Canada’s top public servant Michael Wernick announces surprise retirement

OTTAWA—Canada’s top public servant is stepping down after opposition MPs called for his resignation for his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Michael Wernick announced Monday that he will “retire” from the role of clerk of the Privy Council in the coming weeks.

“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,” Wernick wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, released publicly Monday.

“Therefore, I wish to relinquish these roles before the election.”

Trudeau’s office announced that Ian Shugart, currently the top bureaucrat at Global Affairs Canada, will take over as clerk.

Over the course of two extraordinary meetings at the House of Commons’ justice committee, Wernick sparred with opposition MPs over his role in the SNC-Lavalin affair. The tense exchanges led the Conservatives, New Democrats and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May to call for his resignation.

While Wernick said he was retiring after 38 years, his letter said “recent events” had led him to conclude he cannot serve as clerk during the election campaign.

“I want to thank MW for his extraordinary service to Canada over many, many decades,” Trudeau told reporters outside the House of Commons.

“We’ve accomplished a lot as a government over these past three and a half years, and it was definitely in large part because of extraordinary public service and Michael Wernick’s leadership.”

Trudeau did not answer when asked if he asked Wernick to step down.

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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