NDP Leader Tom Mulcair blasted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for vacation to the Aga Khan’s island, calling it “illegal” in question period on Tuesday, and saying the use of a government staffer over the trip proves it’s inappropriate.
Trudeau’s trip to the Aga Khan’s island over Christmas break included his family, Liberal MP Seamus O’Reagan and his husband, and Liberal President Anna Gainey and her husband. It ended up costing taxpayers over $125,000 — and resulted in two ethics investigations.
According to documents tabled by the government to the House of Commons on March 20, there was one government employee with the Privy Council Office on the trip: a tour technician. The total bill amount for the employee was $6,305.32.
But the “per diem” cost for Bell Island was $1,604.82. The PCO confirmed that the cost was associated with a US$100 per day (stipend) for 12 days that the employee stayed on the island, the CBC reports.
This cost was reimbursed to the Aga Khan.
“It has come to light that the Liberal government gave taxpayer money to one of the Prime Minister’s cronies, to cover the costs of a technician on this private island,” Mulcair said Tuesday.
“This payment shows that rest of the trip was indeed a gift the prime minister and several other Liberal cronies accepted.”
Tory MP Tony Clement questioned why the employee was there in the first place.
“The employee’s per diems were paid out to the Aga Khan, which is of course flying in the face of accountability,” Clement said.
“Did the employee actually do any work for the taxpayers?”
But the Liberals defended the staffer’s involvement on the trip. The PCO told the CBC the technician carried equipment and set up a temporary office for Trudeau.
“The prime minister is always in contact with his office and is routinely provided with necessary resources during all travels, domestically and internationally, and whether on personal or governmental business,” Liberal MP Bardish Chagger replied.
“The prime minister must always be ready to do the important duties that he has.”
Trudeau was not in question period himself.
The two investigations into the trip were suggested to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner by Conservative MPs.
The use of a private helicopter is addressed in Section 12 of the Conflict of Interest Act. It says that no public office holder “shall accept travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft,” but also lists exceptions to this rule if there are exceptional circumstances.
Trudeau has said he doesn’t believe there should be an issue with his use of the Aga Khan’s helicopter to get from mainland Bahamas.
Section 11 of the Conflict of Interest Act says MPs or other public office holders or their families cannot accept gifts, including the use of property “that might reasonably be seen to have been given to influence the public office holder in the exercise of an official power, duty or function.”
There are exceptions to these rules, and the exception that Trudeau is suggesting is applicable in this case, is that gifts from personal friends are allowed.
The prime minister also said he would reimburse taxpayers a portion of the trip.
— With a file from Global’s Adam Frisk