Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday addressed for the first time the corruption scandal that threatens to bring down his administration, saying there was a breakdown in trust and communication with his former justice minister – but he stopped short of an apology.
“I was not aware of that erosion of trust, and as prime minister and head of cabinet, I should have been,” Trudeau said during a news conference in Ottawa. “Ultimately, I believe our government will be stronger for having wrestled with these issues.”
This was the first time Trudeau addressed the brewing scandal and allegations that he and his administration pressured Jody Wilson-Raybould to not to take action against a powerful Canadian engineering company in a case involving allegations of corruption in Libya.
Yet Trudeau remained defiant and rebuked calls to apologize during the press conference, saying “no” to an apology to the Canadian people and said his administration acted appropriately.
He did, however, note that he will indeed apologize later today – to an indigenous Inuit community for the federal government’s mistreatment during the tuberculosis epidemics of the 1940s, 50s and 60s when the community was split apart.
Wilson-Raybould, who resigned last month amid the scandal, testified last week saying the administration’s senior officials issued “veiled threats” against her in an effort to convince her not to file criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin, the Canadian company that employs about 9,000 people in Canada or 52,000 across the world.
She recalled an instance in which Trudeau expressed his concern to her about the potential for job layoffs if the company is found guilty of wrongdoing and asked if she could “help out.”
This prompted her to ask the Prime Minister: “Are you politically interfering with my role as attorney general? I would strongly advise against it.” The retort prompted Trudeau to backtrack, she said.
The scandal has since spiraled further, sparking calls of resignation from the opposition, which also demands an independent inquiry.
A second minister of Trudeau’s cabinet also resigned on Monday. Treasury Board president Jane Philpott said that it is “untenable” for her to remain in the cabinet amid the scandal and said she can no longer defend the government, becoming the second minister to resign in the wake of the controversy.
Trudeau’s popularity has since sunk, prompting Gerald Butts, his former chief political adviser and best friend, to testify in defense of the administration.
“When 9,000 people’s jobs are at stake, it is a public policy problem of the highest order,” Butts said. “It was our obligation to exhaustively consider options the law allows.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.