Canada’s interim ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein is testifying before the House of Commons ethics committee about the rules around gifts and trips, amid concerns over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s latest Jamaican vacation.
While the acting ethics official was invited by MPs to speak specifically about the rules for “gifts, vacations, and travel,” under the Conflict of Interest Act, MPs on the committee agreed that all questions related to Trudeau’s holiday trip will be allowed.
The decision to invite von Finckenstein to appear was made at a special hearing on Jan. 17.
Speaking to why he led the push for this probe, Conservative MP and ethics critic Michael Barrett said that he wanted to hear directly from von Finckenstein about whether or not he knew Trudeau would be staying for free at a villa, owned by a longtime family friend.
Liberal MPs agreed to call for the ethics commissioner to appear, but indicated their intent is to see him speak publicly about MPs’ ethics rules to provide Canadians clarity around what is permitted and why.
The New Democrats backed the push to focus the hearing more broadly than on Trudeau’s latest 10-day family trip, noting that given recent examples of travel by both Liberals and Conservatives, MPs ought to explore whether the rules need to be adjusted regarding the wealthy being able to influence their political friends.
Trudeau and his immediate family left for the Caribbean island on Boxing Day. The PMO initially said Trudeau’s family would pay for their stay. But, as The Canadian Press reported, the office later clarified the accommodations were “at no cost at a location owned by family friends.”
His office also stated the ethics commissioner was consulted “on these details prior to the travel to ensure that the rules were followed.”
The PMO said at the time that Trudeau “continues to reimburse the equivalent of a commercial airline ticket for his personal travel and that of his family.” The prime minister must travel on government aircraft per longstanding government policy.
Responding previously to Barrett’s accusations of being less than transparent, PMO press secretary Mohammad Hussain said in an emailed statement that “any allegation that we would mislead the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is categorically false.”
In previous statements to media, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner confirmed consultations occurred prior to the prime minister’s vacation, but declined to provide specific details, citing confidentiality requirements.
However, spokesperson Melanie Rushworth noted that the ethics office “does not approve or ‘clear’ regulatees’ vacations.”
“The Office has a role only in ensuring that the gift provisions of the Act and Code are observed,” she said.
This discrepancy in the wording, given the Liberals suggested the vacation was given the green light, will likely be explored in more detail during Tuesday’s hearing.
The prime minister was challenged about his holiday accommodations on Monday, during the first question period of 2024, seeing Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre question the “$80,000 vacation,” which Trudeau defended as staying with friends over the holidays as many Canadians did.