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Conservatives call for ethics investigation into PM Trudeau's Jamaica trip

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The federal Conservatives are calling on Canada's conflict of interest and ethics commissioner to launch an investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's recent Jamaica trip, despite his office indicating the vacation was given the green light.

Citing concerns about the prime minister's shifting narrative regarding the cost of his family's Caribbean vacation, Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett wrote a letter Tuesday to interim ethics commissioner Konrad von Finckenstein seeking answers.

The Conservatives want to know if von Finckenstein knew Trudeau would be staying for free at an "opulent" villa, owned by a longtime family friend, and are challenging any premise that the provided accommodations are equivalent to staying at a friend's place over the holidays.

"If there is any daylight between the picture painted for you and the reality which has borne out, it would seem you could have been the victim of a deliberate deception, and therefore, I believe it is incumbent on you to consider whether the prime minister has once again violated federal ethics laws," Barrett wrote.

The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) had initially said Trudeau's family would pay for their stay over the 10-day trip, including reimbursing the equivalent of what commercial airfare would cost for the government plane they'd take to their destination. It is longstanding government policy that the prime minister travel on government aircraft, whether on official or personal business.

It was stated then that the federal ethics commissioner had been consulted prior to departure.

On the day the trip was set to conclude, the PMO clarified that the family was vacationing "at no cost at a location owned by family friends," and that, as The Canadian Press reported, these details were what von Finckenstein had been aware of "to ensure that the rules were followed."

While Trudeau's office did not confirm the location of the prime minister's holiday, the National Post has reported the family stayed at a privately owned villa that rents for several thousand dollars per night, and is part of a resort that belongs to businessman Peter Green's family, which has decades-old ties to the Trudeau family.

The resort is also reportedly where Trudeau and his family vacationed over the 2022 holiday season, a trip that despite raising similar concerns among opposition MPs over its cost and location, was also cleared by the federal ethics office in advance.

In his letter, Barrett focused his "serious" concerns around the PMO's evolving language regarding the cost of the trip, as well as the potential ethical implications of a gifted stay that was that "luxurious," pointing to the rules around accepting gifts, such as the use of property, from friends.

"It is quite clear that the Frankfort villa has a defined commercial value, and that the corporate owners of Prospect Estate would be forgoing substantial revenue by letting the prime minister stay at the resort free of charge," Barrett wrote in a letter to the commissioner, which the Conservatives shared with CTV News and posted online.

In estimating that the trip would be valued at more than $80,000, Barrett wrote: "we are talking about a gift, and a very substantial gift at that."

He questioned whether this would fall under the section of the Conflict of Interest Act that states no public office-holder can accept any gift or other advantage that "might reasonably" appear to have been given to influence them.

Barrett also raised issue with the PMO pointing to the consultations done with the ethics commissioner as giving the impression that von Finckenstein "personally approved" the vacation.

In an emailed statement to CTV News on Wednesday, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner confirmed consultations occurred prior to the prime minister's vacation, but declined to provide specific details, citing confidentiality requirements.

However, spokesperson Melanie Rushworth noted that the ethics office "does not approve or 'clear' regulatees' vacations."

"The Office has a role only in ensuring that the gift provisions of the Act and Code are observed," she said. As for Barrett's request, Rushworth said she was unable to discuss "whether the Office has launched any investigations."

The Conservative ethics critic is also calling on Trudeau's office to "help clear this up" by releasing its correspondence with the ethics commissioner's office regarding the trip, so that Canadians can receive clarity on "how a sitting prime minister accepting such a substantial gift could possibly be legal, let alone ethical."

Responding to Barrett's letter, PMO press secretary Mohammad Hussain dismissed the Conservatives' accusations.

"Any allegation that we would mislead the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner is categorically false," he said in an emailed statement.

Trudeau working with the ethics commissioner before taking off on holiday is a practice that began after he found himself on the wrong side of federal conflict of interest rules over his 2016 Christmas trip with family and friends to the Aga Khan's private Bahamian island.

When then-ethics commissioner Mary Dawson determined in 2017 that the prime minister had breached the rules, Trudeau vowed to behave "differently" in the future.

While any costs associated with his latest holiday have yet to be made public by the government, documents tabled in the House of Commons detailing the expenses related to Trudeau's 2022 Jamaica trip show it came with an approximate price tag of $162,000.

With files from CTV News' Luca Caruso-Moro and Annie Bergeron-Oliver 

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