September 26, 2019 / 4:49 PM / 2 months ago

Canada's Conservative leader pledges judicial inquiry into Trudeau ethics breach

OTTAWA, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Canada’s Conservative leader Andrew Scheer on Thursday pledged a judicial inquiry into Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s role in trying to prevent a corporate corruption trial if he beats the incumbent in next month’s national election.

Scheer went on the attack during a campaign stop in Trudeau’s own Quebec constituency, which is also close to the headquarters of SNC-Lavalin, the engineering and construction company at the heart of the scandal.

“As Prime Minister, I will call a judicial inquiry so Canadians can finally get the answers they deserve,” Scheer said in Montreal, adding that he would protect Canada’s democracy from “the whims of sleazy and unscrupulous politicians”.

Trudeau denies any wrongdoing and says he was trying to save jobs by urging his former justice minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to consider an out-of-court settlement.

The prime minister did not fully waive cabinet confidence, which has limited testimony from several people including Wilson-Raybould, who was removed from her job.

Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair breached ethics rules, a top watchdog said last month, but the ruling had no legal repercussions.

Scheer has called for a police inquiry in the past, and today said he would also introduce legislation to allow the Royal Canadian Mounted Police access to information protected by cabinet confidence through a Supreme Court application.

“Justin Trudeau should not be the person who decides whether or not Justin Trudeau is investigated,” Scheer said.

In Canada, it is rare for the government to request a judge make an official inquiry.

Before a damaging picture of Trudeau in blackface at 2001 “Arabian nights” costume party emerged a week ago, the SNC-Lavalin affair had hurt Liberal support and was the most serious threat to his re-election on Oct. 21.

Both of the issues allow Scheer to paint his rival as “not as advertised” and as a leader who “cannot be trusted,” as he had done repeatedly on the campaign trail.

After the blackface picture came to light, Trudeau apologized repeatedly, and then made several major campaign pledges to try to get back on message, but some polls on Tuesday showed Scheer gaining the momentum nationally.

Speaking in northwestern Ontario earlier, Trudeau pledged to increase to 25% the protected land and oceans in Canada, and attacked Scheer, saying he had no plan for the environment.

Reporting by Steve Scherer Editing by Nick Zieminski

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