Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s decision to appoint a cabinet minister’s sister-in-law as interim conflict of interest and ethics commissioner as the Conservatives ridiculed the move for a third consecutive day Friday.
The government appointed Martine Richard earlier this week. She is the sister-in-law of Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc.
Mr. LeBlanc and Mr. Trudeau appeared together at a news conference Friday in Moncton to promote measures in the new federal budget. They were both asked by reporters about the interim ethics commissioner, who was appointed by cabinet.
“I recused myself when the Prime Minister discussed this with cabinet,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “I did not participate in any way in this decision.”
Former ethics commissioner Mario Dion announced in February that he was stepping down for health reasons. The interim appointment covers a six-month period as the government seeks a permanent replacement.
“First of all, it’s important to understand that the interim ethics commissioner has been a senior official in the ethics commissioner’s office for over 10 years now,” Mr. Trudeau said, noting that she started under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He said Ms. Richard “has done excellent work under the previous ethics commissioner,” pointing out that she led the office at times when Mr. Dion was on medical leave.
“And secondly, if there is any office in the country that understands how to manage conflicts of interests and ethical perceptions issues, it is that office.”
Conservative MPs have criticized the decision for three consecutive days in Question Period, though Mr. Trudeau has not attended Question Period since the release of the budget on Tuesday. (The House of Commons will take a two-week break over Easter, returning April 17.)
On his way in to the chamber Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters that the government should have been able to find an interim commissioner who does not have personal ties to the federal cabinet.
“We’ve got almost 40 million people in Canada. Are you telling me we can’t find a single one that’s not either a ski buddy of the Prime Minister or a sister-in-law of one of his ministers?” Mr. Poilievre asked. “Give me a break. There are plenty of brilliant Canadians out there. We don’t need to name Liberal family members.”
He said the move fits a pattern, pointing to the recent appointment of former governor-general David Johnston as special rapporteur on election interference. Mr. Johnston has said his family and the Trudeau family used to ski together when the Prime Minister was younger, adding that his five daughters and Mr. Trudeau and his two brothers were about the same age.
The ethics commissioner’s office has had a few run-ins with the Trudeau government.
In 2018, Mr. Dion found Mr. LeBlanc had violated ethics laws by not recusing himself from a decision involving a clam licence awarded to a business group with connections to his wife’s cousin.
Mr. Trudeau has twice been found to have breached ethics laws: First in relation to a vacation in the Bahamas on the Aga Khan’s private island, and then regarding his efforts to influence then-justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould’s decision on whether to grant engineering company SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.