By Ethan Johnson
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing a crisis as members of his cabinet resign in the face of a scandal that could end the formerly popular politician's career.
The crisis comes from allegations that Trudeau pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to cut a deal with a company under investigation for corruption charges.
The company, engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, is facing charges for allegedly offering bribes to Libyan officials under Muammar Gaddafi between 2001 and 2011. It is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world. If the firm is convicted in a criminal trial would lead to a decade long ban on bidding on contracts. Trudeau believes that if this happens that SNC-Lavalin may leave the area which would cost jobs in Montreal. The story was first reported by Toronto’s Globe and Mail in early February.
On February 12th, Wilson-Raybould resigned from her position after having been demoted the previous month. She says that she feels that her refusal to help SNC-Lavalin was the cause behind her demotion. She told a parliamentary committee, “I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.” She said that she received “veiled threats” from members of Trudeau’s staff in attempts to get her to comply.
Trudeau’s situation only got worse when a second member of his cabinet, Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, resigned from her position. She explained her reason for leaving on her twitter account, “It grieves me to resign from a portfolio where I was at work to deliver an important mandate. I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities, constitutional obligations. There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
Mr. Trudeau told the New York TImes, “I know that Ms. Philpott has felt this way for some time. While I’m disappointed, I understand her decision.” Trudeau’s remaining 33 cabinet member have all stated that they still have confidence in his position as Prime Minister.
Trudeau has said the there has been an erosion of trust and a breakdown of communications with his former cabinet minister. "I can repeat and reassure Canadians that there was no breakdown of our systems, of our rule of law, of the integrity of our institutions," he told reporters.
On February 11th, Canada’s Ethics Commissioner started an investigation into the scandal. Also on February 18th, Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s closest advisor quit and has planned to testify before a parliamentary committee.
Leader of the opposition party, Andrew Scheer has said that Philpotts resignation shows "a government in total chaos,” and has called for Trudeau’s resignation.
Daniel Beland has said that Trudeau mishandled this situation and that his reputation has been tatined. Beland, a political science professor and director of McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in Montreal, has said, “The man who said in 2015 he wanted to change politics is increasingly seen as a politician like any other,” he said. “He might still find a way to remain prime minister after the October election, but his public image is forever tarnished.”
Despite the heat that he is facing, many believe that Trudeau will attempt to ride out the storm. "The Liberals will rally around him," says Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto.
Trudeau will be up for re-election in October. To many, this scandal has ruined his public image and has probably damaged his chances at getting re-elected.
It is possible that the liberal party may not seek to support Trudeau in the upcoming election. Beland once again speaks on the matter, “The next federal elections are coming fast and there’s no obvious heir apparent within the Liberal Cabinet. Right now, most Liberals probably think Trudeau remains their best bet to win the next federal election.”
There are some who believe that even if Trudeau was attempting to avoid prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, that he was simply trying to save jobs and may have been somewhat just in his actions. Trudeau has said on the matter, "They directly or indirectly put food on the table for countless families as one of Canada's major employers."
Trudeau’s opponents, however still call for his resignation especially Andrew Scheer, "What we heard from Justin Trudeau was an attempt to justify and normalize corruption. It's clearer than ever that inside his government, political interference and contempt for the rule of law are a matter of course."