Has Trudeau set off behind the SNC-Lavalin scandal?



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MONTREAL – After a week of stunning developments at the front of the SNC-Lavalin case, the Justin Trudeau government is closer to resolving the most corrosive crisis of its mandate?

Are the Liberals worse or better for the blunt-ended testimony of Canada's top civil servant Michael Wernick, in front of a parliamentary committee on Thursday? The short answer is just one of two.

But first of all, if one had doubts that it was a storm and not a regression, the look of two of the biggest government players in the national capital to escape the shadows – one of them being self-inflicted – should rejected.

Regarding power and influence, Wernick in his continued role as Private Council Employee and Gerald Butts as Secretary-General who resigned Monday captured or ranked, just under the Prime Minister himself.

This is the week that polls began to document the damage to the prospects of re-election of the Liberals. It is real and important.

Among the voters watching the story, only a small minority – 12% – easily agree with Trudeau's claim that he did not cross his relationship with former Advocate General Jody Wilson-Raybould on whether SNC-Lavalin should be offered a rehabilitation rather than expose it to a criminal conviction, which would have the effect of forbidding the firm to bid for federal contracts for a decade.

The rest are equally distributed – with 41 per cent on each side – among those who believe that Trudeau is in error and those who have not yet made their minds.

Based on these figures, the chances that the prime minister can win a majority in the version of the event range from minute to none, despite what may still happen in the coming days and all that comes to light last week.

For the Liberals, the only victory offered in this battle may be to succeed to put the issue back as far as possible before the forthcoming election campaign officially begins.

After this week it is not yet there.

By the time Wernick appeared before the justice committee on Thursday, the Canadians had shown the double riddle of Wilson-Raybould and Butts's resignation, mixed with a series of useless indications provided by the prime minister.

The employee was the first of the main protagonists in the epic to give a comprehensive picture of the internal discussions attended by the SNC-Lavalin record.

At least, his testimony has moved the grounds of history.

Prior to Wernick's testimony, it was possible to make a narrative that featured PMO guerrilla agents who were indirectly or actively authorized by the Prime Minister to find themselves in political territory to force the Attorney General to follow his preferred judicial course in the SNC- Lavalin.

The appearance of the employee effectively killed the notion of unscrupulous PMO in the former general prosecutor. This was ratified by Canada's top civil servant. Whether this is reassuring or making the whole case more bleak is a matter of debate and a strong one is already under way.

Yes, he said, he pressed the Attorney General – repeatedly and including him – to weigh the consequences of a company such as SNC-Lavalin and the thousands of jobs it threatens with a criminal trial rather than an agreement. However, he is unconvinced that the pressure was neither unjustified nor inappropriate, but rather a result of legitimate governmental efforts to "do right".

Part of Wernick's role as an employee is to provide the Prime Minister of the day and his civilian staff with guidance on the lines they should not cross in their dealings with the government mechanism. He would be the founder of Trudeau and / or his advisors would be advised if they had doubts as to the correctness of their interventions. With his own account, he found no reason to worry.

Wernick's undeniable contribution to SNC-Lavalin's epic puts him on the same page as Trudeau and Butts – which can be a source of comfort for both. But it virtually eliminates the already delicate possibility of finding a common ground between the prospect the former Advocate General hopes will soon be shared with the Canadians and that of the Prime Minister as to what happened between them.

Chantal H├ębert is a Ottawa-based columnist who covers politics. Follow it on Twitter: @ChantalHbert

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