‘He consulted us and we advised him’: Ethics commissioner testifies about Trudeau’s Jamaica vacation

Canada’s acting ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein confirmed that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau consulted his office before his latest vacation in Jamaica and that it was within the rules to accept gifted accommodation from a friend.

“He consulted us and we advised him,” von Finckenstein told MPs while testifying Tuesday before the House of Commons ethics committee on rules regarding gifts and travel.

He indicated that as far as the ethics office is concerned, the matter is closed.

“If it had not been an acceptable gift, it would have had to be reported on our website… nothing has been reported.”

As stated in the Conflict of Interest Law, office holders have 30 days to disclose gifts valued at $200 or more in a public record, unless the gift does not require disclosure, such as those received from a family member or friend.

While MPs invited the acting ethics officer to speak broadly about the rules for “gifts, holidays and travel” under the Conflict of Interest Act, MPs on the committee agreed at a special hearing on January 17 that all related questions with Trudeau’s holiday trip would be allowed.

The Conservatives pushed for this hearing because they wanted to hear directly from von Finckenstein whether or not he knew that Trudeau would be staying for free at a villa owned by an old family friend.

“It’s been thirty days since the prime minister revealed that he went to Jamaica… you can draw your own conclusions about what the advice I gave you was,” von Finckenstein said.

Trudeau’s office has not confirmed the location of the prime minister’s vacation, but the National Post has reported that the family stayed in a private villa that rents for several thousand dollars a night and is part of a resort owned by to the family of businessman Peter Green. who has decades-long ties to the Trudeau family.

Estimating that the trip would be valued at more than $80,000, Conservative MP and ethics critic Michael Barrett suggested that offering accommodation was a substantial and potentially influential gift.

On Tuesday, von Finckenstein highlighted the exemption within the current rules when accepting gifts or benefits from family and friends.

“The prime minister has stated that Mr. Green is a family friend, he has been a friend for more than 50 years. He has remained on Mr. Green’s property since he was a child,” von Finckenstein said. “The Prime Minister has received gifts… more than once from this friend. He has spoken publicly of this friendship and has sought advice from my office, both during my tenure and during my predecessor’s tenure.”

Liberal MPs agreed to call the ethics commissioner, but indicated their intention was to see him speak publicly about MPs’ ethics rules to give Canadians clarity about what is allowed and why. During the hearing, they focused their questions largely on other potentially problematic or lavish trips and gifts that conservatives have reportedly accepted over the years.

The New Democrats backed the move to focus the hearing more broadly than on Trudeau’s last 10-day family trip, saying that given recent examples of trips by both Liberals and Conservatives, MPs should explore whether it is necessary adjust the rules regarding the rich. able to influence their political friends.

Trudeau and his immediate family left for the Caribbean island on Boxing Day. The PMO initially said Trudeau’s family would pay for his stay. But, as The Canadian Press reported, the office later clarified that the accommodation was “at no cost at a location owned by family friends.”

His office also stated that the ethics commissioner was consulted “about these details prior to the trip to ensure the rules were followed.”

The PMO said at the time that Trudeau “continues to reimburse the equivalent of a commercial airline ticket for his and his family’s personal travel.” The prime minister is required to travel on government planes under long-standing government policy.

Previously responding to Barrett’s accusations of being opaque, PMO press secretary Mohammad Hussain said in an emailed statement that “any allegation that we would mislead the Office of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner is categorically false.”

In previous statements to the media, the Office of the Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner confirmed that the consultations occurred before the prime minister’s vacation and indicated that the office “does not approve or ‘clarify’ the vacations of those regulated,” but He declined to provide specific details. citing confidentiality requirements.

This discrepancy in wording, as the Liberals suggested the holiday was given the green light, was explored in more detail during Tuesday’s hearing.

While he did not offer further details when asked about what Trudeau revealed, von Finckenstein said that while his office does not approve specific gifts or desired travel destinations, it rather offers advice on what is allowed.

He said officials “always” follow his office’s advice about what is acceptable, because if they don’t, there would be an investigation.

“We work to verify the true depth of a claimed friendship. If someone is a friend, they can offer a gift to a public official in a personal context, and the gift does not need to be disclosed,” he said.

The prime minister was questioned about his vacation accommodations on Monday, during the first question period of 2024, when Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre questioned the “$80,000 vacation,” which Trudeau defended as staying with friends during the holidays as they did. many Canadians.

More to come…

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