OTTAWA (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - The leader of Canada's main opposition party demanded on Wednesday (Feb 27) that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quit after a former justice minister said government officials inappropriately pressured her to help a major firm avoid a bribery trial.
The allegations by former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould dramatically deepened the biggest crisis of Mr Trudeau's tenure just months ahead of an October election in which his Liberals face a tough fight.
Ms Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee that she had confronted Mr Trudeau over what she called inappropriate pressure to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group evade a corruption trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials.
Mr Andrew Scheer, leader of the official opposition Conservative Party, demanded the resignation of what he called a disgraced prime minister.
"He can no longer, with a clear conscience, continue to lead this nation," Mr Scheer told reporters, calling for police to immediately probe the matter. Mr Trudeau is due to address reporters later on Wednesday.
Ms Wilson-Raybould said officials imposed "consistent and sustained pressure" on her from September to December last year to ensure SNC-Lavalin pay a large fine rather than go to trial.
"In my view, these events constituted pressure to intervene in a matter and that this pressure, or political interference to intervene, was not appropriate," she told the committee.
In all, she cited 10 phone calls and 10 meetings that included a total of 11 people outside her office, all steadily urging her to intervene out of a fear that SNC-Lavalin would cut its workforce or relocate its head office.
Ms Wilson-Raybould said she met Mr Trudeau on Sept 17.
"The prime minister raised the issue immediately. The prime minister asked me to help out, to find a solution here for SNC," she said. She said she had told him she had made up her mind.
"The prime minister again cited the potential loss of jobs and SNC moving", while also stressing that he represents an electoral district in Quebec, she said.
She added that Mr Michael Wernick, the clerk of the privy council, also warned her that the company "will likely be moving to London" without an intervention.
Ms Wilson-Raybould, who named several senior officials in the offices of Mr Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, said under questioning from Liberal legislators that she did not feel the pressure on her had been illegal.
A Morneau spokesman denied the minister or his staff had ever pressured Ms Wilson-Raybould when she was justice minister.
Mr Trudeau and other officials deny inappropriate pressure was put on Ms Wilson-Raybould. But the case forced the resignation of Mr Trudeau's principal private secretary, Mr Gerald Butts, earlier this month.
Opinion polls show the affair is starting to hurt the Liberals ahead of what looks set to be a tightly contested federal election in October.