OTTAWA — A media report detailing how a government technician made his way to a pricey private island in the Bahamas had Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deflecting renewed allegations Tuesday about his controversial New Year’s family vacation with the Aga Khan.
Trudeau weathered a barrage of questions from interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose and Opposition House leader Candice Bergen about the latest cost estimates for the trip, which included a ride on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter.
The Opposition seized on a CBC report that found a Privy Council Office technician was able to travel to the island by commercially chartered seaplane, undermining Trudeau’s own argument that the helicopter was his only option.
“It’s bad enough that the prime minister chose to vacation at one of the most expensive destination(s) in the world when taxpayers have to pay,” Ambrose told the House of Commons.
“But why did the prime minister tell Canadians a private helicopter was his only option when he knew it was against the law, against his own ethical guidelines and now, we find out, it wasn’t even true.”
In mid-January, shortly after the vacation was over, Trudeau told reporters in Kingston, Ont., that travel to and from the island “happens on the Aga Khan’s private helicopter.”
In the weeks following, the prime minister made similar assertions in the Commons.
CBC says the government’s initial $127,187 cost estimate for the trip did not include another $6,695 for the seaplane.
Trudeau responded to the allegations Tuesday with his standard reply: that it was a private family vacation that he’s happy to discuss with the federal ethics commissioner.
But he also fended off questions from the opposition about his own decision-making abilities by saying the Mounties ultimately bear responsibility for deciding which mode of transportation he took to the island.
“Furthermore, on prime ministerial travel, as is always the case, the RCMP makes determinations around what is the most secure way for a prime minister to travel,” Trudeau said.
Government House leader Bardish Chagger, who fielded a number of questions with Trudeau sitting right next to her, also cited security rules that made it impossible for the prime minister to get to the island any other way.
“The RCMP determines the safest route for the prime minister to travel,” Chagger said.
The vacation has embroiled Trudeau in an ethics probe since January and exposed his government to attacks about overspending on government entitlements — long a Liberal Achilles’ heel.
Security rules mean the prime minister isn’t allowed to travel without a security detail, nor are the prime minister and his family allowed to take commercial flights. That means they must fly on government aircraft.
Government rules also prohibit the prime minister, cabinet ministers and parliamentary secretaries from accepting free travel on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft without first seeking the approval of the ethics commissioner.
The federal ethics watchdog is looking into the trip to see if Trudeau violated those guidelines.
More than half the cost of the trip to the Aga Khan’s island — about $72,000 — was for an RCMP security detail, a cost the government has said would have been incurred regardless of where the prime minister vacationed.
Liberal Party president Anna Gainey and her spouse joined the Trudeau family on the island along with Liberal MP Seamus O’Regan and his husband.
O’Regan has said he, too, travelled on the Aga Khan’s helicopter. But as an MP, he is not bound by the same rules as the prime minister and cabinet ministers.