Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family spent the holiday season at a luxurious estate in Jamaica belonging to a wealthy family which made a large donation two years ago to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, Radio-Canada has learned.
Given the relationship between the Trudeaus and Peter Green’s family — which dates back to the 1970s — the trip was cleared by the ethics commissioner before departure, according to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Green owns the Prospect estate with five “stunning villas” on the edge of the Caribbean Sea.
But neither the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner nor the PMO would state whether they were aware that the Green family is a donor to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation when they evaluated the trip.
In addition, the PMO did not want to say if Prime Minister Trudeau paid for his accommodation or other expenses out of pocket during this trip, which took place from Dec. 26, 2022 to January 4 of this year.
PMO spokesperson Ann-Clara Vaillancourt said that, following “regular practice,” the prime minister reimbursed the equivalent value of a commercial flight for the personal trip for himself and his family. As per the rules, the Trudeaus were required to travel on a government plane for the trip.
According to several sources, concerns were expressed in the PMO and in Liberal circles about the optics of such a trip at a time when many Canadians are suffering financially from the high cost of goods and services.
“We wonder why he goes to places like that,” a source told Radio-Canada.
The prime minister has been under fire for months from opposition critics who accuse him of contributing to inflation through his government’s spending and of neglecting the cost of living crisis.
This trip marked the end of a year when the inflation rate in Canada spiked to 6.8 per cent.
A Liberal source told Radio-Canada Trudeau appears to ignore the real threat posed by Pierre Poilievre’s Conservatives, who accuse the Liberals of being elitist, snobbish and out of touch.
“I can’t explain why he provides them with ammunition and feeds these kinds of attacks,” the source told Radio Canada.
Sources confirm that support for the trip was not unanimous within the PMO. The evaluation process took time internally, eventually leading to a formal approval following the go-ahead from the Office of the Ethics Commissioner.
The PMO announced that the Trudeaus would be going to Jamaica in a statement released days before the trip, without providing details about the exact destination or the name of the family hosting him.
Radio-Canada spoke to several confidential sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about this trip due to their current employment.
An expensive trip
The Trudeau family’s stay at the Greens’ exclusive estate cost Canadian taxpayers at least $162,000, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons in response to questions from MPs.
Those expenses include more than $115,000 in costs incurred by the RCMP to ensure the safety of the prime minister and his family. The RCMP indicated that other costs that have not been accounted for could still be added.
An amount of more than $47,000 was added to cover the expenses of Canadian Forces flight crew members and employees of the Privy Council Office.
According to sources, some government employees had to be accommodated at all-inclusive hotels near the Prospect estate during the Trudeau family’s stay.
The prime minister’s travels have often made headlines since he came to power in 2015. His family’s stay on the Aga Khan’s island in 2016 earned him a reprimand from the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. That trip cost Canadian taxpayers at least $271,000.
Justin Trudeau also apologized in 2021 for a family stay at a seaside residence in Tofino, B.C. He started that vacation during the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation, which had been established by his government.
More recently, the prime minister was heavily criticized for renting a luxury suite at great expense ($6,000 a night) while attending Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London.
The Prospect estate
The site of the Trudeaus’ trip to Jamaica was purchased in the 1930s by the late father-in-law of Peter Green, an aristocrat named Sir Harold Mitchell, who was endowed with one of the greatest fortunes of the time.
Staying in one of the five residences at this Ocho Rios property normally costs between $1,100 and $7,000 a night during peak season, according to the company’s website. Each of the five residences comes with the services of a private concierge.
The Prospect estate is legendary among some of the wealthiest and most powerful families around the world. Over the decades, dignitaries like Winston Churchill, Henry Kissinger and Prince Phillip have stayed here, sometimes planting a tree in memory of their visit.
Trudeau’s late father, former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, stayed at the Prospect estate for the first time in 1975 during an official stay in Jamaica. He planted a tree there and remained close to the Greens all his life.
Over the years, the Greens and the elder Trudeau and his family took trips together to Jamaica, Bermuda, Zermatt in Switzerland and Canada, with the Trudeaus hosting the Greens on occasion at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa or at the prime minister’s cottage at Harrington Lake.
Pierre Trudeau was godfather to Peter Green’s son, Alexander, born in 1980. He also spoke at the funeral of Peter Green’s wife in Edmonton in 1990, following her death from cancer at the age of 38.
One of the Green sons spoke at the funeral of Pierre Trudeau. Justin Trudeau has continued to spend time with the Greens over the years.
Efforts to reach the Greens for comment in recent days through their foundation have proved unsuccessful.
A donation to the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation
In 2021, the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation announced with great fanfare the creation of a new commemorative scholarship, the first of its kind. A contribution from Alexander and Andrew Green made it possible to establish the Mary-Jean Mitchell Green Scholarship, in memory of their mother.
The Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation leadership scholarships aim to foster the development of doctoral researchers. Scholars can receive a maximum of $180,000 over three years to cover things like tuition fees, research and travel.
The foundation that bears his father’s name has been the source of political trouble for Justin Trudeau since news broke of a controversial donation from a wealthy Chinese businessmen with ties to China’s government.
Trudeau has maintained that there is an airtight wall between his government and the foundation. The prime minister has said he withdrew from the affairs of the organization after he became Liberal leader in 2013.
His brother Alexandre is still active in the foundation as a member of the estate.
The Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner declined to offer further comment on this trip due to the confidentiality of the process.
Trudeau must accept that the sphere of his private life is smaller than that of other Canadians, said political scientist Geneviève Tellier, a professor of political studies at the University of Ottawa.
“Yes, it passes the ethics commissioner’s test, but there is something else. There is the notion of perceptions in the population,” she said in French to Radio-Canada.
“It’s candy for the Conservatives … We’ve heard it often for several years. [Pierre Poilievre] says that this is a prime minister who is out of touch with reality, who does not have the same concerns as most citizens, that he is not at all concerned about the cost of living.”
Denis Saint-Martin, professor of political science at the University of Montreal, said he is surprised that the prime minister continues to take vacations with members of what he called the “international oligarchy.”
“(Trudeau) knows he’s weak on that side and he should be more careful,” Saint-Martin told Radio-Canada, adding he wonders why the prime minister’s closest advisers “don’t protect him better from himself” on ethical issues.