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WAYNE YOUNG: SNC-Lavalin affair is more than a bump, less than a pothole

Wayne Easter at his constituency office in Hunter River. After 25 years serving as MP for Malpeque, Easter says he is ready to run one more time.
Wayne Easter at his constituency office in Hunter River. - Stu Neatby

Malpeque MP Wayne Easter sees it as a bump in the road.

But for federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, it’s more like a wide and very deep pothole – one he hopes will envelope Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and force him to resign.

It’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair. Some call it a crisis, others a scandal. Some believe it’s simply a big misunderstanding.

Call it what you will but this much is certain: it’s already led to the resignation of two high-profile federal cabinet ministers as well as the prime minister’s principal secretary.

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. is a Montreal-based engineering and construction company that employs thousands of people. Citing unnamed sources, The Globe and Mail published a story Feb. 7 that alleged then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould had been improperly pressured last fall by the PMO and others to intervene in a criminal case against the company. Within days after the story was published, she resigned as veterans affairs minister. Last week, she told a House of Commons justice committee that in her role as Canada’s attorney general, she had experienced “a consistent and sustained effort” by many people within government to intervene in the trial, even after she made it clear she had decided not to. And earlier this week her friend, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, also resigned saying she had lost confidence in the Trudeau government for its handling of the affair.

Trudeau has consistently denied any wrongdoing. In a news conference on Thursday, however, he did take responsibility for an “erosion of trust” between Wilson-Raybould and members of his team, but he refused to apologize.

The affair has dominated headlines for the past month and if it continues, it’s not likely to enhance Trudeau’s bid for re-election in October.

The Liberals won a majority government in 2015 on a wave that started in Atlantic Canada where the party swept all 32 seats, including four in P.E.I. As the affair continues to unfold, it’s likely that some of those seats are becoming more vulnerable.

Easter and Charlottetown MP Sean Casey told CBC this week they support the prime minister. Easter said part of the problem leading up to the resignations may have been the new ministers’ political inexperience. He said cabinet ministers are often pressured on different issues, but he doesn’t believe undue pressure was applied to Wilson-Raybould.

Casey said he doesn’t believe the affair will cause Canadians to lose faith in the Liberal Party and that time heals all wounds. Easter agreed. “I think when people look back, this will be one issue in time. It’s been a bump in the road,” he said in the interview.

Just a month ago, one poll suggested Liberals in P.E.I. were well positioned for an election, enjoying 52 per cent support among decided voters. Thirty per cent picked the Conservatives.

Islanders are watching the SNC-Lavalin affair unfold and it’s reasonable to expect that some will remember it – for better or worse – on election day.

If Easter is right and it turns out simply to be a bump in the road, then the Island ridings may be relatively safe ground for the Liberals.

But if that bump morphs into a pothole, it could be a much different story.

Stay tuned.

Wayne Young is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

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