TORONTO – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ousted Canada's former attorney general and another ex-minister from the Liberal party caucus Tuesday amid a scandal that has rocked his government in an election year.
Trudeau cited repeated questioning of his leadership as well as the fact that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould publicized a secretly recorded conversation she had with Michael Wernick, Canada's top civil servant.
Trudeau called that "unconscionable."
Trudeau also ousted Jane Philpott, a former Cabinet minister who stepped down from her role after she said she lost confidence in how the government has handled the affair.
Both Wilson-Raybould and Philpott had remained as members of Trudeau's party in Parliament after resigning from Cabinet but kept making remarks that damaged the prime minister and the party.
The two were two high-profile women ministers in Trudeau's Cabinet, half of which are women. Wilson-Raybould was Canada's first indigenous justice minister.
Wilson-Raybould earlier tweeted that Trudeau had removed her and she will not be a Liberal candidate in the fall election.
"I have just been informed by the Prime Minister of Canada that I am removed from the Liberal caucus and as the confirmed Vancouver Granville candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election. More to come..."
Trudeau and Liberal lawmakers met Tuesday evening to discuss Wilson-Raybould and Philpott.
Wilson-Raybould believes she was demoted from her role as attorney general and justice minister to veterans' affairs minister in January because she didn't give in to pressure to enter into a remediation agreement with a Canadian company accused of bribing officials in Libya.
That solution would have avoided a potential criminal conviction that would bar the engineering giant SNC-Lavalin from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The company is a major employer with 9,000 employees in Canada and more than 50,000 worldwide.
The scandal has led to multiple resignations, including Gerry Butts, Trudeau's top aide and best friend. And it has damaged the party for eight weeks.
In a letter released earlier Tuesday, Wilson-Raybould pleaded with her colleagues to remain and acknowledged they are enraged but said she was "trying to help protect the Prime Minister and the government from a horrible mess."
"Now I know many of you are angry, hurt, and frustrated. And frankly so am I, and I can only speak for myself. I am angry, hurt, and frustrated because I feel and believe I was upholding the values that we all committed to," Wilson-Raybould wrote to colleagues earlier Tuesday.
"Ultimately the choice that is before you is about what kind of party you want to be a part of, what values it will uphold, the vision that animates it, and indeed the type of people it will attract and make it up."
Trudeau has been on the defensive since the Globe and Mail newspaper reported Feb. 7 via sources that Trudeau's staff put pressure on Wilson-Raybould. She denied she was the source of the story, writing "I am not the one who tried to interfere in sensitive proceedings, I am not the one who made it public, and I am not the one who publicly denied what happened."
The secret recording Wilson-Raybould made public shows Wernick telling Wilson-Raybould that Trudeau "is determined, quite firm" in finding a way to avoid a prosecution that could put 9,000 jobs at risk.
It also reveals Wilson-Raybould saying she regards the pressure as "inappropriate."
Wilson-Raybould has refused to express support for Trudeau, a demand many Liberal lawmakers said was necessary if she was to remain in Parliament as part of the party caucus
Trudeau said past civil wars within the Liberal party damaged the party.
"The team has to trust each other. With Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott that trust has been broken. Our political opponents win when Liberals are divided," Trudeau said to a loud ovation in caucus.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Wilson-Raybould is angling to eventually replace Trudeau.
"Her letter, I believe, sets the stage for her run at the Liberal leadership if the Liberals lose in October and Justin Trudeau steps down," Wiseman said.
"She is a victim of the parliamentary system which in Canada imposes sturdier party discipline than in any of the other Westminster parliamentary systems. The letter reveals her naiveté, as a rookie Member of Parliament, about how the system works."