Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is facing another ethics investigation — his fifth one since taking office in 2015.
The latest probe was announced Monday after Canada’s ethics commissioner confirmed he was looking into allegations that Trudeau’s office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould (who has since resigned) to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution over corruption and fraud charges.
Trudeau, who has denied the allegations, said he welcomed the investigation saying, “it’s extremely important that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our justice system.”
The Liberal government has already faced four ethics controversies, including Trudeau’s trip to the private island of the Aga Khan, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s failure to disclose that one of his private corporations owns a villa in the south of France.
The ethics commissioner found wrongdoing in two of the cases, including the investigation into Trudeau.
He’s also the first and only prime minister to break a federal statute and was found guilty by the federal ethics committee over his Aga Khan trip.
How does this compare to other prime ministers and ethics probes?
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner of Canada only came into effect in July 2007, meaning it’s only operated under two prime ministers: Trudeau and Stephen Harper.
In an interview with the Canadian Press, Michael Atkinson, a professor of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, said that makes it difficult to compare the behaviours of previous governments and prime ministers who have not been subject to the same kinds of ethical accountability.
“First, we haven’t had a federal ethics law for very long, so it is a bit misleading to invoke a standard that most prime ministers couldn’t breach if they wanted to,” he said. “Second, breaking rules, whether laws or codes, is not the only standard for ethical evaluation.”
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Eight MPs faced ethical investigations under the Harper government’s nine years in office, along with several high-ranking government staff.
The first investigation launched by the ethics commissioner was in 2008, and it involved former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his possible violation of conflict-of-interest rules when he gave tax breaks to private school students. Flaherty (who was investigated again by the commission) was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Former Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt was investigated for accepting a complimentary upgrade to executive class on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Ottawa in 2011. She was also cleared of any wrongdoing.
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The ethics commissioner found wrongdoing in five out of the eight cases investigated.
And before the ethics watchdog office was created there were of several high-profile cases in Canada that led to inquiries.
For example, a federal inquiry led by Justice Jeffrey Oliphant found in 2010 that it was inappropriate for former prime minister Brian Mulroney, after leaving office, to accept cash-stuffed envelopes from German-Canadian businessman Karlheinz Schreiber.
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Oliphant said Mulroney “failed to live up to the standard of conduct that he himself adopted in the 1985 ethics code” for ministers, parliamentary secretaries and other senior public office holders.
— With files from Global News’ Andrew Russell the Canadian Press
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