The former cabinet member at the center of the political scandal rocking Canada says she has been expelled from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, a development that is likely to deepen questions about his handling of the case.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, who was Canada’s first indigenous attorney general, said Tuesday Trudeau had informed her she was no longer a part of the Liberal caucus and had been stripped of the party’s nomination for the upcoming election to keep her seat in Parliament.
Minutes later, Trudeau confirmed the news, as well as the expulsion of former Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, who had publicly supported Wilson-Raybould. Wilson-Raybould drew criticism from some last week for releasing a recording of a private phone call with a government official.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. “It’s become clear that Ms. Wilson-Raybould and Dr. Philpott can no longer be part of our Liberal team.”
Trudeau has tried to move beyond the political scandal that has tarnished his international reputation and could dim his prospects in October’s federal elections. But the expulsion of the two former allies will bring more attention to the affair.
Trudeau and his team have been dogged since February by accusations that they inappropriately pressured Wilson-Raybould as attorney general to cut a deal for a Quebec-based engineering firm, SNC-Lavalin — and demoted her when she resisted.
The SNC-Lavalin affair, as the scandal is now known, has dominated Canadian media and raised questions about Trudeau’s leadership, most notably on transparency, indigenous affairs and women’s rights — issues that helped him get elected.
Trudeau has refused to apologize. He has said there was an “erosion of trust” between his office and the cabinet, but denied allegations of backroom dealmaking or bullying.
The roots of the scandal stretch back to 2015, when SNC-Lavalin was charged by Canadian authorities with using bribes to secure business in Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
The Globe and Mail newspaper reported in February that Trudeau’s team “pressed” Wilson-Raybould to cut the firm a deal known as a deferred prosecution agreement.
These deals, which are used in several countries, allow firms to avoid criminal convictions if they admit wrongdoing, pay fines and commit to stricter compliance rules.
Trudeau has said his team did not “direct” Wilson-Raybould’s decision, but few have been satisfied by the response.
In a January cabinet shuffle, Wilson-Raybould was moved from the Ministry of Justice to Veterans Affairs. It was widely seen as a demotion.
The Globe and Mail published its report the next month. Wilson-Raybould resigned as minister of veterans affairs and hired a retired Supreme Court justice to represent her.
As questions grew, Trudeau’s best friend and closest aide resigned. Gerald Butts said he did not want the allegations to “take one moment away from the vital work the prime minister and his office is doing for all Canadians.”
But his resignation did little to quell the controversy. Wilson-Raybould testified before a parliamentary committee that 11 members of Trudeau’s team had pressured her — some resorting to “veiled threats” — to get her to cut a deal.
Then Philpott resigned from the cabinet in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould.
Trudeau appeared for a spell to have weathered the storm, but the scandal burst into view again last week when Wilson-Raybould went public with a recording of a December phone call with Canada’s then-top civil servant.
In the call, she warned Michael Wernick, then Canada’s clerk of the Privy Council, that Trudeau “was on dangerous ground.”
Some have questioned her decision to tape the call.
Before her meeting with the Liberal caucus Tuesday, she wrote a letter saying she should have been able to stay on.
“I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to. In giving the advice I did, and taking the steps I did, I was trying to help protect the prime minister and the government from a horrible mess,” she wrote in a letter to fellow Liberals.
Shortly after breaking the news of her expulsion, she sent another tweet.
“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 the truth as I will continue to do.”