In a serious blow to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a second member of his cabinet in Canada resigned saying she had lost confidence in how the government had dealt with an escalating political scandal.
The departure of recently appointed Treasury Board President Jane Philpott, who was in charge of government spending, deprives Trudeau of another powerful female member of cabinet just months before an election that polls show he could lose.
Philpott expressed unhappiness about the government’s response to allegations that officials inappropriately pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould last year to help major construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc avoid a corruption trial.
“Sadly, I have lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised,” Philpott said in a statement. “I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet.”
Trudeau told a Liberal Party rally in Toronto he was disappointed but understood why she had left.
“Concerns of this nature must be taken seriously and I can ensure you that I am,” said Trudeau, who did not specifically address Philpott’s stated reasons for leaving. He also thanked her for serving in his cabinet – something he notably did not do when Wilson-Raybould quit.
Philpott is a close friend of Wilson-Raybould, who herself resigned on February 12 after she was unexpectedly demoted in January. Wilson-Raybould said last week she was convinced her refusal to help SNC-Lavalin was behind the demotion.
Trudeau has insisted he made clear to her the “decision around SNC-Lavalin was Wilson-Raybould’s and hers alone to make”.
Andrew Scheer, head of the official opposition Conservative Party, repeated calls for Trudeau to quit amid “ethical rot” he said was undermining the rule of law.
“Jane Philpott’s resignation from cabinet clearly demonstrates a government in total chaos led by a disgraced prime minister consumed with scandal and focused only on his political survival,” Scheer told reporters in Toronto.
The departure of Philpott is another setback for a prime minister who came to power in November 2015 promising “sunny ways”, more accountability in politics, and a greater number of female ministers.
“What should be worrisome for the Trudeau Liberals is that the two cabinet resignations have been on issues of principle and ethics,” said Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos.
“The second resignation begs the question – what did happen and could there be more resignations,” he said by email.
Philpott, 58, was widely regarded as one of the best of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers. She had previously served as minister of health and minister of indigenous services.