Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne says he wasn’t aware of “the particular circumstances” surrounding the connections between some of the prime minister’s immediate relatives and the WE organization.
Champagne was one of several cabinet ministers who faced questions this week about who knew that several Trudeau family members were paid to speak at WE Charity events when the Liberal government decided to award a contract to the non-profit to administer a $912-million grant program for student volunteers.
The federal ethics commissioner is now investigating both Trudeau’s and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s participation in the cabinet decision. Both have apologized for not recusing themselves from the discussion.
In an interview with The West Block scheduled to air Sunday, guest host Farah Nasser asked Champagne if he personally knew of the Trudeaus’ connection to WE Charity and if he was satisfied no conflict of interest existed when the WE deal was brought up in cabinet.
“I was not aware of the particular circumstances surrounding that,” he said, adding that the Liberal government has admitted it “made a mistake” with the process and is doing a “course correction.”
WE Charity has said the prime minister, who participated in the charity’s WE Day events, has “never” been paid for his appearances.
Nasser pressed Champagne on whether he has connections to WE Charity.
“No, I don’t,” he said.
Minister Chagger says she wasn’t directed by Trudeau’s office on WE Charity contract
Champagne’s comments came a day after MPs on the House of Commons finance committee heard that WE Charity could have received up to $43.53 million to administer the program, about double the value of the $19.5-million contract originally reported.
The committee is probing the deal over the course of four meetings, the first of which took place Thursday.
A senior public servant working to set up the Canada Student Service Grant told MPs that her team determined that WE was the only organization that could run and scale-up program, which would give students and recent graduates helping their communities amid the coronavirus pandemic one-time payments based on hours of volunteer work.
While the government acknowledges “the process should have been better,” Champagne still defended the goal of the agreement with WE Charity.
“The spirit behind that was to provide opportunities this summer for students who wanted to volunteer,” he said. “We have admitted that there was a mistake made in the process. But let’s not forget what we were trying to achieve.”
On Friday, the Commons ethics committee debated whether it should also probe the affair.
WE Charity has received government contracts, grants and contributions in the past. The opposition Conservatives are also asking the federal lobbying watchdog to investigate whether the WE organization should been registered to lobby public office holders.
-With files from The Canadian Press
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