Ministers, top public servant to testify about WE Charity controversy
Multiple ministers and Canada’s top public servant will all be put in the hot seat today during the latest ethics committee meeting to probe the government’s now-cancelled decision to have WE Charity manage an up-to-$900-million federal program.
Youth Minister Bardish Chagger, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart and former ethics commissioner Mary Dawson are all slated to speak about the issue during today’s meeting.
While there are other committees exploring various aspects of the WE Charity controversy, the ethics committee is specifically charged with reviewing “the safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest in federal government expenditure policies,” according to the committee’s website.
Chagger has already testified before the finance committee about the now-cancelled contract, which the government would have given WE Charity $43 million to administer. She is the minister who has taken the lead on the program, and has the ultimate task of finding another way to help student volunteers this summer — despite the few days left until school resumes.
Qualtrough, on the other hand, hasn’t been overly involved in the decision-making process throughout this scandal. However, Employment and Social Development Canada was the department within which staff concluded WE Charity was the only organization capable of delivering the program, according to the government.
Shugart has also testified before the finance committee where, as the country’s top public servant, he discussed the public service’s role in choosing WE Charity — and defending the prime minister’s lack of involvement.
The decision to grant WE Charity the now-cancelled contract came under fire after the charity’s ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s families were revealed.
Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, spoke at approximately 28 WE Charity events and was paid $250,000 in speaking honorariums between 2016 and 2020. His brother, Alexandre Trudeau, also spoke at eight WE Charity events from 2017 to 2018 and was paid a total of approximately $32,000.
In addition to this, Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, received a “one-time speaking honorarium” of $1,400 for participating in a youth event in 2012 before Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party.
Meanwhile, WE Charity paid in part for two trips that members of Morneau’s family took in 2017 — one of which Morneau himself took part in.
Morneau has apologized for the “error” and said it was his full intention to cover the full cost of the trips — though he only last month repaid the $41,000 the charity had initially covered related to the trips to Kenya and Ecuador. The finance minister’s daughter Clare has also spoken at WE events, and his daughter Grace is currently employed by WE Charity.
Both men have apologized for not recusing themselves from the discussions. Trudeau has insisted that he was not in a position of conflict during the conversations about the grant — but rather, a perception of conflict.
The prime minister has also said he expressed concern about the choice of WE Charity when he first learned of it. He said he was worried about a perception of conflict, and as a result asked the public service to “put the brakes on” to ensure the organization really was the only one that could have delivered the program.
“I wanted to push back and really make sure that everyone could say without a shadow of a doubt that this was…the way to deliver the program recommended by our outstanding and professional public servants,” Trudeau said in a press conference July 31.
Still, the apologies and explanations have not quelled opposition calls for the two men to step down from their jobs.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated that call on Tuesday, though he prioritized one resignation over another.
.”It doesn’t really matter who is minister of finance, as long as Justin Trudeau is prime minister,” Scheer said.
He accused Trudeau of having a “very high” tolerance for scandal.
“I challenge Liberal members of Parliament to do something about that. They can control who leads their party,” Scheer said.
The Bloc Quebecois has also called on both Trudeau and Morneau to resign.
With files from The Canadian Press