By: Ryan Young
I generally make it a point to stick to local politics and not delve into the worlds of national and international politics, but with so few people seeming to notice or care that our Prime Minister just broke a federal law, I felt that I had to chime in on the matter.
The issue in question is Justin Trudeau’s family vacation to a private island owned by the Aga Khan. The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader to more than 15 million Ismaili Muslim. The fourth of the line Aga Khan, Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, is a noted billionaire philanthropist in addition to his role as a respected spiritual leader. He was granted honorary Canadian citizenship by Stephen Harper in 2009. While not a registered lobbyist himself, his foundation is responsible for lobbying millions from the federal government for international development. He is also a long-time family friend of the Trudeau’s and was even a pall bearer at Pierre Elliott’s funeral.
The Aga Khan owns a private island in the Bahamas and that was the site of a new year’s celebration that was attended by Trudeau and his family, as well as Newfoundland MP Seamus O’Regan and the President of the Liberal Party of Canada. Canada has very strict laws regarding the interaction of public officials with known lobbyists, and the trip has raised several red flags with opposition MP’s and ethics watchdogs. Given that the families are close, a holiday get together is not such a strange or bad thing, but the Liberal guests traveled to the island via Khan’s private helicopter, which changes the whole issue from a bad judgement call to a violation of the Conflict of Interest Act. Section 12 of the act clearly states:
“No minister of the Crown, minister of state or parliamentary secretary, no member of his or her family and no ministerial adviser or ministerial staff shall accept travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose unless required in his or her capacity as a public office holder or in exceptional circumstances or with the prior approval of the Commissioner.”
That means that the Prime Minister was strictly forbidden from accepting the ride on the private helicopter, even if it was a family friend, and even if there was no other way to reach the island, as has been alleged. He had the option of clearing the trip beforehand with the ethics commissioner, but chose not to do so. Some have suggested that this was a poor lapse in judgement by Trudeau, but given the Liberal track record with ethics in the recent past, I think that is giving the Prime Minister a free pass. It is a clear violation of the act and the Prime Minister must be held accountable for his actions.
You can read the conflict of interest laws here: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-36.65/FullText.html
Let me be very clear here. The fact that Trudeau and his family and friends spent some time vacationing with a family friend on a private tropical island is not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things. With all the problems in our country right now, where the PM took his holiday vacation is small potatoes. But we can’t ignore the fact that the leader of our country willfully broke the law, when he had every opportunity to go through the proper channels to make it right. A simple call from the PMO to the ethics commissioner explaining the situation likely would have led to the request being granted. Unfortunately, through either incompetence or pure arrogance, the PM decided to act first and ask for forgiveness later and failed to inform the commissioner until days after the trip, when it had already been reported in the media. Asking for forgiveness later is not always a bad strategy for life, but it is behaviour unbecoming a Prime Minister, and Trudeau’s pure disregard for the ethics that come with his title should not be easily dismissed.
What bothers me the most is the willful blindness from people on these issues that should really matter, but apparently don’t. I mean our Prime Minister breaking the law should be a big deal, but instead of outrage on twitter, all you see is golden shower jokes and Trump Bashing. I am no more of a Trump fan than I am a Harper fan, but neither one of them has publicly admitted to breaking the law, yet we are willing to ignore Trudeau’s actions and brush a blatant breach of trust by a so-called progressive world leader under the rug while we watch the squirrel down south and assure ourselves that at least we have better than Harper now. Do we really?
The position of Prime Minister should not be a popularity contest. We need our leaders to be role models. Selfies are fine, and I have no issues with having a young Prime Minister with good hair, as long as he is willing to be the leader that he sold the country on. So far, despite the sunny media coverage, that has not been the case. It is just business as usual in Ottawa. Trudeau continues to sell himself as a progressive, and it is an easy story to buy when you see him marching in the pride parade or talking tough about climate change. But when you look at the policies he has implemented, and the ones that he is dragging his feet on, he begins to look less like a saviour and more and more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
In Trudeau’s own words on the use of Khan’s private aircraft, "It's something that certainly we look forward to discussing with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, but we don't see an issue on that." That statement alone should be enough to raise red flags about the Prime Ministers understanding and respect for our federal conflict of interest laws, which is one of the most important pieces of legislation in the country. Laws that safeguard against our politicians being “bought.” That the Prime Minister doesn’t see an issue with the situation only creates more questions about his ability to lead the country and his commitment to making Canada a better place than it was under Harper.
The private aircraft clause might even be a silly law in the big picture, especially when you consider the circumstances of the logistics involved in getting to Khan’s island. But being a silly law does not make the Prime Minister above it. Our current marijuana laws are considered by many to be silly as well, but try lighting up a spliff next to a police officer and see what happens to you. No matter what we think of it, the law is the law, and when we allow our elected officials to be above the law, we set a very dangerous precedent for ourselves and for our future. Elected officials need to be held to a higher standard, and we need to stop giving them a free pass through our own political apathy.
It will be very interesting to see how much life this story takes on. Will Trudeau face consequences for his blatant disregard for the law or will the media let him off the hook and let the story fade into the night? It usually drives me crazy that most people are more concerned about Trump or Trudeau than our own shit-show of a political scene here at home, but this is one instance where I would like to see people take a real interest and demand that the Prime Minister is made to answer for failing to respect the laws of the land.
A resignation seems a little extreme for this situation, but after days of refusing to provide details, and then acknowledging that he knowingly broke the law, I can’t really think of another course of action that would be suitable. The Prime Minister had plenty of time to get the trip approved, despite being fully aware of the illegality of his actions, and we cannot condone such actions from our elected leaders. While it is doubtful that a resignation will happen, and far more likely that the story will be swept under the rug, I hope that my readers will remember stories like this that continue to prove that there is no difference in party politics. Laws are for the plebes and government is no place for the concerns of the common man. As long as we continue to be willfully blind to the failings of our leaders, this will never change. Whether people believe it or not, the power really is in our hands. It’s time for us to stand up and use it. If we make enough noise, together, we can make sure that politicians are taken to task and held accountable when they fail us. Power to the people.