Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is involved in a major political scandal that has already joked his progressive image and can track his premiership before October. Trudeau and his political allies have been accused of pushing Canadian former Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to release criminal corruption charges against the Quebec-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin and instead to impose financial penalties, which would do so possible for the company to avoid a ten-year ban on bidding on federal contracts. SNC-Lavalin is suspected of bribing the Libyan government under the regime of former leader Muammar Qaddafi. The scandals' news usually went on February 7, 201 9, when the Canadian outlet Globe and Mail published a report by Trudeau's office trying to pressure Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the SNC-Lavalin case. But the controversy exploded last week when Wilson-Raybould testified before the court's committee in Canada's house. During her testimony, she said Trudeau and his senior aides had begun a "consistent and sustainable" effort to get her disturbed in the case of SNC-Lavalin. She described the pressure as inappropriate but said that in her opinion she was not "illegal". Trudeau has denied anything wrong and said he disagrees with Wilson-Raybould's characterization of the events. He does not deny that he advocates financial sanctions against the company but says it was done to protect the work. But the optics are terrible for the prime minister. Wilson-Raybould – a former prosecutor and indigenous woman who once was a symbol of Trudaeu's multifaceted and equitable cabinet…
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is involved in a major political scandal that has already joked his progressive image and can track his premiership before October.
Trudeau and his political allies have been accused of pushing Canadian former Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to release criminal corruption charges against the Quebec-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin and instead to impose financial penalties, which would do so possible for the company to avoid a ten-year ban on bidding on federal contracts. SNC-Lavalin is suspected of bribing the Libyan government under the regime of former leader Muammar Qaddafi.
The scandals’ news usually went on February 7, 201
9, when the Canadian outlet Globe and Mail published a report by Trudeau’s office trying to pressure Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the SNC-Lavalin case. But the controversy exploded last week when Wilson-Raybould testified before the court’s committee in Canada’s house.
During her testimony, she said Trudeau and his senior aides had begun a “consistent and sustainable” effort to get her disturbed in the case of SNC-Lavalin. She described the pressure as inappropriate but said that in her opinion she was not “illegal”.
Trudeau has denied anything wrong and said he disagrees with Wilson-Raybould’s characterization of the events. He does not deny that he advocates financial sanctions against the company but says it was done to protect the work.
But the optics are terrible for the prime minister.
Wilson-Raybould – a former prosecutor and indigenous woman who once was a symbol of Trudaeu’s multifaceted and equitable cabinet – was moved out of her role as a lawyer and justice minister in January and effectively beat them to another position in the cabinet that Minister for Veterans Stores. She resigned from the cabinet entirely on February 12, 2019, shortly after the scandal broke.
Trudeau, who became Prime Minister in 2015, has made openness and openness a center for his leadership philosophy and enthusiastically engaged in democratic values. He modeled his governing platform to promote gender equality and domestic rights. But his alleged pressure campaign and Wilson-Raybould’s possible side division look very much like a betrayal of these values.
“This is the flower of the prime minister’s praise,” said Jonathan Rose, a political science professor at Queen’s University in Ontario. “It challenges him on a couple of major fronts: equality, his progressive policy. He has fallen back to earth.”
The scandal has hit Trudeau’s public image dramatically and has wrinkled faith in its government, especially after some high-profile departures. This SNC-Lavalin debacle is evolving in real time, but if it is going to be a major election issue in October, or die out before that, it’s still unclear. Here’s what you need to know.
SNC-Lavalin is a major engineering and construction company based in Montreal, Quebec, with operations worldwide.
In 2015, the Royal Canadian Police (RCMP) – Canada’s police force claimed that SNC-Lavalin paid bribes to Libyan government members, including former dictator Muammar Qaddafi, for $ 48 million. Officials also claimed that SNC-Lavalin had discouraged the Libyan government by nearly $ 130 million – money linked to construction projects in the country in 2001-2005.
