Waterloo Region Record

Justin Trudeau may be the only person to ever return from a winter break in the Bahamas to discover it’s hotter back home in Canada.

But if the heat surrounding his secret, southern sojourn with one of the world’s richest royals is making the prime minister sweat, he has only himself to blame.

Late this week, Trudeau insisted he did nothing wrong in vacationing with his family over New Year’s on the private island retreat of the billionaire Aga Khan.

That may be true when it comes to how the prime minister actually conducted himself during his time with his host.

But it is also, and inconveniently, true that by flying for part of his journey on the Aga Khan’s personal helicopter, Trudeau may have broken federal law in addition to the government’s own rules on ministerial behaviour.

And now, federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson has launched a “preliminary investigation” into Trudeau’s trip. It didn’t have to be this way.

No one should begrudge the prime minister a trip to sunnier climes in the dead of a Canadian winter. Countless Canadians do the same thing. Countless Canadians stay with friends when they travel, too.

It should shock and appal no one that Trudeau, a wealthy man from a privileged background, socializes with others of a similar social station.

Moreover, if Trudeau is going to be a plutocrat’s house guest, he could not have chosen a more impressive host than Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, formally known as Aga Khan IV.

The spiritual leader of the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims and founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network, one of the world’s largest development agencies, the Aga Khan is an old, Trudeau-family friend who has deep ties with Canada.

He was named an honorary Canadian citizen in 2009 and in 2014 had the distinction of being the only faith leader to ever address a joint session of the House of Commons and Senate. Trudeau could learn much from such a respected mentor.

But why, at the end of December, were Trudeau’s staff close-mouthed when asked by reporters about the prime minister’s whereabouts? Why, when Canadians have a right to basic information about the country’s most powerful politician, were they presented with a vanishing act? This only made it seem someone had something to hide.

And why didn’t Trudeau or one of his advisers have the wit and foresight to give the federal ethics commissioner advance notice of the trip and all its details. Had that happened, it seems likely Trudeau could have received the official blessing for his vacation.

As it stands, he’s handed his opposition foes the perfect, late-Christmas gift. Trudeau was already on the defensive because his Liberal Party accepts cash from wealthy business leaders in return for exclusive access to the PM and select cabinet ministers. That should be stopped.

But rightly or wrongly, his acceptance of the Aga Khan’s hospitality will only fuel this public relations fire. That’s because the Trudeau government has granted the Aga Khan Development Network $55 million to improve maternal and child health in Afghanistan.

No wonder Trudeau has embarked on a different kind of journey — a national tour that’s taking him to coffee shops and church basements across the land. It’s his act of penance. And he has some explaining to do.