Canada PM Trudeau ousts ex-ministers amid SNC-Lavalin scandal

The scandal has rocked the party for eight weeks Credit: Adrian Wyld/AP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has ousted Canada’s former attorney general and another ex-minister from the Liberal party caucus amid a scandal that has rocked his government in an election year.

Mr Trudeau cited repeated questioning of his leadership as well as the fact that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould publicised a secretly recorded conversation she had with Michael Wernick, Canada’s top civil servant.

Mr Trudeau called that “unconscionable”.

Mr Trudeau also ousted Jane Philpott, a former Cabinet minister who stepped down from her role after she said she lost confidence in how the government has handled the affair.

Both Ms Wilson-Raybould and Ms Philpott had remained as members of Mr Trudeau’s party in Parliament after resigning from Cabinet but kept making remarks that damaged the prime minister and the party.

The two were two high-profile women ministers in Mr Trudeau’s Cabinet, half of which are women. Ms Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s first indigenous justice minister.

Mr Trudeau and Liberal lawmakers met on Tuesday evening to discuss Ms Wilson-Raybould and Ms Philpott.

Ms Wilson-Raybould tweeted that Mr Trudeau had removed her and she will not be a Liberal candidate in the autumn election.

“What I can say is that I hold my head high & that I can look myself in the mirror knowing I did what I was required to do and what needed to be done based on principles & values that must always transcend party,” she tweeted. “I have no regrets. I spoke truth as I will continue to do.”

Ms Wilson-Raybould believes she was demoted from her role as attorney general and justice minister to veterans’ affairs minister in January because she did not give in to pressure to enter into a remediation agreement with a Canadian company accused of bribing officials in Libya.

That potential solution would avoid a potential criminal conviction that would bar engineering giant SNC-Lavalin from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The company is a major employer with 9,000 employees in Canada and more than 50,000 worldwide.

The scandal has led to multiple resignations, including Gerry Butts, Mr Trudeau’s top aide and best friend. And it has damaged the party for eight weeks.

In a letter released earlier on Tuesday, Ms Wilson-Raybould pleaded with her colleagues to remain and acknowledged they are enraged but said she was “trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess”.

“Now I know many of you are angry, hurt, and frustrated. And frankly so am I, and I can only speak for myself. I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to,” Wilson-Raybould wrote to colleagues earlier Tuesday.

Mr Trudeau has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported on February 7 via sources that Mr Trudeau’s staff put pressure on Ms Wilson-Raybould. She denied she was the source of the story, writing “I am not the one who made it public.”

The secret recording Ms Wilson-Raybould made public shows Mr Wernick telling Ms Wilson-Raybould that Mr Trudeau “is determined, quite firm” in finding a way to avoid a prosecution that could put 9,000 jobs at risk.

It also reveals Ms Wilson-Raybould saying she regards the pressure as “inappropriate”.

Ms Philpott said neither she nor Ms Wilson-Raybould initiated the crisis now facing Mr Trudeau and the party.

“Rather than acknowledge the obvious — that a range of individuals had inappropriately attempted to pressure the former Attorney General in relation to a prosecutorial decision — and apologize for what occurred, a decision was made to attempt to deny the obvious — to attack Jody Wilson-Raybould’s credibility and attempt to blame her,” Ms Philpott said in posting on social media.

“That approach now appears to be focused on whether Jody Wilson-Raybould should have audiotaped the Clerk instead of the circumstances that prompted Jody Wilson-Raybould to feel compelled to do so.”

Ms Wilson-Raybould has refused to express support for Mr Trudeau for weeks, a demand many Liberal lawmakers said was necessary if she was to remain in Parliament as part of the party caucus.

Mr Trudeau said past civil wars within the Liberal party damaged the party.

“The team has to trust each other. With Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott that trust has been broken. Our political opponents win when Liberals are divided,” Mr Trudeau said.