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Why Canadians are lucky Rona Ambrose was hanging around the Caribbean with a billionaire

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N. Murray Edwards

Anyone can yacht. It takes a certain boldness, though, to excoriate someone for hanging around an island in the Caribbean with a billionaire while you're yachting around the Caribbean with another billionaire.

Well, it's nice to have assistants to send out the press releases and do your Tweeting for you, I guess, when you're soaking up the sun on deck at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Caribbean Sea. 

I know, I know … Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke a rule on his way to hanging around with the Aga Khan, who is also a family friend. Whereas Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose broke no rules on her way to hanging around with N. Murray Edwards, late of Calgary, who is also a family friend.

My guess, though, is that the distinction will be lost on most Canadians, who don't have friends who happen to be billionaires, or even millionaires -- especially when the rule that was broken seems to be a picayune one. This is true even though Ambrose bothered to check with the Parliamentary ethics officer, whereas Trudeau obviously didn't before he slid into the leather seat of the Aga Khan's chopper.

Indeed, this led me at the time of the original hoo-haw to suspect the angry reaction among the Conservative base had more to do with the Aga Khan's religion -- he is the hereditary spiritual leader of an estimated 20 million Ismaili Muslims -- than with his reputed wealth, which is estimated to range from $800 million to $3 billion or the fact his charity has done some work supported by the Canadian government.

As an oilsands investor, after all, Edwards has also benefited from a certain degree of Canadian government support.

At any rate, the Aga Khan's personal fortune sounds as if it may be roughly the same size as the much-diminished assets of Edwards -- the bitumen billionaire and Calgary Flames owner, religion unspecified, whom we now know is pals with Ambrose and her significant other, James Patrick (J.P.) Veitch, former rodeo cowboy and current Calgary oilpatch guy.

As an aside, Veitch's principal business address may explain why Ambrose is so seldom seen in her Sturgeon River Parkland riding, which is almost as close to my back porch here in St. Albert as Russia is to Sarah Palin's porch in Wasilla, Alaska -- that is to say, if you only cut down the trees to the west, you could practically see it.

I'm not defending Trudeau. I'm just sayin' it was cheeky of Ambrose to make one of the key points of her attack on the PM the fact he was hangin' out with a billionaire when, you know, she was hangin' out with a billionaire.

The facts, as revealed by media and in particular iPolitics, which broke the story, are as follows: Trudeau and his family departed for the Aga Khan's private Caribbean island on Boxing Day. Ambrose and her partner departed for Edwards' yacht on Jan. 3.

On Jan. 6, while Ambrose was aboard Edwards' yacht, the story about Trudeau's flight first broke. Conservative leadership candidate Andrew Scheer had complained to Parliamentary Ethics Commissioner Mary Dawson, alleging an ethics violation.

On Jan. 11, Ambrose started Tweeting about the PM's shortcomings, calling them his "latest ethics mess." She (or someone working for her) Tweeted on the 12th that "all he had to do was say no, but he couldn't resist the billionaire lifestyle." (Emphasis irresistibly added.)

As we now know, Ambrose obviously understands just how irresistible the billionaire lifestyle is!

Alert readers will recall that back in the spring of 2016, Edwards' name came up in another brouhaha promoted by the National Post, when he decamped from Cowtown for London, England, in the midst of what is now understood to have been a change in personal circumstances when he and his wife parted ways.

The Post, however, had a better story -- based on statements by "sources" said to be "familiar with the situation" who "preferred not to be identified" -- to wit, that Alberta's New Democratic Party Government had raised taxes to a point they were onerous even to a billionaire.

As was noted in this space at the time, this narrative really didn't make a lot of sense if you bothered to compare taxes in the United Kingdom with those in Alberta, not to mention the cost of living in London, a city so expensive even the billionaires there complain constantly about it.

Nevertheless, such fearless champions of the billionaire class as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Fraser Institute jumped on the Post's rickety bandwagon, attacking the "ideological soak-the-rich politicians" in Edmonton responsible for this outrage.

Nine months ago, however, Edwards seemed to admit in a Globe and Mail interview that the NDP's tax structure had nothing at all to do with it. "London's a great city,” he told the Globe's scribe. "Moving to London was based on my personal circumstances, which I don't want to go into, based upon a change of scenery.”

Still, the story of billionaires in flight from Alberta persists in Conservative circles.

So it occurs to me that we Canadians and Albertans are fortunate Ambrose is such a close friend of Edwards. She is, obviously, now in a position to set the record straight for her constituents, and for the rest of us.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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