Is there a millionaire vacation double-standard in Canadian politics?
Happy Victoria Day Long Weekend Eve, Canadian readers! (See? Being a constitutional monarchy has its perks.)
Let’s get right to your questions, starting with the apparently perennially topical question of the most ill-advised New Year’s holiday getaway in prime ministerial history, courtesy of:
Diane B, who asks:
— Diane B. (@angelwine2) May 16, 2017
A quick explainer for those who might not be fully conversant in twitter abbreviations and/or the investigation in question: PMJT refers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the “island vacay” is the now notorious post-Christmas jaunt taken by Trudeau, his wife and assorted Liberal friends to the Bahamian island holiday home of the Aga Khan, billionaire philanthropist, hereditary leader of 25 million Ismaili Muslims and a long-time Trudeau family friend.
The trip is currently under review by the federal conflict of interest and ethics commissioner, who is famously tight-lipped on the details of ongoing investigations, but has indicated that she’s concerned about both the propriety of the prime minister accepting the Aga Khan’s hospitality, and — here’s where it gets a bit weird — the fact that he and the rest of his entourage took a private helicopter from Nassau to the island itself.
That puddle jump, all by itself, would appear to breach the federal conflict of interest laws, as ministers and parliamentary secretaries are barred from taking any private or chartered aircraft. (The origin story involves overly cosy relationships between past Liberal cabinet ministers and the Irving family, but at the risk of thoroughly confusing anyone still following this thread, we’ll leave it at that.)
She’s also thought to be reviewing his stay on the island itself, since there are restrictions on how much hospitality a cabinet minister can enjoy before exceeding the limits imposed by the code, although that tends to be much more contextual, and takes into account factors like pre-existing relationships and whether it could be seen to be an attempt to influence them.
Meanwhile, at the same time that her party was demanding answers on Trudeau’s tropical escapades, Conservative interim Leader Rona Ambrose was, as my colleagues at iPolitics put it,“vacationing in the Caribbean on a billionaire’s yacht.” Specifically, the yacht owned by Calgary Flames co-owner and energy magnate Murray Edwards.
So, why isn’t the ethics commissioner looking into that?
Simple: She’s not covered by those provisions of the federal conflict of interest law, as she is not currently a member of cabinet or a parliamentary secretary, but simply an opposition MP.
She is, of course, subject to the MPs’ conflict of interest code — as is Trudeau, for that matter — but it takes a far less draconian approach to the issue of hospitality, and includes no blanket ban on chartered or private aircraft.
So, in a nutshell: Ambrose isn’t bound by the same ethics and conflict restrictions as a minister or a prime minister. Why? Because, as an opposition member, she has far less power to make executive decisions on government policy or spending decisions, which means there isn’t nearly as much risk that she could be put in a conflict of interest by undue outside influence.
In fact, as Murray was hosting her in his personal, and not professional capacity, she wouldn’t even be required to disclose the details of the trip, which is mandatory for MPs who accept travel or hospitality from corporations, associations or foreign governments.
Speaking of Ambrose, James Walker wondered the following:
— James Walker (@jbw85) May 16, 2017
So, I included this question because I think it’s healthy for reporters to have to admit when something happened that took them totally by surprise. (It builds character, and acts as a powerful disincentive against writing smug columns predicting every twist and turn to come in the next twelve months.)
To wit: Yes, it was news to me, at least, although there had definitely been rumblings that she was looking increasingly, almost frantically, forward to handing over the crown and big blue sceptre to whoever wins the permanent title next week. (Maxime Bernier, probably, but see above re: Smug predictions.)
In my head, I sort of figured she’d just take a few weeks off — a leisurely yacht ride, perhaps! — and come back to the House as an eminence grise: the esteemed and respective elder stateswoman of the caucus, which is a pretty traditional move for an interim leader.
What I didn’t take into account was how unlikely it was that a bright, ambitious, 47-ish year old woman with a resume that would have her beating off offers for cushy private sector gigs would have any interest in sitting serenely in the back bench, dispensing the occasional pearl of wisdom and being regularly toasted at party gatherings, but not much more.
So, my bad. That was a ridiculous assumption on my part, and consider the crow eaten.
Amongst other reporters, it doesn’t seem to have been all that surprising at all, although the timing took official Ottawa a bit aback — it seemed rather sudden, even with party voting day just two weeks away. But this way, she could say her farewell to the House before the Victoria Day parliamentary hiatus (see above re: Perks of being a monarchy) so it makes sense.
Another, more overarching query about Commons departures, courtesy of Douglas Hunter:
@kady Which Canadian politician most resembles a cephalopod in intellectual dexterity yet regrettably short career span?
— Douglas Hunter (@DWHauthor) May 16, 2017
So, first of all, there is literally no way I would have been able to resist the opportunity to give a shoutout to my very favourite invertebrates: The entire squid fam, really, from giant to vampire, as well as the noble octopus, which is why I can’t help feeling sad every time I see a plate of calamari.
“Octopus can be as smart as a five year old human,” I say, although admittedly, I’m not sure where I got that tidbit, or if I just made it up. Either way, it doesn’t usually result in an instant conversion and forsaking of all fried squid foods, but I’m an optimistic.
So, back to your question, which really did get me thinking. So many of the candidates that jumped to mind were, in fact, veteran MPs, although I might be able to make a case for New Democrat Leader Ed Broadbent’s brief and glorious return to the House in 2004. But if you’ll accept it as an answer, I kind of want to submit, as a single entry, the entire Quebec NDP class of 2011, far too many of whom didn’t make it back for a second round.
When they first descended, en masse, on the chamber, there was much furrowing of brows and rollings of eyes over all those barely 20-something university students who simply surfed into power on the crest of the orange wave. Millennials, amirite?
Anyway, long story short, many of them turned out to be absolutely amazing MPs — Lauren Liu! Rosane Dore! Alexandrine Latendresse! All those Morins!
And who can forget Ruth Ellen “Vegas” Brosseau? Not her constituents, because she actually was re-elected in 2015, thus wrapping up her four year stint of showing everyone who initially mocked her exactly how wrong those snap judgements were. But far too many of her erstwhile caucus colleagues didn’t come back, either because they didn’t win or didn’t run, and I still miss the sheer energy and sense of possibility that they brought to the House.
Finally, since I don’t want anyone to get the idea that the Commons is on the verge of shutting down and hanging out the “gone constituentin'” sign for the summer, Scott Davy asks:
@kady Hi Kady, when are you betting the house will rise/other?
— Scott Davy (@ScottMDavy) May 16, 2017
I’m going to be That Person and say — probably on or possibly one day before June 23, which is the pre-scheduled date of adjournment. Yes, the House can rise at any point, provided everyone agrees to change the schedule (and by everyone, I mean everyone: With unanimous consent, all it takes is one spoilsport nay and there’s no early release.)
But as of right now, it’s hard to fathom that the Liberals will be able to get through all the bills that need passing by summer until pretty close to the deadline. Blame the tricky Senate, which suddenly has a habit of sending stuff back to concur in amendments. (No, actually, don’t blame the Senate — it’s really just a leisurely approach to legislative management on the part of the government.)
Then again, it’s amazing how amenable the Commons can become when the walls of Centre Block start to sweat from the heat, so maybe we’ll be done by the second week of June. I just wouldn’t bet on it.
Cover: Government of Canada