TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ousted Canada’s former attorney general and another ex-minister from the Liberal party caucus Tuesday amid a scandal that has rocked his government in an election year.
Trudeau cited repeated questioning of his leadership as well as the fact that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould publicized a secretly recorded conversation she had with Michael Wernick, Canada’s top civil servant.
Trudeau called that “unconscionable.”
Trudeau also ousted Jane Philpott, a former Cabinet minister who stepped down from her role after she said she lost confidence in how the government has handled the affair.
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott had remained as members of Trudeau’s party in Parliament after resigning from Cabinet but kept making remarks that damaged the prime minister and the party.
The two were two high-profile women ministers in Trudeau’s Cabinet, half of which are women. Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s first indigenous justice minister.
Trudeau and Liberal lawmakers met Tuesday evening to discuss Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.
Wilson-Raybould tweeted that Trudeau had removed her and she will not be a Liberal candidate in the fall election.
“What I can say is that I hold my head high & that I can look myself in the mirror knowing I did what I was required to do and what needed to be done based on principles & values that must always transcend party,” she tweeted. “I have no regrets. I spoke truth as I will continue to do.”
Wilson-Raybould believes she was demoted from her role as attorney general and justice minister to veterans’ affairs minister in January because she didn’t give in to pressure to enter into a remediation agreement with a Canadian company accused of bribing officials in Libya.
That potential solution would avoid a potential criminal conviction that would bar engineering giant SNC-Lavalin from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The company is a major employer with 9,000 employees in Canada and more than 50,000 worldwide.
The scandal has led to multiple resignations, including Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s top aide and best friend. And it has damaged the party for eight weeks.
In a letter released earlier Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould pleaded with her colleagues to remain and acknowledged they are enraged but said she was “trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess.”
“Now I know many of you are angry, hurt, and frustrated. And frankly so am I, and I can only speak for myself. I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to,” Wilson-Raybould wrote to colleagues earlier Tuesday.
Trudeau has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Feb. 7 via sources that Trudeau’s staff put pressure on Wilson-Raybould. She denied she was the source of the story, writing “I am not the one who made it public.”
The secret recording Wilson-Raybould made public shows Wernick telling Wilson-Raybould that Trudeau “is determined, quite firm” in finding a way to avoid a prosecution that could put 9,000 jobs at risk.
It also reveals Wilson-Raybould saying she regards the pressure as “inappropriate.”
Philpott said neither she nor Wilson-Raybould initiated the crisis now facing Trudeau and the party.
“Rather than acknowledge the obvious — that a range of individuals had inappropriately attempted to pressure the former Attorney General in relation to a prosecutorial decision — and apologize for what occurred, a decision was made to attempt to deny the obvious — to attack Jody Wilson-Raybould’s credibility and attempt to blame her,” Philpott said in posting on social media.
“That approach now appears to be focused on whether Jody Wilson-Raybould should have audiotaped the Clerk instead of the circumstances that prompted Jody Wilson-Raybould to feel compelled to do so.”
Wilson-Raybould has refused to express support for Trudeau for weeks, a demand many Liberal lawmakers said was necessary if she was to remain in Parliament as part of the party caucus
Trudeau said past civil wars within the Liberal party damaged the party.
“The team has to trust each other. With Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott that trust has been broken. Our political opponents win when Liberals are divided,” Trudeau said to a loud ovation in caucus.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Wilson-Raybould is angling to eventually replace Trudeau.
“Her letter, I believe, sets the stage for her run at the Liberal leadership if the Liberals lose in October and Justin Trudeau steps down,” Wiseman said.
“She is a victim of the parliamentary system which in Canada imposes sturdier party discipline than in any of the other Westminster parliamentary systems. The letter reveals her naiveté, as a rookie Member of Parliament, about how the system works.”