Will Trudeau’s scandal cost him the election?

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With national elections about seven months away, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party have become involved in a scandal that may threaten his party moving forward.

Trudeau and the Liberal Party have been accused of pressuring the now-former minister of justice and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to drop criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin, an engineering company based in Quebec.

The RCMP alleged that SNC-Lavalin bribed members of the Libyan government, including former dictator Muammar Gaddafi. SNC-Lavalin denied these charges, but they have a reputation for suspicious business practices, so the allegations don’t seem too far from reality.

Instead of issuing them a 10-year ban on bidding for federal contracts, the Liberal Party wanted Wilson-Raybould to issue financial penalties on the company, assumedly because a decade-long ban could be harmful to SNC-Lavalin’s business.

The company is involved in large Canadian infrastructure projects and employs about 9000 people across Canada, so a ban would be detrimental on more than one level.

Trudeau has denied interfering with her decision, but never denied discussing SNC-Lavalin with other cabinet ministers.

Another reason Trudeau has been under fire for this is because before this scandal went public, Wilson-Raybould was reshuffled from attorney general and justice minister to the minister of veterans affairs, which is seen as a demotion.

Wilson-Raybould was a key proponent to Trudeau’s gender-diverse cabinet and is also a prominent Indigenous leader, so the reshuffling and alleged pressure over the SNC-Lavalin issue makes for poor optics for the Prime Minister.

Many conservative critics have accused him of severe corruption, but I’m not sure I would go quite as far as that yet, especially because the case is still developing.

On Feb. 11, Canada’s independent ethics commissioner said that they would be looking into the allegations against Trudeau. The next day Wilson-Raybould suddenly resigned.

Less than a week later, Trudeau’s close advisor Gerard Butts also resigned from his position of principal secretary. Despite his resignation, he has been adamant that there was no inappropriate pressure against Wilson-Raybould.

At the end of February, Wilson-Raybould testified before the judiciary committee in the House of Commons, saying that for several months she was consistently pressured “by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.”

She said that the necessity of interference in the SNC-Lavalin case was expressed by those pressuring her, along with veiled threats if she did not defer the prosecution on the company. In her testimony she noted, that while the pressure from the Prime Minister was inappropriate, it was not illegal.

Since Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, Trudeau has defended his position saying that as Prime Minister, it is his duty to weigh the prosecution with consideration of national interest.

It’s clear that Trudeau has never denied his conversations about the SNC-Lavalin affair, but he seems to be deferring the blame as best he can.

Just the other week at a press conference regarding the SNC-Lavalin case, he avoided answering any questions about the cabinet reshuffle where Wilson-Raybould was demoted, instead saying “there are many lessons to be learned and many things we would have liked to have done differently.”

Both Trudeau and Butts have stated that they had intended to protect jobs with the SNC-Lavalin case, but failed to communicate this effectively, resulting in the scandal.

Regardless, the scandal has severely affected Trudeau’s image and has, for some, resulted in a loss of faith in the Liberal government.

The SNC-Lavalin affair is still unfolding, so it’s unclear as to what affect this will have during the October elections, but the potential for these events to threaten Trudeau’s political future are pronounced.

Justin Trudeau has been uplifted for much of his political reign, but maybe this scandal is one that will show the harm in holding any political figure to unrealistic standards.

I think it’s fair to say that nobody, even those who voted for Trudeau, expected him to be perfect. But it’s self-evident that all citizens expect him to be as candid as possible, especially because of his strong emphasis on government openness in his 2015 campaign platform.

Many conservative critics have accused him of severe corruption, but I’m not sure I would go quite as far as that yet, especially because the case is still developing.

I would say, however, that Trudeau is facing a moral crisis, and has drifted away from his vow for transparency within the Canadian government.

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