Chris Selley: Trudeau and Scheer still don't get that the perception of conflict is the reality

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Scheer, though, is attempting the same moral gymnastics as Trudeau. The distinction they draw is essentially this: A “conflict of interest” is one explicitly defined in legislation or other binding rules. A “perceived conflict of interest” is one not so defined, and therefore much less serious. This is not a useful distinction for anyone except politicians who get caught doing things they know, and probably always knew, they shouldn’t be doing.

’s crimes under the Conflict of Interest Act included taking the Aga Khan’s helicopter from Nassau to Bells Cay, the Ismaili leader’s private island-cum-Trudeau lair. Had the Aga Khan dispatched a yacht instead, it would only have been a perceived conflict of interest. Much in former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson’s ruling hinged on the question of whether or not Trudeau and the Aga Khan were “friends.” If no: conflict of interest. If yes: perceived conflict of interest.

The really salient point, surely, was that the Aga Khan Foundation lobbies for and receives hundreds of millions of dollars from the Canadian government.

Scheer’s sister might have the best employee an MP or Speaker ever had. Ratansi’s sister might have been the absolute epitome of the hardworking constituency assistant. For all we know they were replaced by simpletons.

The point is precisely to avoid the perception that government is being run as a closed shop by a cabal of well-connected people

The point of conflict of interest rules, and rules against nepotism specifically, isn’t to ensure absolute moral rectitude (they can’t) or quality hiring practices (that’s another department). The point is precisely to avoid the perception that government is being run as a closed shop by a cabal of well-connected people who won’t take your phone calls. The “spirit” of the laws, as Scheer puts it, cannot be upheld by adhering only to the letter of them.

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