NEWS
05/03/2019 10:57 GMT | Updated 05/03/2019 16:18 GMT

Trudeau Scandal: A Brit’s Guide To The ‘Unprecedented’ Case That Could Bring Down Canada’s PM

Here’s what you need to know...

Justin Trudeau’s reputation as the nice guy of international politics took another potentially fatal blow this week after allegations of a scandal involving illegal lobbying, bribery and former Libyan dictator, Muammar Gaddafi led to a second resignation.

Jane Philpott, the president of the Treasury Board, announced her resignation on Monday, deepening the political scandal threatening Trudeau.

Her announcement came just days after the former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould testified that officials had put pressure on her to help a Canadian engineering company avoid a corruption trial.

But what is Trudeau accused of, and what does it mean for his presidency, here’s what you need to know...

Who’s involved?

Central to the saga is Justin Trudeau, the refugee-loving, panda-cuddling, feminist PM with exceptional core strength for a 47-year-old and who, until now, could do no wrong.

Playing the role of the faceless and allegedly unsavoury corporation is SNC-Lavalin, an engineering and construction company based in Montreal but with worldwide operations in 50 countries and annual revenue of £5.7billion.

It employs nearly 50,000 people globally and around 3,400 in Quebec, Canada.

In the lead supporting role of this political drama is Jody Wilson-Raybould, until recently, Canada’s justice minister.

That all changed in January when she was demoted, something she says is related to her refusal to bow to political pressure. She has since resigned from the cabinet.

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cameras follow Jody Wilson Raybould as she waits to appear in front of the Justice committee in Ottawa on Wednesday.

What political pressure?

Well, that’s what the entire case centres on.

SNC-Lavalin is accused of paying bribes to Muammar Gaddafi and his family in order to secure lucrative contracts in Libya between 2001 and 2011, and was charged in 2015 by the public prosecution service of Canada.

Canadian law dictates that if the company is found guilty, they will be barred from bidding on federal contracts, cutting them off from a huge source of income.

Instead, SNC-Lavalin bosses have asked for a “deferred prosecution agreement” which would mean they paid a fine as punishment but would avoid a criminal trial.

This way they could still bid for Canadian federal contracts.

Where does the PM come in?

The controversy began with a Globe and Mail story on February 7 that alleged Trudeau’s office had “attempted to press” Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. 

On February 18, Trudeau’s top aide and life-long friend, Gerald Butts, announced he would stand down, denying in a statement that he or anyone on his staff had done anything wrong, but said he had to leave in order to avoid being a distraction from Trudeau’s “vital work”.

On February 27 during the testimony in front of the Canadian parliament’s justice committee, Wilson-Raybould backed up the claims made in the Globe and Mail.

She said she had received “veiled threats” and “hounding” from senior government officials close to the PM, who were pushing for a deferred prosecution agreement.

She added: “I experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada in an inappropriate effort.”

Wilson-Raybould said she had confronted Trudeau in September over what she said were persistent efforts by officials to help SNC-Lavalin evade trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials. 

She said she made clear she was not prepared to help the company avoid a trial, which is now pending.

She also said she was convinced her refusal to give way to the pressure had prompted her demotion.

And did they? 

Yes, Trudeau has not denied that he and his team spoke to Wilson-Raybould but they insist none of the conversations were inappropriate and were within the law.

“We believe in the independence of the judiciary and we believe in fighting for good jobs,” said Trudeau.

He also said police had not contacted anyone in his office.

What’s the bigger story?

There are two things fuelling the whole episode – jobs and elections.

SNC-Lavalin is a major employer in the province of Quebec and Trudeau told reporters on Thursday that “Canadians expect their government to look for ways to protect jobs, to grow the economy and that’s exactly what we have done ... we’ve also done it in a way that has respected our laws”.

Quebec just also happens to be a province identified by Trudeau’s Liberal Party as being crucial to gain votes in order to hold on to power, in what polls suggest will be a hard-fought election scheduled for October.

The testimony from Wilson-Raybould threatens to badly damage their chances.

Opposition politicians have jumped on the controversy and have accused the Liberals of a cover-up and want a full public inquiry. 

Will Trudeau be forced to resign?

It looks bad, but it’s not over for Trudeau yet.

Two Liberal legislators voted with the opposition last week in a failed bid to launch a public inquiry, while a female Liberal member of parliament tweeted her support for Wilson-Raybould, adding the hash tag #IStandWithHer.

The resignation of Philpott will continue to pile on the pressure, she has stated her decision was a matter of principle and in her resignation letter said: “I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities, constitutional obligations.”

But it isn’t all over for Trudeau, last week he won the public support of a top political ally, indicating there was no immediate pressure inside his Liberal Party to oust him over a deepening political scandal, Reuters reports.

One top Liberal official said there was no talk for now of a challenge to Trudeau’s leadership.

In the Canadian political system, party leaders are elected at formal conventions and cannot be deposed by a simple vote of legislators, which means any move to push out Trudeau would take a long time.

But another senior Liberal Party member said there was growing unhappiness among legislators about how Trudeau’s team had handled the SNC-Lavalin matter and that the prime minister needed to replace some of his staff.

“The level of concern over what has happened over the last few hours is unprecedented,” said the Liberal, who requested anonymity given the sensitivity of the situation.