(Ottawa) The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner will not investigate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vacation to Jamaica, despite calls from opposition parties who say the “lavish” trips should not be offered to parliamentarians, even by close friends.
Acting Commissioner Konrad von Finkenstein told the House of Commons Ethics Committee on Tuesday that as far as he was concerned, the matter was closed.
The Conservative opposition is asking Mr. Trudeau to make public all his correspondence with the Ethics Commissioner in this matter.
Under the Conflict of interest law, Mr von Finkenstein cannot publicly disclose the conversations he had with the Prime Minister on this subject. But he said Mr. Trudeau’s stay in Jamaica was acceptable because it was offered by a friend with whom he has “deep bonds of friendship.”
The interim ethics commissioner said that if Mr. Trudeau’s trip had been unacceptable, it would have been mentioned on his office’s website – and nothing is there.
The Prime Minister’s Office initially said Mr. Trudeau would cover accommodation costs for the trip to Jamaica, but his staff indicated earlier this month that the trip was provided free of charge.
“There is nothing left to lift. If there had been something that needed to be disclosed (to the population), it would have been disclosed,” von Finkenstein said on Tuesday.
“We were advised, we gave opinions. The Prime Minister obviously heard these opinions and followed them. What he or his spokesperson says publicly is not under my control and I have no comment (to make) on this matter. »
There Conflict of interest law allows politicians to accept gifts and other benefits only from relatives or family friends with whom they have well-documented close ties. Mr. Trudeau broke this rule when he was a guest of the Aga Khan in the Bahamas during the 2016 holiday vacation.
Although the law does not place a limit on the value of such gifts, Mr von Finkenstein has the power to investigate gifts from friends in exceptional circumstances – such as if a politician received a Ferrari from a million bucks.
“If it was an absolutely exceptional gift, like a million-dollar car, I can always, if I want to, say: ‘This is so unusual, I have a hard time accepting that you being good friends and giving each other million-dollar gifts,’” the commissioner explained Tuesday.
And he believes that Mr. Trudeau’s vacation in Jamaica did not meet this threshold of an “unusual” gift.
A friend for over 50 years
Earlier this month, the daily National Post wrote that Mr. Trudeau had stayed at a luxurious estate owned by his old friend Peter Green. The Canadian Press was unable to independently verify the information and the prime minister’s staff declined to confirm where the Trudeaus stayed.
The prime minister said Peter Green had been a family friend for more than 50 years, Mr. von Finkenstein said, and that their visits dated back to Mr. Trudeau’s childhood.
Mr. Green is also the godfather of one of Mr. Trudeau’s children.
“Is there enough evidence here to believe something needs to be investigated?” No, that is not the case,” Commissioner von Finkenstein said on Tuesday.
The Conservatives and New Democrats still argue an investigation should take place, even though no formal complaint has been filed.
Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said it was not reasonable for a prime minister to accept what he called an extravagant gift at a “luxury villa.”
In a statement, Mr. Barrett later said Tuesday that “if Trudeau is certain his luxury vacation was legal, he need only disclose his correspondence” with the ethics commissioner.
“Instead, he refuses to do so, while the Liberal-NDP coalition covers his tracks at the Committee. This is why the Ethics Commissioner must investigate Trudeau’s exorbitant vacation. »
NDP MP Matthew Green also said the trip was “splendid” and is calling for reform of the Conflict of interest law. “It shows the flaws: Mr. von Finkenstein explained today that he was only applying the law,” Mr. Green said.
“Any commissioner we appoint to this position will simply continue to interpret the law as it is written, and it is our responsibility as a committee to come up with better law.” »
In the meantime, committee members unanimously agreed Tuesday to ask the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, as well as the Board of Internal Economy, to consider banning paid travel for MPs, but they did not mention “gifts”.