Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing another ethics scandal. What the heck is happening in the Great White North? First, it was charging taxpayers for a private family vacation on a billionaire’s island. Then it was firing his Attorney General and Minister of Justice because she refused to intervene in a case involving SNC-Lavalin. And this is in addition to being caught wearing blackface and brownface, worsening the nation’s finances before the pandemic, and encouraging young people to say “peoplekind.” Trudeau cannot seem to catch a break on the blunders and boondoggles.
What is WE Charity?
WE Charity is a multinational philanthropic and youth employment organization that was founded in 1995 by human rights activists, Craig and Marc Kielburger. It is located in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and it maintains programs in Africa, Asia, and Latin America related to food, water, education, and health. It also runs a sizeable student-volunteer program to “educate and empower young people.” WE Charity has entered into partnerships with corporations and many governments of all stripes, receiving lucrative contracts to support youth.
What is the Scandal?
In June, the Canadian prime minister announced a $912 million Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), a program to help students earn money while volunteering in so-called national service activities that help fight the COVID-19 public health crisis. It was discovered that the WE Charity Foundation would administer and manage the initiative, receiving more than $43.5 million.
The decision to award a sole-source contract to WE Charity was based on a contribution agreement between Ottawa and the group, and not part of a competitive bid. Moreover, Youth Minister Bardish Chagger confirmed that officials suggested a third party run the CSSG due to “the scope and scale of the program” and the “urgent need to deliver this new program.”
But why did this create so much controversy in the middle of a pandemic? Soon after the announcement was made, the public learned of the Trudeau family’s close relationship with the group. Finance Minister Bill Morneau was also later discovered to have family ties to WE.
Here are some of the details:
- Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, was paid about $250,000 for speaking at 28 events.
- Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, earned approximately $32,000 to speak at eight events.
- Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire, hosts a podcast called WE Well-being.
- All three people were reimbursed more than $200,000 in expenses.
- WE Charity covered $41,000 in costs for Morneau and his family to visit Ecuador and Kenya to assess its humanitarian work.
- Morneau’s daughter, Grace, is employed by the entity in the travel department.
- Morneau’s second daughter, Clare, has delivered remarks at WE Day events.
Neither the prime minister nor the finance minister recused himself from awarding the contract. Now the government is determining if the Prime Minister’s Office played favorites and rewarded hefty contracts to the well-connected.
Once again, the Liberal government is being investigated by the federal ethics commission for possible ethics violations. Commissioner Mario Dion will investigate Trudeau under subsection 6(1) of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act, which bans public officials from making decisions that benefit their personal interests or the interests of other people. The prime minister is also being inspected under sections seven and 21, consisting of preferential treatment and non-recusal despite a conflict of interest.
Prime Minister Trudeau first defended the decision, arguing that only WE could take care of such a significant and important program because it possesses the national resources. In July, the Liberal government announced that WE would no longer handle the matter, and Ottawa would be in charge. Trudeau later apologized for not recusing himself.
“I made a mistake in not recusing myself. I am sorry,” Trudeau told reporters. “I deeply regret that I have brought my mother into this situation. It’s unfair to her, and I should have been thoughtful enough to recuse myself from this situation.”
Morneau, who recently revealed that WE was given a $3 million contract in the summer of 2019, also apologized for not recusing himself.
“I did not recuse myself from the discussions on this topic and, given the fact that my daughter works for the organization in an unrelated branch, I now realize I should have in order to avoid any perception of conflict,” Morneau said. “I apologize for not doing so, and moving forward, I will recuse myself from any future discussions related to WE.”
Has the WE Charity’s reputation been obliterated? Will other governments end their relationships with the group? The Ontario government may have kickstarted the trend as the Ministry of Education confirmed that it would not renew its contract with WE. The organization had been given $250,000 in June for school programming in the fall.
The private sector is also responding to the scandal. The WE brand has lost several sponsors, including the Royal Bank of Canada, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and Good Life Fitness.
Every time Trudeau is caught doing something wrong, the only action he takes is apologizing. This is the cycle: scandal is discovered, PMO denies, the prime minister eventually apologizes, nobody is punished, coverage dies down, and a new scandal is uncovered. It is a never-ending cycle. Is it any wonder why he demanded absolute power at the height of the COVID-19 public health crisis? Trudeau is hanging on by the skin of his teeth, primarily due to the incompetence and mismanagement of the Conservatives and the New Democrats. Neither party has anything of substance to offer to the Canadian people. Hence, the voters run into the arms of the Liberals and fall for the prime minister’s coquettish and feel-good language. How long can Trudeau survive based on the ineptitude of his opponents? In the meantime, citizens can probably anticipate another scandal once the auditor combs through the Coronavirus books.
Read more from Andrew Moran.