Trudeau's brand forever tarnished

So many twists and turns already in the SNC-Lavalin scandal threatening to sink the Good Ship Trudeau in this October's federal election.

A month ago, Justin Trudeau and the Liberals looked like a lock to win a second majority. Now that's looking increasingly unlikely.

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Jody Wilson-Raybould's damning testimony before the justice committee last week, supported with texts, emails and meeting notes, showed Trudeau and his inner circle of bureaucrats and cabinet ministers leaning hard on Wilson-Raybould in her role as justice minister and attorney-general to make the criminal proceedings against the Quebec engineering giant go away. Instead of a criminal conviction that could ruin the company and put thousands out of work, Trudeau wanted Wilson-Raybould to overrule her legal bureaucrats in favour of an out-of-court settlement for corporations called a deferred prosecution agreement.

Wilson-Raybould refused and felt she was pressured for months to change her mind before being demoted to veterans affairs in a cabinet shuffle.

On Monday, Jane Philpott, the head of the Treasury Board and another powerful woman in Trudeau's cabinet, tendered her resignation, citing a lack of confidence in how Trudeau and his government have dealt with the SNC-Lavalin matter.

Trudeau and his supporters have shot themselves in the feet so many times over the last few weeks that it's a miracle they're still walking. It continued Monday in the wake of Philpott's resignation, with finance minister Bill Morneau suggesting Philpott only quit because she and Wilson-Raybould are friends, not because of morals, legal propriety or anything important, and another Liberal MP insisted SNC-Lavalin is "entitled" to that deferred prosecution agreement.

Meanwhile, Trudeau held a Donald Trump-like ego-boosting rally in Toronto on Monday night that was as weird, shallow and removed from reality as Trump's stage rants.

These self-inflicted wounds could have been completely avoided if, in the wake of the first Globe and Mail story about the Prime Minister's Office pressuring Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau had owned it with some sunny ways straight talk.

He should have fessed up to pressuring Wilson-Raybould on this legal matter but stressed that finding a political solution to a legal matter when thousands of jobs hang in the balance is responsible governing, not some underhanded effort to overturn the rule of law. The justice minister's job is to deliver political solutions to legal matters when instructed to do so by the prime minister and Wilson-Raybould did that during her term, from legalizing recreational cannabis to the assisted dying law. If she wasn't up to working with him to find a political solution to this legal matter in her role as justice minister, then a new justice minister was needed.

I heard Minister Wilson-Raybould loud and clear when she told me the criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin would proceed, Trudeau should have said, but that doesn't exempt me from my duty and the duty of my government, including Minister Wilson-Raybould, to find a solution that still respects the legal process while protecting jobs. In the same way that we can protect the environment while growing the economy, we can protect the sanctity of the law and help workers.

Far too late to say that now.

Today, Trudeau's longtime friend and former top advisor in the Prime Minister's Office, Gerald Butts, will testify before the justice committee, meaning this situation is going to get worse before it gets better for the Liberals.

Looking forward, Trudeau's tenure as leader and prime minister is shaky at best. A different prime minister, whether Liberal or Conservative, Jean Chretien or Stephen Harper, would have wielded their power by fearlessly firing Wilson-Raybould and booting her out of caucus long before it got to this point.

The team has lots of players and but only one gets to call the plays. Don't like it? The door is right there. Not to condone that way of running government but that's the way Canadian politics at the federal and provincial level has traditionally been done, regardless of the party in power.

Trudeau wrote his own ticket that he was better than his predecessors, better than his own father, and that his politics were kinder and gentler. It worked for nearly four years but now he's being held to that higher standard and he's being found lacking.

The only question now is whether it will spell the end of his political career or whether he's got the political skill to climb out of this hot mess.

Either way, sunny ways will never be as bright and warm as it once was.

-- Neil Godbout, Editor-in-chief

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