How the prime minister can seal — or reveal — cabinet secrets

Since the day the election campaign kicked off, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has been dogged by questions about why he won't waive cabinet confidence to assist the RCMP's probe into the SNC-Lavalin scandal.Trudeau maintains he granted an unprecedented waiver — what he called "the largest and most expansive waiver of cabinet confidence in Canada's history" — to allow the parliamentary committee and the ethics commissioner to dig into the matter, unshackling former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and others.But when it comes to a potential RCMP probe, Trudeau has said it was the Privy Council clerk who made the decision not to broaden the waiver: "We respect the decisions made by our professional public servants. We respect the decision made by the clerk," he said.Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer doesn't buy it. He says Trudeau has authority to lift cabinet confidence — that the Liberal leader is lying to Canadians and using "bogus" excuses to cover up the affair."He's hiding behind the clerk of the Privy Council [Ian Shugart]. I actually think it's shameful to use the public service in this way. An official who is meant to be the head of the non-partisan civil service, to be used this way, is reprehensible on the part of Justin Trudeau," Scheer said Friday.Scheer's accusation was prompted by a story in the Globe and Mail, published late Tuesday evening, that suggested the RCMP were being frustrated in their attempts to interview potential witnesses because their knowledge of the SNC-Lavalin affair was covered by cabinet confidence.The newspaper published another story late Wednesday, quoting Wilson-Raybould saying she was interviewed by the Mounties on Tuesday, a day before the election was called.Wilson-Raybould told the newspaper that the formal interview took place at the request of the RCMP, but she would not reveal what was said by either party.  The former minister did, however, say she had concerns about cabinet confidences shielding witnesses from answering RCMP questions.Who has the authority to waive cabinet confidence?Former Privy Council clerk Mel Cappe told CBC News the Canada Evidence Act gives the clerk the power to keep private cabinet confidences — but the confidence itself is the prime minister's to waive, if he wishes."But every clerk will advise every prime minister to not waive the privilege," Cappe said in an email."The purpose of the confidence is because the oath of office of every minister says that they will speak their mind in cabinet. The quality of cabinet decision making depends on candour."Yan Campagnolo, a law professor and constitutional expert at the University of Ottawa, said that precedent indicates the political authority to allow disclosure of cabinet confidences rests with the prime minister as the "master of cabinet." "From a legal perspective, the authorization is typically granted by the governor in council pursuant to the prime minist ...Read more

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