- Justin Trudeau’s government is being shaken by his first major political scandal, which has led to two resignations form his cabinet.
- The scandal stems from claims that Canadian officials inappropriately pressured a former justice minister to help a major construction company avoid a corruption trial.
- Treasury Board President Jane Philpott resigned on Monday. She said she had “lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter.”
- Trudeau denied the allegations but said he was taking the scandal “seriously.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is embroiled in a corruption scandal that has seen two cabinet ministers resign, and could threaten his chances of re-election later this year.
Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, who was in charge of government spending, resigned on Monday and attacked the government for its handling of claims it intervened to protect a major construction firm.
She is the second Cabinet minister to resign, following former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, who is at the center of the scandal.
It centres on claims that Canadian officials inappropriately pressured Wilson-Raybould last year to help major construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid a corruption trial.
The allegations were first reported in The Globe and Mail in early February.
Philpott said in her resignation statement: “Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised.”
She said that it was “untenable” for her to continue in the Cabinet given her lack of confidence.
Wilson-Raybould, a friend of Philpott’s, testified last week to the justice committee of Canada’s House of Commons justice committee that Trudeau and senior members of his government tried to pressure her to drop a major investigation into SNC-Lavalin.
Canadian prosecutors charged the company in 2015 with bribing the Libyan government during the reign of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Wilson-Raybould was demoted from justice minister to the post of veteran affairs minister in January, before the scandal became public knowledge.
She resigned from Cabinet on February 12, by which time reports had started to emerged of the corruption allegations.
She did not outline her reasons for resigning in her resignation letter to Trudeau, but wrote that Canadians “must stand together for the values that Canada is built on, and which are the foundation for our future.”
She said she hired Thomas Albert Cromwell, a former Supreme Court justice, as her lawyer.
In her testimony, she said under questioning that she did not think officials had broken any laws, The New York Times reported.
But the allegations are rocking Trudeau’s government and could threaten his chances at a second term as prime minister.
Trudeau denies the allegations, but said he is taking the scandal “seriously”
Trudeau denies putting political pressure on Wilson-Raybould to get the charges dropped again SNC-Lavalin.
He said after her testimony: “I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally, therefore I completely disagree with the characterization of these events,” according to The New York Times.
Speaking on Monday after Philpott’s resignation, he said that he was disappointed but understood why she left, Reuters reported.
“Concerns of this nature must be taken seriously and I can ensure you that I am,” Trudeau told members of his Liberal Party at a rally in Toronto.
SNC-Lavalin holds multiple contracts with the Canadian government and employs around 9,000 Canadians.
It could be banned from doing business with the Canadian government for a decade if found guilty of the charges.
Other members of parliament, like Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said they will remain in the Cabinet, Reuters reported.
But the scandal could harm Trudeau’s chances at getting elected for a second term in this year’s elections.
A recent Ipsos poll found Trudeau’s approval rating in decline, and the rival Conservative party pulling ahead of the Liberals on the generic ballot.
Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, told The Guardian that Philpott’s departure is a “major blow,” and said it was “rare” for ministers to resign on principle in Canada.
The Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, called for Trudeau to resign.
He said on Monday that Wilson-Raybould had outlined a “sustained and coordinated effort to get her to interfere in a criminal case to benefit Justin Trudeau’s friends and help the Liberal party win elections.”
Some Justice officials suggested Trudeau could have political motivations to interfere with prosecutorial proceedings – trying to save jobs in Quebec, a province that will be crucial for Trudeau in this October’s federal elections.
Canada’s ethics commissioner is investigating the matter to formally determine whether Trudeau improperly interfered in the probe.
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