Trudeau’s fatal flaw?
Over the past few weeks, a significant scandal has emerged in Canadian politics. That scandal is the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and the possible interference in it by the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Before approaching the scandal, a brief overview of SNC-Lavalin’s history is necessary.
Based in Montreal, SNC-Lavalin is a large construction and engineering firm which operates in many regions of the world. Within Canada, SNC-Lavalin employs roughly 9 000 people, globally that figure is closer to 50 000. The company has been and continues to be involved in major infrastructure projects in Canada.
Despite this, SNC-Lavalin’s reputation is not untarnished. Both within and outside of Canada, the company has been linked with many allegations of corruption in the past.
What brings SNC-Lavalin into the crosshairs of Canadian media as of late, is the company’s prosecution by Canada’s former Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould.
The issue first came into the public sphere in early February, when the Globe and Mail reported that aides close to the Prime Minister tried to stop Wilson-Raybould’s prosecution and requested the company be given a “deferred prosecution agreement” instead. This is a relatively new avenue for dealing with corporate fraud, that was written into law in 2018 and it would allow SNC-Lavalin in this case to face fines rather than a trial. This would be preferable for the firm, as a conviction could result in a 10-year ban from bidding on government contracts.
Back in 2018, SNC-Lavalin was among the companies who lobbied for the deferred prosecution agreement to become law.
On Friday, the Federal Court rejected a bid by SNC-Lavalin that challenged prosecutors who insisted the company face trial over corruption charges which accuse the company of bribing Libyan officials between 2001 and 2011 in order to get contracts. The only hope for SNC-Lavalin to avoid trial now is to get the deferred prosecution agreement granted by the new Attorney General, David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould following her demotion by Trudeau in January.
The true crux of the matter is the implication of Prime Minister Trudeau and other top officials, which exploded onto the front pages of newspapers when Wilson-Raybould gave her testimony to the House of Commons Justice Committee on February 27, 2019.
In Wilson-Raybould’s testimony, she gave a detailed account of the many attempts by Trudeau and his top aides to dissuade her from pursuing prosecution against SNC-Lavalin. She has stated that she does not believe the actions of Trudeau or his aides to be illegal, but inappropriate.
Regardless of legality, the reputation of the Trudeau government has taken a significant hit. Political opponents are highlighting the stark contrast between Trudeau’s campaign speeches and his recent actions, with many calling into question his promise of a transparent government. Some have even questioned his claimed support of feminism following the testimony and resignation of Wilson-Raybould, and the resignation of Treasury Board President Jane Philpott.
The most outspoken critic has been Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, who called for the Prime Minister to step down. The Guardian quotes Scheer, “He (Trudeau) can no longer, with a clear conscience, continue to lead this nation.”
SNC-Lavalin is viewed by many as the feather in the cap of Quebec. Of the company’s 9,000 Canadian employees, 3,400 are in Québec alone. This is important – the Liberals are leading in the polls in Québec – but they will require more seats in order to win the upcoming October election. If SNC-Lavalin is convicted and cuts jobs in Québec, it is possible that voters will hold Trudeau and the Liberals accountable.
Prime Minister Trudeau reflects his awareness of this crucial point by emphasizing that his pressures on Wilson-Raybould were based in his concern for Canadian jobs. His stance being that “our government will always focus on jobs and our economy,” as reported in Chicago Tribune.
On March 7, Prime Minister Trudeau called a news conference in which he offered no apology but said that, “we considered she was still open to hearing different arguments, different approaches on what her decision could be. As we now learn ... that was not the case,” according to Reuters.Scheer called the speech “a completely phony act of fake sincerity” in the same article.
In addition to the resignations of two prominent female cabinet members, Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, Trudeau’s closest political aide, Gerald Butts has also resigned.
With the federal election on the not-so-distant horizon, the SNC-Lavalin scandal may prove to be the fatal flaw in Trudeau’s governance.