Trudeau, sanc­tioned over his 2016 va­ca­tion, was hardly the first prime min­is­ter to run afoul of eth­i­cal stan­dards

Investment Executive - - FRONT PAGE - BY GORD MCIN­TOSH IE

Ethics con­cerns go in and out of style.

the ethics is­sue in ot­tawa is a lot like lapels on suit jack­ets. Width goes in and out of style con­stantly. With that thought in mind, let’s look at Justin Trudeau’s Christ­mas 2016 va­ca­tion.

You know the story: Justin, So­phie and the kids were guests of the Aga Khan on his pri­vate is­land in the Ba­hamas. The Trudeaus even hitched a ride on the bil­lion­aire’s he­li­copter (hor­rors!) to get to the is­land.

Mary Daw­son, out­go­ing par­lia­men­tary ethics com­mis­sioner, ruled af­ter months of in­ves­ti­ga­tion that this va­ca­tion was a no-no be­cause it put the prime min­is­ter in a po­si­tion of po­ten­tial con­flict of in­ter­est. She named and shamed him in a ci­ta­tion.

Trudeau be­lieved he was cov­ered by an ex­emp­tion in the par­lia­men­tary code of ethics cov­er­ing fam­ily friends be­cause the Aga Khan was a friend of Trudeau’s fa­ther. Daw­son ruled that this fam­ily friend­ship had ex­pired be­cause con­sid­er­able time had elapsed since the men had seen each other.

Al­though there was no penalty beyond em­bar­rass­ment, Trudeau now has the du­bi­ous hon­our of be­ing the first prime min­is­ter to have an in­di­vid­ual ethics vi­o­la­tion on his re­sumé — plus, he gen­er­ated a lot of tut-tut­ting from jour­nal­ists.

But let’s put things in per­spec­tive. The same ethics com­mis­sioner ruled in 2011 that Lisa Raitt, a min­is­ter in the former Stephen Harper gov­ern­ment, was not in con­flict of in­ter­est when she at­tended a fundraiser or­ga­nized by three lob­by­ists reg­is­tered to lobby her depart­ment.

The in­dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion of the par­lia­men­tary press gallery could be summed up with one word: “Meh.” Suit lapels were wider then.

Cu­ri­ously, the three lob­by­ists were sanc­tioned for putting that min­is­ter in con­flict of in­ter­est. But that sanc­tion was handed down by a dif­fer­ent reg­u­la­tor, Karen Shep­herd, the lob­by­ing com­mis­sioner.

So, the lob­by­ists put Raitt in a po­si­tion of con­flict of in­ter­est. But Raitt wasn’t in a po­si­tion of con­flict. Clear so far?

The Harper gov­ern­ment prob­a­bly put the fear of God into ev­ery reg­u­la­tor in Ot­tawa, in­clud­ing Daw­son and Shep­herd, in 2008 when the gov­ern­ment fired Linda Keenan, the nu­clear safety watch­dog, for do­ing her job. Keenan had or­dered Atomic En­ergy of Canada Ltd.’s (AECL) med­i­cal iso­tope fa­cil­ity shut down be­cause the Crown cor­po­ra­tion had failed to in­stall promised safety pumps. The gov­ern­ment had been try­ing to pri­va­tize AECL and found Keenan’s vig­i­lance in­con­ve­nient.

Back then, Harper in­tim­i­dated al­most any­body in Ot­tawa, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists.

When Kevin Page, the par­lia­men­tary bud­get of­fi­cer who en­dured the Harper gov­ern­ment’s on­go­ing in­sults and per­sonal at­tacks, called it quits, se­nior pub­lic ser­vants re­fused to at­tend his re­tire­ment din­ner for fear of of­fend­ing their po­lit­i­cal masters.

But, an ar­gu­ment can be made that Trudeau is hardly the first prime min­is­ter to run afoul of eth­i­cal stan­dards.

In 2001, Jean Chré­tien pushed out the head of the Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Bank of Canada, a Crown cor­po­ra­tion, and sicced the RCMP on the poor guy be­cause the ex­ec­u­tive wanted to can­cel a loan to a friend of Chré­tien (prime min­is­ter at the time).

In those days, there was no par­lia­men­tary ethics watch­dog. In­stead, there was an ethics coun­sel­lor who worked di­rectly for the prime min­is­ter — and ev­ery­body was fine with that be­cause ethics were not in style then.

So, why should any­one out­side Par­lia­ment Hill care whether ethics are i n style or not? Be­cause any­one can be­come caught up in a scan­dal un­know­ingly, or get caught up in po­lit­i­cal theatre. And bu­reau­crats can be in­con­sis­tent in the way they en­force non-crim­i­nal reg­u­la­tions that of­ten wouldn’t stand up in court.

Toronto bil­lion­aire Barry Sher­man was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the lob­by­ing com­mis­sioner at the time of his death be­cause he hosted a fundraiser for Trudeau while reg­is­tered as a lob­by­ist. Reg­is­tra­tion as a cor­po­rate in-house lob­by­ist is, in ef­fect, vol­un­tary, so Sher­man could eas­ily have avoided reg­is­ter­ing — and thus avoided in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Sher­man had launched a le­gal chal­lenge against the code of con­duct. Let’s hope some­one con­tin­ues that chal­lenge.

And we all should know the dif­fer­ence be­tween prin­ci­ple and po­lit­i­cal theatre.

Any­one can be caught up in a scan­dal un­know­ingly, or be caught up in po­lit­i­cal theatre

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