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NP View: Canada’s stubbornly unethical Liberal government

National Post logo National Post 2023-02-19 National Post View
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick © Provided by National Post Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the APEC summit in Bangkok, Thailand on Friday, Nov. 18, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

The Trudeau Liberals have an obvious ethics problem that has expanded to nearly every corner of government, but it’s one they refuse to acknowledge. Even when presented with objective facts of ethical breaches, they play dumb, as if they didn’t know the rules. Common sense may very well take its leave of someone once they are sworn in as a Liberal minister, but pleading ignorance is a poor excuse for repeated unethical behaviour. The problem has become so dire, it’s managed to bring the ethics commissioner to his wit’s end.

On Tuesday, Mario Dion issued a report finding that Liberal MP Greg Fergus, the prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, had violated the Conflict of Interest Act when he petitioned the CRTC on behalf of an acquaintance to grant a small television station a broadcasting license requiring mandatory distribution in Quebec.

This was in direct violation of the law, which prohibits ministers and parliamentary secretaries from trying to influence the decisions of administrative tribunals. Fergus chalked it up to an “unintentional error.”

He just hadn’t bothered to read the law, you see, or glance at a summary of the rules that are clearly laid out on the ethics commissioner’s website. Surely Fergus can be forgiven for not knowing that doing a favour for a friend was going to land him in hot water.

Except that we’ve heard that excuse before … as recently as last week, when Trade Minister Mary Ng, who was also found to have contravened the act for handing out two contracts to a “close friend,” told the House ethics committee that the conflict of interest “was not flagged” by her staff and suggested the ethics commissioner should offer “additional” training.

Dion couldn’t agree more . Except it turns out that his office does offer ethics training for MPs and their staff, but he said that only a “very small proportion” take him up on the offer. As a result, he took the unprecedented step of calling on the government to make ethics training mandatory.

“Over the last five years and on several occasions, I have observed senior officials being unaware of their obligations and mistakenly making assumptions,” Dion said in a statement . “I therefore recommend that the government consider mandating all ministers and parliamentary secretaries to receive training.”

The government’s supposed lack familiarity with the rules is the result of either extreme incompetence or just a flimsy excuse for Liberal ministers to avoid resigning when caught behaving in obviously unethical ways.

Since 2018, Dion, who announced his resignation this week due to “persistent health issues,” has investigated Liberal cabinet ministers, MPs and senior public servants nearly two dozen times and found at least five senior Liberals have violated the law. His predecessor also dealt with a string of ethical complaints.

The prime minister himself has been investigated three times and sanctioned twice (in the Aga Khan and SNC-Lavalin affairs). Former fisheries minister Dominic LeBlanc was cited for handing out a lucrative clam fishing licence to a company with links to his wife’s cousin (LeBlanc also didn’t think he was doing anything wrong and admitted he “should have consulted the commissioner’s office prior to making the decision”).

Former finance minister Bill Morneau was fined for failing to disclose his directorship in a corporation that owned a French villa he shared with his wife (which his office discounted as “ early administrative confusion ”) and was investigated on two other occasions, including for accepting over $41,000 from WE Charity to cover travel expenses. The list goes on.

Government House leader Mark Holland said the government will “take a look” at Dion’s call for mandatory ethics training. In other words, Canadians shouldn’t expect the Liberals to change their behaviour any time soon. Certainly not as long as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in charge.

Trudeau’s questionable judgment was apparent long before he became prime minister in 2015. A couple years earlier, he came under fire for collecting speaking fees for appearing at various events while sitting as an MP.

Despite claiming that , “While speaking as an MP, I’ve never charged anyone a single penny,” Trudeau was found to have taken $20,000 to speak at a conference organized by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union in 2010. His defence was that he was not performing his parliamentary duties at the time. Trudeau also took $20,000 from a charitable foundation that runs a nursing home to speak at an event that ended up losing the charity $21,000.

The Trudeau family’s side hustle came back to haunt the prime minister after his government tried to put WE Charity in charge of a $912-million student grant program in 2020, despite the organization having paid his family around $425,000 in speaking fees and travel expenses.

But by that time, the prime minister was well acquainted with ethical scandals. He had only been in office for a year when he and his family accepted a trip to the private island of Aga Khan, whose foundation had received $50 million in federal funding over the preceding year. A few years later, he was caught trying to pressure his justice minister to intervene in a criminal case involving SNC-Lavalin.

It’s amazing that 17 years after the Sponsorship Scandal helped throw the Liberals out of power and a new law established clear conflict-of-interest rules, the government is still being run like an exclusive club for ministers and their friends.

National Post

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