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Jody Wilson-Raybould and the SNC-Lavalin Scandal: Is This the Scandal that Will Decide the Election?

With the federal elections fast approaching, it is important to take a look at recent political events, as they foreshadow what could occur come Election Day. While many refuse to believe it, rarely does a Canadian Government fall after only one term in office. Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as much as conservatives and socialists prefer not to admit, is still relatively popular amongst Canadians. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has not been able to appeal to the social liberals and leftists enough to dent Trudeau’s base, and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on the right may be too mild-mannered and non-confrontational to present a real threat to Trudeau’s reelection hopes. Until recently, it seemed as though the Trudeau Liberals were guaranteed another majority government. That was until a scandal broke.

Trudeau, well known for his use of identity politics, has made it a priority to assemble a Cabinet that “looks like Canada,” and chiefly important to this cabinet was the inclusion of Jody Wilson-Raybould, a female member of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation. Wilson-Raybould is a prominent advocate for Indigenous peoples and was the first Indigenous woman to serve as Attorney General. She had previously served as a Crown Prosecutor, an advisor to the British Columbia Treaty Commission and as a Regional Chief of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations.

Above, Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould in January after her appointment to the position of Veteran Affairs Minister. Before this 'cabinet shuffle,' she was attorney general. / Source: CBC

On January 14, 2018, in a move widely seen as a demotion, Wilson-Raybould was reassigned by Trudeau from her formal role as Attorney General to Minister of Veterans Affairs, a position with much less prestige and responsibility. Trudeau did not give a reason for his cabinet shuffle and the demotion was eventually forgotten. However, this changed when a bombshell report, published by The Globe and Mail on February 9, alleged that Wilson-Raybould was demoted after her refusal to interfere in an ongoing case of the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin at the urging of the Prime Minister’s Office. SNC-Lavalin was being prosecuted on allegations of corruption related to unaccounted for transactions made with the Libyan Government of Muammar Gaddafi. Wilson-Raybould has, thus far, refused to comment on the matter, citing solicitor-client privilege; however, Trudeau said that he had never “directed” Wilson-Raybould to interfere in the case.

Minister Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to comment, along with her decision to resign from cabinet, has been interpreted by many as a confirmation of the accusations levelled against the Prime Minister, who is now under investigation by the Ethics Commissioner. She has been painted as the incorruptible victim of an unprincipled boss. The move is also been seen by many Indigenous persons, including Minister Wilson-Raybould’s own father, as another instance of, in Mr Wilson’s words, the “white man’s government” disenfranchising Indigenous women and using them as scapegoats, an image that completely shatters Trudeau’s carefully crafted vision of a diverse and representative cabinet.

This scandal undermines all aspects of Trudeau’s image. Trudeau, who has called himself a feminist, has just fired a more-than-capable woman from a high-standing job. Trudeau, who claims to value Indigenous issues, has just fired a First Nations person who was an inspiration to young Indigenous children. Trudeau, publicly portrayed as a moral and incorruptible politician, has just allegedly interfered with an important case.

While the details surrounding the scandal have yet to fully emerge, the ramifications of this scandal could be severe for the Liberals. Should the NDP and the Conservatives properly exploit the case as an example of the Trudeau Liberals incompetency, it would present a real threat to the security of their reelection chances. While the main political parties stand by, social media pages, such as the broadly conservative Ontario Proud group, have already been churning out political cartoons using the scandal to discredit Trudeau. Should this campaign continue, it is conceivable that Trudeau Liberals may end up losing the election.

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