Canada's Trudeau sticks to guns as scandal threatens re-election

Canada's Trudeau sticks to guns as scandal threatens re-election
  • Clock-gray 08:26
  • calendar-gray 02 April 2019

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s insistence that there is little wrong with how he is handling the worst crisis of his tenure is frustrating lawmakers and senior party figures who believe the approach could cost him re-election this October, ONAreports citing Reuters.

Angry legislators are starting to push back against Trudeau and his team, opening up public divisions of the kind the ruling Liberals have not seen for almost 20 years.

Trudeau has been under pressure over allegations that officials inappropriately leaned on then-Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould last year to try to ensure SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid a corruption trial by paying a fine instead.

Wilson-Raybould resigned on Feb. 12 after being demoted within the Cabinet, and a second minister, Jane Philpott, subsequently quit over the way the matter had been handled.

The mood among senior advisers inside the prime minister’s office has often been grim, according to two Liberals familiar with the matter.

“The frustration is certainly more palpable than it was a couple of weeks ago ... it’s not the happiest of places to spend much time,” said one of the people, who like others cited in this story requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation. Despite a sea of unfavorable headlines as well as opinion polls showing the Liberals are on track to lose October’s federal election, Trudeau’s approach has been to wait it out.

His support for keeping the two former Cabinet ministers in caucus – while indicating both could run again for the party in October - is also inexplicable to Liberal lawmakers who say it threatens party unity.

Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott say they are acting out of principle and that the scandal shows the Liberal Party needs to do better.

Many lawmakers are furious that Trudeau’s team did not do more to shut down the affair soon after it erupted on Feb. 7. In a sign of their anger, they look set to defy his wishes and expel at least Wilson-Raybould from caucus at its next scheduled meeting on Wednesday.

“They have bungled this from the start. They should have issued an apology, promised to do better and moved on,” said one of the party’s most senior figures.

Instead, Trudeau initially denied anyone in his office had inappropriately pressured Wilson-Raybould, only to have her publicly testify to the contrary. She released more documents on Friday, ensuring the story was kept alive.

Some legislators complain that Trudeau’s tight-knit team has kept them at a distance, that it can be hard to speak to the prime minister alone and that he has ignored people with experience. Trudeau, 47, came to power in 2015 with a small cadre of longtime intimates serving as a brain trust, including Gerald Butts, his close friend and top political adviser. Butts resigned in February amid the scandal.

Members of the Trudeau team are pushing back against the criticism, arguing they are doing the best they can. “No one is claiming the outcome was handled well, but I’m not sure it would have gone any better had we tried something else,” said a third Liberal, conceding that “perhaps there can be some recalibration” on improving relations with legislators.

A government official, pressed on Trudeau’s handling of the affair and criticism from Liberals, said the prime minister was “very proud of the team” and focusing on his agenda.

Faiq Mahmudov

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