Gerald Butts, principal secretary and senior advisor to Justin Trudeau, resigned from his position today amid allegations surrounding the Prime Minister's Office.
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L) and his principal secretary Gerald Butts take part in a meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, April 21, 2017.
Butts issued a statement denying that anyone in Trudeau's office pressured then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.
Butts said the allegation is distracting from the work Trudeau and his government are doing nine months out from the next federal election, and so it's in the best interest of the office of the prime minister that he step aside.
In a lengthy statement about his resignation, Butts denied the allegations that he or anyone in the PMO pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould - who was the attorney general at the time - to have federal prosecutors pursue a remediation agreement rather than criminal prosecution in the corruption and fraud case against the Quebec engineering and construction giant.
Critics say that would be improper political meddling in a legal case.
Wilson-Raybould resigned from the Cabinet as veterans affairs minister last week but gave no reasons.
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Wilson-Raybould has not commented on the matter, citing solicitor-client privilege. "I categorically deny the accusation that I or anyone else" in Trudeau's office pressured Wilson-Raybould, he added.
Since 2015, Butts has been Trudeau's closest and most trusted adviser. He was instrumental in organizing Trudeau's successful leadership bid in 2013 and was one of two key architects - along with Katie Telford, now Trudeau's chief of staff - of the Liberals' stunning come-from-behind election victory in 2015.
But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Butts' departure "is the clearest indication yet that there is much more" to the affair than Trudeau has admitted. In an interview with McGill News, Trudeau said the experience helped convince him he wasn't cut out for a career as a lawyer or a debater.
"I want to thank him for his service and continued friendship", Trudeau said in a post on Twitter. His aunt, Peggy Butts, a nun and social activist who is said to have been one of the biggest influences on how he views the world, was appointed to the Senate by Jean Chretien in 1997. The government gave itself the power to do so previous year by changing the law to allow for deferred prosecution agreements, whereby the attorney general can order the country's independent prosecution service to strike a deal to end a criminal case. The committee is to discuss the issue again on Tuesday behind closed doors. Motions are not binding on the government, however.
This visibility began in his McGuinty days, with the Ontario Tories in 2003 putting out an entire press release attacking him as an "anonymous, unelected, backroom spin doctor" who was the "real leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario". Butts has said that he advised her to speak with the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick. At a public appearance in Vancouver, Trudeau says he's spoken to Wilson-Raybould and confirmed with her that he said any decision on the SNC-Lavalin prosecution was entirely hers.
"It's obviously a sad moment for me and Gerry's many friends, and people who really admire the tremendous work he's done for Canada", she told reporters in a scrum. Life is full of uncertainties, but I am absolutely certain of that.
Trudeau paid homage to his old friend in a tweet: "Gerald Butts served this government - and our country - with integrity, sage advice and devotion. From my perspective, our relationship has always been defined by mutual respect, candour and an honest desire to work together".