3 political problems for Justin Trudeau arising from allegations about SNC-Lavalin and former justice minister

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      Just over nine months before the next federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is fending off a controversy that speaks to the issue of trust.

      It has also generated questions over whether officials in his office respect the rule of law.

      Did his senior staff try to pressure former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to get the Public Prosecution Service of Canada to abandon a prosecution against SNC-Lavalin, a giant, Montreal-based construction-services company?

      Did Wilson-Raybould's refusal to do this play any role in her losing her job as justice minister and becoming minister of veterans affairs?

      It's interesting to note that many B.C. First Nations leaders, including Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, were quick to rip into this decision. They highlighted, among other things, the former justice minister's integrity.

      Should Canadians be concerned that Trudeau, a Montreal-area MP, replaced Wilson-Raybould with another Montreal-area MP, David Lametti, as justice minister?

      What should voters think of the ongoing silence of Wilson-Raybould? She has insisted it would be inappropriate for her to comment on this issue because she's bound by solicitor-client privilege.

      At the very least, the plethora of anonymous sources in this story speaks to a lack of transparency.

      The history of SNC-Lavalin doesn't exactly inspire confidence. It was debarred by the World Bank for a decade in connection with a corruption case in Bangladesh.

      Then there's the strong B.C. connection. SNC-Lavalin has been involved in a multitude of B.C. public projects.

      They include overseeing the Seymour-Capilano filtration project, fixing TransLink's Compass card and fare-gate programs, leading development of the Evergreen Line, being a partner in the company that operates the Canada Line, and influencing the B.C. government to choose SkyTrain over light rail for the Millennium Line.

      If the House of Commons justice committee were to hold hearings, this would provide clarity.

      The three Conservatives and one New Democrat on the committee would like to call nine witnesses, including top Trudeau aides Gerald Butts and Katie Telford, as well as Wilson-Raybould. 

      But that's unlikely to happen with the Liberals in a majority.

      Six of the 10 voting members are Liberal. The only New Democrat is NDP justice critic and Victoria MP Murray Rankin and the three Conservatives are the other vice chair, Michael Cooper, and Michael Barrett and Dave MacKenzie. (Coquitlam–Port Coquitlam Liberal MP Ron McKinnon is the only other B.C. MP on the committee.)

      The NDP was left with no other option than to ask the ethics commissioner to investigate.

      Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he's considering legal options.

      Below, you can read just three reasons why all of this is going to create ongoing political problems for Trudeau.

      It could possibly deny him a second majority government.

      In 2015, Justin Trudeau climbed the Grouse Grind to show he had "B.C. in his blood", but he risks being portrayed in 2019 as a distinctly Quebec politician.
      Liberal Party of Canada

      1. Ethical allegations are political poison

      As we saw in the last federal, B.C., Ontario, and U.S. presidential elections, media reports suggesting ethical wrongdoing have a potent impact on the electorate.

      There's perhaps nothing that makes voters more eager to throw out a government than the perception that their leaders are willing to break the rules.

      That applies to Sen. Mike Duffy's expenses, the "Wild West" election-financing law under the B.C. Liberals, Kathleen Wynne's officials being charged, or Hillary Clinton's email controversy.

      The Quebec sponsorship scandal is what defeated the Paul Martin–led Liberal government in 2006.

      For these reasons, expect the Conservatives and NDP to keep hammering away on the SNC-Lavalin case.

      It will be eagerly covered by the national media because this story will attract lots of web traffic, which can be monetized.

      This 2010 Maclean's cover resulted in demands for an apology from the government of Quebec.

      2. Story reinforces Quebec stereotypes

      In 2010, Maclean's magazine published a controversial cover story declaring that Quebec was Canada's most corrupt province. It created an uproar, with the then deputy premier, Nathalie Normandeau, accusing the Rogers Media-owned publication of Quebec-bashing.

      Now in the wake of the Globe and Mail's SNC-Lavalin scoop, the National Post's Andrew Coyne is unsubtly pointing to this history of corruption in Quebec by referring to "A Certain Province" in one of his columns.

      Is this a sign that Quebec will become a bigger issue in the coming election campaign?

      Trudeau is from Quebec. The new justice minister is from Quebec. And SNC-Lavalin is based in Montreal.

      The reality is that public inquiries into the federal sponsorship scandal and Quebec construction contracts have likely made corruption this province less likely to occur in the future.

      But that's not likely to resonate with voters in English-speaking Canada, many of whom have never visited the province.

      Moreover, past and present controversies swirling around SNC-Lavalin speak to ongoing stereotypes in the rest of Canada about La Belle Province's political and business culture.

      As a result of this, Trudeau will find himself in the uncomfortable position of fending off more online anti-Quebec bigotry this year than he might have previously anticipated.

      This will be the case even though it was an anglo in his office who's been linked to allegations concerning the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

      Provincial Liberals retained many seats on the islands in Montreal despite being slaughtered in the rest of the province in 2018.

      3. Montreal versus the Rest of Quebec

      While people in the rest of Canada may view this as yet another Quebec corruption story, Quebeckers outside of Montreal may view it as yet another Montreal corruption story.

      The last Quebec election revealed the magnitude of provincial political divide, which also exists between big cities and the hinterland in many other provinces.

      On the heavily populated Island of Montreal and other smaller islands in the area, the provincial Liberals dominated. 

      The Coalition Avenir Quebec only took two seats on the Island of Montreal but swept the rest of the province, winning a resounding majority.

      Trudeau is a Montreal politician, as has been mentioned earlier in this article. The problem with this controversy involving SNC-Lavalin is it has the potential to undercut support for the federal Liberals in Quebec outside of Montreal.

      That would undermine Trudeau's electoral strategy of winning a second majority by running the table in Quebec.

      Liberals were counting on people from this province not to support Scheer or the NDP's Jagmeet Singh. Now, all bets are off.