Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized for his seemingly cavalier attitude with respect to parliamentary procedure and taking ethical stands. The running joke has been that either he doesn’t know, doesn’t care or experiences things differently than others.
Here’s yet another example and it’s one of the strangest to date.
Trudeau, like many of his predecessors, conducts year-end interviews with the major TV networks. He goes on CBC, CTV and Global and discusses topical issues, policies and/or controversies. Although there have been brief moments where the conversation gets animated, most questions tend to be of the softball variety and are easy to directly address or quickly deflect.
Yet the PM said something rather stunning and revealing during one of his year-end chats.
CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton broached the subject of the WE Charity scandal. She correctly pointed out Trudeau had “placed himself in a position of conflict at the cabinet table … knowing at least that your wife had been paid by the organization for speaking, your brother and your mother.”
Barton then asked Trudeau point-blank, “Do you have an ethical blind spot? How does this keep happening to you?”
Two good questions that demanded two good answers. They received nothing of the sort.
Trudeau responded by discussing how the Liberals promised Canadians they would “have their back” during the pandemic, which had nothing to do with her questions. When she asked for a tie-in, he argued the grant that WE Charity was going to administer would have played into this. Nice try but that’s nothing more than window dressing.
The PM agreed he should have “recused himself because of the optics and I’m sorry that I didn’t.” When Barton pointed out his blind spot had prevented students from getting this grant, he acknowledged this – and then tried to deflect by mentioning the introduction of the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit, which obviously isn’t the same thing.
Barton then asked Trudeau how he would prevent this scenario from happening again and whether “there is someone helping you see where the potential problems are?”
In spite of the “communications challenge … and optics challenge” this issue ultimately entailed, the PM said “there was no conflict of interest here, there was absolutely no conflict of interest.” He even doubled down and suggested, “there was no conflict here. There was no profiting from this situation.”
This entire exchange was absolutely mind-boggling. As critical as I and others have been of the prime minister, this may very well be the low point of his political career. That’s saying a lot.
Merriam-Webster defines conflict of interest as a “conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of a person in a position of trust.” While a conflict could be related to financial gain, it’s not limited to this one classification or transaction. It could involve any situation where someone has something to gain – including titles, honours, social stature and, yes, optics.
Trudeau has separated optics from conflict of interest, for whatever reason. His strategy is to link conflict of interest with financial advantage or “profiting,” and point out that no such thing happened between the federal government and WE Charity.
Why is he doing this?
I have no idea. His definition is not only completely wrong, it’s incredibly narrow. If he can’t figure out that his family’s involvement, including paid speaking engagements, is not only bad optics but also a conflict of interest with the biggest red flag imaginable, then he really does have an ethical blind spot.
Trudeau needs to sit down with Canada’s ethics commissioner, Mario Dion, and get a clear definition of conflict of interest. Most of Canada’s former PMs, Liberal and Conservative, would have figured it out in a flash.
It appears Trudeau either doesn’t know, doesn’t care or experienced it differently.
Hmm. Where have I heard this before?
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.