Canada’s top civil servant to quit as scandal’s toll on Trudeau mounts

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick attend a cabinet shuffle at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, March 18, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 19 March 2019

Canada’s top civil servant to quit as scandal’s toll on Trudeau mounts

  • The scandal is the most serious faced by the 47-year-old Trudeau since he led the Liberals out of the political wilderness and into power in 2015 on a promise to do politics differently

OTTAWA: The head of Canada’s federal bureaucracy said on Monday he was quitting over his role in handling a corporate corruption case, dealing another blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he battles the biggest political crisis of his tenure.
Polls suggest that Trudeau’s Liberals — who a few months ago looked certain to be re-elected in October — are now at risk of losing power to the official opposition Conservatives.
Trudeau has been on the defensive since Feb. 7 over allegations that top officials leaned on former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to ensure engineering and construction firm SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. avoided a corruption trial.
Top civil servant Michael Wernick told Trudeau he would be retiring in the coming weeks because opposition leaders had lost confidence in him over the scandal. Two high-profile women cabinet ministers and Trudeau’s closest personal aide had already quit over SNC-Lavalin before Monday’s resignation.
Wernick, the clerk of the privy council, is supposed to be non-partisan, like the rest of the federal bureaucracy. But his strong defense of government officials over the SNC-Lavalin affair and his insistence that no one had done anything wrong triggered widespread criticism from opposition legislators that he was siding with the Liberals.
“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” said Wernick, who was appointed by Trudeau in early 2016.
Clerks have traditionally had an exceptionally close relationship with prime ministers, and the two tended to talk every day. Wernick’s departure leaves Trudeau needing to fill one of the top jobs in Ottawa just months ahead of the election.
Trudeau spokesman Matt Pascuzzo said the prime minister had not asked Wernick to go.
Wilson-Raybould told the House of Commons justice committee last month that Wernick had put intense pressure on her to help SNC-Lavalin avoid prosecution over allegations it bribed Libyan officials.
The scandal is the most serious faced by the 47-year-old Trudeau since he led the Liberals out of the political wilderness and into power in 2015 on a promise to do politics differently.
The Conservatives, the largest opposition party in parliament, and the left-leaning New Democrats accuse Trudeau of old-style backroom deals and trying to cover up what happened.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Wernick had resigned “in disgrace” and repeated his calls for a full public inquiry, an idea that Trudeau has already ruled out.
“This is like a five-alarm dumpster fire of political cronyism, incompetence and now obstruction. What is the prime minister so afraid of?” New Democrat legislator Charlie Angus said in the House of Commons.
Earlier this month, Trudeau denied he or his officials had interfered in the judicial system, and he offered no apology.
In a surprise move, Trudeau on Monday named Joyce Murray, a 64-year-old Liberal backbencher with no federal cabinet experience, as president of the Treasury Board, where she will be in overall charge of government spending.
Murray replaces Jane Philpott, who quit on March 4 in protest over how the government was handling the crisis.
Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted in January, resigned from Trudeau’s Cabinet the next month.
SNC-Lavalin is accused of bribing Libyan officials to get contracts between 2001 and 2011. The firm had strongly lobbied in favor of a deferred prosecution agreement, or out-of-court settlement, instead of going to trial.
The company has declined further comment.


Ethiopia’s week of unrest sees 239 dead, 3,500 arrested

Updated 08 July 2020

Ethiopia’s week of unrest sees 239 dead, 3,500 arrested

  • Hachalu Hundessa had been a rallying voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking power in 2018
  • PM Abiy swiftly introduced political reforms that also opened the way for long-held ethnic and other grievances in Africa’s second most populous country

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: At least 239 people have been killed and 3,500 arrested in more than a week of unrest in Ethiopia that poses the biggest challenge yet to its Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister.
In the Oromia region, the toll includes 215 civilians along with nine police officers and five militia members, regional police commissioner Mustafa Kedir told the ruling party-affiliated Walta TV on Wednesday.
Officials earlier said 10 people were killed in the capital, Addis Ababa, eight of them civilians, amid outrage after a popular singer was shot dead last Monday.
Hachalu Hundessa had been a rallying voice in anti-government protests that led to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed taking power in 2018. Abiy swiftly introduced political reforms that also opened the way for long-held ethnic and other grievances in Africa’s second most populous country.
The military was deployed during the outrage that followed Hachalu’s death.
In remarks last week while wearing a military uniform, Abiy said dissidents he recently extended an offer of peace had “taken up arms” in revolt against the government. He hinted there could be links between this unrest and the killing of the army chief last year as well as the grenade thrown at one of his own rallies in 2018.
The 3,500 arrests have included that of a well-known Oromo activist, Jawar Mohammed, and more than 30 supporters. It is not clear what charges they might face. The Oromo make up Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group but had never held the country’s top post until they helped bring Abiy to power.
Local reports have said that in some places ethnic Oromo have attacked ethnic Amhara, and in Shashamane town some people were going home to home checking identity cards and targeting Amhara residents.
Businesses have now begun opening slowly in Oromia after the violence in which several hundred homes in Ethiopia were burned or damaged.
But Ethiopia’s Internet service remains cut, making it difficult for rights monitor and others to track the scores of killings.