SNC-Lavalin denied these fees, although it has a reputation for shady business practices abroad. But if one were found guilty of this Libyan case, the company would feel the consequences in Canada. Specifically, SNC-Lavalin would be prevented from bidding on any Canadian government agreements for 10 years.
This is a big thing. SNC-Lavalin is involved in some major infrastructure projects in Canada and employs about 9,000 people in the country – a decade-long ban would damage its domestic business and could potentially lead to serious job losses.
And, as mentioned, SNC-Lavalin is based in Quebec. The company is seen as the province’s “crown jewel” according to the Canadian outlet CTV. Quebec is also a politically important state for Trudeau’s liberal party and for the prime minister himself (representing a constituency there) for a potentially hard federal election in October.
This is the background to the scandal that broke in February when Globe and Mail reported that Trudeau’s office (often referred to as PMO or Prime Minister’s office) pushed Wilson-Raybould to intervene in criminal proceedings against the company. They allegedly pressed her to request prosecutors to pursue a “deferred prosecution,” which would lead to financial sanctions against the company rather than a formal prosecution – which would imply a ten-year ban.
These types of deferred documents become quite common in the United States for large corporations, but they were introduced in Canada just last fall. Reports in the Canadian press have shown that SNC-Lavalin lobbied for this change in the law, and very likely hoped to benefit from it.
The report in the Globe and Mail relied on anonymous sources but implicated Trudeau and his close assistants. The Prime Minister denied the statement and said that neither he nor anyone in his office “was directed … to make a decision on this issue.” To be obvious Trudeau did not deny to talk about the SNC-Lavalin case with his minister, but he said he had never instructed anyone to disturb.
Without being too deep in Canadian politics, it is important to point out that in Canada, Attorney-General  is a position held by a person who is also a elected MP.
Wilson-Raybould is therefore in his role as Justice Minister a member of Trudeau’s Cabinet, and it may not be common for the Prime Minister to discuss legal policy or even a political or economic problem such as the SNC-Lavalin case among his ministers. But since Wilson-Raybould is also Advocate General, she also has the last statement on the country’s prosecutor, which is supposed to be independent of political influence. (This scandal has revived talks to separate the two roles due to the inherent conflict.)
Trudeau has admitted that he discussed the SNC-Lavalin prosecution with Wilson-Raybould, but said there was no press campaign conducted by him or someone who was near Han and he said that the decision on how to handle the company was “her to do”. Nothing practically changed: SNC-Lavalin is still facing crime.
However, there is a slight wrinkle here. In early January, before the SNC-Lavalin story became public in February, Wilson-Raybould moved in a cabinet the covers of the Attorney-General’s role – where she had been serving since 2015 – to the role of Minister of Veterinary Affairs, which is generally seen as a demo thione. Law professor and Liberal MP David Lametti was appointed the new lawyer and justice department.
The cabinet is taken care of. But Wilson-Raybould was a key member of Trudeau’s equal, shifting cabinet and a prominent domestic leader in a government that promised better relations with Canada’s native population. That she was replaced by a white man did not look good, but when reported that Trudeau and his office claimed that Wilson-Raybould over SNC-Lavalin emerged, the shooter suddenly saw even worse.
Or at least that’s how the conservative opposition, especially the leader Andrew Scheer, spun it. He argued that Trudeau demoted Wilson-Raybould because she did not claim SNC-Lavalin, even though there is no evidence of it.
The scandal spiraled from there. Canada’s Independent Ethics Commissioner announced on February 11 that it would investigate allegations against Trudeau and his office, a probe the prime minister said he supported.
The next day, February 12, Wilson-Raybould suddenly resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet altogether. The House of Commons, the Canadian Legislature, also decided to investigate.
When the pressure intensified, Gerald Butts, a top adviser to Trudeau and a close friend and trust in the prime minister, left his job as chief secretary on February 18. Butts was involved in the alleged press campaign, and although he denied any involvement in a long notice letter he said his presence had become a distraction in the government.
