The Liberal majority on the House Ethics Committee has defeated a Conservative motion to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appear before the committee to discuss his vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in 2016.
The motion, introduced by Conservative MP Peter Kent (Thornhill, Ont.), was supported by all opposition members on the committee at the Jan. 9 meeting, but needed the support of at least two of the six Liberal voting members to pass. However, after only 35 minutes of debate, all six Liberals members voted to defeat the motion.
After the meeting, Mr. Kent told reporters he was “disappointed” in the result, but pledged to continue urging the prime minister to appear before the committee. He said that a committee setting ensures questioning would be handled in a “very straightforward, respectable, and bipartisan way,” without the raucous heckling often heard during Question Period.
Last week, Mr. Kent requested an “extraordinary meeting” to debate a motion calling for Mr. Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) to appear before the committee to respond to a report by then-conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson late last month that said the prime minister broke the federal ethics code by vacationing on the Aga Khan’s private island over the 2016 holiday break.
NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkey Valley, B.C.), one of the committee members that voted in favour of the motion, said Mr. Trudeau needed to appear to answer lingering questions about the trip, while noting that the prime minister is “accountable to Parliament” by law.
Liberal MP and committee vice-chair Nathaniel Erskine-Smith (Beaches-East York, Ont.), who opposed the motion, responded that the “report speaks for itself,” and said Mr. Trudeau has already admitted his wrongdoing and apologized to Canadians.
“The opposition will of course have every opportunity to ask questions in Question Period when the house resumes,” he said, adding that Canadians will also have an opportunity to ask Mr. Trudeau during planned town halls in the coming weeks.
He also argued that the committee could be using its time more usefully by discussing updating the Conflict of Interest Act, as Ms. Dawson has urged for years.
After the meeting, Mr. Cullen told reporters that his Liberal colleagues “towed the party line,” and spoke almost “verbatim from talking points I assume were prepared by the Prime Minister’s Office.” Mr. Kent suggested the same.
Mr. Erskine-Smith, though, denied that the PMO told him how to vote, saying “they never do, and as you may know, I certainly wouldn’t listen to them.”
“Any additional questions I’ve heard in there from the opposition are certainly questions that can be asked at Question Period. I have no doubt it will be asked after Question Period and being asked across the country in town halls directly to the prime minister,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trudeau told a local Halifax radio station today that he didn’t want to get involved with the Ottawa news bubble and partisan politics, in regards to the committee meeting today.
Conservative MP Jacques Gourde (Lévis- Lotbinière, Que.) was the lone other committee member to support the motion at Tuesday’s meeting.
By virtue of serving as chair, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer (Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies, B.C.) was ineligible to vote, as was non-voting member, Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to the the Treasury Board president Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, B.C.).
The other Liberal members that voted against the motion were Mona Fortier (Ottawa-Vanier, Ont.), Frank Baylis (Pierrefonds-Dollard, Que.), Emmanuel Dubourg (Bourassa, Que.), Michel Picard (Montarville, Que.), and Raj Salni (Kitchener Centre, Ont.).
-With files from Marco Vigliotti
The Hill Times