Justin Trudeau will answer questions from a House of Commons committee about his connection to WE Charity, in a July 30, 2020 study. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Ministers, top public servant to be grilled by committee on WE affair

The WE charity controversy has dogged the government since late June

Two federal cabinet ministers and the country’s top public servant will be grilled today about how a charity with close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wound up administering a $912-million student grant program.

The House of Commons ethics committee is scheduled to hear from Youth Minister Bardish Chagger, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Ian Shugart, clerk of the Privy Council.

The committee is ostensibly conducting a review of the existing safeguards in place to prevent conflicts of interest when the federal government is deciding how to spend taxpayers’ dollars.

But opposition MPs are sure to focus more pointedly on the government’s agreement with WE Charity to administer the grant program, which had been intended to encourage students to engage in summer volunteer work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chagger was the minister responsible for the program, which has now been abandoned after becoming mired in controversy.

Qualtrough is in charge of the department whose public servants concluded they were not capable of delivering the program and who, according to the government, recommended that WE Charity was the only group capable of delivering it.

Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who also has close family ties to WE Charity, are both under investigation by the federal ethics commissioner. Both have apologized for failing to recuse themselves when cabinet approved the recommended agreement with the charity.

The controversy has dogged the government since late June, when it announced an agreement to pay WE Charity up to $43.5 million to administer the grant program. The agreement stipulated that the charity could not make money on the deal.

Trudeau has been a featured speaker at six WE Day events and his wife hosts a podcast for the group, for which they have not been paid. However, the charity has covered some of Sophie Gregoire Trudeau’s travel expenses and has paid Trudeau’s mother and brother almost $300,000 for speaking at numerous WE events over the years and reimbursed them for some $200,000 in expenses.

One of Morneau’s daughters works for the organization, another has spoken at its events and his wife has donated $100,000 to it. Morneau also revealed that WE Charity covered $41,000 in expenses for him and his family in 2107 for trips to view two of its humanitarian projects in Ecuador and Kenya.

Morneau wrote a cheque to reimburse the organization for those expenses shortly before testifying two weeks ago at the Commons finance committee, which is also attempting to get to the bottom of the affair.

Members of the finance committee are waiting to see some 5,000 pages of documents turned over by the government Saturday on the WE controversy. The documents are being vetted by committee lawyers to ensure they don’t disclose personal information or cabinet secrets.

In the meantime, opposition parties are attempting to expand the ethical cloud to include the delivery of another emergency program — this one to provide rent relief for small businesses during the pandemic.

The government handed responsibility for the program to the Canada Mortage and Housing Corp. but the Crown corporation decided to contract it out to MCAP, a mortgage lender that employs the husband of Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford. The contract was initially worth $56 million when the rent-relief program was launched in May and later expanded to $84 million in July.

The Prime Minister’s Office says CMHC independently chose to outsource the program.

Moreover, the PMO says Telford alerted the ethics commissioner in January, when her husband became a senior executive at MCAP, and was advised she didn’t need to set up an ethics screen. She nevertheless voluntarily set up a screen to ensure she would not be involved in anything that might benefit the company.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

charityfederal government

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

Jennifer Rice BC NDP North Coast Incumbent was re-elected for a third according to the preliminary results on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Jennifer Rice is North Coast MLA for third term

Preliminary election results show NDP Majority government

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Most Read