Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented for the first time on the scandal that has engulfed his administration and essentially told the assembled media that there was no scandal and that it wasn’t damaging his credibility.
Trudeau dismissed accusations of undue influence on the judiciary when his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, accused his aides and Trudeau himself of pressuring her to drop the prosecution of construction giant SNC-Lavalin for taking bribes.
The prime minister said, “Our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues.” He declined to say how that’s possible with the opposition Conservative Party calling on him to resign and many in his own Liberal Party questioning his actions.
Yet Trudeau remained defiant and rebuked calls to apologize during the press conference, saying “no” to an apology to the Canadian people and said his administration acted appropriately.
He did, however, note that he will indeed apologize later today – to an indigenous Inuit community for the federal government’s mistreatment during the tuberculosis epidemics of the 1940s, 50s and 60s when the community was split apart.
Wilson-Raybould, who resigned last month amid the scandal, testified last week saying the administration’s senior officials issued “veiled threats” against her in an effort to convince her not to file criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian company that employs about 9,000 people in Canada or 52,000 across the world.
She recalled an instance in which Trudeau expressed his concern to her about the potential for job layoffs if the company is found guilty of wrongdoing and asked if she could “help out.”
This prompted her to ask the Prime Minister: “Are you politically interfering with my role as attorney general? I would strongly advise against it.” The retort prompted Trudeau to backtrack, she said.
Lavalin is a major employer in Quebec and Trudeau’s pressure on Wilson-Raybould was justified, he says, because thousands of jobs were at stake. Besides, he did nothing illegal, he claims.
That may or may not be the case. Conservatives are calling for an inquiry and they are likely to get it. It’s a classic example of crony capitalism and Trudeau may find it difficult to survive the scrutiny. His party is trailing conservatives in the latest polls ahead of the election in the fall.
One thing is certain: Trudeau’s anti-corruption image has taken a huge hit and he may not recover in time to win re-election.