March 27, 2017 THE HILL TIMES
Defending the spending habits of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not the best topic for a former director of communications of Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.
But this is not about partisan politics. It is about the institution of the Prime Minister of Canada, the preferred target of opposition and media, not always justified.
The controversy over the Trudeau family’s Christmas vacation on the private Caribbean Island owned by the Aga Khan resurfaced recently.
I understand that last week’s budget was not exciting enough to stimulate the imagination of present and future generations, but why are media still harping at Easter time about our prime minister’s Christmas vacation?
When in opposition, the Liberals were doing the same, contributing to create an environment of fear and paranoia in the PMO, even when buying toilet paper for the Langevin Block. Still, “they did it too” is not a good reason to support the uproar over a normal vacation.
Let me elaborate.
Had Mr. Trudeau gone skiing in Colorado or the Alps, criticism would have been justified. Canada has some top-quality ski facilities, such a Whistler or Mont Tremblant, which, frankly, would benefit from the presence of the prime minister.
First, the Aga Khan and the Trudeaus are longtime family friends.
Probably, it would have been better not to, but not because of a possible conflict of interest. If the government wants to favour someone, it can do it in many ways and more discretely. In fact, being open about their friendship makes it more difficult to do anything improper. Sure, it would have been better not to accept the invitation to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. But do we really believe that had Trudeau not gone vacationing on the Aga Khan’s island, media and opposition would not have found another “perception” of conflict of interest?
But let’s forget about perceptions and let’s deal with facts.
The headline in the media last week was that the cost of Trudeau’s vacation was $127,000. Even if the total is right, the analysis of a single component makes the total “fake news.”
First, had Mr. Trudeau decided to vacation in Collingwood, Ont., the cost of the security would have been the same, $72,000.
Second, considering that military jets and pilots must be in the air for a certain number of hours, the cost of the maintenance, the depreciation of the Challenger and the salary of the pilots would have been approximately the same.
Roughly, we must shave $100,000 from the total and deal only with the $27,000 spent for the holiday. They include $15,000 for accommodations, $6,300 for a “tour technician,” and $1,700 for food consumption on the plane.
As we can see, most of the expenses are “institutional,” meaning not controlled by the PMO. I remember that former prime minister Stephen Harper questioned the number of RCMP officers following him on foreign trips. He was politely told that he oversaw the business of the country, not his security detail. Do we know the role needed of a “tour technician” from the PCO? Nope.
There is another $1,720 for food, beverages and “associated fees.” Is this a real issue? Do we really know what the cost of “associated fees” is? I suspect that feeding the guests with a bag of popcorn or some caviar, the bill wouldn’t be much different.
Considering that Mr. Trudeau reimbursed $4,895, the cost of a commercial plane tickets for him and his family, and that had Trudeau gone to another resort the expenses for food and accommodation would have been higher, do we really believe that it is still necessary to talk about a Christmas vacation at Easter time?