LONDON, Ont. – Justin Trudeau’s campaign-style outreach tour offered no respite Friday from questions about his family vacation with the Aga Khan — nor the priorities of ordinary Canadians, from soaring hydro bills to carbon taxes to Donald Trump.
Trudeau’s use of a private helicopter last month belonging to the wealthy spiritual leader was raised Friday night during a packed town hall in London, Ont. attended by hundreds of people.
“When you came into power, I felt as if there was some fresh air and I thought ‘Wow, this young man is going to be like (Barack) Obama … yet here we are with this conflict of interest stuff,” said Lori Hisson, a London local.
She also invited the prime minister to avoid getting involved in anything that will taint him going forward.
Trudeau thanked Hisson for her concerns.
“One of the things that I take very, very seriously is the trust of Canadians,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Trudeau was also asked to address the issue during a news conference in Peterborough, Ont.
“Prime minister is not a nine-to-five job,” he said, presumably a reference to the fact that his behaviour remains subject to public scrutiny even during what he calls a “private family vacation.”
“I’m prime minister every minute of every day … that’s part of the job and I fully accept and embrace it.”
Canadians expect to have confidence in their government, he added, repeating his commitment to co-operate with the federal ethics commissioner regarding the trip.
The prime minister has faced a wide range of questions on issues during his tour including on health care and financial security.
Kathy Katula, 54, from Buckhorn, Ont., gave Trudeau a piece of her mind Friday about her soaring hydro bill — a phenomenon that’s largely an Ontario government problem — and the prime minister’s plan to force the provinces to impose a carbon tax.
“I feel like you have failed me and I am asking you here today to fix that,” an emotional Katula, a single mother, told Trudeau.
“My heat and hydro cost me more than my mortgage.”
Not everyone agrees with the federal government’s decision to impose carbon pricing in Canada, Trudeau acknowledged, saying it will be up to the provinces to ensure the measures are not onerous to those struggling to make ends meet.
“It will be up to the government of Ontario to ensure that you are not penalized, folks like you,” he said. “I am trusting they will do that responsibly and not penalize you further.”
Later, Katula appeared willing to give the prime minister a pass on the Aga Khan controversy.
“Yes, I’m angry about it, but my focus today is, why am I suffering?” she said in an interview.
“He proved today that he is not just hanging out with rich millionaires. I’m not a rich millionaire and he came out and spoke to me today.”
The rich-and-famous flavour of the hospitality Trudeau and his family enjoyed with the Aga Khan has loomed over his tour.
The Aga Khan is a longtime family friend who also happens to be the spiritual leader of the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims.
After taking a government jet to Nassau, the Trudeau entourage, which included a Liberal MP and the party’s president, travelled on a private helicopter in order to get to their ultimate destination, a private Bahamian island.
Both the Conflict of Interest Act and Trudeau’s own ethics guidelines bar the use of sponsored travel in private aircraft, allowing only for exceptional circumstances related to the job of prime minister and only with the prior approval of the ethics commissioner.
Trudeau has said he will discuss the matter with conflict of interest and ethics commissioner Mary Dawson “and answer any questions she may have.”
On Wednesday, Conservative MP Blaine Calkins asked Dawson to investigate Trudeau’s trip, a request that came a day after Tory leadership contender Andrew Scheer made a similar request.
Both complaints question whether it is OK for the prime minister to accept the hospitality of someone whose foundation receives funds from the Canadian government.
The Aga Khan Foundation has been the beneficiary of tens of millions of dollars in government contributions to international development projects.
The Aga Khan himself, while not a registered lobbyist, is a noted philanthropist and the hereditary spiritual leader of the world’s approximately 15 million Ismaili Muslims.
In 2009, then-prime minister Stephen Harper made him an honorary citizen of Canada.
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