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Video: Trudeau visits Sudbury at critical time in his political career

Cloud of SNC-Lavalin scandal in stark contrast to his previous feel-good trips
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited Greater Sudbury on Wednesday, the first time he's been to the city sporting some serious political wounds.

Recall previous visits when the not-yet-prime minister's star was rising, coming here to spar with local boxer Amber Konikow, or to tour the Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre, where he received a rapturous welcome.

As PM, Trudeau was here in 2016 to confirm funding for Maley Drive, at a standing-room only event in the foyer of Tom Davies Square.

Trudeau was at the height of his status as a rock star politician, and his most memorable response to questions from reporters was about his favourite superhero.

Wednesday? Not so much. Reporters were told we had three questions – one from national media, one from French-speaking reporters and one from local media. But the question on everyone's mind was Quebec's SNC-Lavalin and former Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Reports have emerged that Trudeau pressured Wilson-Raybould last September to help avoid a prosecution of Quebec's SNC-Lavalin on corruption and bribery charges related to its dealings in Libya. 

Wilson-Raybould was demoted to minister of veterans affairs in a January cabinet shuffle, and more recently resigned from caucus and is currently evaluating what she can say. 

Trudeau on Wednesday said he made it clear to Wilson-Raybould that she should make decisions independently and without pressure. If someone was trying to influence her on any legal matter, the former justice minister should have let him know.

“It was her obligation or responsibility to come to talk to me and she did not do that in the fall,” Trudeau said. “And she continued to choose to serve in this government.”

Which, of course, does nothing to extinguish the controversy, nor does it explain to Canadians exactly what happened. It appears Trudeau was acknowledging Wilson-Raybould may have been pressured over the case, but who would be in a position to do that? 

The speculation has been that it was Trudeau's own staff, but that would not only be unethical, it would also put the prime minister in a position of either not knowing what his staff was doing, or expecting Wilson-Raybould to come to him about the behaviour of the PM's staff when they were acting under Trudeau's instructions.

It looks bad, either way.

Trudeau was happy to talk about Maley Drive, and still flashed the old charm during a visit to Deluxe on Regent Street, and in his chats with the people working on Maley.

He even took a shot at Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other Conservative leaders who are claiming the carbon tax will cause a recession.

“They are not just trying to delay action on climate change,” Trudeau said. “They're actually actively fighting action on climate change. 

“I'm really disappointed that Doug Ford and his fellow Conservative politicians are actually fighting against something that's going to make a significant positive difference in the lives of Canadians.”

Maybe if scandal wasn't swirling, Trudeau could get away with fighting Tories on the environment. He may have been looking forward fighting his reelection campaign this year on climate change. But  that looks unlikely now. 

With our local question, we asked why his government hasn't fufilled its promise to end boil water advisories and ensure adequate housing for First Nations communities. 

Great progress has been made, Trudeau said. 

“We have actually eliminated 78 long term boil water advisories in Indigenous communities,” he replied. “There are many more to do, but we are absolutely on track to delivering on that commitment by the time we promised.”

But even that fell a bit flat. One of his calling cards in 2014 was his promises on reconciliation with First Nations. Now they are denouncing him over the Wilson-Raybould mess, among other issues.

If you stay in this business long enough, you'll see politicians come to town on their way up and, later, on their way out. This prime minister was elected on a platform of ethics and reconciliation, and is getting hammered on both fronts.

Don't write his political obituary just yet, but certainly the bloom is off the rose. And I'm curious to see where he'll be next time he's in CGS.