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In major blow to Trudeau, second minister quits over scandal

In a serious blow to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a second member of his Cabinet resigned on Monday, saying she had lost confidence in how the government had dealt with an escalating political scandal.
The departure of Treasury Board Minister Jane Philpott, who was in overall charge of government spending, deprives Trudeau of another powerful female member of cabinet just months ahead of an election that polls show he could lose.
Philpott said she was unhappy about the government's response to allegations that officials inappropriately pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould last year to help major construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid being tried for corruption.
"Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised," Philpott said in a statement. "I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet."
Philpott is a close friend of Wilson-Raybould, who herself resigned on Feb. 12 after she was unexpectedly demoted in January. Wilson-Raybould said last week she was convinced her refusal to help SNC-Lavalin was behind the demotion.
Trudeau has accepted Philpott's resignation and will address the matter later on Monday, said a spokesman for the prime minister.
The resignation is another setback for a prime minister who came to power in November 2015 promising "sunny ways," more accountability in politics and a greater number of women ministers.
"What should be worrisome for the Trudeau Liberals is that the two cabinet resignations have been on issues of principle and ethics," said Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos.
"The second resignation begs the question – what did happen and could there be more resignations," he said by email.
There was little immediate sign that other key cabinet members would leave. Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne would not be resigning, their offices said.
Philpott said evidence of efforts by politicians and officials to pressure Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin case had raised serious concerns.
Wilson-Raybould tweeted to Philpott that "you are a leader of vision and strength and I look forward to continuing to work alongside you."
Philpott, 58, was widely regarded as one of the best of Trudeau's cabinet ministers. She had previously served as minister of health and minister of indigenous services.
Carolyn Bennett, the minister in charge of relations with the aboriginal population, said in a statement that "I have absolute confidence in our government, and our Prime Minister."
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 that "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."
Gerald Butts, who quit as Trudeau's principal secretary last month over the SNC-Lavalin affair, will testify to the House of Commons justice committee from 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday.
In her testimony to the committee last week, Wilson-Raybould singled out Butts as one official who tried particularly hard to change her mind. Under questioning she said she did not consider officials had broken any laws.


© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2019.
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