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Justin Trudeau vowed to change politics. Now a scandal may doom him.

"It turns out women really aren’t just like men, and aren’t necessarily afraid to stand by their beliefs," one pundit wrote about the crisis captivating Canada that's tarnished its prime minister.
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When Justin Trudeau was elected Canadian prime minister four years ago, he became an instant international celebrity and media darling.

The charismatic and photogenic politician made headlines for everything from his feminist views to his tattoos and past jobs — which include being a bungee-jumping coach.

While his father, Pierre Trudeau, governed the country for the vast majority of 1968 until 1984, the chances of Justin Trudeau winning a second term this year appear to be dimming amid the biggest crisis of his political career. The scandal has already cost Trudeau his top aide and best friend, as well two of his highest-profile female Cabinet ministers.

Here is a look at what happened — and what might happen next.

What is at the heart of the scandal?

In a serious blow to Trudeau, 47, a second member of his Cabinet resigned on Monday, saying she had lost confidence in how his Liberal government had dealt with a scandal that has dominated the news for nearly a month.

Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, in overall charge of government spending, expressed her unhappiness about the government's response to allegations that former Justice Minister and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould was inappropriately pressured to avoid the criminal prosecution of a major engineering company.

Critics say there may have been improper political meddling in a criminal case.

Philpott is a close friend of Wilson-Raybould, who resigned on Feb. 12 after she was unexpectedly demoted the previous month.

Wilson-Raybould said last week she was convinced that her refusal to help Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin — the firm accused of paying bribes for government contracts in Libya — was behind the demotion.

She testified that Trudeau and senior members of his government pushed an option that would include SNC-Lavalin paying reparations but avoiding a trial. However, Wilson-Raybould also said she did not think any laws had been broken.

"The man who said in 2015 he wanted to change politics is increasingly seen as a politician like any other."

If convicted, SNC-Lavalin would be banned from receiving any federal government business for a decade. The company is a major employer in Quebec, with about 3,400 employees in the province, 9,000 employees in Canada and more than 50,000 worldwide.

Wilson-Raybould testified that Trudeau, who represents part of Quebec, had expressed concerns about those jobs being lost.

Image: Jane Philpott and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulates Jane Philpott after she was sworn-in as Canada's minister of indigenous services in 2017.Chris Wattie / Reuters file

Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s closest adviser and a longtime friend, also resigned last week. He denied that he or anyone in the Trudeau's office pressured Wilson-Raybould and is due to provide a rebuttal to her testimony at a parliamentary justice committee Wednesday.

Lori Turnbull, the director of the School of Public Administration at Canada’s Dalhousie University, wrote in The Globe and Mail that Philpott’s resignation from the Cabinet was “nothing short of catastrophic for the government.”

“Philpott did not mince words,” Turnbull wrote. “She does not want to resign but she has to, given the moral space between her and the government.”

Why is the latest resignation so damaging?

Philpott, 58, was widely regarded as one of the most respected and competent ministers in Trudeau's government.

A physician by trade, she previously served as minister of health and minister of indigenous services.

Philpott said the alleged efforts by politicians and officials to pressure Wilson-Raybould had raised serious concerns and she quit in solidarity with her.

Lori Williams, an associate professor in the Department of Economics, Justice and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said Philpott's "principled resignation" was a "significant blow" for Trudeau.

"She was one of the government’s most effective advocates, and she resigned because she no longer felt she could defend all her government has done," Williams said.

Image: Justin Trudeau
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses lawmakers last month.Chris Wattie / Reuters file

Daniel Beland, a political science professor and director of McGill Institute for the Study of Canada in Montreal, said Philpott's decision hit Trudeau "especially hard" because her resignation letter was a "strong rebuttal of the prime minister."

Trudeau, the self-proclaimed feminist, had promised accountability in politics and a gender-balanced Cabinet when he took power in 2015.

“Two influential and well-regarded women have now left the Cabinet in the name of broad principles such as the rule of law," Beland added. "This doesn’t look good for Trudeau."

“It turns out women really aren’t just like men, and aren’t necessarily afraid to stand by their beliefs," National Post columnist Kelly McParland wrote on Tuesday.

How are other politicians reacting?

Multiple Canadian media outlets reported Tuesday that all of Trudeau's 33 remaining Cabinet ministers said they still have confidence in the prime minister, but there are signs of discord.

Wayne Long, a lawmaker in Trudeau's Liberal Party, said he was "deeply troubled" by Philpott's departure and called for a “full and transparent” investigation into the matter.

Image: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks during Question Period in Canada's House of Commons on Feb. 27.Chris Wattie / Reuters

Celina Caesar-Chavannes, a Liberal lawmaker who is not seeking re-election in October, tweeted: "When you add women, please do not expect the status quo. Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised."

Andrew Scheer, the leader of the opposition Conservative Party, has called for Trudeau to resign and said Philpott's resignation demonstrates "a government in total chaos.” He also wants police to look into what happened.

Could Trudeau be ousted?

Beland, the professor, doesn’t think Trudeau’s Liberals will try to depose him.

“Changing the prime minister is quite unlikely unless new and powerful evidence surfaces about the SNC-Lavalin file,” Beland said.

“The next federal elections are coming fast and there’s no obvious heir apparent within the Liberal Cabinet. Right now, most Liberals probably think Trudeau remains their best bet to win the next federal election.”

What will Trudeau do?

Analysts believe Trudeau will try to ride out the storm.

“There is absolutely no chance Trudeau will resign," said Nelson Wiseman, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. "The Liberals will rally around him."

Williams, the Mount Royal University academic, said Trudeau could potentially argue that "his motive was legitimate — protecting Canadian jobs."

But Beland said Trudeau had mishandled the affair, damaged his family's brand and had provided plenty of ammunition for opponents.

“The man who said in 2015 he wanted to change politics is increasingly seen as a politician like any other,” he said. “He might still find a way to remain prime minister after the October election, but his public image is forever tarnished.”