Madrid: When Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister of Canada in the autumn of 2015, there was a sense that this famous political scion with charm and freshness would indeed break the mould of federal politics — the atmosphere in Ottawa was heavy after a decade of Conservative Party rule under Stephen Harper.
There were the images of him, tattooed, taking part in a boxing match, or he and his young family greeting Syrian refugees and helping them into winter clothes, of a Liberal leader north of the Canadian border the antithesis of the Republican president to its south.
Yet the revelations now of political interference from the highest levels in Ottawa to assist one of Quebec’s largest employers, an engineering giant worldwide who is facing criminal charges for corruption and influence peddling, have tarnished that clean-living and boyish charm image of Trudeau.
Instead, with a federal election looming this autumn, the Trudeau government has been knocked by the allegations and rocked by a series of ministerial and senior back room staff resignations — and the scandal isn’t going away. Since first breaking a month ago, there are now almost daily developments and revelations, each adding to the perception of cronyism at work in the highest levels of government.
This SNC-Lavalin scandal is, however, one that will not unduly hurt Liberal hopes in Quebec, Canada’s second-most populous province and one that is used to such scandals — and on face value the interference efforts were trying to protect a firm that employees 33,000 there alone.
Come October, the choice for Canadian voters will be whether they still believe in Trudeau and are willing to give a second chance, or will they opt for the Conservatives, a party all too familiar with cronyism scandals during its decade in power under Harper, or trust rookie New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, who has only taken his seat in the parliament in Ottawa after a by-election win.
The answer to that may very well depend on just how quickly Trudeau can make this scandal disappear through deflection or distraction. Six months is a lifetime in politics.