“An accusation that I or the staff put pressure on the law board is simply not true,” Butts wrote. “But the fact is that this accusation exists. It cannot and should not take a moment away from the important work the prime minister and his office do for all Canadians.”
This SNC -Lavalin scandal jumped over when Wilson -Raybould testified before the court committee of Canada’s House of February 27.
The hearing was explosive. Wilson-Raybould told MEPs that between September and December 2018 she was the subject of a “consistent and sustainable effort by many people within the government to try to politically interfere in the practice of prosecution in my role as a lawyer for Canada.”
She called these attempts an “inappropriate effort” to secure a deferred prosecution for SNC-Lavalin.
Wilson-Raybould said these agencies involved 11 people from the Prime Minister’s office, the Private Council’s office (probably the non-partisan service) and the finance minister’s office. Overall, Wilson-Raybould said she or she attended 10 meetings and 10 phone calls, along with emails and text messages, especially on the SNC-Lavalin issue. She also took simultaneous notes that documented these interactions.
“Within these conversations,” Wilson-Raybould, “expressed statements about the need for disturbances in the SNC-Lavalin matter, [and] the potential for consequences and hidden threats”, said “If a deferred prosecution was not available to the company.
Wilson-Raybould also recalled specific these interactions – including those she had with Trudeau directly. For example, on September 17, she said she attended a meeting with Trudeau and the private council, Michael Wernick.
At this meeting, which would not be about SNC-Lavalin, she said Trudeau immediately addressed it. He told her that if SNC-Lavalin would not agree would move from Montreal, leading to potential jobs. Wilson-Raybould says she protested and told him she would not disturb, to which the prime minister repeated her concern over job losses – and then raised the upcoming Quebec provincial elections. Here is the relevant part of her testimony:
… the Prime Minister jumped in and stressed that there is a choice in Quebec and that “I am an MP in Quebec, a member of Papineau”.
I was pretty surprised. My answer, and I also remember this, was to ask the Prime Minister a direct question when he saw him in the eye.
I asked, “Do you interrupt politically in my role, my decision as a lawyer? I would strongly recommend it.”
The Prime Minister said: “No, no, we just need to find a solution.” He spoke to my alternate and she said I could talk to the director.
In his hour-long testimony, Wilson-Raybould describes these and other bodies that all sound rather damnable to Trudeau’s offices – and the rest of the government. And with her simultaneous memorandum and potential email and phone records, it appears she has evidence to back up her claims.
But Wilson-Raybould also made it clear that while she believed the pressure of the Prime Minister’s office was “inappropriate,” it was not illegal, according to her.
Wilson-Raybould concluded his testimony by saying that she saw herself speaking the truth to power. “I come from a wide range of matriarchs,” she said, referring to her United Nations background. “And I am a truth-teller, in accordance with the laws and traditions of our great house. This is who I am, and that is who I will always be.”
Trudeau continues to deny something wrong and says Wilson-Raybould mischaracterized the interactions and that he and his staff acted professionally. He had said – even before Wilson-Raybould’s hearing – that it was part of his job as prime minister to try to protect the economy.
“One of the fundamental responsibilities of any government is to look for good jobs, defend jobs and to ensure that our economy grows in a way that gives a real and fair chance to everyone,” Trudeau told February 22.
On Wednesday, the prime minister’s former chief secretary, who delivered in February, told the House of Commons in another high-profile hearing. He strongly opposed Wilson-Raybould’s version of the events and said that Trudeau did not put an undue pressure on her and just wanted her to seek advice outside.
Butter said that Trudeau wanted to “make sure the thousands of people whose jobs were and repeat are in danger, always at the forefront of our minds”.
