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Politics Conservatives fundraising over SNC-Lavalin lawsuit threat

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, April 29, 2019.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservative Party is soliciting money from Canadians to defend Andrew Scheer if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau follows through on a threat to sue the Tory leader over criticism related to the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Conservative Party spokesman Cory Hann said the party has raised more than $100,000.

“We’re continuing this drive through our other fundraising channels like tele-fundraising and mail, as we prepare to see him in court,” Mr. Hann said. “We will continue to do our jobs, holding Mr. Trudeau to account, and get to the bottom of this.”

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Mr. Trudeau, through a lawyer, threatened on March 31 to sue the Conservative Leader for libel for saying the Prime Minister interfered in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. Mr. Scheer’s accusations came after former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould told the Commons justice committee in February she faced “consistent and sustained” pressure, including “veiled threats,” from Mr. Trudeau and top officials to order a negotiated settlement for SNC-Lavalin. Ms. Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott quit cabinet over the government’s handling of the matter.

When asked what the party will do with the money, which it is calling the “Andrew Scheer Legal Defence Fund,” if Mr. Trudeau does not sue the Opposition Leader, Mr. Hann said: “If he doesn’t, then these donations will help ensure it’s the last time he gets to use lawsuits to silence his critics as Prime Minister, as we work to replace this scandal-plagued government in October.”

The Conservatives are amassing the funds even though the House of Commons has a means of covering legal fees incurred by members of Parliament in the course of their parliamentary functions.

Liberal MP John McKay said the defence fund appears to be unnecessary, and suggested donors are being misled.

“It does seem like it’s a sham on the face of it,” he said, adding that he assumes Mr. Scheer would qualify for Parliamentary funding if he faced legal bills arising from a lawsuit.

“I guess there is a level of gullibility that has yet to be plumbed,” Mr. McKay said of the Conservative fundraising.

Rob Walsh, a former House of Commons law clerk, said the all-party Board of Internal Economy, which oversees the budget of the House of Commons, decides whether to pay an MP’s legal fees.

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“They might see this as being part of his parliamentary functions,” Mr. Walsh said. ‘When you get sued, [the board] look at the merits … they would look at whether to contribute to the legal costs.”

Mr. Scheer has invited Mr. Trudeau to sue him. Earlier in April, he stood outside the House of Commons, without the immunity from lawsuits that being in the chamber would afford him, and repeated word for word the criticism he levelled at the Prime Minister over the SNC-Lavalin affair.

The legal support offered by Parliament for MPs is available after a legal action is ended and only if “allegations against the member have not been substantiated at the conclusion of the matter,” according to latest version of the rules the board approved in March, 2018. The rules further stipulate the MP seeking legal funding must not have initiated the legal proceeding.

The fundraising message the party is circulating features a shield bearing the Conservative Party logo and scales of justice. “When Justin Trudeau tries to silence Andrew Scheer, he’s trying to silence each and every one of us – and we can’t let him,” the pitch says.

“Frankly, we want to see him in court, but we need to make sure we have the funds to fight this legal battle,” the fundraising request continues.

“Contribute to Andrew Scheer’s Legal Defence Fund today, so that we can fight back in court.”

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Asked why the Conservative Party is raising funds when Mr. Scheer might be eligible to have legal costs covered by Parliament, Mr. Hann said it’s always possible Mr. Trudeau could sue the party, too.

“If he’s willing to sue the Leader of the Conservative Party, there’s nothing stopping him from suing the Conservative Party either,” Mr. Hann said. “We’ve been just as critical, and we’ve shared the statement Mr. Trudeau and his lawyers took exception with. We’re going to be ready, and part of that is being sure we have funds to defend ourselves.”

Cameron Ahmad, director of communications for the Prime Minister’s Office, declined to comment on the defence fundraising.

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