Conservatives Fight for Trudeau to “Pay It Back” for Bahamas Vacation

The opposition continues to demand that the Prime Minister reimburse Canadian taxpayers for his $200,000 trip to see the Aga Khan

(Epifania Alarcon)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has an expensive tab and the Conservative Party is making sure he settles up.

In December 2016, Trudeau vacationed with his family in the Bahamas on the Aga Khan’s private island, Bells Cay. The trip cost at least $215,000 and was paid for by Canadian taxpayers. Expenses included providing the Prime Minister with a government aircraft, additional RCMP security costs, and other government staff required to support Trudeau on the trip. The Conservative Party is demanding that Trudeau repays the hefty expense because, according to their advocates, spending so much public money on a getaway was unethical.

According to a report from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner called The Trudeau Report, just after being elected Prime Minister Trudeau issued a guidance document that required Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries to gain prior approval from the Commissioner before they accept travel when claiming exceptional expenses. Trudeau broke his own rule by going on the Bahamas trip.

“In going on an illegal trip … the taxpayers should expect that he repay the full amount,” says the Honourable Peter Kent, Conservative Shadow Minister for Ethics. “We are very serious in urging the prime minister to do the right thing …. He broke the law in accepting an illegal gift.”

Kent says that the Conservatives and the new Ethics Commissioner agree that when someone accepts an illegal gift and breaks the ethics act, they should be liable for their actions.

Greg Millard, Chair of KPU’s political science department, says the Conflict of Interest Act, which Trudeau was guilty of violating, currently outlines penalties of up to $500 for such behaviour. Millard says that there’s no legal foundation for the Conservatives to be making this demand of Trudeau.

“It’s purely political,” he says. “We need to keep in mind that this [act] isn’t a criminal law. The Conflict of Interest Act is more analogous to workplace policies [and] conflict of interest rules in the workplace.”

Trudeau has stated that the Aga Khan is a close family friend, but his Bahamas trip was a major conflict of interest for him because the Aga Khan has maintained relations with the Canadian government for several decades. Kent, however, points out that Trudeau accepted a gift from someone who’s asking the country for millions of dollars, regardless of whether or not they’re friends.

“[Trudeau] has abused a great deal of power and privilege. It must be remembered that … [the Aga Khan] lobbies in Canada for the interest of his foundation,” says Jacques Gourde, Deputy Shadow Minister for Ethics, in an interview translated from French.

Though Trudeau’s Bahamas trip has been highly scrutinized, Millard doesn’t think that anyone in Ottawa really believes that the money is the most important asset, pointing to the fact that Prime Ministers travel all the time and that their trips typically come with high costs and security. He believes that the Conservatives are fighting to keep the story alive for as long as possible in order to embarrass the government.

“The real issue is not that he chose to vacation, but that he chose to do so in a way that violated conflict of interest rules,” says Millard. “So, I see ‘pay it back’ as a political slogan by Trudeau’s opponents … to reinforce the narrative that he and his government lack ethics.”

Millard adds that, if the Conservatives can show that the Liberals are incapable of being in power by bringing attention to events like Trudeau’s trip, it’ll help them grow their support base.

“What this issue really does for the Conservatives is that it allows them to continue to galvanize their base of supporters [in order] to keep it as a fever pitch against Trudeau,” says Millard.

Translation for the interview with Jacques Gourde was provided by The Runner contributor Tristan Johnston. 


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