Pressure eases on Canadian PM Trudeau in wake of political scandal

Former justice minister claims she was pressured into intervening in corruption trial

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s former justice minister, prepares to testify before the House of Commons justice committee in Ottawa on Wednesday. Photograph: David Kawai/Bloomberg

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Canada’s former justice minister, prepares to testify before the House of Commons justice committee in Ottawa on Wednesday. Photograph: David Kawai/Bloomberg

 

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday won the public support of a top political ally, indicating there is no immediate pressure inside his Liberal Party to oust him over a political scandal.

Mr Trudeau, rejecting an opposition call for his resignation, disputed allegations on Wednesday by his former justice minister that government officials inappropriately pressured her to help the a construction firm avoid a corruption trial.

The testimony from Jody Wilson-Raybould threatens to badly damage the Liberals just months ahead of what polls suggest will be a hard-fought election.

In an unusual move, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp to say she fully backed Mr Trudeau. “Of course I support the prime minister 100 percent ... I am very clearly of the view that the prime minister would never apply improper pressure,” she said.

Ms Freeland, one of the most prominent members of the cabinet, is seen by some observers as a possible successor to Mr Trudeau.

In almost four hours of testimony to the House of Commons justice committee on Wednesday, Ms Wilson-Raybould said she had confronted Mr Trudeau over what she said were persistent efforts by officials to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin evade trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials. She said she had made clear she was not prepared to help the company avoid a trial, which is now pending.

Ms Wilson-Raybould was unexpectedly given a less prominent job in January and resigned from the Cabinet this month. She said she was convinced her refusal to give way on the SNC-Lavalin case had prompted her demotion.

Her testimony deepened the worst crisis of Mr Trudeau’s tenure, but one top official said on Thursday there was no talk for now of a leadership challenge. 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 Mr Trudeau would be lengthy.

Major employer

Another senior Liberal Party member, however, said there was growing unhappiness among legislators about how Mr Trudeau’s team had handled the SNC-Lavalin matter and said 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.

The Liberals have a majority in the House of Commons and if they all vote with Mr Trudeau they can fend off any votes of confidence.

SNC-Lavalin is a major employer in the province of Quebec, where the Liberals have said they need to pick up seats to stand a chance of retaining a majority government. Liberal officials note media coverage of the affair in Quebec has been generally favourable to the party.

Mr Trudeau addressed the controversy in a televised news conference in Montreal on Thursday, saying, “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”.

Ms Wilson-Raybould said she did not consider the officials had broken any laws and Mr Trudeau said the police had not contacted anyone in his office.– Reuters