“If anything could be done to protect the innocent people,” Butts continued, we had to work with the professional public service to ensure that the option was given with due consideration. “
He also said that the prime minister never asked or directed Wilson-Raybould to seek deferred prosecution. “So it was and is the Advocate General’s decision to make,” Butts said. He also denied that the cabinet reshuffle, and Wilson-Raybould’s point change had something to do with SNC-Lavalin.
If Butt’s testimony will alleviate the political fallout for Trudeau is unclear, especially since he is so close to the prime minister’s confidence. And many believe that Trudeau himself has a much more sincere explanation to the public about exactly what went down with the SNC Lavaline business and why he acted like he did.
Anyway, Trudeau remains under enormous political pressure. Conservative politicians demand that he resign and demand a criminal investigation into Canada’s police force.
Trudeau is not about to resign yet, but experts told me that it is also too early to tell how this will prove to him or Canada’s liberal party.
Sarah Goldfeder, a manager at the Earnscliffe Strategy Group and a comrade at the Canadian Global Institute, told me that right now this is “ickiness” but not necessarily illegal.
This is supported by Wilson-Raybould’s testimony – again, at least at present. “It is very important to remember that Wilson-Raybould said very clearly that there was nothing illegal in the pipeline, there was no violation of the law,” says Queen’s University Rose.
More information can surely come out that can change this equation. Trudeau and his advisers occupy a very obscure area here, and even in the best interpretation – as Trudeau made his wishes known but finally made the decision to his lawyer-general – it is still problematic.
Issues persist even though others in his government and their involvement in this alleged pressure campaign. “It is quite possible that some people might be subject to justice obstruction in an attempt to stop the prosecution.” Duff Conacher, co-founder of the government responsibility group Democracy Watch and an adjunct professor of law and politics at Ottawa University, told me.
Canada does not seem to be there yet, and there is still much more to learn about this deal.
The biggest problem for Trudeau right now may be that this scandal is extremely off-fire. He should not be this type of politician, so this controversy has reasoned so strongly. It undermines Trudeau’s image as a positive, progressive politician – his political “sunny way”. Wilson-Rayboud’s testimony of “hidden threats” and “frightening” of senior officials contrasts with the image of a transparent, responsible government and a prime minister who promised integrity and honesty. For many Canadians, Trudeau, as a prominent political columnist, now said a “scammer”.
“It really shows that their government is no better than any other government,” Lori Hausegger, a political science professor and the head of the Canadian study program at Boise State University, told me.
And allegations that the prime minister pushed a respected female domestic minister, then appeared to condemn her, undermining the image of his “valuation-based government,” as Goldfeder called it.
Gender equality and domestic rights are anchors of that agenda. “This is a prime minister who has prided herself on equality in her cabinet. This is a prime minister who calls herself a feminist. , Wilson-Raybould, to dry, said Rose. “So the optics are brutal for all of these reasons.”
And these optics have only worsened this week. On Monday, Prime Minister Jane Philpott finished and said she had lost confidence Philpott, a close ally of Wilson-Raybould, was another highly respected, important female member of Trudeau’s cabinet.
Experts say Philpott’s resignation is a very big thing. It’s symbolically bad (just check out Wilson-Raybould’s tweet) and can in practice be very destabilizing for Trudeau’s government. “It will only reconcile it to him because she is based on ethics and she was a central minister for him,” Conacher said.
Holding over all this, Canada’s approaching 2019 federal elections. It’s not clear yet how deep this scandal has penetrated beyond Ottawa’s political bubble, but again it’s early days. A recent Ipsos survey, taken after Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, gave conservatives their biggest edge since the last election. The same survey found that more than two-thirds of respondents believed Wilson-Raybould’s version of events, compared to about one-third who believed Trudeau.
Trudeau does not seem to be leaving as close to the election at this time. If he did, it would probably throw his party in chaos. The ethics study will play out, and although it may be condemning Trudeau, the probe will likely take months and may not end before the October election.
So the answer to how this scandal ends, and what it means to Trudeau, is simply, as an expert says, “We don’t know yet”.