The slings and arrows of (political) misfortune

Justin Trudeau’s mistake wasn’t being a passenger on Air Aga Khan. It was hanging out with a billionaire, and then trying to keep it a big secret

trudeau aga khanTORONTO, Ont. Jan. 13, 2017/ Troy Media/ – Is Justin Trudeau guilty?

Yes he is: of using a dangling preposition.

Here’s the relevant news report:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he made use of the private helicopter of the Aga Khan during a family vacation at the billionaire Ismaili Muslim leader’s retreat in the Bahamas in what appears to be a direct breach of government ethics rules.

“The travel back and forth from Nassau to the island happens on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter, which he offered us the use of,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters. “It is something that we look forward to discussing with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, but we don’t see an issue on that.”

“Offered us the use of.” Gadzooks! I hate dangling prepositions. Sometimes you have to use ’em, though.

Helicopters, too. Was Trudeau supposed to swim to his destination? Hitchhike? Canoe? Walk on water?

Now, now, I know what you are going to say (and God knows I’ve heard enough of it on the various radio panels I’ve done this week): “But, Warren, the Conflict of Interest Act says he can’t do it! Read section 12, you Lie-beral Leftard!”

Well, okay. Here’s what the Act says.

“No minister of the Crown … shall accept travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose unless required in his or her capacity as a public office holder or in exceptional circumstances or with the prior approval of the Commissioner.”

Let’s not bother debating whether the circumstances were “exceptional” (although they probably were: he was going to, you know, an island). Let’s also not debate whether a Prime Minister ever stops being a “public office holder” (because they probably never really do, do they?). Let’s just say this was, say, sponsored travel.

“Sponsored travel” is done a lot by all of our federal politicians. It usually drops off in election years, for obvious reasons. But in non-election years, it happens a fair bit. It happened 85 times in 2012; 110 times in 2013; and 87 times in 2014. All the political parties take sponsored trips, which are defined by the Commissioner as any travel costing more than $200 that isn’t totally or mostly paid for by the MP, his or her party or a House of Commons-recognized association.

So what does the Commissioner say about this sponsored travel stuff, which I presume includes rides on someone’s helicopter?

Subsection 15(0.1) of the Members’ Code expressly permits Members to accept sponsored travel that arises from or relates to their positions … [the sponsored travel] must be disclosed to the Commissioner and publicly declared within 60 days after the end of the trip.

So.

It is “expressly permitted,” quote unquote. It is exempted from the rules on gifts and benefits, too.

And it needs to be “publicly declared” within 60 days of the end of the trip. This being the middle of January – and the now-infamous helicopter jaunt having taken place in late December – my calculation is that Trudeau has met the requirements of the law and the rules.

There are a couple problems, however, and they don’t include “sponsored travel.” One problem is that the PMO needs to stop being so frigging clandestine about where the big guy is going, with whom, and for how long. The Americans always know where their president is (except when there’s a surprise visit to the troops somewhere, I guess). Why can’t we do likewise? It would certainly avoid teapot tempests like this one, which someone will almost certainly brand as “Copter-Gate” any minute now.

Two, I have never liked it when politicians hang out with rich guys – whether it be on a private golf course or in Davos. Populist-type politicians remain popular when they keep their feet on the same gritty ground upon which the rest of us eke out a meagre existence.

So, Ralph Klein would hang out at the Calgarian, and buy me and my punk rock pals drinks. For Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman would come right up to someone on the sidewalk and just hug them: I saw him do it when I volunteered for him. And Jean Chretien? He’d go to Harvey’s when Madame was away, sit with Joe and Jane Frontporch and their kids, and tell jokes.

Sorry, pointy-headed elites and chattering classes: Justin Trudeau’s mistake wasn’t being a passenger on Air Aga Khan. It was hanging out with a billionaire, and then trying to keep it a big secret.

And, Justin, remember: this is the kind of nonsense up with which we will not put.

Troy Media columnist Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator. Warren is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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