Trudeau recuses himself from choice of next ethics watchdog

Justin Trudeau is recusing himself from choosing Canada's next ethics watchdog. In a brief announcement sent out late Monday afternoon, the prime minister said the decision is prompted by the ongoing inquiry into his Bahamas vacation by current ethics commissioner Mary Dawson.

Cites ongoing ethics probe into his Bahamas vacation on Aga Khan's private island

Two men in suits stand and face the camera.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with the Aga Khan on Parliament Hill in this May 2016 file photo. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is recusing himself from choosing Canada's next ethics watchdog.

In a brief announcement sent out late Monday afternoon, Trudeau said the decision was prompted by the probe into his Bahamas vacation currently being conducted by ethics commissioner Mary Dawson.

"Effective immediately, the Prime Minister has recused himself from all matters related to the appointment of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, given the ongoing inquiry into the Prime Minister's family vacation this past Christmas," Trudeau's director of communications, Kate Purchase, said in statement.

"The Prime Minister has designated the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Minister Bardish Chagger, to fulfil any relevant obligations in relation to the appointment process for the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner."

Trudeau's announcement comes two weeks after Conservative MP Pat Kelly called on the prime minister to recuse himself.

In an interview with CBC News, Kelly said he was concerned about the prospect of the prime minister helping to choose a new ethics commissioner while under investigation by that office.

"Some may view a conflict there, whether there is one or not," said Kelly, a Calgary MP who sits on the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee. "It's a very unfortunate situation."

Under the government's rules, the prime minister is the minister responsible for the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

Kelly's comments came after current commissioner Dawson told the Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee that she is "struggling" to complete her office's open investigations before her term ends July 8.

That includes her investigation into Trudeau's controversial vacation to the Aga Khan's private island in the Bahamas.

If the investigation is not completed by then, it will be up to her successor to decide whether to continue the investigation, start again from scratch, or scrap it altogether, Dawson told the committee.

Dawson is conducting an investigation into the Bahamas trip following complaints that Trudeau violated government rules, which prohibit the prime minister, cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries from accepting free travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft without prior approval from the ethics commissioner.

Trudeau has defended the decision, maintaining that hopping aboard the Aga Khan's helicopter was the only way to get to Bell Island. However, a Privy Council technician, who travelled to the island to set up a secure office for Trudeau, got there on a commercially chartered seaplane.

Trudeau risked being the first sitting prime minister to be under investigation by the ethics commissioner while also being called upon to choose their successor.


Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.