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Canada Corruption Reshuffle

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Canada's Trudeau battles corruption scandal

FILE PHOTO: Newly appointed Canadian Veterans Affairs Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and president of the Treasury Board Jane Philpott watch Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive as he shuffles his cabinet, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, January 14, 2019 REUTERS/Patrick Doyle/File Photo

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is battling to contain a growing political crisis, triggered by allegations of government interference in a major fraud case. Latest polls show that support for him and his Liberals has fallen for the first time behind the opposition Tories, after a second minister quit.

"I have been considering the events that have shaken the federal government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of Cabinet," former Treasury Board Minister Jane Philpott tweeted on Monday.

Philpott became the second minister to resign over allegations that the federal government pressured the country’s top law official to settle a criminal investigation against a powerful engineering company accused of bribery.

“There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them,” the minister, Philpott, wrote in her resignation letter, saying she had lost confidence in the government.

The departure of Philpott, a close friend of ex-justice minister and attorney general Wilson-Raybould, who herself resigned on 12 February, deprives Trudeau of another powerful female member of cabinet just months ahead of an election that polls show he would lose.

A general election is expected in October, but if votes were cast now Trudeau would receive only 31 percent of the decided popular vote, down three points from a few weeks earlier, according to the Ipsos Reid poll for television's Global News.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, would receive 40 percent.

'Inappropriate pressure'

Last month, Wilson-Raybould testified before the Commons Justice Committee that the Prime Minister and his top officials applied "inappropriate" pressure on her, including "veiled threats," to help Canadian engineering company, SNC-Lavalin, avoid a corruption trial.

The company was charged in 2015 with corruption for allegedly bribing officials in Libya to win government contracts there, during former strongman Moamer Kadhafi's reign between 2001 and 2011.

From September to December 2018, Wilson-Raybould said officials "hounded" her to intervene in the prosecution of the Quebec-based construction firm.

Wilson-Raybould refused, and the trial is set to proceed.

In January, the former attorney general was unexpectedly demoted, and blames her refusal to help SNC-Lavalin for the demotion.

Days later, Trudeau's long-time friend and top advisor Gerry Butts also quit.

No compromise

Trudeau has said he "completely disagrees" with his former attorney general's characterisation of events, insisting that he and his team were rightly looking to safeguard up to 9,000 Canadian jobs, including in his own Quebec electoral district.

Most Liberal parliamentarians have so far backed Trudeau but there are signs of strain.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Liberal legislator who is not seeking re-election, tweeted: "when you add women, please do not expect the status quo. Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised."

Four years ago, Trudeau rose to Canada’s highest office as the second-youngest prime minister in the country’s history, promising “sunny ways” and a new era of honest government, equal representation and liberalism.

Today, he is facing the worst political crisis of his tenure, with the opposition calling for his resignation and a federal investigation to look into Wilson-Raybould's claims.