Guardian News and Media /Toronto
Justin Trudeau has expressed regret for his handling of a political scandal that has cost him two Cabinet ministers and a close adviser – but insisted no laws had been broken and that no unethical actions were taken by him or his staff.
“This has been a tough few weeks,” the Canadian prime minister said. “Canadians expect and deserve to have faith in their institutions and the people who act within them … I have taken – and will continue to take – many lessons from these recent days and few weeks.”
Trudeau and his close aides are accused of improperly pressuring the country’s former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to abandon the prosecution of the engineering company SNC-Lavalin, which is alleged to have bribed the Libyan government to secure lucrative construction contracts.
The firm, which employs 9,000 people in Canada, is based in the province of Quebec, where Trudeau’s Liberals need to pick up seats to win a federal election set for October The scandal has cast a shadow over Trudeau’s domestic image of commitment to transparent government, potentially harming his electoral prospects.
His conciliatory remarks in front of reporters yesterday were designed to shift public attention away from the scandal.
The prime minister said he had made mistakes and acknowledged an “erosion of trust” between his office and Wilson-Raybould, who was removed from her attorney general post in January and resigned from Cabinet in mid-February.
His comments also marked the first time the prime minister had directly spoken to the allegations, following the testimony of Wilson-Raybould and the surprise resignation of the Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, who said she no longer had confidence in the government.
Trudeau, typically eager to speak with reporters, cancelled media availability at two events, instead returning to Ottawa for private meetings on how to navigate the troubles facing his government.
On Wednesday, Gerald Butts, the former principal secretary to the prime minister, testified in front of the parliamentary justice committee and rejected the idea that anyone within Trudeau’s office pressured the attorney general – suggesting he and Wilson-Raybould had divergent interpretations of the same events. Butts, a close friend of Trudeau, resigned from his post shortly after Wilson-Raybould exited Cabinet.
While the government is eager to move forward from the crisis, Wilson-Raybould has expressed interest in returning to the justice committee to further testify, saying in a statement her testimony “was not a complete account but only a detailed summary”.
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