TORONTO — The chief executive of SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. says he never cited the protection of 9,000 Canadian jobs as a reason it should be granted a remediation agreement to avoid a criminal trial on allegations the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to obtain government business in Libya.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Neil Bruce said Wednesday if the engineering firm is convicted and barred from bidding on federal contracts here at home its workers would end up working for the Montreal-based company’s foreign rivals.
“There would be a reduction with us but these are talented folks. They’ll get a job,” Bruce said.
“This thing that somehow they’re going to be unemployed is not true because they are highly qualified, highly experienced people.”
Bruce’s comments come as a political storm in Ottawa continues over allegations that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his senior staff and others improperly pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Trudeau and his staff have said their only concern was for SNC-Lavalin’s 9,000 jobs, which might be at risk if the company were convicted and then barred from bidding on federal contracts for up to 10 years
The affair has so far cost Trudeau two cabinet ministers, his principal secretary and the country’s top public servant, although he continues to insist no one did anything wrong.
Bruce said about 75 per cent of the company’s rivals have concluded deferred prosecution agreements in their host countries and are free to work in Canada.
Meanwhile, Bruce said he still doesn’t know why the director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada and former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould were not open to granting a remediation agreement.
He said SNC-Lavalin employees feel bruised and battered by the last six weeks since a report surfaced that government officials pressured the former attorney general to grant the company a deferred prosecution agreement.
“And I think fundamentally that’s unfair on our employees who had nothing to do with what went on seven to 20 years ago.”
While he’s not surprised that politicians would make hay out of this issue during an election year, Bruce said he’s concerned that policy-makers haven’t been as willing as other countries to defend home-grown companies and their workers.
He said there’s no plans to move the company’s headquarters from Montreal, adding competitors are envious of its shareholder base that is 82 per cent Canadian and led by the Caisse de depot which has helped fund its acquisition of British engineering firm Atkins.
“We see ourselves as Team Canada. We are a global champion, one of few. There’s not many and we’re proud to be Canadian.”