National Column: An ethics breach that should stick to Trudeau

by Tim Harper

We already knew of the private island, the private helicopter and a Christmas holiday steeped in the type of privilege and luxury unknown to all but the tiniest upper percentile of Canadians.

That didn’t stick to Justin Trudeau.

Now, we have four slam-dunk violations of the conflict of interest act and a public apology from the first prime minister ever found guilty of ethical violations while in office.

This should be a political grenade that blew up in Trudeau’s hand, and his deer-in-the-headlights performance when challenged on his judgment by The National’s Rosemary Barton was the equivalent of him pulling the pin.

But again, with Trudeau and this government, the question still has to be: “Will it stick?”

Ethics commissioner Mary Dawson’s report that found Trudeau improperly accepted a gift from the Aga Khan was released a few days before Christmas with the House of Commons dark for more than a month.

So far, nothing seems to stick to this government, whether broken promises, a ham-handed
performance from the finance minister, or a minister insulting Canadians with disabilities, the very people for whom he is supposed to advocate.

This government wins byelections, and its approval ratings remain steady, and most Canadians seem to be giving the finger to those inside the Ottawa bubble who chronicle Liberal fumbles.

But this episode should burst well beyond the bubble.

This is a government and prime minister who rode to power two years ago on the type of inspirational message of hope and a new dawn that propelled Barack Obama to the White House in 2008.

This was a government that was going to do everything differently than the Stephen Harper
government, yet continually plays to a sense of entitlement, of playing by different rules than other Canadians.

Trudeau and family and Liberal friends made two trips to the island in the Bahamas – Sophie Gregoire Trudeau also took her family there without her husband – at a time when the Aga Khan Foundation, which Dawson said has received $330 million from Canadian governments since 1981, was registered to lobby Trudeau’s office.

This may demonstrate a lapse in political instincts, something hard to believe in a man who was born into political life.

It is more likely to reflect a sense of entitlement from a man who has never had to play by the same rules as you or me.

If this sticks, it will be a godsend to the “aw shucks, boring, suburban family guy” Andrew Scheer, and the all-but-invisible Jagmeet Singh.

It was no coincidence both opposition party leaders used the same line of attack.

Conservative Scheer, who first requested the ethics investigation, said it showed Trudeau doesn’t believe the rules apply to him, that there is one set of rules for the Liberals and their friends and a different set for everyone else.

NDP Leader Singh said Trudeau had broken Canadians’ trust and demonstrated that there were two worlds out there – one for the powerful, wealthy and well-connected who can break laws without consequences, and another for everyday Canadians who must live with consequences if laws are broken.

Trudeau told Dawson the trips were family vacations with “a personal friend,” and he was allowed to accept gifts from a friend.

But this was an unrequited friendship until Trudeau became Liberal leader in 2013.

In 1983, Pierre Trudeau took Justin and family on a vacation to the Greek Islands with the Aga Khan, and Justin Trudeau said he became friends with the Aga Khan’s children. But in the ensuing 30 years there was no personal contact between Justin Trudeau and the Aga Khan, except for the funeral of Pierre Trudeau in 2000.

This close personal friendship appears to have been rekindled only when Trudeau had access to power, first as Liberal leader, then later as prime minister.

Trudeau had previously been placed under ethics scrutiny for since-ended cash-for-access events in which he and cabinet ministers could be privately lobbied by those with money to gain access.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau has already been fined $200 by Dawson for failing to report a French corporation that owns his villa in Provence, France.

He is also under investigation for potential conflict in introducing a pension bill that could benefit his company, Morneau Shepell.

This is not to argue that people with money should not enter politics. But when that money becomes a metaphor for life in an elite orbit with rules just for the moneyed, you are moving farther and farther away from the middle class you claim to champion.

Tim Harper writes on national affairs., Twitter: @nutgraf1
Copyright 2017-Torstar Syndication Services

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