Justin Trudeau entered the office of prime minister pledging to raise the bar for transparency and ethics. So far, Trudeau has failed to walk the talk.
On Wednesday, Trudeau became the first prime minister found in violation of federal conflict-of-interest rules following a probe by federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson into Trudeau’s vacation last Christmas at the private island in the Bahamas owned by the Aga Khan. Trudeau’s wife and children had also vacationed on the same island in March 2016.
In her report, Dawson determined that Trudeau’s visit to the island, which included a flight aboard the Aga Khan’s private helicopter to get there, broke sections of the Conflict of Interest Act prohibiting a cabinet minister or any member of their family from accepting gifts or “advantages” that could be reasonably seen as influencing government decisions.
The ethics commissioner also noted in her report that Trudeau failed to properly recuse himself from a meeting in May 2016 to discuss a $15-million grant to the Aga Khan’s endowment fund of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Also discussed at the meeting was a $200-million riverfront renewal plan in Ottawa for which the Aga Khan sought government funding.
Even if the vacation didn’t influence government decisions for federal funding for the Global Centre for Pluralism founded by the Aga Khan, the cosy relationship is suggestive of potential influence.
Trudeau defended his acceptance of the trip by saying he had been told – by whom, he didn’t say – there was no problem because the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims, is a longtime family friend. But, as Dawson pointed out, the fact the Aga Khan wasn’t even on the island at the time of Trudeau’s visit countered the notion that this was an opportunity for the “friends” to spend some time together.
Trudeau has apologized and said next time he will check with the ethics commissioner in advance about his personal vacations.
The ethics commissioner’s report is embarrassing to Trudeau and the Liberals, and that may not be the only trouble resulting from the affair. CBC News has reported the organization Democracy Watch has filed a complaint with the Commissioner of Lobbying, requesting an investigation into whether the Aga Khan violated Canada’s Lobbying Act by giving Trudeau and his family the free vacations on his island.
That brings up the point that, because the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, which has received millions of dollars in federal government funding, is registered to lobby several federal departments including the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau’s “friendship” with someone who heads a registered lobbying agency is troubling, too.
It all adds up to the fact that, if Trudeau wants to raise the standard for transparency and ethics in the federal government, as he promised in 2015, he’s going to have to do a better job. So far, it isn’t showing.