Will the Damage to Trudeau From the SNC Affair Be Lasting?

Canadians’ opinions of the federal Liberals, and in particular Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have deteriorated considerably in the last two months.

On February 7th, The Globe and Mail revealed his efforts to pressure former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould in her handling of the SNC-Lavalin file. Trudeau’s subsequent responses have been revealed as far from the truth.

Initially, he claimed that the story was false, but subsequent testimony by her as well as his former Principal Secretary Gerald Butts and former top civil servant Michael Wernick made it clear that she was heavily pressured.

Later, Trudeau tried to blame her for not making her feelings known to him. Those feelings would have been completely obvious from her conversations with his emissaries. Having told her that the decision was hers to make, he demoted her to Veterans Affairs when he didn’t like her choice.

Then he suggested she would not have been replaced as Attorney-General had Scott Brison not resigned his cabinet role. The tape recording of the call between her and Wernick clearly implied threats to her position as Attorney General if she did not “find a solution” to the SNC file.

Most unwisely, he suggested that she was okay with how the government was handling the SNC file, saying, “Her presence in cabinet speaks for itself.” Hours later, she resigned. She has emphasized that her “resignation speaks for itself.”

The most recent poll tracker report by CBC has the Conservatives ahead by 4.5%. The Angus Reid poll which contributes to that aggregation gives the Tories 37% to the Liberals 28%, and has the NDP also gaining.

Neither Conservative leader Andrew Scheer nor New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh has done anything to add to their popularity. Yet Scheer (44%) and Singh (39%) have more Canadians viewing them more favourably than Trudeau (36%).

Meanwhile, in the republic to the south, support for President Donald Trump is remarkably resilient. His approval rating, currently at 42%, has stayed within a narrow range around 40% for the last two years.

That may not be good enough for him to win re-election in November 2020, but is nevertheless remarkable given his performance and revelations about his recent past.

His personal lawyer paid off mistresses to keep them silent during the 2016 campaign. Many of his key aides are going to jail.

The White House is in a state of perpetual chaos, which appears to be Trump’s intention. He caused an immensely unpopular record-breaking shutdown of government in an unsuccessful effort to force Congress to fund a border wall with Mexico.

None of this can have come as a complete surprise. Trump may be a blustering narcissist disinterested in truth, but he is authentic.

Partisan Liberals may find it distressing to see Trump holding his political ground while their guy is struggling. His difficulties emerge from the way he dealt with a question of prosecutorial independence. That is a topic that does not rank ahead of jobs, health care, climate change, taxes, government debt, or the economy on anybody’s list of top issues.

Trudeau’s problem is that his handling of the file subverts the image he has carefully cultivated. He proudly identifies himself as a feminist, but the women with whom he is in conflict include two of his best ministers.

He says that relations with Canada’s indigenous peoples are a top priority but has only fulfilled four of the eighteen promises to them in his 2015 election platform. He mocked indigenous protesters from Grassy Narrows at a Liberal fundraiser, for which he later apologized.

He promised transparency and to do politics differently but has constrained Wilson-Raybould’s ability to make her case, and had his committee chairs shut down the discussion.

He claimed that Canada could have both environmental responsibility and resource industries, but has been ineffective in getting pipelines started. His deep concern about SNC does not appear to be matched by concern for workers in Alberta’s oil patch.

The Liberals’ success in 2015 was heavily based on Trudeau’s image as a positive contrast to Harper’s dour style. He has now expelled both Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, a step necessitated by his inept and deceptive management of the file.

Perhaps Canadians will only vaguely remember the details of the Wilson-Raybould affair by the time Canadians vote in October, but the damage to Trudeau’s image and credibility is likely to endure.


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