Justin Trudeau facing renewed calls to resign as secret tape escalates SNC-Lavalin corruption scandal

Ben Riley-Smith
Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, has denied any wrongdoing but his party has taken a hit in the opinion polls   - AFP

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing renewed calls to resign after a secretly recorded telephone call between two senior figures in his administration was made public, escalating claims he tried to shield an allegedly corrupt firm from prosecution. 

The 17-minute call took place in December between Jody Wilson-Raybould, then the attorney general, and Michael Wernick, then Canada’s most senior civil servant, about the engineering company SNC-Lavalin, which was accused of paying bribes to Libyan officials. 

Mr Wernick is heard in the audio telling Ms Wilson-Raybould that Mr Trudeau is interested in having the firm avoid criminal prosecution in favour of paying a fine, repeatedly saying that the prime minister is in a “pretty firm” frame of mind on the issue. 

"I think he is going to find a way to get it done one way or another. He's in that kind of mood. I wanted you to be aware of that,” Mr Wernick is heard saying at one point. 

Ms Wilson-Raybould in turn pushes back, raising concerns that the conversation could amount to “political interference” and an attempt to breach her “prosecutorial independence”. She declined to push for the prosecution to be dropped. 

Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former Canadian attorney general  Credit: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP

Ms Wilson-Raybould was eventually moved from the role in January, one month after the phone call, and given the more junior position of veterans affairs minister. She has since resigned and gone public with claims she was inappropriately leaned on. 

The audio was released by Ms Wilson-Raybould along with more than 40 pages of documents backing up her allegations. She said that she chose to secretly record the conversation because she was concerned something “inappropriate” would be said. 

She said she “took the extraordinary and otherwise inappropriate step of making an audio recording of the conversation” without telling Mr Wernick, adding that it was “something that I have never done before this phone call and have not done since”. 

Mr Wernick stepped down from his role as Privy Council clerk earlier this month. 

The scandal has plunged Mr Trudeau’s re-election hopes into doubt, seeing his Liberal Party fall behind the opposition Conservative Party ahead of the vote in October. 

Michael Wernick, the former Privy Council clerk

Mr Trudeau's party has been ahead in the polls for most of his time in office since he won a crushing victory in 2015. But the liberal poster boy, often compared to Emmanuel Macron, now finds his party trailing the Conservatives by around six points, according to the website Calculated Politics. 

Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, said that Mr Trudeau had lost the moral authority to govern and must resign.

“He looked Canadians in the eye and told them that no one had raised concerns with him. This is false and he owes Canadians an explanation,” Mr Scheer said of the prime minister. 

Last month Mr Trudeau denied any wrongdoing and declined to apologise, saying any lobbying by him or his inner circle for the company was done to protect jobs.

SNC-Lavalin is one of the largest engineering and construction companies in the world and employs around 9,000 people in Canada.