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Trudeau’s political crisis: the controversy explained

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Justin Trudeau is facing the biggest crisis of his political career, as pressure mounts on the Canadian prime minister over allegations that he improperly interfered in a corruption case involving one of the country’s biggest companies.

Canada’s former attorney-general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, alleged that she was pressed by senior officials in the prime minister’s office to prevent the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a Montreal-based engineering company charged with fraud and corruption. SNC-Lavalin employs more than 8,000 people in Quebec, a province that is crucial to Mr Trudeau’s re-election in polls set for October.

The revelations have been costly for the 47-year-old leader. Two cabinet ministers, including Ms Wilson-Raybould, have resigned, along with Mr Trudeau’s closest adviser, while the leader of the country’s opposition party has called on the prime minister to step down.

Here the Financial Times explains the controversy embroiling the Canadian leader.
What is SNC-Lavalin accused of?

Global engineering and construction management company SNC-Lavalin is facing charges of fraud and corruption in relation to payments worth C$47.7m made to Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 under Muammer Gaddafi’s regime. If convicted, the company would be banned from bidding for federal government contracts for a decade.

SNC-Lavalin had hoped that the charges would be settled through a so-called deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), whereby, instead of a criminal trial, the company would pay a fine, enforce compliance measures and retain the ability to bid for contracts.

The company had lobbied federal officials for a DPA in more than 80 meetings between 2016 and 2017, according to the Globe and Mail, a Canadian national newspaper.

In October 2018, Canada’s director of the public prosecution service refused to negotiate a DPA with SNC-Lavalin, a decision the company appealed against.

How is Trudeau involved?

In February, the Globe and Mail reported that in the autumn of 2018, Mr Trudeau’s office had “attempted to press” Ms Wilson-Raybould, then Canada’s attorney-general and minister of justice, to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution case to secure a DPA.

In testimony to Canada’s parliamentary justice committee last week, Ms Wilson-Raybould said that she had “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere” in her handling of the case. She said it was “an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin”.

Mr Trudeau was part of the intervention, Ms Wilson-Raybould told the justice committee.

She said he had asked her to “find a solution” that would avoid SNC-Lavalin having to cut jobs or move from Montreal. Mr Trudeau has challenged her account and has denied any improper attempt to help the company avoid criminal prosecution.

Ms Wilson-Raybould was named minister of veterans affairs in a cabinet reshuffle in January. She resigned a month later, following the publication of the Globe and Mail report.

Days later, Gerald Butts, Mr Trudeau’s longtime senior adviser, also resigned, and on Monday, Jane Philpott, a senior cabinet minister close to Ms Wilson-Raybould stepped down, saying that she had “lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter”.
What does this mean for Trudeau?

Mr Trudeau said that the conversations with Ms Wilson-Raybould about the SNC-Lavalin case were within the rules. Ms Wilson-Raybould echoed this in her testimony, saying the pressure she experienced was “incredibly inappropriate” but not illegal.

The controversy, however, continues to escalate and threatens to overshadow Mr Trudeau’s bid for re-election. His approval ratings had slipped dramatically since he took office in 2015 and recent polls show his ruling Liberal party neck and neck with the opposition Conservatives.
What’s next?

There are currently two inquiries into the affair which could create fresh problems for Mr Trudeau in the coming weeks.

The parliamentary justice committee is expected to hold a further hearing on Wednesday to hear from Mr Butts, the former adviser, and two top civil servants. Canada’s ethics commissioner has also launched a separate probe.

Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative party, has called on Mr Trudeau to resign, saying that “he has lost the moral authority to govern”. Mr Scheer has also asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to investigate whether Mr Trudeau or his staff obstructed justice.

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