Trudeau, Once the Bright New Hope, Enters Campaign Tarnished by Scandal

The New York Times
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau The New York Times | James Alexander Michie

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fortunes have changed as the SNC-Lavalin case has dragged on. Andrej Ivanov/Reuters

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada was buoyed into office by a wave of new and young voters. He will need those votes again if he is to win a second term in the upcoming national elections.

But that became more challenging on Wednesday after a scathing report by Canada’s ethics commissioner, who found that Mr. Trudeau broke the law by pressing his justice minister on how to handle a criminal case involving a multinational engineering company.

The report is the first nonpartisan determination about Mr. Trudeau’s actions in the case, and was unequivocal in finding an ethics violation. It may end up influencing voters, political analysts said, if only by eroding enthusiasm for the prime minister among those who supported him in 2015, when he promised a fresh approach to politics.

“The Liberals face a challenge of getting these people who voted last time to come out and vote again,” said Andrew Steele, a former Liberal campaign strategist for Mr. Trudeau’s party, the Liberals.

The path to power for Mr. Trudeau is with those less committed voters, Mr. Steele said. “Motivating these people to vote is going to be critical,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau began having serious political trouble earlier this year when his then-justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, accused him and members of his government of trying to strong-arm her into accepting a civil settlement in a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, which is based in Montreal.

The company was charged with bribing officials in Libya and defrauding the Libyan government when Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan dictator, was in power.

Mr. Trudeau has argued that his only interest was in saving thousands of Canadian jobs. If SNC-Lavalin is criminally convicted — the case against the company is continuing — it will be shut out of government contracts, a potentially crippling blow. And he has repeatedly cast the affair as a clash of opinions between himself and Ms. Wilson-Raybould.

But the ethics commissioner’s report severely undermined that explanation by flatly finding that Mr. Trudeau’s efforts were illegal.

Before Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s accusations, polls suggested that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals were well ahead of their main opponents, the Conservatives, led by Andrew Scheer. That swiftly reversed as the scandal unfolded throughout the winter and spring, and the Liberals fell below the Conservatives.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s testimony before a Parliamentary committee was a particularly bad blow. To many Canadians, it seemed as if Mr. Trudeau and his mostly male aides had ganged up to bully her, shattering the prime minister’s previously well-cultivated image as a feminist who took a collaborative and open approach to politics.

Also, after her conversations with Mr. Trudeau and his aides about the case, Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who is a prominent Indigneous leader, was moved from the high-profile justice minister position to the cabinet backwater of veterans affairs.

Ms. Wilson-Raybould quit Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet in protest, and Jane Philpott, another respected female minister, quit in solidarity. The prime minister expelled both from the Liberal Party.

“He’s gone from new and fresh to looking callow and like an old-time politician,” said Peter Loewen, professor of political science at the University of Toronto. “People know now that he’s a boss who wants to get his way and he’ll push people around to do it.”

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Source: Ian Austen | The New York Times

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