February 28, 2019 / 2:59 PM / 8 months ago

Top ally supports embattled Canada PM, easing pressure for now

OTTAWA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday won the public support of a top political ally, indicating there is no immediate pressure inside his Liberal Party to oust him over a political scandal.

Trudeau, rejecting an opposition call for his resignation, disputed allegations on Wednesday by his former justice minister that government officials inappropriately pressured her to help the SNC-Lavalin construction firm avoid a corruption trial.

The testimony from Jody Wilson-Raybould threatens to badly damage the Liberals just months ahead of what polls suggest will be a hard-fought election.

In an unusual move, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to say she fully backed Trudeau.

“I have 100 percent faith in the prime minister,” she said.

Freeland, one of the most prominent members of Trudeau’s Cabinet, is seen by some observers as a possible successor to Trudeau.

One top official said there was no talk for now of a leadership challenge. But another senior member of the Liberal Party said there was growing unhappiness among legislators about how Trudeau’s team had handled the matter and said the prime minister needed to replace some of his staff.

Wilson-Raybould said she had confronted Trudeau in September over what she said were persistent efforts by officials to help SNC-Lavalin evade trial on charges of bribing Libyan officials. Wilson-Raybould said she made clear she was not prepared help the company avoid a trial, which is now pending.

SNC-Lavalin is a major employer in the province of Quebec, where the Liberals have said they need to pick up seats to stand a chance of retaining a majority government.

Trudeau was due to speak to reporters at about 11:15 a.m. EST (1615 GMT) and Finance Minister Bill Morneau has a news conference scheduled for noon.

Wilson-Raybould said Morneau’s staff had continued to press her to help the firm even after she asked them to stop.

Wilson-Raybould was unexpectedly demoted in January and resigned from the Cabinet this month. She said she was convinced the SNC-Lavalin case had prompted her demotion. (Reporting by David Ljunggren Editing by Bill Trott)

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