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Trudeau scandal catapults Canada Tories into lead: poll

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Ottawa (AFP)

Support for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberals has fallen for the first time behind the opposition Tories, according to a poll released Tuesday, after a second minister quit his cabinet in protest.

What started as mere allegations of interference in the criminal prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin has exploded into a political crisis in just under a month.

And polling that had consistently showed the next election would be the Liberals to lose now appears to favor the Conservatives forming the next government.

A general election is expected in October, but if votes were cast now Trudeau would receive only 31 per cent of the decided popular vote, down three points from a few weeks earlier, according to the Ipsos Reid poll for television's Global News.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, meanwhile, would receive 40 percent.

- 'Inappropriate' pressure -

The poll of 1,000 Canadians was carried out between March 1 and March 4, on the heels of former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould's resignation from cabinet, followed by Trudeau's top advisor Gerry Butts and most recently Jane Philpott who quit as Treasury Board president on Monday.

"This is the first time we've actually seen the Conservative Party... looking like they could potentially form the government," Ipsos Public Affairs chief executive Darrell Bricker told Global News.

Last month, Wilson-Raybould testified before the Commons Justice Committee that Trudeau and his inner circle applied "inappropriate" pressure on her, including "veiled threats," to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin for allegedly bribing officials in Libya to secure government contracts.

She said that from September to December 2018, officials "hounded" her to ask prosecutors to settle the case out of court.

Wilson-Raybould refused, and the trial is set to proceed.

But in her resignation letter, Philpott said she has "lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised."

"The solemn principles at stake are the independence and integrity of our justice system," she said.

Trudeau said he "completely disagrees" with his former attorney general's characterization of events, insisting that he and his team were rightly looking to safeguard up to 9,000 Canadian jobs at SNC-Lavalin, which would be banned from bidding on government contracts if convicted.

He also insisted that he made clear to his former attorney general that the "decision around SNC-Lavalin was Wilson-Raybould's and hers alone to make."

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