Ethics concerns over travel of MPs
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.