PM Trudeau expected to fight political firestorm

A file photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Ms Jane Philpott after she was appointed Treasury Board president. Ms Philpott stepped down on Monday, in a move seen as a major blow to the Prime Minister ahead of elections later this year
A file photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with Ms Jane Philpott after she was appointed Treasury Board president. Ms Philpott stepped down on Monday, in a move seen as a major blow to the Prime Minister ahead of elections later this year.PHOTO: REUTERS

Polls show Canadian leader at risk of losing October election as second minister quits

OTTAWA • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shows every sign of trying to battle his way through the biggest crisis of his tenure even as opinion polls show he stands a real chance of losing power in an election this October.

A second member of Mr Trudeau's Cabinet resigned on Monday, saying she had lost confidence over how the government had dealt with allegations that officials had inappropriately pressured then Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould last year to try and help construction company SNC-Lavalin Group avoid a trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials.

Treasury Board president Jane Philpott was one of the most respected members of government and political observers described her departure as a major blow.

Ms Wilson-Raybould's earlier abrupt resignation from the Cabinet caught Mr Trudeau off guard.

Prime Minister Trudeau, who took office in November 2015 promising to do more for women, has now lost two high-profile female ministers and his principal personal secretary in less than a month as the crisis deepens.

A government official said while Mr Trudeau was disappointed by Ms Philpott's resignation, he would not be changing tack. "We will not lose sight of the big picture. We will not lose sight of the reasons that people elected us," said the official, who requested anonymity.

Mr Trudeau told a Liberal Party rally on Monday night that he took Ms Philpott's concerns seriously while noting that "we are allowed to have disagreements and debate".

NO TIME TO LOSE

Governments survive resignations from high-profile Cabinet ministers... it doesn't have to be fatal at all. But we're now into the fourth week and every day that goes by without this closing is a day lost for this government in an election year.

MS PENNY COLLENETTE, an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa and former national director of the Liberal Party, saying Mr Justin Trudeau needed to quickly give his version of events.

Some nervous Liberal legislators say Mr Trudeau needs to make changes to his inner circle and complain about a lack of communication from top aides.

But a Liberal with close experience of working with the Prime Minister said a major shift in tactics was very unlikely.

"He will always double down when under pressure," said the Liberal. "That's his way."

An Ipsos poll for Global News released on Tuesday showed the Conservatives would get 40 per cent support from decided voters compared with just 31 per cent for Mr Trudeau, more than enough to ensure his defeat.

University of Ottawa adjunct professor Penny Collenette, a former national director of the Liberal Party, said Mr Trudeau needed to quickly give his version of events.

"Governments survive resignations from high-profile Cabinet ministers... it doesn't have to be fatal at all. But we're now into the fourth week and every day that goes by without this closing is a day lost for this government in an election year," she said by phone.

Mr Gerald Butts, who quit last month as Mr Trudeau's chief aide, was due to testify to the House of Commons justice committee about the allegations yesterday.

There are no immediate signs of an attempt to pressure Mr Trudeau to leave, if only because it can take years to force out a Canadian leader who does not want to go.

The heads of political parties are elected by members at formal conventions and cannot be sacked after a snap vote by parliamentarians, as is the case in Britain and Australia.

In statements to domestic media, every one of the 33 remaining Cabinet members - including Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland - issued statements backing Mr Trudeau.

"Removing a leader just a few months before an election would be suicide," said another Liberal.

Mr Trudeau has dismissed opposition calls for a public inquiry, noting that Canada's independent ethics commissioner is looking into the allegations.

The commissioner, though, can take months to wrap up a probe and there is no guarantee the results would be released before the vote in October.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 07, 2019, with the headline 'PM Trudeau expected to fight political firestorm'. Print Edition | Subscribe