Upon his election as Canada’s Prime Minister in 2015, Justin Trudeau presented some good old liberal ideas to quickly cement Canada’s place as a somewhat moral guardian of the global liberal order.
But the optics was too good to last.
The recent SNC-Lavalin scandal in Canada and Trudeau’s alleged involvement in safeguarding the accused is causing a massive domestic political backlash.
With the Canadian PM fighting for survival now, ThePrint looks at the rise and fall of this generation’s biggest liberal political icon in four points.
#1: The Trudeau Family
Justin is the son of a towering Canadian politician and former prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
Since its formation, Canada has grappled with the tension of reconciling the presence of two separate groups within one nation state: English and French.
And Pierre Trudeau, as Canada’s longest-serving prime minister for 15 long years between 1968 and 1984, played a huge role in reconciling some of those differences between the English and French.
As a scholar of law and political theory, he famously advocated “federalism” as the only possible solution to Canada’s conflicting French and English identity issues.
#2: Trudeau as a liberal icon
In comparison to his father, Justin is an intellectual lightweight. But he managed to carve out a separate kind of niche for himself.
Following a campaign based on liberal and pluralistic ideas, he was elected the prime minister in 2015 after defeating the Conservative Party.
Trudeau walked the talk when his cabinet comprised 50 per cent women, four Sikhs and members from other racial minorities.
When a media person asked him why his cabinet comprised 50 per cent women, he famously responded by saying, “Because it is 2015.”
Trudeau championed liberal rights, not just in Canada, but also across the world.
Speaking at various international and multilateral forums, he championed minority, homosexual, and women rights. He famously landed himself in trouble when he told China’s Xi Jinping to respect human rights in China.
Under him, Canada was the first major country to legalise cannabis in 2018.
In several ways, Trudeau can be compared to India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and America’s John F. Kennedy. The domestic accomplishments of both these leaders are often questioned, but they helped raise the global profile of their respective countries by championing liberal rights.
#3: The SNC-Lavalin Scandal
Though Trudeau’s approval ratings have consistently declined since his election, he now faces his toughest political challenge.
Montreal based global engineering and construction Management Company, SNC-Lavalin is accused of paying the Libyan government C$47.4 million as bribes, between 2001 and 2011.
If convicted, the company would be barred from getting any government contracts for ten years.
SNC-Lavalin rigorously lobbied that its charges be settled through the ‘deferred prosecution agreement’ (DPA) — whereby the company does not go to court, but pays a fine to settle the case. This would have allowed it to keep applying for government contracts.
The DPA provision was brought in by the Trudeau government in 2018.
#4: Trudeau’s involvement in SNC-Lavalin
Trudeau and his office have been accused of interfering in this corruption scandal and pressurising former justice minister and the then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to settle the case through DPA.
Wilson-Raybould was Canada’s first indigenous politician to hold the portfolio.
In a testimony to Canada’s House of Commons justice committee on 27 February, Wilson-Raybould said she “experienced a consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere”.
She alleges that as many as eleven people from Trudeau’s PMO approached her with respect to SNC-Lavalin.
This is causing a massive political backlash against Trudeau. Two of his cabinet ministers and one of his senior advisors have already resigned.
With the scandal snowballing, opposition leader Andrew Scheer has asked Trudeau to step down, saying he has lost all the moral authority to govern.
Trudeau has denied any impropriety, but with elections scheduled for later this year, his chances of coming back into power are not looking too bright at the moment.