What’s behind the Conservative push for Justin Trudeau to face ethics committee on Aga Khan trip?
Two weeks after a damning report by the ethics commissioner found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke federal ethics rules when he took a 2016 trip to the Aga Khan’s private island, Conservatives want to hold a special ethics committee meeting to find out more about who else was on the island with him and whether he will pay back Canadians for the trip.
Conservative ethics critic Peter Kent sent a letter Friday to the chair of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics requesting “an extraordinary meeting” of the committee next week to consider a motion to invite Trudeau to answer questions about the report on Jan. 17 or 18.
Given the chair of that committee is Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, it is virtually certain the meeting will be granted.
However, whether the committee actually votes to support the motion is an entirely different matter.
While the Conservatives hold the position of chair on the committee, the Liberals hold the voting majority and can defeat any motion put before the committee if they vote together.
So what’s behind the push to vote on a motion the Conservatives don’t have the numbers to push through on their own?
Michele Austin, a senior adviser with Summa Strategies in Ottawa, says it is not a surprise the Conservatives are looking for a way to keep the ethics issue in the news and that whether the motion succeeds or not, forcing Liberal MPs to vote on the issue will give the Conservatives a political win.
“The ethics report landed in the political winter as well as the Canadian winter,” she told Global News. “The traditional audience that would listen to this isn’t available so they need to find a way to keep this current.”
Austin, who served in the past as chief of staff for both Rona Ambrose and Maxime Bernier, said voting against the motion to have Trudeau come and answer questions would not look good on Liberal MPs given the ethics commissioner ruled there were major problems with the trip.
“That by definition would say that Liberal MPs think their judgement is better than the ethics commissioner,” Austin said, noting she expects questions over the trip will dominate discussions when the House of Commons returns at the end of the month. “Either way, the outcome is a win. If the Liberal MPs vote against this, it will give the Conservatives a lot to talk about.”
In his letter to Zimmer, Kent explained there are two key questions he wants Trudeau to answer.
WATCH BELOW: PM Trudeau apologizes for ethics violation in Aga Khan vacation
“Conservatives are calling on Justin Trudeau to repay more than $200,000 the Prime Minister billed taxpayers for his illegal vacation and are also demanding the Prime Minister come clean and tell Canadians who else he met with when he accepted this illegal gift,” Kent said in a statement.
A Conservative source told Global News that while members do not begrudge the prime minister and his young family for taking a vacation and for the reasonable security costs that come along with such trips, the fact the trip was ruled to have broken the rules means taxpayers should be reimbursed.
The Trudeau Report, released just days after the House of Commons had risen for the holiday break last month, laid out why Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson found Trudeau broke multiple ethics rules when he accepted a ride on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter and stayed on his private island over the holidays in 2016.
Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau had initiated the 2016 holiday trip for the family after she holidayed on the private island in March of that year with their three children and an unknown friend.
The prime minister was also found to have broken rules around the use of private transportation, and Dawson said he did not recuse himself from discussions on matters involving the Aga Khan on several occasions when he should have done so.
“Neither Mr. Trudeau nor his family should have vacationed on the Aga Khan’s private island,” Dawson ruled.
The report stemmed from two complaints brought by Conservatives, and the party has shown no signs it intends to shift gears from hammering the government over ethical issues as they have been for the last year.
WATCH ABOVE: Prime Minister Trudeau on ethical issues facing Liberals
Questions over ethics dominated two gruelling four-week stretches of parliamentary brouhaha that ended when the House of Commons rose in December.
Both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau were the targets of Conservative attacks during the sittings after Morneau was fined $200 by the ethics commissioner in November for not disclosing a French corporation that holds his private villa in southern France and also over broader allegations of ethical impropriety relating to C-27, the pension bill Morneau tabled that could benefit his family firm, Morneau Shepell.
While Trudeau apologized immediately after the ethics commissioner’s report and said he would be more “proactive” in disclosing trips in the future, Conservatives have argued he should do more.
“He must start recognizing that it is the Prime Minister’s job – nobody else’s – to ensure he is following the law. Yet it seems Justin Trudeau believes that the rules shouldn’t apply to people like him,” Kent said.
“Every day Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government are looking more and more like the Liberal governments of old. Canadians deserve better than a Prime Minister who believes there is one set of rules for Liberals and their friends, and another set of rules for everybody else.”