For the second time in three weeks, a cabinet minister has resigned in protest from Justin Trudeau’s cabinet, without thanking him or praising his government. For the second time, the cabinet minister has chosen to remain in the Liberal caucus. This is a civil war, one Mr. Trudeau may not survive. Just to start, what kind of government shuffles its cabinet three times in two months?
There are those who say the SNC-Lavalin scandal is a tempest in a teacup – or a nothingburger, to update the cliché. No it’s not. Granted, most people don’t follow the day-to-day jousts of the blood sport known as politics. But this is a political crisis like no other, because of the characters involved.
No one in caucus could possibly wound Mr. Trudeau more deeply than Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould have wounded him. Ms. Philpott was health minister and then minister of Indigenous services before January’s cabinet shuffle, and Ms. Wilson-Raybould was justice minister and attorney-general. They came into government because they believed in what Mr. Trudeau said he believed in.
They and their colleagues were going to work together to make government more open and inclusive. They were going to promote women in public life. They were going to reconcile – or at least begin to reconcile – Indigenous people to settler Canada.
Instead, they have resigned from his cabinet, lacking confidence in his leadership. Yes, this is about the alleged interference by the Prime Minister and his advisers in the prosecution for corruption of the Quebec engineering company SNC-Lavalin. But even more, now, it’s about his character, his commitment, his ability to lead – in the eyes of some of those who were closest to him.
“I must abide by my core values, my ethical responsibilities and constitutional obligations,” Ms. Philpott wrote in her letter of resignation. “There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
If Ms. Philpott feels this strongly, how are others around the cabinet table supposed to feel?
On top of everything else, Mr. Trudeau faces a logistical challenge. He is once again without a president of Treasury Board. Scott Brison left in January for personal reasons, opening the door to the shuffle that sent Ms. Philpott to Treasury Board and that demoted Ms. Wilson-Raybould to Veterans Affairs.
The first Globe story about Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s efforts to protect the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin from interference by the Prime Minister and his advisers followed weeks later, which led to Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s resignation and to her bombshell testimony last week.
On Friday, Mr. Trudeau shuffled his cabinet again, to fill Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s absence. Did he not know that Ms. Philpott was also upset? Why did she not resign before the shuffle? Did something happen over the weekend? There are questions here.
So many questions: How will this second resignation influence Gerald Butts’s testimony? Mr. Trudeau’s former principal secretary, who resigned over this scandal, will testify in defence of the government’s actions before the justice committee on Wednesday morning. Is he rewriting his opening remarks? Does he still believe he and others around the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister himself, have done no wrong?
The justice committee will come under increased pressure to expand the scope of its investigation. Will the Liberal majority on that committee allow Ms. Philpott to testify? Will Mr. Trudeau testify? Will he succumb to opposition demands for an independent inquiry?
Or will he decide he no longer has sufficient confidence within his own caucus to carry on? And if he does lack that confidence, will he seek a mandate from the people through a general election, or will he step down?
We are witnessing a personal vote of non-confidence in the Prime Minister by some of his most senior cabinet ministers, based on his handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair, but also over disillusion with Mr. Trudeau’s leadership.
“When you add women, please do not expect the status quo,” Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes tweeted Monday after Ms. Philpott’s resignation. (Ms. Caesar-Chavannes is not seeking re-election, for reasons she said are unrelated to this affair.) “Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when our values are compromised.”
Whoever would have thought that Liberals led by Justin Trudeau would say such things?