Top Trudeau ally offers backing as Canada ethics scandal flares back into life

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland hold a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause/File Photo

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday won the backing of a key ally in the aftermath of damning ethics report that could hurt the ruling Liberal Party’s chances of reelection in October.

Independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion on Wednesday said Trudeau and his team had attempted last year to undermine a decision by federal prosecutors that construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc should face a corruption trial.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, one of the leading members of the government, said Trudeau had shown “a real act of leadership” by accepting the findings of the report.

“In order to be clear with Canadians, let me just reiterate that I feel ... very privileged to be a member of Prime Minister Trudeau’s cabinet. He has my full confidence,” she told reporters in the Atlantic province of Nova Scotia.

The scandal, which erupted in early February, pushed the Liberals down into second place for several months. Recent opinion polls show the party edging back in front of their Conservative rivals as the affair faded from the headlines.

Trudeau refused to say sorry on Wednesday for his efforts to spare SNC-Lavalin a trial, citing the potential for layoffs, and maintained his defiant tone on Thursday.

“I won’t apologize for being there to defend Canadian jobs, it’s my job as prime minister to defend those jobs,” he told reporters in Fredericton, New Brunswick. SNC-Lavalin had sought to avoid prosecution by paying a fine.

Reporting by Kelsey Johnson; Writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler