OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday moved to end the worst crisis of his tenure, expelling two former cabinet members whom he said had undermined the ruling Liberal Party.
Trudeau announced that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and former treasury board minister Jane Philpott would no longer be allowed to sit as Liberal legislators.
The Liberals have been in turmoil since Wilson-Raybould said in February that officials had inappropriately pressured her to ensure construction company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc escaped a corruption trial when she was justice minister last year.
"The trust that previously existed between these two individuals and our team has been broken," Trudeau told an emergency meeting of caucus.
"Our political opponents win when Liberals are divided. We can't afford to make that mistake – Canadians are counting on us," said Trudeau, who came into office in November 2015 and faces a re-election contest this year.
Wilson-Raybould was demoted in January and resigned the next month. Philpott quit shortly afterwards, saying she had lost confidence in how Trudeau was handling the matter.
The move represents a retreat by Trudeau who as recently as last week had said the Liberals needed strong legislators with differing points of view.
But increasingly angry parliamentarians had demanded both women be removed from caucus on the grounds they were undermining party unity.
Polls show the crisis has cut public support for the Liberals to such an extent that they could lose an October election to the official opposition Conservatives.
Trudeau has denied any wrongdoing. The scandal is starting to hit his fortunes in the populous province of Quebec, where the Liberals say they need to pick up seats in October to remain in power.
Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said Trudeau's decision to expel the two politicians from the Liberal Party sent a message that "if you tell the truth, there is no room for you in the Liberal Party".
Wilson-Raybould said on Twitter that Trudeau had also told her she could not run for the Liberals in the October election.
Philpott said on Facebook that she "did not initiate the crisis now facing the party or the prime minister".
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and David Ljunggren; editing by Grant McCool)