Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is drawing headlines south of the border yet again — but not for his progressive policies, standing up to Trump, or wearing traditional Indian garb on a state visit to India. This time, the news is serious, and some are suggesting it could cost him his political career. Trudeau is caught up in a political scandal — by far the largest he and his government have faced — all before federal elections are held in October. Here's what it's all about.
The news has to do with SNC-Lavalin, a multinational company based in Quebec, the area of Canada where Trudeau was elected (in addition to being prime minister, he also represents an electoral district). The company has 50,000 employees worldwide. Some 9,000 of the employees work in Canada, 3,400 of whom are based in Quebec.
The company has been accused of paying C$48 million in bribes to Libya's former dictator, Muammar el-Qaddafi, between 2001 and 2011. That's illegal, and if the company were found guilty of those charges, it would be barred from receiving Canadian government contracts for a decade. The company reportedly wants to make a sort of plea deal and avoid trial, but prosecutors are moving forward with the case.
How Trudeau Factors In
Here's where things began to go south for the Trudeau government. The Globe & Mail reported at the beginning of February that former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould had been pressured by Trudeau's advisers to have prosecutors accept the negotiated settlement in order to preserve jobs in Canada. The prime minister's office denied the accusations.
"The Prime Minister asks me to help out — to find a solution here for SNC — citing that if there was no DPA there would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal," Wilson-Raybould has since said in testimony. "I told him that I had done my due diligence and made up my mind on SNC and that I was not going to interfere with the decision of the DPP."
Before all this came to light, Wilson-Raybould had been demoted to serve as the minister of veterans' affairs in a Cabinet reshuffle that took place in early January.
Trudeau has denied her version of events. "I totally disagree with the former attorney general’s characterization [of discussions] in her testimony," Trudeau told reporters at an event last week.
Who Has Resigned
The scandal has kept growing in proportion with the number of resignations from Trudeau's government. Wilson-Raybould resigned from her post as minister of veterans' affairs just days after the news came to light. Then one of Trudeau's closest advisers, who was involved in the talks on SNC-Lavalin, Gerald Butts, resigned, too.
On Monday, Treasury Board President Jane Philpott also resigned, publicly writing that she has been unhappy with how Trudeau's government has responded to the accusations.
"I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities, constitutional obligations," Philpott wrote on Twitter. "There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them." She was one of the most popular members in the government, according to the Guardian.
What Comes Next
Opposition leaders have called on Trudeau to resign, something he says he won't be doing. Others, though, are calling for more investigations. Meanwhile, the country's ethics commissioner is looking into the matter.
The other members of Trudeau's cabinet — 33 people total — have publicly announced their support for the prime minister. They even attended a rally with him for a new climate change proposal this week.
Trudeau has said that Wilson-Raybould could be removed from the party for her testimony, but she says she plans to run again as a Liberal in the October elections. Given that recent polls show the Liberals slipping, Trudeau will need the party to win as many seats as possible to ensure it remains in power — maybe even Wilson-Raybould's.