Cabinet missteps test Canadian PM Trudeau's teflon image

Thu Aug 25, 2016 7:57am EDT
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By Andrea Hopkins

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was knocked off message as he marshaled his cabinet back to work this week, distracted by recent spending miscues involving top ministers in the first major wobble of his Liberal government.

While Trudeau's popularity remains sky-high 10 months after being elected to a shock majority government, his inexperienced cabinet - much touted for its gender equality and racial diversity - may be his Achilles heel, under scrutiny for questionable expense claims and charges of entitlement.

"These stories underline a potential vulnerability for the party, since they feed into the narrative of Liberal entitlement," said a senior Liberal party member who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"‎The opposition are going to seize on this and if these headlines continue we could see a drip drip drip that gradually damages the government."

The last Liberal government, ousted in 2006, was tarnished by a sponsorship scandal involving corruption and misdirection of funds to Liberal supporters in the province of Quebec.

The Conservative opposition, decimated at the polls last October and unable to find a crack in the popular Trudeau's armor, has pounced on the spending issues and tried to tie it to past Liberal spending issues.

"Every day there is a new scandal about expenses, and we think it reflects their addiction to spending, to not managing Canadians' money properly - and that's connected to the enormous deficit as well," said Maxime Hupé, press secretary to Conservative leadership hopeful and member of parliament Maxime Bernier.

Trudeau, the 44-year-old son of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, has hardly put a foot wrong since his Liberals took office in November, being frequently mobbed by selfie-seeking fans.   Continued...

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the crowds outside Rideau Hall after the Cabinet's swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa November 4, 2015. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo