records “in contemplation of an official judicial proceeding” is a crime.

The Conservatives sent a similar letter to the clerk’s office earlier this year. This new letter seeks to connect Justin Trudeau to Dalton McGuinty, the former Liberal premier of Ontario, whose last chief of staff served a month in jail for attempting to wipe records as McGuinty was leaving office.

Canada’s bureaucrats are responsible for ensuring all government records are properly preserved. Those include materials classified as cabinet confidences, which are kept but not passed on to new governing parties.

The list of records Scheer is requesting be stored could be kept under those restrictions — which include a provision that they not be made public for 20 years.

What exactly constitutes a confidence is a lingering question in the SNC-Lavalin matter. Both the ethics commissioner’s determination that Trudeau improperly pressured his former attorney general to intervene in a decision to prosecute the company, and the RCMP’s subsequent attempts to look into it, have been constrained by cabinet secrecy.

The Conservatives have promised to introduce a law that would grant the RCMP access to materials protected by cabinet confidence with court approval, but whether those could in turn be made public is unclear.

Scheer’s campaign is making increasingly aggressive plays for power, on Friday trying to scare voters away from backing his main rivals by tossing out an unsupported claim that the Liberals and NDP would raise the GST.

He’s been raising concerns about a hypothetical Liberal-NDP coalition for days, arguing such a thing is possible if no party wins a majority of seats in Monday’s vote. On Friday it became almost his only message.

Neither the Liberals nor the NDP have said they are intent on forming a coalition, but that hasn’t stopped Scheer from accusing them of plotting what he alleges amounts to an overthrow of a legitimate Conservative government.

“Justin Trudeau has made it clear he will pay any price to stay in power — and he will use your money to pay for it,” Scheer said.

“A coalition of the (Liberals and NDP) would run a deficit of $40 billion next year alone. To pay for even half of these never-ending deficits, the Trudeau-NDP coalition would have to raise the GST from five per cent to 7.5 per cent, or cut completely the Canada social transfer to the provinces.”

Neither the Liberals nor the NDP have ever talked about raising the GST or eliminating transfer payments, and the Liberal campaign was quick to stress a Liberal government would not. The deficit figure is much higher than either the Liberals or the New Democrats have proposed.

The Conservative leader has made other claims about the Liberals’ plans, including introducing a steep tax on profits from the sale of a principal residence and decriminalizing all hard drugs — neither of which is on the table.

Scheer defended the home-tax attack by insisting it was floated as a possibility by Adam Vaughan, a Liberal seeking re-election in Toronto, when the party was soliciting policy ideas back in 2018, although it was never adopted and has been explicitly disavowed by the party.

“It’s not misinformation at all,” Scheer insisted. “We know that the Liberals are contemplating these types of things.”

Scheer began his campaign day Friday in Fredericton, aiming to take back seats in Atlantic Canada, where the Liberals won every riding four years ago.

Though the Conservatives’ main opponent in the riding is a Liberal, the Greens are also putting up a formidable challenge.

Scheer was quick to dismiss their platform as well. 

“We can see that if those policies are adopted too it will be even costlier to Canadians.”

Later Friday, Scheer headed back to Quebec, and his first stop was in the riding of the man who once challenged him for the leadership of the Conservative party: Maxime Bernier.

Bernier founded and leads the People’s Party of Canada now, but the Conservatives have been saying for weeks they expect him to lose his seat to their candidate.

Scheer took a subtle jab at Bernier during his speech to an enthusiastic crowd at a bar, saying the region wants to have MP working for the people, “and not for his own political ambitions.”

Beauce is one of only a handful of seats the party now thinks it is going to pick up in the province, the surging Bloc Quebecois eating away at the support Conservatives hoped to capture.

Nearly all of Scheer’s Quebec candidates flanked him at an evening rally in Drummondville, east of Montreal, as he exhorted the crowd to ensure they get out the vote.

In Bernier’s riding, Scheer already had one new supporter in his corner.

Bruno Boutin said he’d actually never cast a ballot for the Conservative party, but intended to do so this time around. He called Scheer “refreshing.”

“He’s something new for us and all he has to do is make his French a little better for us,” he said.

“But we share the same values as he shares, so we hope he’ll make it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2019.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press