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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with his Highness the Aga Khan, 49th Hereditary Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims (May 17, 2016). PMO Photo by Adam Scotti.

Opposition slams Trudeau’s “shameful and unacceptable” deceit

During the Question Period at the House of Commons on April 11-12, 2017, opposition MPs blasted Prime Minister Trudeau over new revelations that his controversial New Year’s family vacation at a private Bahamas island belonging to Aga Khan, a Trudeau family friend and a billionaire spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, cost the Canadian taxpayers $133,883 and not $127,187, as was originally estimated by the government.

Candice Bergen, MP for Portage-Lisgar and the Official Opposition House Leader, told the House Speaker that “at first the Prime Minister violated the rules by getting on Aga Khan’s private helicopter, then he misled Canadians by saying that was his only option, and today he is blaming the RCMP for that one”.

“He failed to disclose the full amount of the (almost) $134,000 that his little Christmas getaway cost taxpayers. What arrogance, Mr. Speaker!”

Government House Leader Bardish Chagger responded by saying that “this government is committed to working hard for Canadians and this is where our focus is”.

Bergen continued to press Trudeau and told the House Speaker that a Prime Minister should have good judgment, respect for the Canadian taxpayers and integrity. “This one”, said Bergen while pointing to Trudeau “can’t even keep his story straight”.

In mid-January, an independent parliamentary watchdog has launched an investigation into Trudeau for possible violations of the Conflict of Interest Act. It is the first time in Canada’s history that a sitting prime minister is being investigated by the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

By using the private helicopter belonging to Aga Khan during a secret vacation in the Bahamas, Trudeau may have violated federal law and breached the Act which forbids ministers from flying in private or chartered aircraft except under specific conditions, such as an emergency.

In addition to being accompanied by Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan and his husband, as well as Liberal Party president Anna Gainey and her husband, the government paid $6,695 to a Privy Council Office technician to fly from Nassau to Aga Khan’s private island by a commercial airplane, which undermined Trudeau’s claim that a helicopter was his only option to get to the island.

Excerpts from the debate in Parliament on Tuesday, April 11, 2017

MP Rona Ambrose, Leader of the Opposition, CPC:

Mr. Speaker, in January the Prime Minister claimed that he had no choice but to take a private helicopter to the Aga Khan’s island. He said that there were no other options. It turns out that this was not true. His staff, in fact, arrived at the island by commercial plane, and that bill was picked up by taxpayers too. It is bad enough that the Prime Minister chose to vacation at one of the most expensive destinations in the world when taxpayers have to pay, but why did the Prime Minister tell Canadians a private helicopter was his only option when he knew it was against the law and against his own ethical guidelines, and now we find out that it was not even true?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, as I have said a number of times in this House, this was a personal family vacation. I am of course happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to answer any questions she may have.

MP Rona Ambrose:

Mr. Speaker, that is not an answer to our question. This is not a conversation between the Prime Minister and the Ethics Commissioner. In fact, he told all Canadians publicly that he had no other option. The question is very simple. Why did the Prime Minister say he had no other option, when in fact he did? His staff took the other option, which was a commercial flight. He knew that taking this private helicopter was against the law and that it was against his own ethical guidelines. Now we find out it was not even true. Why did the Prime Minister tell Canadians this if it was not true?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, this was a personal family vacation, and I am happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner on any questions she may have. Furthermore, on prime ministerial travel, as is always the case, the RCMP makes determinations around the safest way for the Prime Minister to travel.

MP Rona Ambrose:

Mr. Speaker, no one has begrudged the Prime Minister a vacation. First of all, when he chose to vacation at one of the most expensive places in the world, knowing full well taxpayers have to pay for wherever he goes, for security, that was a choice he made. Second of all, he has told all Canadians that he thought there was no other option. Now he is saying the RCMP told him he had to take a private helicopter. Is the Prime Minister saying today, then, that the RCMP told him to break the law?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner on the details of my personal family vacation. As I have said, the RCMP makes determinations around the safest way for the Prime Minister to travel.

Excerpts from the debate in Parliament on Tuesday, April 12, 2017

MP Denis Lebel (Lac-Saint-Jean, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister admitted to flying in a private helicopter during a dream vacation. That is against the rules. He then said it was the only way to get to the island. Now we have learned that one of his employees had 400 pounds of cargo, and the cargo went to the island. Something is fishy here. Today the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is investigating the Prime Minister. That is unprecedented. What is he going to tell the commissioner? That it was a little personal trip? I personally do not need one of my employees to bring 400 pounds of cargo when I go on vacation.

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, it was a family vacation with a long-time family friend. As I have said many times, I am very happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and to answer any questions she may have.

MP Denis Lebel:

Mr. Speaker, this morning, the Prime Minister mentioned Malala’s humility, and I completely agree with him. He should also have shown some humility and recognized that it was Prime Minister Harper who recognized Malala as a Canadian citizen. He should have done so. Mr. Harper would never have agreed to travel to a private island for a so-called personal vacation at a cost of $150,000 to taxpayers. I consider this a lack of respect for the office of a government member. Will the Prime Minister tell us what happened and why it cost Canadians $135,000?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to have welcomed Malala as an honorary Canadian citizen here, in Ottawa, so she could address Parliament. I would like to point out that she became an honorary citizen thanks to a unanimous vote in the House of Commons. Everyone wanted Malala to become a Canadian citizen.

