The federal Conservatives are asking the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner to probe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vacation in Jamaica and how his staff handled the detail that he stayed for free.
Conservative MP and ethics critic Michael Barrett sent a letter to Konrad von Finckenstein on Tuesday asking whether he knew Trudeau was staying at a luxury estate owned by a family friend.
Barrett said the vacation is “not the equivalent of staying at a friend’s home,” calling it instead a gift with commercial value.
The Canadian Press has not independently verified a National Post report that said Trudeau vacationed at a luxury estate owned by longtime family friend Peter Green. Green’s Prospect Estate rents villas for between US$1,100 and US$7,000 a night during the holiday season.
“I recognize that those of us in public office have pre-existing friendships, and it is not completely uncommon to stay at a friend’s home over a holiday,” Barrett said in this letter.
“And I also recognize that Justin Trudeau, as a child of wealth and privilege, is likely to have wealthy and privileged friends.”
Barrett said the fact Trudeau was gifted such an expensive vacation “could reasonably be seen” as being intended to influence a government head.
Trudeau’s office on Wednesday declined to comment on the Conservatives’ concerns.
A spokesperson said in a statement that “the Prime Minister and his family were staying with family friends at no cost.”
That is slightly different from last week, when the spokesman said the family was staying at a location owned by family friends, not that they were staying with the family.
But that too was different from what the Prime Minister’s Office said before the trip took place, when it said the family was paying for the cost of the vacation. It clarified last week — shortly before the National Post story ran — that in fact Trudeau had reimbursed the government for the equivalent of the cost of commercial flights, but the accommodation in Jamaica was free.
The PMO said Wednesday that the ethics commissioner “was consulted on these details prior to the travel to ensure that the rules were followed.”
“The Prime Minister continues to reimburse the equivalent of a commercial airline ticket for his personal travel and that of his family,” the statement read.
Barrett also raised concerns with the ethics commissioner about the changing narrative from Trudeau’s staff about who was footing the bills for the vacation.
A spokesperson for von Finckenstein would not say last week what details the Prime Minister’s Office provided but did say the Conflict of Interest Act allows a public office holder to accept gifts or other advantages if they come from a friend or relative, without having to disclose them.
In a statement Wednesday, another spokesperson for the commissioner’s office said it “does not approve or ‘clear’ regulates’ vacation” but only “has a role only in ensuring that the gift provisions” in both the conflict of interest and ethics codes are followed.
As for Barrett’s letter, the commissioner’s spokesperson Melanie Rushworth said the office is limited in what it can say due to confidentiality provisions.