OTTAWA, Dec. 21 -- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet's image was tarnished for not keeping to earlier ethics promises, after he was reported on Wednesday of violating a conflict-of-interest law, Xinhua reported.
"Trudeau started out as prime minister with strong ethics talk, but he and many of his cabinet ministers haven't walked the talk," said Duff Conacher, co-founder of the national citizen advocacy group, Democracy Watch, in an interview.
On Wednesday, the country's Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson released a report saying the prime minister had violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act by failing to arrange his private affairs to avoid being in conflict of interest.
Among Trudeau's transgressions was accepting an all-expenses-paid vacation over last year's Christmas break on a Bahamian island in the Atlantic Ocean, owned by multimillionaire businessman Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, who also holds the title of Aga Khan as the hereditary spiritual leader of the world's Ismaili Muslims.
The Aga Khan runs a Canadian charitable organization that is registered to lobby the prime minister's office, and "because there was ongoing official business" between the Canadian government and the Aga Khan, Trudeau was in a conflict of interest, Dawson concluded.
In addition, one of Trudeau's most senior members of his cabinet, Finance Minister Bill Morneau, is now under investigation by the ethics commissioner as to whether he also violated the law when he sponsored a pension bill in Parliament while owning about 15.6 million U.S. dollars worth of shares in his former pension-management company, Morneau Shepell Inc.
In 2015, the prime minister issued a document in which he directed cabinet ministers to not accept travel on "non-commercial chartered or private aircraft for any purpose except in exceptional circumstances, and only with the prior approval of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner" and that "any hospitality accepted must strictly adhere to the requirements of the Conflict of Interest Act."
Trudeau and his family were transported to their December 2016 getaway on the Aga Khan's helicopter, but the prime minister failed to consult with Dawson before the trip. Trudeau "did not follow his own rule," she said in her report.
The incident contradicted with Trudeau's promise during his campaign to become Canadian prime minister in 2015 that said, unlike the former Conservative-led government, his Liberal Party would be the champion of the middle class.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who worked as a restaurant waiter and an insurance broker before politics, is now positioning himself as someone who comes from the middle class and has "real world experience."
Trudeau's youthful past included stints as an elementary school teacher, snowboard instructor and nightclub bouncer.
Trudeau's promise of being the middle class champion was an easy pitch to voters during his campaign, as he carried added star power as the first child of a former and equally dynamic prime minister poised to hold the same office.
But two years later, Trudeau's background of privilege has crept into his government through accusations of elitism that has left him disconnected from the reality of average Canadians.
The prime minister, who faces no penalties for his ethics breach, apologized on Wednesday and promised to take "all precautions in the future" to avoid any further conflicts of interest.
No other Canadian prime minister has been found in violation of the conflict-of-interest law since it came into force in 2007.
By Christopher Guly
By Christopher Guly