OTTAWA—Outgoing Liberal MP Andrew Leslie is ready to appear in court to support his friend and former military colleague Vice-Admiral Mark Norman in Norman’s legal fight over allegations he leaked details of a cabinet discussion about a supply ship contract.
Leslie has offered to testify on Norman’s behalf when the trial gets underway in August, a proceeding that could be politically embarrassing for the federal Liberal government.
A source says Leslie informed the Prime Minister’s Office last year about his offer to testify. That news “didn’t go over well,” said the source, describing the reaction as “stunned silence.”
Norman was abruptly removed as vice-chief of defence staff — the second-highest position in the military — in January, 2017. More than a year later, he was charged with one count of breach of trust.
Norman’s trial is tentatively set to get underway in August, just weeks before the campaign for this fall’s federal election is expected to get underway.
One of the first acts of the fledgling Liberal cabinet in the fall of 2015 was to delay a $667-million, sole-source contract that had been awarded to the Chantier Davie shipyard in Levis, Que. to modify a civilian ship for replenishing Canada’s warships at sea.
That decision and details of cabinet discussions were leaked, angering ministers and setting off investigations to trace the leak’s source. Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who had previously served in cabinet, told investigators that he could not remember a leak of this kind, which he said “impacted our ability to do our work.
An appearance by Leslie on the witness stand could raise the stakes for the government in a legal case that is already tinged with political overtones. Conservative MPs have charged that Norman has been set up as the fall guy for an embarrassing political leak.
News of Leslie’s potential court appearance was first reported by CTV on Friday.
Leslie, who served 35 years in the military, worked with Norman in the Armed Forces, and Norman lives in the Ottawa riding of Orleans that Leslie represents in the House of Commons.
Leslie could not be reached for comment Friday, and his exact role in helping Norman’s defence was not immediately clear. Leslie could serve as a character witness for Norman and, as a former high-ranking officer himself, could offer insights into how the military handles internal discussions about military procurements.
Pretrial proceedings are now underway as Norman’s legal team seeks access to thousands of government documents to assist with his defence. The case is scheduled to be back in court Wednesday.
Leslie, a star candidate recruited by the Liberals for the 2015 campaign, announced this week that he would not seek a second term, saying little about what he plans to do next.
“After 40 years of public service … I think it’s time for a different path for myself,” Leslie told reporters. “There (are) other things I want to do as a private citizen … and it’s time,” he said.
Leslie said he had a “great conversation” with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and fellow Liberal MPs about his decision to not seek re-election.
Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier