Ethical problems and conflicts of interest are damaging the image of Justin Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister, a few months before Canada holds its general elections. The question is whether Trudeau who came into power in 2015 with the image of doing politics differently with promises of being light years ahead of his predecessor, Conservative Stephen Harper, is now fighting for his political life after a scathing report from the Ethics Commissioner.
Canadians will go to the polls in October 21.
Ethical problems and conflicts of interest are damaging the image of the so called “sunny ways” Prime Minister. The question is whether the recent wave of Trudeau scandals, will stop his re-election bid, October 21. The federal commissioner of Ethics, Mario Dion, released on Wednesday a scathing report that concludes that Trudeau breached the Conflict of Interest law for trying to provide SNC Lavalin one of the largest construction companies in the country, a deferred prosecution where the company would not be criminally charged but face stiff fines instead. Trudeau now holds a problematic record: he is the only Canadian prime minister who has twice breached the Conflict of Interest law. In 2016, a few months after his election as prime minister as the head of the Liberal Party, Trudeau accepted a vacation with his family on the island of the Aga Khan, the religious leader of Ismaili Muslims, who owns a private resort in the Caribbean.
And that happened just when the Aga Khan Foundation was in talks with the Canadian government to receive a grant worth $15 million US. In the case of the SNC-Lavalin construction company, the Trudeau Government first overlapped measures to allow companies that face criminal charges to avail themselves of a deferred prosecution agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office and avoid having to go to trial.
And then, when the Canadian Prosecutor refused to offer SNC-Lavalin the deal, Trudeau pressured his Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to change her decision. SNC-Lavalin is accused of paying bribes to senior officials of the regime of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, including one of his sons, to secure contracts in the North African country. A corruption conviction would automatically result in a 10-year ban for SNC-Lavalin to participate in public contracts of the Canadian federal government. Wilson-Raybould refused to force the prosecution to change its decision, so Trudeau and other senior officials pressured the minister unsuccessfully.
Finally, the prime minister replaced her as the head of the Justice portfolio, Wilson-Raybould then resigned from the Liberal Party on February 2019 and was subsequently expelled from the Liberal Party. Trudeau initially denied that he had pressured Wilson-Raybould and when the former minister provided evidence of the constant wave of pressure she suffered, the prime minister justified the actions as claiming it was his duty to defend the country’s economic interests.
According to Trudeau, Canada would risk losing 9,000 SNC-Lavalin jobs, the company which is based in Montreal employs some 9,000 people across Canada, Trudeau claims if they are convicted it would jeopardize thousands of jobs, not to mention with a coming elections Trudeau must win a majority in Quebec. Despite the seriousness of Dion’s report, Trudeau insisted on Thursday that he had done nothing wrong, he refused once again to apologize for his actions because, he said, all he has done is protect jobs for Canadian workers. “I will not apologize for defending the jobs of Canadians because that is my job, ensuring that Canadians, communities and families across the country have support and that is what I will always do,” Trudeau said in a meeting with the press in the Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Poll numbers indicated in February that the scandal had threatened the chances of reelection of Trudeau and the Liberals and, for the first time in years, the Conservative Party had a 7 percentage lead in the polls. Liberals have regained ground in the last few months with both Liberal and Conservative virtually in a deadlock. Trudeau’s strategy of accepting responsibility for the scandal but defending the decision to protect SNC-Lavalin indicates that the liberals believe that the worst has already happened, and voters have moved on. And as several political commentators now point out, if the liberals want to re-form the Government they need to obtain good results in Quebec, the province on which SNC-Lavalin is based and Trudeau is a seen as a favourite.