SNC-Lavalin controversy tails PM to Quebec, where affair has different impact

Controversy tails PM to Quebec, where affair has different impact

OTTAWA — Questions about the SNC-Lavalin affair Monday trailed Justin Trudeau to Quebec — the seat-rich province at the centre of the controversy, and a place where the prime minister could conceivably limit the damage.

A stinging report last week by federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion concluded that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec engineering and construction giant, on corruption charges.

Polls have suggested that Trudeau’s popularity took a big hit after the SNC-Lavalin affair erupted last winter.

But in Quebec — critical to Liberal re-election hopes in October— the matter appears to have been met with less outrage than other parts of Canada. If true, it could be a key factor for the Liberals, which hold 40 of the province’s 78 seats and hope to capture more in October.

Trudeau faced more SNC-Lavalin questions Monday in Quebec City, where he announced a federal investment of up to $1.2 billion towards the local public transit network.

He repeated his line that it’s his responsibility to protect jobs, families and retirees.

Last week, Trudeau said he disagreed with some of Dion’s findings — and he refused to apologize for his actions, insisting he was “standing up for Canadian jobs.”

His decision to remain unapologetic and stick to his jobs message appears to be directed at Quebecers, said McGill University political science professor Daniel Beland.

“I certainly think that people in Quebec, on average, might be more sympathetic to this argument and sympathetic to the idea that he tried. Maybe he didn’t do it the proper way, but they will be more sympathetic to that than people in Alberta or even in New Brunswick,” said Beland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

“There are a lot of people who criticize Trudeau for what happened, the way it was done. But the argument about jobs has more resonance.”

In one example, Montreal’s French-language La Presse newspaper ran a column the day after the report’s release titled: Trudeau and SNC-Lavalin: good cause, bad means.Beland says the SNC-Lavalin controversy has indeed hurt the Liberals in Quebec, but the provincial fallout could be limited due to an important factor: economic nationalism.

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