July 24th, 2024

Trudeau defends trip to Jamaica as Opposition calls on ethics commissioner to testify

By Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press on January 17, 2024.

The House ethics committee is set to meet today to discuss if a probe should be launched over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent holiday vacation to Jamaica. Trudeau arrives to speak at a breakfast with members of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, in Montreal, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says all rules were followed for his recent holiday vacation to Jamaica, as the Opposition pushes to have the ethics commissioner appear before parliamentarians to answer questions about the trip.

At a special meeting of the House of Commons ethics committee Wednesday, Liberal MPs said they weren’t opposed to the idea of inviting acting commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein to testify.

But they said they want his appearance to include a detailed explanation of the travel rules that are laid out in the Conflict of Interest Act.

Liberal MP Mona Fortier said that any probe into the matter requires a deep understanding of how the law works, to ensure people can maintain trust in their democratic institutions.

Early this month, Trudeau’s office said the prime minister’s family was staying at a location owned by family friends at no cost, after earlier saying the family would cover the cost of their stay.

Trudeau’s office said he consulted with the ethics commissioner and the family would reimburse the public for the cost of travelling on a government plane.

“Like a lot of Canadian families, we went to stay with friends for the Christmas holidays. All the rules were followed,” Trudeau told reporters in French at a press conference in New Brunswick on Wednesday.

Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said everyone is entitled to a vacation, but the problem is the changing narrative coming from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“This is incredibly problematic,” Barrett said.

He said he wants to know whether Trudeau misled von Finckenstein in seeking advice about the trip.

“As per standard practice, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner was consulted prior to the travel to ensure that the rules were followed,” a spokesperson for the prime minister, Mohammad Hussain, said in a statement last week.

“Any allegation that we would mislead the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is categorically false.”

Barrett said he asked the acting commissioner’s office for its communications with Trudeau’s office about the trip, but his request was denied.

Liberal MP Pam Damoff argued at Wednesday morning’s committee meeting that that’s rightfully so.

She said conversations between the ethics commissioner’s office and MPs must remain private so that politicians can feel comfortable when seeking advice.

The Conflict of Interest Act allows politicians to accept gifts and other advantages only from relatives or family friends with whom they have a well-documented close bond – and Trudeau was previously found to have run afoul of that rule when he was a guest of the Aga Khan in late 2016.

The New Democrats argue reforms are needed.

“The Liberals and Conservatives both point fingers at each other when they both get favours from their rich friends but then refuse to change the rules as it benefits both of them and the ultra-rich,” NDP House leader Peter Julian said in a statement.

“New Democrats want to see a review of the Conflict of Interest Act to actually crack down on corporate and lobbyist influence in politics, so it’s everyday Canadians who get ahead, not the ultra-wealthy.”

Earlier this month, the National Post reported that Trudeau was staying at a luxury estate owned by his longtime-friend Peter Green. The Canadian Press has not independently verified the information, and officials have declined to confirm where Trudeau was staying.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2024.

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