Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision to quit Justin Trudeau’s cabinet amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy could spell trouble for the Liberals ahead of a looming October federal election, according to experts, who say it’s another damaging episode to the prime minister’s brand of “sunny ways.”
Wilson-Raybould quits Trudeau cabinet
The former justice minister resigned Tuesday following allegations the Prime Minister’s Office tried to pressure her to drop corruption and fraud charges against Montreal construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
“With a heavy heart I am writing to tender my resignation as the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence,” she wrote,” she wrote to the prime minister. “When I sought federal elected office, it was with the goal of implementing a positive and progressive vision of change on behalf of all Canadians and a different way of doing politics.”
Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker said her resignation could deal a potential blow to Trudeau as he faces re-election this year.
“Personal disputes are things that people pay attention to,” he said. “Obviously this is the kind of drama that attracts eyeballs for all the wrong reasons.”
With the latest Ipsos polling showing the Liberals and Conservatives neck-and-neck, Bricker said the SNC-Lavalin affair has moved from a legalistic argument to a “personal dispute.”
“They are in a tight election race,” Bricker said. “The margin for error is really small. This is the last thing they need.”
Conservative strategist and vice-chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said this latest episode could add to the list of controversies that have plagued Trudeau’s government and darkened the political branding that helped sweep the Liberals into power in 2015.
“It’s overcast in Justin Trudeau’s Canada now. The question is whether there will be a storm of fierce reckoning or will the overcast skies break and the sun will come back again,” Powers said. “Allegations of this nature, stories of this nature, get at a government’s credibility.”
The Globe and Mail reported last week that the prime minister or his staff pressured Raybould to direct federal prosecutors to make a “deferred prosecution agreement” (DPA) to avoid taking SNC-Lavalin to trial on allegations of corruption and bribery in relation to its efforts to win government contracts in Libya.
WATCH: Jody Wilson-Raybould resigns from federal cabinet amid SNC-Lavalin controversy
Wilson-Raybould, who was moved to the Veterans Affairs portfolio in January, has been under intense pressure since the bombshell report to answer questions.
“I am aware that many Canadians wish for me to speak on matters that have been in the media over the past week,” she wrote in her resignation letter. “I am in the process of obtaining advice on the topics that I am legally permitted to discuss in this matter and as such, have retained the Honourable Thomas Albert Cromwell, CC as counsel.”
Trudeau has denied the allegations, but Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced Monday he is opening an investigation into the matter.
The Liberal government has already faced several ethics controversies, including Trudeau’s trip to the private island of the Aga Khan, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s failure to disclose that one of his private corporations owns a villa in the south of France.
“The opposition just keep getting gifts to portray the Liberals as a cavalier, self-interested kind of lot, which Justin Trudeau just doesn’t want to sink in with the Canadian public,” Powers said.
Liberal strategist Greg MacEachern said there will be intense political pressure on the PMO in the coming days to explain what happened during conversations with Wilson-Raybould in the fall — around the same time, the public prosecution service declined to enter into a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin — and her resignation in February.
“The challenge for the Trudeau government is this goes against their brand,” said MacEachern, senior vice-president of Proof Strategies. “This is not an opposition party raising these concerns, these are concerns that came from within their own government.”
“They picked positivity and this is not a very positive story.”
READ MORE: A primer on the SNC-Lavalin controversy
The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that Wilson-Raybould informed Trudeau on Monday night of her resignation and that he convened a cabinet meeting Tuesday morning to inform ministers of her departure.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale told reporters in Regina that it’s “unfortunate” when any minister leaves the cabinet and deferred any questions to the prime minister.
WATCH: Goodale says he’s sorry to see ‘any colleague’ leave cabinet
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called on the prime minister to waive solicitor-client privilege so Wilson-Raybould can publicly talk about what happened with SNC-Lavalin.
“Mr. Trudeau’s ethical lapses and his disastrous handling of this latest scandal have thrown his government into chaos,” Scheer said. “He promised Canadians open and transparent government and he has betrayed that promise. Canadians deserve better.”
Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, said it’s too early to say what effect this latest political storm might have on the upcoming federal election
“Conventional wisdom might tell us this is not good for the Trudeau government but in terms of what the fallout is or what the impact is, it’s a two-step thing,” she said.
“We have to see what happens with the Liberal core base. Do they drift off to another party because of things like this? Or is this a difficult week or embarrassing period for the party that the government can put behind them?”
“It’s February. The election is October,” Kurl said. “This is not something any government wants to invite upon itself, but the big question is whether they will be able to put this behind them.”