Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expels two ex-ministers from ruling party caucus amid scandal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the former ministers would no longer be allowed to sit as legislators for the ruling Liberal Party. PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (REUTERS) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday (April 2) moved to sideline two former Cabinet ministers at the centre of a political crisis, saying he could no longer trust them.

Mr Trudeau announced that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former treasury board minister Jane Philpott would no longer be allowed to sit as legislators for the ruling Liberal Party.

The Liberals have been in turmoil since Ms Wilson-Raybould said in February that officials had inappropriately pressured her to ensure a major construction company escaped a corruption trial when she was justice minister last year.

"The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken," Mr Trudeau told an emergency meeting of caucus.

"Civil wars within parties are incredibly damaging because they signal to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than we do about them," said Mr Trudeau, 47, who took office in November 2015 and faces a tough re-election battle this autumn.

Ms Wilson-Raybould, who tweeted news of her ouster before Mr Trudeau's announcement, was demoted in January and resigned the next month. Ms Philpott quit shortly afterwards, saying she had lost confidence in how Mr Trudeau was handling the matter.

"If people can't express trust in the party and the prime minister, then they need to find another political vehicle in order to advance their ideas. It's as simple as that," Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Mr Trudeau's decision sent a message that "if you tell the truth, there is no room for you in the Liberal Party".

The expulsion represented a change of course for Mr Trudeau, who said as recently as last week that the Liberals needed strong legislators with differing points of view. But increasingly angry parliamentarians had demanded both women be removed from caucus on the grounds they were undermining party unity.

Polls show the crisis has cut public support for the Liberals and could lead to their defeat in an October election.

Opinion polls show the crisis has cut public support for the Liberals to such an extent that they could lose in October to the official opposition Conservatives.

Mr Trudeau, who came to power promising "sunny ways" and a greater role for women in politics, admitted it "has been a difficult few weeks".

The scandal also cost him the services of his closest aide, Mr Gerald Butts, and Mr Michael Wernick, the head of the federal bureaucracy.

Ms Wilson-Raybould said on Twitter: "I have no regrets. I spoke the truth as I will continue to do."

Last Friday, to back her case, she released the audio of a confidential conversation with Mr Wernick, who did not know she was recording him.

Mr Trudeau said that was "unconscionable".

Ms Philpott said on Facebook that she "did not initiate the crisis now facing the party or the prime minister... It appears that the caucus is intent on staying the current course, regardless of its short-term and long-term consequences".

Mr Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing. The scandal is starting to hit his fortunes in the populous province of Quebec, where the Liberals say they need to pick up seats in October to remain in power.

Liberals, who had once predicted the party could win an extra 20 seats in Quebec, now say that 15 is the most likely maximum gain. In a tight election, that could make all the difference.

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