With an election looming, the Liberal Party is hoping voters have short attention spansby Nelson Wiseman / April 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
When Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister of Canada in 2015, he swiftly gained international attention as a young, attractive, and progressive face; soon after his victory, hundreds of shrieking fans mobbed him at the APEC summit in Manila in a scene more fitting a rock star than a politician. The election of Donald Trump only raised his stature; as recently as February this year, a New York Times columnist cheered Trudeau and proclaimed Canada as “a moral leader of the free world.”
The following day, a media report brought Trudeau’s image tumbling down: it alleged that the prime minister’s office had repeatedly pressured former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to suspend criminal prosecution of Canada’s largest engineering and construction firm, SNC-Lavalin, which had been charged with having bribed Libya’s Gaddafi regime. The PM’s office proposed an alternative approach under which the company would pay a fine and implement strict anti-corruption compliance measures. Such agreements, common in elsewhere in the world, became part of Canadian law last year, almost certainly to accommodate the company.
The revelations put Trudeau on the defensive. He equivocated, saying the story was false, that Wilson-Raybould had not been “directed” to drop the case, something not alleged. To get his way, he had instead demoted her to the lowly portfolio of Veter- ans Affairs, which she accepted. But sources in the prime minister’s office exacerbated Trudeau’s problem by bad-mouthing her in the press, which did not sit well with her or the public. Trudeau said her continued presence as a minister in the government indicated she supported him.
But the story refused to go away and Wilson-Raybould resigned, with another minister following suit, saying “the whole story” has not been told. (This is very unusual in Canada; 1963 was the last time multiple ministers resigned over an issue of principle, when a Conservative government refused an American request to station nuclear weapons on Canadian soil.)
The Liberal caucus is deeply divided over whether the two former ministers ought to be expelled from the caucus and denied the right to run as Liberals in the coming Octo- ber election. Party discipline is much sturdier in Canada than in Britain. In Canada, a party’s leader must sign a candidate’s nomination paper if the candidate wishes to carry the party’s label on the ballot.…