AP NEWS

AP Explains: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau’s political crisis

March 6, 2019
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a Liberal Climate Action Rally in Toronto, Monday, March 4, 2019. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Canada’s former attorney general says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and senior members of his government inappropriately tried to pressure her to avoid prosecution of a major Canadian engineering company in a case involving allegations of corruption in Libya. The scandal has rocked Trudeau’s government in an election year and led to the resignations of two top Cabinet ministers as well as Trudeau’s top aide and best friend. The Associated Press explains the scandal.

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HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Trudeau has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Feb. 7 that Trudeau’s staff put pressure on ex-Attorney General and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to try to avoid a criminal prosecution of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin over allegations of bribes for government contracts in Libya. Critics say that would be improper political meddling in a case.

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WHY THE RESIGNATIONS?

Wilson-Raybould was demoted from her role as attorney general and justice minister in January as part of a Cabinet shuffle by Trudeau. She initially agreed to a new Cabinet post but resigned weeks later.

Wilson-Raybould testified last week in Parliament that she believes she lost the justice job because she didn’t give in to “sustained” and “inappropriate pressure” by Trudeau and other senior members of his government to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. A remediation agreement would allow the company to pay reparations but avoid a criminal trial on charges of corruption and bribery.

Wilson-Raybould declined to answer last week if she had confidence in Trudeau. Jane Philpott, a close friend of Wilson-Raybould’s and a star Cabinet minister, resigned this week, saying she was concerned the ex-attorney general was pressured and because she lost confidence in how the government has handled the scandal.

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WHAT DOES TRUDEAU SAY?

Trudeau has said that he and his staff always acted appropriately and the decision on whether to forgo prosecution and enter a plea agreement with the company was Wilson-Raybould’s and hers alone.

Gerald Butts, Trudeau top aide and close friend, resigned last week and denied that he or anyone in the Trudeau’s office pressured Wilson-Raybould.

Trudeau has also said his job is to stand up for jobs. If convicted criminally, SNC-Lavalin would be banned from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The company is a major employer in Quebec, with about 3,400 employees in the province, 9,000 employees in Canada and more than 50,000 worldwide.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Butts will provide a rebuttal to Wilson-Raybould’s testimony at a Parliamentary justice committee Wednesday. Canada’s ethics commissioner is investigating the affair but that will take months.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the opposition Conservative Party, has called on Trudeau to resign and is asking police to investigate. Wilson-Raybould has herself said that she didn’t think the pressure was illegal.

Trudeau’s Liberal party has the majority of seats in Parliament so his government cannot be brought down in a vote of no confidence unless his own party members vote against him. Federal elections are being held in October, however, and at least one poll says the Liberals are now trailing the Conservatives by a small margin.

If Trudeau should lose another Cabinet minister before the election his leadership could be called into question and already shaken Liberals could rebel. So far, other Liberal Cabinet ministers are rallying around him.