KINGSTON, Ont. — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he and his family used the private helicopter of the Aga Khan during his recent holiday, a possible violation of federal law.
All ministers, including the prime minister, are forbidden under the federal Conflict of Interest Act from flying in private or chartered aircraft except under specific conditions.
Trudeau and his family used the private helicopter of his close family friend, billionaire philanthropist and spiritual leader the Aga Khan, to get from Nassau — the capital of the Bahamas — to the Aga Khan’s privately-owned 349-acre Bell Island. That’s a 115-kilometre flight one-way over open ocean.
“The travel back and forth from Nassau to (Bell) Island happens on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter which he offered us the use of,” Trudeau said at a press conference here. “It’s something we look forward to discussing with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner but we don’t see an issue on that.”
Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan, who, along with Liberal Party president Anna Gainey, joined Trudeau on the Aga Khan’s island, said earlier this week that he, too, used the Aga Khan’s helicopter and that the flight to the island took about 40 minutes.
Federal law places no restriction on an everyday MP, like O’Regan, when it comes to using a private aircraft but it does prohibit ministers and certain other public office holders from doing so. A minister is required to get pre-approval from the conflict of interest commissioner before using any private aircraft. Trudeau did not do that.
The act also allows for use of a private aircraft by a minister in exceptional circumstances, such as an emergency, or during the performance of a minister’s normal public duties.
Trudeau has said repeatedly that his New Year’s holiday in the Bahamas was “a family vacation.”
That was all the evidence NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair needed to pronounced Trudeau guilty.
“At the beginning of a tour of Canada, which the Prime Minister is trying to use to shift the focus away from his government’s recent ethical breaches, he has admitted to breaking the law,” Mulcair said in a statement.
He also said that he never advised the Conflict of Interest Commissioner — an independent parliamentary watchdog — that the Aga Khan was a close family friend.
The Aga Khan has known Trudeau since he was a toddler and was an honorary pallbearer at the funderal of Pierre Trudeau.
All ministers, including Trudeau, must file a confidential disclosure with the Conflict of Interest Commissioner declaring, among other things, their assets and liabilities. Some ministers also provide the commissioner with a list of friends and relatives who might have a connection to government business. They might, for example, own businesses that sell goods to the government or be registered lobbyists.
The Aga Khan is the founder and director of the Aga Khan Foundation Canada, a registered lobbyist organization.
Trudeau said he never provided the commissioner with a list of friends and relatives that could be connected to government business nor did he disclose his relationship ahead of time with the Aga Khan.
But in Kingston, Ont., Trudeau seemed to say such advance disclosure would have been unnecessary because it was common knowledge.
“I have not seen a list of associates or family friends that could cause problems and I didn’t provide any names on that,” Trudeau said. “But the fact that the Aga Khan has been a long-time family friend is well known.”
Before Christmas, the prime minister was deflecting criticism over the so-called cash-for-access fundraising issue in which senior ministers, including Trudeau, were rubbing shoulders with millionaires in exchange for the cash.
After New Year, the National Post began reporting about his holiday with the Aga Khan.
I have not seen a list of associates or family friends that could cause problems and I didn’t provide any names on that
Trudeau had planned to go this week to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum, a conference in the Swiss Alps popular with billionaires, millionaires, and Hollywood celebrities. Trudeau went last year.
Perhaps worried that Trudeau’s brand as a middle-class hero was at risk by spending so much time with the world’s wealthiest people, the PMO hastily set up what his office is dubbing a national “listening tour” so Trudeau could “remain connected with Canadians.”
Thursday was that tour’s first day and it went through a handful of small cities between Ottawa and his overnight stop at CFB Trenton.
Trudeau continues his listening tour Friday, starting with a breakfast with Canadian Armed Forces personnel through to a mid-morning town hall meeting in Peterborough, Ont. before closing the day with yet another town hall meeting in the early evening in London, Ont.
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National Post by David Akin
Jan 12th 2017