Question Period Recap: Facebook, Ethics, and India

Question Period Recap: Facebook, Ethics, and India

March 30, 2018 9:09amET

It’s Good Friday, and that means the House of Commons has risen for a two-week Easter break.

Since there’s no question period today, we’re bringing you a day-by-day look at the stories that dominated Canadian politics this past week. Here are our political hits of the week, as they went down in the House.


Monday: Facebook Data Scandal

The week began with more questions about the use of private information in political campaigns, after Canadian whistleblower Christopher Wylie let the world know that British-based firm Cambridge Analytica collected data from 50 million Facebook profiles using a computer program he developed.

NDP MP Charlie Angus cited Liberal party connections to both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, and even the past hiring of Wylie by the Liberal party. It made for some tough questioning for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau:

The Commons ethics committee plans to study the privacy breach, calling for testimony from Wylie, along with Cambridge Analytica tech executives. This follow the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announcement of a probe into Facebook’s privacy practices.

Wylie appeared at a British parliamentary committee on Tuesday.


Tuesday: Exchanging Gifts with the Aga Khan

New reporting about about Trudeau and the Aga Khan, during the prime minister’s controversial 2016 holiday on the latter’s private island, led to this query from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer about “illegal and unacceptable” gifts from someone actively lobbying the Canadian government:

“I gave him a sweater and he gave me an overnight bag,” Trudeau said, the extent of the detail provided during question period.

While acceptable gifts are required to be reported, unacceptable gifts don’t have to be formally disclosed to the public thanks to a loophole in the federal ethics rules.

Here’s what the office of the ethics commissioner says on that topic:

Throughout their term of office, reporting public office holders must publicly declare any recusals made for reasons of conflict of interest, within 60 days, any acceptable gift or other advantage, other than from a relative or friend, whose value is $200 or more, within 30 days after acceptance, and any outside activities approved by the Commissioner. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries, their families, and ministerial advisers and staff must publicly declare any travel accepted on non-commercial chartered or private aircraft, within 30 days after acceptance.

Former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson ruled in December that the prime minister’s vacation violated the federal Conflict of Interest Act.


Wednesday: Receptions in India, Part One

Questions continued throughout the week about the Jaspal Atwal controversy — especially a background media briefing during the prime minister’s February trip to India where it was suggested that country’s government was responsible for Atwal’s attendance at official events.

The story moved to whether classified information was divulged to reporters — and whether parliamentarians would receive a similar briefing — concerning Atwal’s presence at events hosted by the Canadian high commissioner in Mumbai and New Delhi.

Here’s a mid-week exchange between Scheer and Trudeau:

India’s government claimed no involvement in Atwal’s presence, saying last month that “any suggestion to the contrary is baseless and unacceptable.”

Atwal also denied any communication with the Indian government while appearing with his lawyer in early March.

Atwal was convicted of attempted murder for a failed 1986 assassination attempt in British Columbia against an Indian cabinet minister, part of that decade’s violent struggle over Sikh independence in India.


Thursday: Receptions in India, Part Two

This week’s final question period touched on another aspect of the attendance sheet at those receptions during Trudeau’s India trip.

The presence of a business associate of Liberal MP Raj Grewal led to questions and claims of conflict of interest from the opposition parties, including Conservative House Leader Candice Bergen:

-Andrew Thomson