Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing another investigation for conflict of interest after his office awarded WE Charity Canada to manage a $912 million grant program aimed at helping students during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are long-standing ties between the WE organization and the Trudeau family. Trudeau, his mother Margaret, brother Alexandre and wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have all appeared at the group’s many events.
Trudeau, and now his finance minister Bill Morneau, are being looked at for their roles in the affair and the fate of the Canada Student Service Grant remains uncertain.
Here is a timeline of the WE Charity controversy.
WE Charity controversy
April 9: WE Charity sends feds a proposal for youth program
On April 9, WE Charity sent an unsolicited proposal for a youth program to Youth Minister Bardish Chagger and Small Business Minister Mary Ng.
The proposal said it aimed to help up 8,000 students become entrepreneurs, and provide each with $500 and “access to additional incentive funds and long-term mentorship opportunities,” the proposal reads.
The one-year cost ranged between $6 million and $14 million.
WE later called the proposal “distinct and clearly unrelated” to the one the Liberals unveiled for the student grant program.
April 19: Feds’ employment department contacts WE
Rachel Wernick, a senior official with Employment and Social Development Canada, said on April 19 she offered to call WE and explore potential options for a student service program because of the organization’s previous involvement with the department.
She told the committee she called WE co-founder Craig Kielburger, at which time she learned of the charity’s original proposal.
On April 22: Feds announce student grant program
Trudeau announced plans for the Canada Student Service Grant on April 22. The grant program is meant to help students struggling to find summer jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the same day, Wernick said Kielburger emailed her an updated WE proposal for a grant.
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau promises massive aid package for students amid COVID-19
June 12: WE says it was contacted about student grant on April 23
In a June 12 video chat with youth leaders, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger said he heard from Trudeau’s office on April 23 about the volunteer program.
Marc Kielburger later retracted, saying he misspoke. A public servant had called instead, he said.
June 25: WE Charity grant announced
The federal government officially launched its student service grant on June 25.
The government awarded WE Charity $19.5 million to run the $900-million program, despite the group’s ties to the prime minister and his wife.
Trudeau said the decision to use WE was made by the non-partisan public service, not by him. The prime minister also said there wasn’t a conflict of interest since the WE organization isn’t making a profit on the work and neither he nor his wife is paid for anything they do with the group.
Coronavirus: Trudeau announces further support for students
June 28: Conservatives call for investigation
The federal Conservatives called for an investigation in the contract.
In a letter sent to Auditor General Karen Hogan on June 28, the Tories argued that “outsourcing” the Canada Student Service Grant to WE Charity undermined Parliament’s ability to monitor the aid program.
The Conservatives also noted the “well documented” connections between WE and Trudeau.
June 29: Trudeau doubles down on his decision
On June 29, Trudeau defended his decision for choosing WE Charity to run the federal student aid program, saying his government has “extensive practice” working with third parties and charities to deliver programs.
Coronavirus: Trudeau says WE is the ‘best and only’ service the government could partner with to help young people
“The WE Charities are evaluated by our public service as being the best and only organization able to deliver on the scale that we need to make sure that young people have service opportunities this summer,” he told reporters at a media conference.
July 3: Grant called off and investigation launched
On July 3, WE gave up the contract amid the controversy about its connections to Trudeau,
Trudeau later said that public servants will administer the student grants instead.
On the same day, federal ethics watchdog Mario Dion said he’s launching an investigation into the federal government and WE Charity grant and that he had notified Trudeau about it.
July 9: Trudeau payment acknowledged
WE Charity confirmed on July 9 that Margaret Trudeau had been paid a total of $312,000 for speaking at 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, was paid $40,000 for eight events in the 2017-18 academic year, according to the charity.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have regularly participated in WE Charity events, and Gregoire Trudeau hosts a podcast on the charity’s website for which she is not paid. In 2012, she received $1,400 for a single appearance.
