Outgoing Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson released her report on the Prime Minister’s vacation to the Bahamas and the Aga Khan’s private island there last Christmas, and she determined that he had indeed broken four sections of the code. Reaction was swift – Trudeau quickly called a press conference to apologise and try and to take full responsibility, but stumbled in some of his responses. And soon after, both Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh called their own press conferences to condemn Trudeau and to rail about how out of touch he is, and so on.
Rosemary Barton presses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his decision to vacation on the private island owned by the Aga Khan.
— The National (@CBCTheNational) December 20, 2017
First things first: The Canadian Press has five items of note from the report, and John Geddes offers three items of his own. Hay is being made – particularly from certain opposition politicians – that Trudeau is the first PM to have been found guilty of breaking these conflict of interest laws, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this current conflict of interest regime is only a decade old, and it’s not a lot of time for which there to be much to compare to. Aaron Wherry parses the report here, while Paul Wells offers his own bigger-picture look as to why this all matters.
This all having been said, I’m trying to digest the substance of the report, and some of it does rankle with me a bit, in particular the way in which Dawson parses how a friendship with someone like the Aga Khan should unfold, given the position that he holds. I also wonder if better context should have been applied to just what his Foundation’s dealings with the Canadian government are, because actual private interests aren’t being advanced here – nobody profits from this. A lot of what the Foundation does with Canadian aid money is do things like provide school books to Syrian refugees in camps in the Middle East, where they have the networks to deliver them. This isn’t nearly the same thing as accepting gifts from businessmen whose private interests and personal profits may rely on decisions made by the Canadian government, and I wonder if it’s helpful to treat those as being on an equal playing field. (Then again, maybe it is. I’m not an expert in this).
Fun game to play over the holidays: Analyzing whether you and the people you love would qualify as friends under the conflict of interest act.
— Aaron Wherry (@AaronWherry) December 20, 2017
A couple of other thoughts – It is fair to ask why Trudeau and his team, who can be so focused on optics at times, were so blind to this one. But given that they’ve scored more than a few own-goals this last year with bad communications plans, that’s becoming clear that they’re not the masters at this that they sometimes appear to be. As for the lack of penalties in the Conflict of Interest legislation, we have to bear in mind that these are political actors that we are discussing, and merely naming and shaming them does have political consequences. If we got into games of demanding financial penalties or that public office holders be jailed for breaches, we change the political calculus of this ethics regime, and it would become an even bigger gong show than it is now, not to mention that it would make cooperation even less likely if they think there’s a jail sentence attached. And finally, there is a lot of smug sanctimony going around, but some caution had best be exercised, particularly by members of the opposition, when it comes to how the Aga Khan is portrayed in this. The Ismaili community already has their backs up over how he has been characterised to date, and those opposition parties could find themselves alienating an important voting bloc if they’re not careful.
Like, if not "Justin, this might violate the Conflict of Interest Act," then "Justin, this could play badly for us in the following seven ways…"
— Chris Selley (@cselley) December 20, 2017
This is such a rarefied scandal. Has there ever before been a prime minister who could have ended up on the private island of a global religious leader?
— Aaron Wherry (@AaronWherry) December 20, 2017
- In his year-ender with Global News, Trudeau defends Bill Morneau and recounts his advice to Morneau on the issue (which may or may not have helped things).
- Trudeau also said that the thought of deadlocked NAFTA talks keeps him up at night.
- The plan to give lifelong pensions back to disabled veterans was rolled out, but criticized as vague and confusing, and not really helping those less injured.
- Catherine McKenna has told provinces that if they don’t have carbon pricing plans submitted by September 1st, the federal price kicks in January 1st 2019.
- CRA has ended its battles against five single mothers over benefits (and apologized), but it took media attention for them to back down.
- Health Canada has doubled the number of licenced cannabis producers over the second half of 2017. There will be market demand to meet.
- There are still no measures to track missing and murdered Indigenous women.
- Canada hasn’t added the names of any of its own terrorist travellers to the UN’s sanctions list.
- Martin Patriquin looks at the cynicism at the root of Michelle Rempel’s crusade around female genital mutilation being “removed” from the citizenship guide.
- Andrew Coyne asks a lot of questions of the PM in a (tongue-in-cheek) interview that never happened.
Odds and ends:
Senator Mike Duffy’s next court date in his attempt to sue the government will be in June.
Here are CTV’s picks for the 13 top moments in the House of Commons in 2017.