MP Michelle Rempel (Calgary Nose Hill, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, nearly 10% of my city is out of work and struggling with the emotional stress of trying to make ends meet, so when the Prime Minister stands in this place and tells these people he did nothing wrong by spending hundreds of thousands of their tax dollars on a personal vacation, he disrespects them. When the Prime Minister stands and tries to spin that he somehow has the right to flagrantly fly above the law, does he think Canadian taxpayers are fools, or does he think they are foolish enough to buy that garbage?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, as I have said a number of times, this was a personal family vacation with an old friend. We are happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to answer any questions the member may have. At the same time, we are proud of the things we have been doing for the middle class and those working hard to join it, which has included lowering taxes on the middle class and raising them on the wealthiest 1%, despite that member and all of her colleagues voting against raising taxes on the wealthy.

MP Michelle Rempel:

Mr. Speaker, tens of thousands of middle-class Canadians wish they could take a vacation with their old friends, but they cannot because of the Prime Minister’s taxes and his spending their taxpayer dollars on his personal vacation. Worse, now when he is trying to explain why he broke the law, he is blaming the RCMP for his poor judgment and his poor choices. Are you kidding me, Mr. Speaker? When is the Prime Minister going to stand up and tell Canadians that he is sorry?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, I certainly do not think you are kidding anyone in the House. The fact is, we will continue to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to answer any questions she may have. In the meantime, we will continue to stay focused on lowering taxes on the middle class, raising them on the wealthiest 1%, and delivering a Canada child benefit that helps nine out of 10 Canadian families and will lift hundreds of thousands of kids out of poverty right across this country.

MP Candice Bergen (Portage—Lisgar, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister does not seem to answer direct questions, so let us try again. The Prime Minister was the one who told Canadians in January that his only option was to take this helicopter. Yesterday he put the blame on the RCMP, so Canadians are confused. Could he clear this up for Canadians? Is he willing to table the documentation, whether emails or written advice, that shows that the RCMP told him to break the law?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, as I have said many times, I am happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to answer all questions she may have so that she can determine that indeed all the rules were appropriately followed. The fact is, we know that being ready to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is extremely important, and that is exactly what we are doing.

MP Candice Bergen:

Mr. Speaker, this is about being honest with Canadians. Either the Prime Minister was misleading Canadians in January, or he is now. He is talking about talking to the Ethics Commissioner, so I have two questions for him: What has he told the Ethics Commissioner? Was it “The RCMP made me do it” or was it “It was my only option”? Also, has he met with the Ethics Commissioner already?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, we are happy to engage on an ongoing basis with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. This is important, because Canadians need to have confidence in the people who wield public trust, and that is exactly why I am so pleased to be working with her.

MP Karine Trudel (Jonquière, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, does the Prime Minister believe that it is important to tell the truth, not only to the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, but also here, in the House, to all parliamentarians? If yes, why did he say that the only way to get to the private island owned by his friend, the Aga Khan, was by helicopter?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, as I said, I am very pleased to be able to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. However, as we know, it is the RCMP that makes recommendations about the most secure way for the prime minister to travel.

MP Daniel Blaikie (Elmwood—Transcona, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, in case he does not realize it, the Prime Minister is not rehearsing lines for a play: he is answering questions about whether or not he broke the law. What we want to know is what he is going to tell the Ethics Commissioner, and he can say it in this place as well. Was the private helicopter that he chose to get on the only way to get to the island, yes or no?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, I have answered the question a number of times in this place. What I continue to work on is focusing on the things that matter to Canadians, whether it is lowering taxes for the middle class and raising them on the wealthiest 1%, putting forward a budget with historic investments in infrastructure that are going to make it easier for Canadians to get to and from work, or making sure that there are proper investments in the national housing strategy. These are the kinds of things that Canadians talk to me about whenever I leave the House and go across the country. Canadians want to know how the government is working for them, and we are happy to be talking about that.

MP Tony Clement (Parry Sound—Muskoka, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, this is a serious issue involving the Prime Minister’s judgment. He goes to billionaire island. He says the only way to get there is on a private helicopter, which is completely contrary to the rules of transport for the prime minister. The taxpayers are on the hook for this kind of money, and he will not answer questions in the House from parliamentarians. He is disrespecting Parliament. He is disrespecting the taxpayers. When is he going to come clean?

PM Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, any ethics question is a serious one. That is why I am so happy to work with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner and answer any questions she has on this issue. We continue to be focused as a government on the things that Canadians talk to us about in our constituencies and across the country, whether it is continuing to lower their taxes, as we already have, or investing in the kind of strong future for our students and our workers, who are looking at the changing job market and needing the support of a government that is actively helping them find new opportunities.

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About Ilana Shneider

Ilana Shneider
Ilana Shneider is the co-editor of CIJnews and the founding executive director of Canada-Israel Friendship Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the mutually beneficial, long-standing diplomatic, economic and cultural ties between Canada and Israel. She can be reached at [email protected]

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