In a major shakeup to the highest ranks of the Prime Minister’s Office, Gerald Butts resigned Monday as Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary.
The bombsell departure — Butts, along with chief of staff Katie Telford, are the two most senior staffers in Trudeau’s inner circle — comes amid allegations that senior members of the PMO pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to help Quebec-based multinational engineering firm SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution on bribery and fraud charges in relation to contracts in Libya.
In a statement to reporters, Butts said he categorically denies allegations that he or anyone else in the PMO put this sort of pressure on Wilson-Raybould. He said the accusation is “simply not true.”
“At all times, I and those around me acted with integrity and a singular focus on the best interests of all Canadians,” Butts said Monday.
“Canadians are rightly proud of their public institutions. They should be, because they work. But the fact is that this accusation exists. It cannot and should not take one moment away from the vital work the prime minister and his office is doing for all Canadians.
“My reputation is my responsibility and that is for me to defend. It is in the best interests of the office and its important work for me to step away,” he said.
Wilson-Raybould announced last week she was quitting the Liberal cabinet just days after a Globe and Mail report claimed she was pressured to direct the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to sign a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) — a legal tool resembling a plea deal — with SNC-Lavalin.
The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
In a tweet, Trudeau said Butts served Canada with “integrity, sage advice and devotion.”
In addition to the political partnership, the prime minister is close personal friends with Butts — a relationship that dates back to their time as students at McGill University in Montreal.
Born in Glace Bay, N.S., a coal-mining town on Cape Breton Island, Butts worked on public policy in Ontario before becoming a senior staffer under former Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty at Queen’s Park.
After working as a campaigner at the World Wildlife Fund, Butts made the leap to federal politics and helped chart Trudeau’s political future as leader of the Liberal Party and later prime minister.
Praised by his allies as a brilliant mind, and vilified by Liberal foes as the political puppet master behind the prime minister, Butts said Monday he is proud of his time as Trudeau’s right-hand man.
“While it is fashionable sometimes in some quarters to denigrate politicians and public servants, my experience is that the women and men who serve Canadians in elected office and the professional public service are honest, decent, hard-working people who put service of country beyond self every day,” he said.
A well-known policy wonk, Butts has been a vocal defender of the government’s Canada Child Benefit and an advocate for carbon pricing as a solution to climate change.
In his resignation letter, Butts said he hoped fighting global warning “becomes the collective, non-partisan, urgent effort that science clearly says is required. I hope that happens soon.”
Butts’ past comments on the energy industry — said before he made the leap to Trudeau’s political team — have provoked the ire of oilpatch boosters.
Gerald Butts served this government – and our country – with integrity, sage advice and devotion. I want to thank him for his service and continued friendship. Please read his statement today: <a href=”https://t.co/VIaEHJMMe4″>pic.twitter.com/VIaEHJMMe4</a>