February 19, 2019 5:27 pm

Justin Trudeau and Gerald Butts — a look at their years-long relationship

WATCH: Justin Trudeau's top adviser Gerald Butts resigns amid SNC-Lavalin affair


The SNC-Lavalin controversy deepened Monday after the departure of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s principal secretary Gerald Butts.

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Butts’ resignation came as a surprise to some who knew him not only as Trudeau’s adviser but also one of his oldest and closest confidants.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau’s top adviser Gerald Butts resigns amid SNC-Lavalin affair

Peter Graefe, an associate professor at McMaster University, explained that the relationship between Trudeau and Butts is not entirely unusual — but his departure is still noteworthy.

“All leaders have a right-hand person. Some of them are really long-lasting relationships,” Graefe said.

“For Trudeau, he’s only ever had one person work in that role. Some prime ministers go through a number of relationships in that role, a bit like changing shirts.”

Here’s a look at their relationship, which dates back several years.

WATCH: Trudeau heckled while addressing resignation of Gerald Butts amid SNC-Lavalin affair

Friendship dates back to university

Trudeau and Butts were friends long before they entered politics.

They met during McGill University in Montreal in the early 1990s. Their friendship was so close that Butts helped Trudeau write the eulogy for his father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in 2000.

READ MORE: Freeland calls Gerald Butts resignation ‘sad moment’

Trudeau wrote in his book, Common Ground, that when he began to consider running for Liberal leadership in 2012, Butts was the first person he approached for advice.

In reaction to the resignation, Trudeau highlighted his friendship with Butts will continue.

Influence on Trudeau government

Butts’ influence didn’t just end as a close friend who gave Trudeau advice. His influence is widely acknowledged in practically every area of government policy.

Trudeau has described Butts and his chief of staff Katie Telford as the “core of his inner circle,” and rarely made any big decisions without their input.

His influence has been so pronounced that some often jokingly, or as a jab to Trudeau, called him Prime Minister Butts.

Then-Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks to his adviser Gerald Butts, March 9, 2015.

Steve Russell/Getty Images

He has also been unusually visible for a senior political staffer, frequently speaking with journalists and very vocally defending Trudeau online.

Butts routinely uses Twitter to spin government policy, challenge government critics and even get into sparring matches with the leaders of provincial parties and governments.

WATCH: Freeland praises Butts’ work on behalf of Canada but ‘work goes on’

Background in politics

Beyond working with Trudeau, Butts has also been present in provincial politics.

His first foray into politics came with the Ontario Liberals, where he was a policy adviser to then-leader Dalton McGuinty. He was one of the architects of the 2003 Liberal platform that propelled McGuinty into the premier’s office.

READ MORE: Liberals, opposition spar over SNC-Lavalin probe — what the justice committee is doing

Butts remained McGuinty’s principal secretary for five years.

What happens now that he’s gone?

Graefe said Butts’ departure may not be as detrimental to Trudeau as it may seem. He noted the prime minister will find a replacement, and has other trustworthy members of his inner circle.

Another scenario could be that Butts continues to support Trudeau but in a different capacity.

Gerald Butts, senior adviser to Liberal leader and Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau, walks off the campaign plane in Winnipeg, Oct. 17, 2015.

Chris Wattie/Reuters

“There doesn’t seem to have been a fundamental breakage between them,” Graefe said, noting the statements put out Monday.

“Maybe this is a trial breakup.”

“There’s no impossibility that Butts ends up playing a role in crafting campaign strategy. Maybe the government will allow him to play a different kind of role,” he said.

WATCH: Morneau says Gerald Butts has ‘enormous’ respect for Canada’s institutions

But there could be a temporary void in Trudeau’s inner circle in the transition period, Graefe noted.

“[Trudeau’s] style seems to be more prone to leave other people to do the difficult thinking and he seems to be managing them, so if he doesn’t have someone who is an ideas person, they may be a bit of a void in his government,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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