Does the PMO think Justin Trudeau is already prime minister?

Let us applaud this interest in documentation and disclosure
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is applauded by fellow MPs rises in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Monday, April 15, 2013.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A day earlier, Ben Lobb had invoked the reputed words of Martin Luther King Jr. in conveying his concern about the matter and now Mr. Lobb, the Conservative MP for Huron-Bruce, stood in his spot in the far right corner during these precious 45 minutes that are reserved each day for raising questions related to the administrative responsibility of the government.

“Mr. Speaker, I oppose Bill C-377, the union transparency bill. I can also tell the House that I have never taken any money from unions before or after being elected MP. Had I done so and voted against Bill C-377, I would have been in a conflict of interest,” Mr. Lobb posited.  “To contrast, the Liberal leader took over $100,000 in personal payments from unions, including tens of thousands of dollars in his time as MP. After receiving this money, his is now a vocal opponent of the union transparency bill and his party is opposing it in the Senate.”

And this much was apparently causing Mr. Lobb to fret profoundly.

“I will be raising this matter with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner,” he reported.

This was interesting news, but, this being Question Period, it was not clear on what basis Mr. Lobb was rising here and now to report as much.

“Can,” Mr. Lobb finally asked, “the government comment?”

It was unclear why the government would comment or why it would even be allowed to comment—this being the sort of “question” that the Speaker might rule out of order as having nothing to do with the “administrative responsibility of government.” It was even less clear why Julian Fantino, the Minister of International Cooperation, he of the primary responsibility for the Canadian International Development Agency and the delivery of this country’s foreign aid, would be the minister to stand and respond to Mr. Trudeau’s speaking engagements.

But this much had already been touted: a note going out from the Prime Minister’s Office at 2:34pm to alert reporters that “Around 2:45PM in the House, Minister Fantino will rise to comment on an upcoming complaint to the Ethics Commissioner regarding the activities of Justin Trudeau.”

And so Mr. Fantino did. And so he too was deeply concerned about the activities of Mr. Trudeau. And so he was thus appreciative of Mr. Lobb’s effort.

“I applaud the member for putting ethics first,” Mr. Fantino declared.

Martin Luther King Jr. would surely be impressed too. But is it possible that Mr. Lobb’s intervention here was misplaced? Or is it rather simply that everyone has momentarily forgotten who is Prime Minister?

There remains at least one conservative in the House who is aware of which government is presently in power—Brent Rathgeber, now independent, rose this afternoon to ask his first question of the government side and managed to raise an actual matter of administrative responsibility in doing so—but possibly some others have become confused. It might have started last November when Conservatives invited Mr. Trudeau to testify before the Natural Resources Committee—six months later a different set of Conservatives would block an attempt to have Nigel Wright testify before a parliamentary committee—but now even the Prime Minister’s Office seems to have lost its focus. For while it continues to toil under the official authority of Stephen Harper, it seems lately to have been more concerned with the affairs of Justin Trudeau.

You might forgive the staff the distraction. Glancing at the available public polling data, they might think a change in government has already occurred. And Mr. Harper hasn’t been around much lately. But for at least the next two years, Mr. Harper is indeed due to remain Prime Minister.

Which is not to say that Mr. Trudeau should not now be subject to the sort of scrutiny and investigation that the Prime Minister’s Office seems to have pursued. Let all the documents be obtained and distributed. Let every speaking engagement be checked. Let every dollar be accounted for. Let the publicly paid staff of the Prime Minister’s Office be responsible for spreading the word and holding Mr. Trudeau to account. Let it all out.

And then let them apply the same standard to Mr. Harper.

It would, on this count, seem odd if the Prime Minister’s Office were more able to explain the activities of Mr. Trudeau than it can account for the matter of Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy. So what has the Prime Minister done over the last month to ascertain the details of the arrangement between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright? Has a review of all records, documents and correspondence been conducted to determine whether the PMO is in possession of any documentation that might be relevant to the discussions between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright? If so, was any documentation discovered and will it be released publicly? Have Mr. Wright’s emails been reviewed? Has the Prime Minister or anyone on his behalf spoken with members of the staff of the PMO to determine what, if anything, anyone knew about the discussions between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy? At the very least, will the government respond before the House rises to the two order paper questions filed by Mr. Trudeau in regards to documents relevant to the agreement between Mr. Duffy and Mr. Wright?

Dealing with the order paper questions would seem fair play: for every document the PMO releases on Mr. Trudeau, it might send him something.

It was the Prime Minister’s declaration from Enniskillen today that “this matter is between Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy and the authorities.” Perhaps then he might argue that it is nothing to do with him or his office anymore, never mind who Mr. Wright was working for at the time and who nominated Mr. Duffy. But then Mr. Trudeau’s speaking engagements are surely between him, the organizations that hired him and, if she should find something she was previously unaware of, the ethics commissioner, and yet the Prime Minister’s Office has seemingly still seen fit to involve itself in those matters. So it is unclear why Mr. Harper’s staff would stop now.

And perhaps after there has been a full accounting of the matter of Mr. Wright and Mr. Duffy, the Prime Minister’s Office might turn itself to other matters of documentation and accountability: fulfilling the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s request for information, providing a full accounting of what will be cut to return the federal budget to balance, reforming the access to information system, detailing the speaking engagements of Conservative senators Jacques Demers and Larry Smith, accounting for any and all speeches Mr. Harper gave before he returned to the House in 2002, and so on.

But let’s let the PMO start with the matter that would seem to most immediately concern its operations. It is to ask only that the PMO hold the current prime minister to the same standard that it now holds the man who would be prime minister. Martin Luther King Jr. probably said something quite eloquent to convey that sort of principle, but he was probably talking about something more profound than the speeches of a rookie MP and a $90,000 cheque to cover a senator’s housing allowance.