Canada’s prime minister has kicked two MPs from his party’s caucus after they accused him of meddling in a criminal case involving an influential company.
Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott had already resigned from PM Justin Trudeau’s cabinet citing their concerns over the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Now they have been expelled from Mr Trudeau’s Liberal Party, months before a general election.
The SNC-Lavalin controversy has cast a shadow over Mr Trudeau’s leadership.
Andrew Scheer, the leader of the opposition Conservatives, said on Tuesday that the prime minister had betrayed justice by removing two corruption whistleblowers.
Mr Trudeau repeatedly spoke about the breakdown of trust between Ms Wilson-Raybould and Ms Philpott and members of his staff.
“The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken,” Mr Trudeau told the media shortly after informing his caucus.
“If they can’t honestly say they have confidence in this team… then they cannot be part of this team.”
Ms Philpott has been vocal about her concerns with the government, and gave an interview in a national magazine last month in which she said “there’s much more to the story that needs to be told”.
Mr Trudeau said his decision was sparked by the revelation that Ms Wilson-Raybould had secretly recorded a conversation she had with Canada’s former top bureaucrat, which she released publicly on Friday.
Ms Wilson-Raybould said the tapes backed up her claim that government officials inappropriately pressured her to shield SNC-Lavalin from prosecution.
What is the SNC-Lavalin affair?
The Canadian firm is accused of bribing officials in Libya to win contracts under Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.
SNC-Lavalin has openly lobbied for an agreement that would allow it to avoid prosecution and instead face alternative penalties or measures, such as a fine.
Ms Wilson-Raybould said members of Mr Trudeau’s inner circle pressured her to cut a deal, and when she did not, she was removed from her position as justice minister.
Mr Trudeau has repeatedly denied that there was any wrongdoing by him or his officials.
How will this affect the autumn election?
The political controversy, which has been dragging on for weeks, has caused Mr Trudeau’s popularity to drop sharply in opinion polls a few months before a general election.
He said he is expelling the women from the caucus to put an end to infighting, which he had vowed to stop when he was elected in 2014.
“Civil wars within parties is damaging because it signals to Canadians that we care more about ourselves than about them,” he said on Tuesday.
How did the two MPs react?
Both women had said they still want to run again under the Liberal banner in the next general election, and expressed dismay they will no longer be a part of the party.
Ms Philpott said she will remain an independent MP until her term is up.
She reiterated her belief that the government put inappropriate pressure on Ms Wilson-Raybould, and criticised the government for attacking Ms Wilson-Raybould’s credibility.
“This isn’t about a lack of loyalty,” she wrote in a statement Tuesday evening. “On the contrary, I recommended that the government acknowledge what happened in order to move forward. This was an expression of loyalty, not disloyalty.”
Ms Wilson-Raybould said she had “no regrets”.