The red flag should have gone up during the 2015 federal election campaign when Trudeau announced that he intended to decriminalize marijuana. How could this be? Like most other countries around the globe, Canada had signed the UN’s drug treaties agreeing to prohibit the use and distribution of drugs, including marijuana. How did Trudeau get around this obstacle? He ignored it, and breached the treaties and international law. Trudeau was apparently unconcerned about any moral or legal impediments to his action.
The decision on marijuana was the first of many controversial decisions made by Prime Minister Trudeau. He continues today, without embarrassment, to breach ethical and legal prohibitions.
With such a cavalier approach, it is not surprising that Trudeau has been investigated on three separate occasions by the federal Ethics Commissioner:
- Trudeau and his family spent Christmas 2016 on a luxurious Bahamian island owned by the Aga Khan. This occurred despite the fact that the Aga Khan Foundation had been the recipient of millions of dollars in federal grants, and was lobbying for further grants. The federal Conflict of Interest Act prohibits any public official from receiving a benefit from anyone receiving government grants. Trudeau ignored this. For this, the Ethics Commissioner found him guilty of breaching the conflict of interest laws.
- In the 2019 SNC-Lavalin case, Trudeau interfered in a legal proceeding in order to gain a political advantage for himself in Quebec. In the course of doing so, he removed from his caucus Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould and Health Minister Jane Philpott, who resisted his demands to interfere in the legal proceedings. The Ethics Commissioner found Trudeau guilty of another ethical breach.
- In April, 2020, it was announced that a charitable corporation, WE Charity – an organization with which Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, are closely involved – was given a grant of $912 million. WE charity was to be paid $43 million for administering this grant. Trudeau’s enthusiasm for this charity stems from the fact that he regards it as a platform for political purposes to reach young Canadians, prospective voters. Trudeau and his wife have been frequent speakers at WE Charity’s events and she serves as an ambassador for the charity. It was further learned that Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, his brother, Alexandre, and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau received approximately $322,000 from speaking at WE events. In addition, the daughter of Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau was an employee of WE and another daughter has spoken (with pay) at WE events. Mr. Morneau and his family travelled to Ecuador and Kenya to attend WE Charity events. Mr. Morneau did not disclose that the WE Charity paid his travel, hotel and hospitality bills in the amount of $41,000. In fact, Mr. Morneau did not disclose this information and did not return the $41,000 until the morning he was to testify before the finance committee which was reviewing the government’s grant to WE Charity. Neither Trudeau nor Morneau recused themselves when the $912 million grant to WE was approved by Cabinet.
This grant was a sole-source (that is, not offered to another bidder), untendered contract which Trudeau claimed could not be carried out by any other organization or by the public service. He did not provide any evidence to support this assertion, even though requested to do so. This nearly billion-dollar contract rescued the WE Charity at a very crucial moment since it, like other charities, was experiencing a loss in donations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government’s grant was a financial lifeline thrown to the organization. Trudeau’s offer allowed WE to rehire staff and operate as usual during the pandemic. It has further been learned that the WE Charity had received a number of other untendered, sole-source government grants worth millions of dollars. Four of the five most recent contracts were paid in the last 15 months. The most recent was paid in January 2020 in the amount of $40,000. It has also been learned that, in 2017, Trudeau contacted the WE Charity requesting it organize an event on Parliament Hill for the Canada Day celebration. This event was paid for by the federal Heritage Department in the amount of $1.8 million. Trudeau and his mother, Margaret, spoke at this event. The Ethics Commissioner has commenced an investigation of this latest, alleged breach of ethics by Trudeau.
Ethics Violations Penalties Have No Teeth
Trudeau does not seem to have any personal, ethical boundaries. His arrogance and disdain for the taxpayers is unprecedented, even surpassing his father. Also, Trudeau can brazenly breach the Conflict of Interest Act because the Act has no teeth. The maximum penalty the commissioner can award is a $500 fine. Such a fine is meaningless to a wealthy individual such as Trudeau, living off the family trust. The same situation arose with multi-millionaire, Finance Minister Bill Morneau when he breached the Conflict of Interest Act by “forgetting” to include among his assets the villa he owned in southern France. For this failure to provide full disclosure of his assets, Mr. Morneau was fined $200. The commissioner thought $500 was excessive.
It is gratifying that the present leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, has proposed amendments to the Conflict of Interest Act which would include a $20,000 penalty for its violation, among other significant amendments.
Even if, as is highly likely, the Ethics Commissioner concludes that Trudeau has again breached the Conflict of Interest Act, Trudeau will continue to remain unconcerned by such a determination because, so far, such breaches do not appear to have harmed his political career.