Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday cited an “erosion of trust” and a breakdown in communications between his office and a former Cabinet minister for the eruption of a brewing scandal seven months ahead of national elections.
Defending himself and his government in a controversy that could threaten his and his Liberal Party’s political future, Trudeau acknowledged improvements can be made in how officials communicate and foster openness.
“There was no breakdown of our systems, of our rule of law, of the integrity of our institutions,” he told reporters in Ottawa.
Trudeau’s former minister of justice and attorney general has said she was pressured to help a Quebec-based construction company to settle a pending criminal case amid allegations it bribed officials in Libya for government contracts, The Globe and Mail reported last month.
The official, Jody Wilson-Raybould, later alleged in testimony before the House Justice Committee that she faced “veiled threats” and “sustained” pressure to help Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin. If convicted, the company – with 9,000 employees in Canada and thousands more worldwide – would be barred for a decade from getting government contracts.
Wilson-Raybould resigned in February from Trudeau’s Cabinet. Trudeau’s top aide, Gerald Butts, also resigned last month, denying accusations he pressured Wilson-Raybould. Another Cabinet member, Jane Philpott, resigned this week, saying she’d lost confidence in the government’s inquiry into the allegations of pressure.
Trudeau on Thursday described an apparent disconnect between his office and Wilson-Raybould, though he said he was unaware of any problem at the time. Officials need to “feel comfortable coming to me” with concerns, he said.
“In regards to standing up for jobs and defending the integrity of the rule of law, I continue to say there was no inappropriate pressure,” the Prime Minister said.
Trudeau called the issue involving SNC-Lavalin “a tough one.” He said he’s fighting to protect Canadian jobs but also noted the company is facing criminal charges and his country could face job losses.
“They directly or indirectly put food on the table for countless families as one of Canada’s major employers,” Trudeau said. “But they are also a company facing serious criminal charges.”
Such situations, he said, “make governing a challenge. And when there’s an erosion of trust within the people involved, it further complicates what is already a difficult decision for the attorney general.”
Trudeau said his team and everyone in his government has been focused on protecting jobs, and he stressed that “the rule of law remains fully intact.”
Saying he has taken many lessons from the recent “tough” weeks, Trudeau announced the administration will seek external expert opinions on the issues raised. Measures will be put in place “to improve the way my office works” when it interacts with ministers and caucus members, he said.
“Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues,” Trudeau said.
CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia contributed to this report.