Four weeks after the allegations first became public, everything has changed. Four weeks after the allegations first became public, nothing has changed.
Everything has changed: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now lost two of his most prominent cabinet ministers, as the result of allegations that he and his senior advisers repeatedly put pressure on the attorney-general to intervene in the criminal prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin.
Last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould laid out all the times, places and ways she says she was pushed to intervene by Mr. Trudeau and his officials. On Monday, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott submitted her resignation, writing that due to “the evidence of efforts by politicians and/or officials to pressure the former attorney-general,” she had lost confidence in the government – by which she meant the Prime Minister.
It started out as the most serious crisis this government has faced, and every day it has grown worse, to the point of threatening Mr. Trudeau’s leadership.
Nothing has changed: Four weeks after all of this started metastasizing through the body of the government, Mr. Trudeau has still not addressed the allegations in detail. The impression of scandal keeps growing, but he has kept reading from a variation on his original, and very short, script. He has characterized the affair as a misunderstanding and difference of opinion, and tried to move on.
That was a bad idea four weeks ago; now it’s delusional.
On Monday night, at a speech in Toronto, the PM faced hecklers, protesters and others who repeatedly disrupted him. Mr. Trudeau wanted to talk about climate change, the contrast between his environmental policies and those of the Conservatives, the state of the economy, the lowest unemployment rate since the 1970s, the decline in poverty and the higher payments to lower-income and middle-class parents, all paid for by higher taxes on upper-income Canadians. In other words, he wanted to talk about the Liberal record. He wanted to move on from SNC-Lavalin.
But at one point, a protester held up a sign behind Mr. Trudeau referring to “the elephant in the room.” Until the Prime Minister addresses the elephant, there is no moving on. And if he cannot make the elephant leave, then he may have to.
Mr. Trudeau must respond, and he must offer an answer that is as detailed and comprehensive as the allegations. He has to tell us exactly what happened and why he and his government did what they did.
A person accused of wrongdoing has three broad roads before them.
They can try to rebut the facts that are the foundation of the accusation. They can argue that the facts of the accusation are true as far as they go, but have been mischaracterized and do not add up to wrongdoing. Or they can admit to having done something wrong, apologize and try to make amends.
Ms. Philpott’s blunt resignation letter makes it clear that her departure is to be understood as a demand that Mr. Trudeau follow the third course of action. She does not call on the PM to make amends by resigning, but it is certainly implied.
The failure of the Prime Minister to get a hand on the allegations – to successfully rebut them or to acknowledge error and take action – is eating away at his authority.
One of the many ironies in all of this is that the Prime Minister and Ms. Philpott both want the government to get beyond the SNC-Lavalin affair. In his speech on Tuesday night, after uncomfortably talking his way around the elephant in the room, Mr. Trudeau was energized when talking about the Liberal economic, social and environmental record.
Similarly, in her resignation letter, Ms. Philpott said she would remain the member of Parliament for Markham-Stouffville and was still “firmly committed to our crucial platform priorities.” And, like Ms. Wilson-Raybould, Ms. Philpott wants to remain in the Liberal caucus, and plans to run in the next election.
In other words, Ms. Philpott has not lost confidence in the Liberal Party, the Liberal platform, the Liberal record or the Liberal government. It is not a loss of confidence in the organization. It is a loss of confidence in its head.
Mr. Trudeau still has time to address this challenge. But he has already lost four weeks.