Ethics watchdog to examine Trudeau over WE Charity contract, since reversed

Ethics watchdog to examine Trudeau over WE Charity contract, since reversed

Ethics watchdog to examine Trudeau over WE Charity contract, since reversed

OTTAWA — The federal ethics watchdog is examining whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the conflict of interest law over how he handled a decision to have WE Charity manage a $900-million federal program to pay students and fresh graduates for volunteer work this summer.

The Liberal government announced Friday the Toronto-based youth organization would no longer be managing the program, days after the prime minister himself called WE Charity the only option for success.

Trudeau said Friday public servants will administer the pandemic-related grants instead.

Since the charity founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger was announced as the manager of the program last week, the sole-sourced deal has been criticized because of Trudeau’s close relationship with the group. He, his wife and his mother have all been involved in WE events and activities.

That prompted the Conservatives and the NDP to ask Mario Dion, the federal ethics commissioner, to look into whether Trudeau has violated the Conflict of Interest Act.

On Friday, Dion replied in separate letters to Conservative MP Michael Barrett and NDP MP Charlie Angus, their parties’ ethics critics, that he would begin an examination and that he had notified Trudeau about it.

In his letter to Barrett, Dion said his examination would involve the sections of the Conflict of Interest Act that forbid public office holders from taking part in decisions that they should know would put them in a conflict of interest, giving preferential treatment and requiring them to recuse themselves from matters that would put them in a conflict of interest.

The allegation from the Conservatives regarding preferential treatment relates to Trudeau’s having said that WE Charity was chosen by the non-partisan public service to manage the program because it was the only organization capable of doing so.

Dion said he would not examine allegations that Trudeau contravened three other sections Barrett raised in his request because there are no reasonable grounds to do so and that he had also informed the prime minister about that.

Dion’s letter to Angus mentions only the section of the act regarding preferential treatment, because that is the one the NDP raised in its request.

Charity experts have questioned whether WE is equipped for the fine-grained management of such a big government-funded program.

Trudeau repeated Friday morning that his consciousness of his close relationship with WE meant it was left to the public service to decide how to manage the program, and to carry out what he called a “transparent and open” process to ultimately go with WE.

Speaking to reporters, Trudeau lamented what he called the “unfortunate” unfolding of events over the last few days. He said the government supported the organization’s decision.

He said there may be things that federal officials won’t be as well placed to do, such as actively recruiting students — there have already been 35,000 applicants for the program by WE’s count, exceeding early expectations of 20,000 — and supporting small groups with onboarding and training volunteers.

“One of the things that ends up happening with this is that young people won’t maybe have the same kind of access to programs that they … would have,” Trudeau said.

“We will continue to work very hard and we need to reflect carefully on what exactly went wrong and how we can make sure that we’re doing a better job of supporting young people in the coming months and years.”

The volunteer program is to pay up to $5,000 for schooling costs for participants who volunteer the maximum 500 hours, and is aimed at students who can’t find work this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Youth Minister Bardish Chagger said in a statement that volunteers who have already signed up shouldn’t be adversely affected, and WE Charity will pay back money it’s already received from the federal government.

The Liberals had set aside about $19 million for the organization to administer the program, but the final amount was dependent on how many young people joined it.

The charity did not say how much it had received or repaid when asked, pointing to a statement that “reflects all that we have to say on this matter.”

In the statement, WE pointed to the ongoing controversy around its involvement in the program as the source of its decision, even though “the government has provided explanations” to all questions.

The statement went on to say that the organization was concerned that an ongoing affiliation would mean “the program itself will begin to suffer — and as a consequence, opportunities for students might be negatively affected.”

The controversy over the charity’s involvement only grew as the days wore on, including with revelations of a recording, obtained by The Canadian Press and others, in which Marc Kielburger told youth leaders last month that Trudeau’s office reached out one day after the grant was announced on April 22 to get the charity on board. Kielburger later retracted, saying he misspoke. A public servant had called, he said.

Trudeau didn’t say whether his office had reached out to WE or the Kielburgers when asked Friday about the recording.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. (File photo)
Wolf Creek and Wetaskiwin school boards ‘reassured’ by letter from LaGrange

Boards urge the Alberta government to honour commitments to Indigenous peoples

A new gym is just one of several new projects that are being completed at Rimbey Christian School currently.
Leah Bousfield/Rimbey Review
Rimbey Christian School building projects nearing completion

New gym, soccer field and skating rink will be open to community use as well

SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, which causes COVID-19, emerge from the surface of cells isolated from a patient in the U.S. and cultured in a lab in a 2020 electron microscope image. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories
Alberta now has 17,743 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Central zone up to 1,249 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer sits at 257 active COVID-19 cases

Melissa David, of Parachutes for Pets and her dogs Hudson and Charlie are trying to raise money for a homeless shelter that will allow pets and are seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘My only wish:’ Children asking pet charity to help their furry friends at Christmas

Parachutes for Pets says it has received 14 letters from children in the last week t

Melissa Velden and her chef-husband Chris Velden, stand in their dining room at the Flying Apron Inn and Cookery in Summerville, N.S. on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. The couple is hosting holiday parties with appropriate distancing and other COVID-19 health protocols in place at their restaurant. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Celebrities, Santa and Zoom part of office holiday parties being held amid COVID-19

Many will send tokens of appreciation to workers or offer time off or cash

Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps poses for a photo with his parents Amanda Sully and Adam Deschamps in this undated handout photo. Ten-month-old Aidan Deschamps was the first baby in Canada to be diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy through Ontario’s newborn screening program. The test was added to the program six days before he was born. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Children’s Hospital Eastern Ontario *MANDATORY CREDIT*
First newborn tested for spinal muscular atrophy in Canada hits new milestones

‘If Aidan had been born any earlier or anywhere else our story would be quite different’

People line up at a COVID-19 assessment centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Scarborough, Ont., on Wednesday, December 2, 2020. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
COVID-19 vaccine approval could be days away as pressures mount on health-care system

Many health officials in regions across the country have reported increasing pressures on hospitals

File Photo
Sylvan Lake Town Council squashes mask bylaw

The bylaw did not make it past first reading, after a 4-3 vote defeated the motion

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

Gaming content was big on YouTube in 2020. (Black Press Media files)
What did Canadians watch on Youtube during isolation? Workouts, bird feeders

Whether it was getting fit or ‘speaking moistly,’ Canadians had time to spare this year

Most Read