Opposition asks 18 times, but Trudeau won't answer on ethics commissioner meetings

Opposition MPs repeatedly asked the Prime Minister on Wednesday to detail his interactions with the ethics commissioner, making a concerted effort to demonstrate Justin Trudeau's unwillingness to answer the question and using his own desire for a prime minister's question period against him.

Conservatives use Trudeau's interest in a prime minister's question period against him

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds during question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Opposition MPs repeatedly asked the prime minister on Wednesday to detail his interactions with the ethics commissioner, making a concerted effort to demonstrate Justin Trudeau's unwillingness to answer the question and using his own desire for a prime minister's question period against him.

The Liberal government is looking to formally establish a weekly session of question period devoted to the prime minister, but since April Trudeau has taken it upon himself to respond to all questions posed on Wednesdays.

Conservatives and New Democrats have complained Trudeau's responses do not always include an answer to the question posed.

With the 10th question of the day on Wednesday, the Conservatives returned to a question they have posed several times since the ethics commissioner launched an investigation into Trudeau's trip to the Aga Khan's private island: How many times has the prime minister met with the commissioner?

Conservative MPs led a chorus of questions about the ethics commissioner's investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 2:24

Conservative MP Jacques Gourde asked Trudeau that question twice, and both times, as before, Trudeau said he was pleased to work with the commissioner and answer any questions she might have.

Conservative House leader Candice Bergen then tried her luck.

"I will repeat the question in English, because the question is not if he is happy or satisfied or feeling good about meeting the ethics commissioner," she said. "Has the prime minister met with the ethics commissioner, and if so, how many times? It is very, very simple."

"Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to work with the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner to answer any questions she may have," Trudeau said. "That is what Canadians expect of the prime minister and that is exactly what I am doing."

Bergen asked again, and then Conservative MP John Brassard tried twice as well.

"What a charade, Mr. Speaker," Brassard said. "The prime minister said he would stand up every Wednesday and answer every question that is being asked of every member on this side of the House, and he fails to do it."

Mulcair takes a shot

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair joined the effort, asking how many times the prime minister had "communicated" with the commissioner.

"Mr. Speaker, when asked the same question, I will give the same answer," Trudeau said. "I am happy to work with the ethics commissioner on any questions she may have."

Another 11 Conservative MPs pursued the subject as question period progressed. In all, Trudeau was asked 18 times to account for his dealings with the commissioner.

While repeating his willingness to work with the commissioner, Trudeau eventually transitioned to also discussing his government's work on other concerns.

"We continue to be focused on the things that matter to Canadians, such as restoring the federal government's engagement in housing," he said at one point, responding to Conservative MP David Sweet.

The Conservatives first asked about whether Trudeau had met the commissioner on April 12. They returned to it last Wednesday and made a point of noting that he did not directly answer.

Testifying to the access to information, privacy and ethics committee on May 2, Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson said she was not at liberty to disclose whether she has met with Trudeau because she is bound by certain confidentiality requirements.

Dawson said there was no rule against other individuals disclosing a meeting with the commissioner, but "we generally ask that people keep the activities and the inquiry questions and whatnot confidential, because we don't want to interfere with the investigation process."

In her final reports on investigations, Dawson has recounted her investigatory efforts and listed any witnesses who were interviewed.

About the Author

Aaron Wherry

Parliament Hill Bureau

Aaron Wherry has covered Parliament Hill since 2007 and has written for Maclean's, the National Post and the Globe and Mail.

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