The charity said the prime minister never been paid by WE Charity.
Growing scrutiny over WE Charity contract and Trudeau’s judgment
On the same day, Trudeau admitted he didn’t recuse himself from the discussion and decision by the Liberal cabinet to approve the contract. Finance Minister Bill Morneau also said did not recuse himself.
Two of Bill Morneau’s daughters, Grace Acan and Clare Morneau, are connected to the group.
Acan is a contract employee for WE, a spokesperson for the minister’s office confirmed. Morneau’s daughter Clare has spoken at three WE Day events.
July 10: Tories ask RCMP to launch criminal probe
On July 10, the Conservatives said it wanted the RCMP to investigate the Liberal government’s decision to award WE Charity the contract.
During a news conference, Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Michael Barrett — the party’s finance and ethics critics — said they believe the payment of those fees raises the issue to a potentially criminal level and represents “sufficient grounds to be investigated by police.”
July 12: Conservatives call on Trudeau, Morneau to testify
On Sunday, the Conservatives called on both the prime minister and finance minister to testify before a parliamentary committee on the WE Charity decision.
“He [Trudeau] needs to explain where exactly the idea came from — did the WE organization call him and suggest it, did it come through the staff in his office? Did it come out of his own head? Did members of his family, who have been paid by the organization suggest it to him?” MP Pierre Poilievre said.
“We need to hear from him directly on these questions, because only he has the answers, only he knows how this came about and how it came to be.”
Canadian MPs weigh in on Trudeau-WE Charity controversy
July 13: Trudeau and Morneau apologize
On Monday, Trudeau said he “made a mistake” in not recusing himself “immediately” from discussions about the WE Charity grant. Trudeau said he should have done so given his immediate family’s relationship and financial ties to the WE organization.
Hours after Trudeau, Morneau took to Twitter and issued an apology saying he “now” realizes he should have recused himself “in order to avoid any perception of conflict.”
On the same day, WE Charity’s co-founders, released full-page ads in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star saying they want to “set the record straight.”
Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself over WE Charity talks
Craig and Marc Kielburger told readers they agreed to take on the $900-million student volunteer program “because we have 25 years of experience building youth service programs that are in 7,000 Canadian schools engaging students to support 3,000 plus charities and causes.”
The contract, according to the charity, would reimburse expenses it acquired to deliver the Canada Student Service Grant program, but it “did not provide the charity with a profit.”
July 15: WE Day canceled indefinitely
WE Charity said on Wednesday it was cancelling its WE Day activities for the “foreseeable future” to prioritize its international work.
“WE Charity will return to its roots, prioritizing our international development work,” the organization said in a news release. “International development is where we began, and it is where the need for our services is greatest.”
July 16: Investigation launched against Morneau
Dion launched a conflict-of-interest investigation on Thursday into Morneau for his part in selecting a charity.
The ethics commissioner said he was looking into whether Morneau broke rules that prohibit politicians from making, or participating in, decisions that further their personal interests.
On the same day, Chagger told the House of Commons finance committee that Trudeau didn’t order her to make the agreement with WE Charity.
Chagger explained she didn’t personally have conversations with Trudeau or Morneau, or WE itself prior to cabinet approval of the deal.
Ex-ethics commissioner talks Trudeau, WE Charity controversy
Wenick, with the Department of Employment and Social Development, also testified that the total amount WE Charity could have received for managing the student grant was $43.53 million (instead of the $19.5 million that was originally reported).
July 17: House of Commons ethics committee begins probe
On Friday, a second House of Commons committee said it will investigate the deal with WE Charity.
Conservatives on the Commons ethics committee said they want copies of all records related to any speaking appearances involving Trudeau, his wife, his mother or his brother.
Quebec Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan argued the ethics committee is not an investigative body. It broadly oversees the work of people such as federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion, she said, but doesn’t do probes itself.
— With files from Reuters and the Canadian Press
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