Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick retiring amid questions over his role in SNC-Lavalin affair

Michael Wernick, one of the central figures in the SNC-Lavalin affair, has announced he will retire ahead of schedule because he no longer feels he can serve as clerk of the Privy Council as the country heads into what is set to be a contentious election season.

Wernick is one of the individuals accused by former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould of pressuring her to intervene in the court case of SNC-Lavalin in order to help the company avoid a criminal trial and conviction that could bar it from bidding for government contracts.

But his fiercely-worded defence of both his own behaviour in the controversy as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before the House of Commons justice committee last month prompted accusations of partisanship, with critics arguing he should be fired.

“Recent events have led me to conclude that I cannot serve as Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to Cabinet during the upcoming election campaign,” Wernick wrote in a letter to Trudeau announcing his decision to retire early on Monday.

“Therefore, I will be taking steps to retire from the public service well before the writ of election is issued.”

Trudeau issued a press release minutes later saying he intends to name Ian Shugart, the deputy minister of foreign affairs, to the role in the coming weeks.

The Clerk of the Privy Council is the top civil servant and supports the implementation of whichever government is in power.

Their job is to be non-partisan and be able to maintain the trust of any party that will come to power.

However, Wernick’s appearance before the justice committee on the SNC-Lavalin affair included a heated defence of the government and at-times rambling remarks on his fears someone will be “assassinated” during the upcoming election because of intense rhetoric.

Opposition critics began calling for him to resign for being too political.

NDP MP Charlie Angus called for Trudeau to ask for his resignation earlier this month and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer echoed those calls.

But news that Kevin Lynch, a former clerk and now chairman of the board of directors at SNC-Lavalin, sought Wernick’s help in trying to secure a remediation or deferred prosecution agreement for his firm to avoid criminal trial escalated concerns about whether Wernick had been improperly lobbied.

While Trudeau has defended Wernick, a federal civil servant for 38 years, Wernick himself acknowledged on Monday he cannot overcome the broken trust in his ability to serve other governments if the Liberals are not re-elected in October 2019.

“It has been my privilege to work with the transition teams of three prime ministers. It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the Opposition parties. Furthermore, it is essential that during the writ period the Clerk be seen by all political parties as an impartial arbiter of whether serious foreign interference has occurred,” he wrote in his letter to Trudeau.

“Therefore, I wish to relinquish these roles before the election. It is essential that Canadians continue to see their world leading public service as non-partisan and there to provide excellent services to Canadians and the governments they elect.”

Global News | March 18, 2019

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