Conservative MP decries ‘ridiculous’ non-response from PM on ethics probe

PM sticks to talking points on ethics probe

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly said he is happy to co-operate with the federal ethics commissioner and answer any questions she might have about his controversial Caribbean vacation.

That was the line when it emerged that ethics commissioner Mary Dawson was looking into the prime minister’s private helicopter flight during a vacation at an island owned by the Aga Khan, the billionaire leader of the Ismaili Muslims and a long-time Trudeau friend.

It was also the line when it came out that she was investigating the so-called cash-for-access fundraisers involving Trudeau, for which he has since been cleared.

It’s a line Trudeau has repeated ad nauseam at news conferences and during question period, every time the opposition parties have pressed for more details.

So it should hardly be a surprise, then, that it’s the line the Liberals gave Conservative MP Chris Warkentin in response to an order paper question, sort of an access-to-information request system available to MPs.

Warkentin asked, in writing, for more details of any meetings Trudeau has held with Dawson since his government was sworn in.

The answer, also in writing: “The prime minister is happy to engage with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner and answer any questions she may have,” said the single-sentence response tabled in the House of Commons.

Warkentin described the answer as “an insult to Canadians.”

“This is completely ridiculous. It lacks any form of transparency,” he said Tuesday.

“We’re not asking in-depth details about the investigation. We’re simply asking (whether) or not the prime minister has met with the ethics commissioner.”

There was no more clarity to be had from Dawson, either.

“You have asked if we can provide information about any meetings that Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson may have had with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau since November 4, 2015,” her spokeswoman, Jocelyne Brisebois, wrote in an email Tuesday.

“No, we cannot.

“Any dealings that the commissioner may have with individual public office holders or Members about their compliance with the Conflict of Interest Act or the Conflict of Interest Code for members of the House of Commons are confidential, as are any meetings that may take place in the context of an ongoing examination under the Act or inquiry under the code.”

She said Dawson spells out the process in a report following an examination or inquiry.

Trudeau’s office did not comment Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Trudeau is back in the business of fundraising — this time under new rules the Liberals developed in the wake of accusations they were providing preferential access to the prime minister and his cabinet in exchange for dollars from wealthy donors in private homes.

The new system involves holding fundraisers featuring the prime minister or ministers only in public places, announcing them in advance, allowing the media to attend and disclosing the guest list within 45 days.

Trudeau will appear at a fundraiser in Montreal this Thursday, where ticket prices top out at $250, and one in Vancouver May 18, where the cost ranges from $125 to $750.

The Liberals are calling on the opposition parties to follow suit, but they might end up not having a choice.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould has been tasked with developing legislation that would require similar disclosure for events involving party leaders and leadership candidates, in addition to cabinet ministers.

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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