Ethics con­cerns over travel of MPs

National Post (National Edition) - - CANADA - ZANE SCHWARTZ AND CLAIRE BROWNELL

A Lib­eral mem­ber of Parliament whose trip to Tan­za­nia was paid for by a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist vi­o­lated the Prime Min­is­ter’s ethics code bar­ring par­lia­men­tary sec­re­taries from ac­cept­ing such gifts — and she wasn’t the only one.

Bramp­ton MP Ka­mal Khera was the par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary to the min­is­ter of health in April 2016 when World Vi­sion Canada spent $5,210.50 to take her on a seven-day trip to Tan­za­nia.

On Tues­day, the Na­tional Post re­ported that the Trudeau Foun­da­tion paid for Toronto MP Arif Vi­rani’s travel to Lon­don, Eng­land, from Feb. 29 to March 1, 2016.

Both Vi­rani and Khera ap­pear to be in vi­o­la­tion of the Prime Min­is­ter’s Guide for Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­taries, which bars those par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from al­low­ing out­side groups to pay for their travel.

Vi­rani, Khera and the PMO did not an­swer ques­tions on whether the MPs cleared their spon­sored trips with the prime min­is­ter or ex­plain why they ac­cepted them in ap­par­ent vi­o­la­tion of the rules.

Both Vi­rani and Khera sent emailed state­ments that did not ad­dress those ques­tions, say­ing that they cleared the trips with the ethics com­mis­sioner. Asked whether the prime min­is­ter knew about Vi­rani’s and Khera’s trips and whether he would dis­ci­pline them for break­ing the rules, the PMO did not an­swer the ques­tions.

World Vi­sion Canada is a reg­is­tered lob­by­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion that has re­ceived over $50 mil­lion from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment since 2015. Lob­by­ists are re­quired to dis­close to the Lob­by­ing Com­mis­sioner when they com­mu­ni­cate with a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial.

Brett Tarver, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for World Vi­sion Canada, said they didn’t re­port the Tan­za­nia trip be­cause it was “solely for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses.” The Lob­by­ists’ Code of Con­duct does not in­clude an ex­cep­tion for ed­u­ca­tional pur­poses.

Lob­by­ing Com­mis­sioner Karen Shep­herd told the Na­tional Post that while she can’t com­ment on spe­cific cases, “any oral com­mu­ni­ca­tion on reg­is­tra­ble top­ics dur­ing a spon­sored travel event must be re­ported.” World Vi­sion Canada is reg­is­tered to lobby about health, the min­istry Khera was par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary of, as well as in­ter­na­tional de­vel­op­ment.

Tarver cited de­vel­op­ment as some­thing that would be dis­cussed on this kind of trip. Ac­cord­ing to Tarver, MPs “are never un­der any obli­ga­tion to sup­port World Vi­sion’s man­date, rather the fo­cus is on al­low­ing the trip to in­form their un­der­stand­ing of de­vel­op­ment is­sues.”

John Bras­sard, Con­ser­va­tive deputy ethics critic, thinks the prob­lem goes deeper than what rules were bro­ken by MPs in this in­stance. For Bras­sard, the re­spon­si­bil­ity lies with Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau.

“He said things were go­ing to be more trans­par­ent, things were go­ing to be more open,” said Bras­sard. “Those were his rules. And that’s why this mat­ters to Cana­di­ans.”

Jo­ce­lyne Brise­bois, a spokesper­son for the Of­fice of the Con­flict of In­ter­est and Ethics Com­mis­sioner, con­firmed Vi­rani told the watch­dog about his trip spon­sored by the Trudeau Foun­da­tion. In an emailed state­ment, she said she was un­able to com­ment on whether the com­mis­sioner gave him the go-ahead, for con­fi­den­tial­ity rea­sons.

The ethics com­mis­sioner doesn’t ad­min­is­ter the rule bar­ring par­lia­men­tary sec­re­taries from ac­cept­ing spon­sored travel. Brise­bois said the watch­dog’s usual course of ac­tion in sit­u­a­tions like this is to direct the MP to the of­fice with ju­ris­dic­tion over the rule, in this case the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice.

Arif Vi­rani

Ka­mal Khera

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