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Trudeau To Testify At Finance Committee Over WE Charity Controversy

The prime minister’s chief of staff Katie Telford will also answer MPs’ questions Thursday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons on July 22, 2020.
Adrian Wyld/CP
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks in the House of Commons on July 22, 2020.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is headed for the hot seat this week.

Trudeau and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, will testify before the House of Commons finance committee Thursday on the Liberal government’s decision to award WE Charity a since-scrapped deal to administer a major student-grant program.

According to the meeting notice posted online Monday, Trudeau is scheduled to speak with the committee for one hour Thursday afternoon. Telford will address the group immediately after the prime minister.

The 12-member committee includes six Liberal MPs (including chair, veteran MP Wayne Easter), four Tory MPs, one Bloc MP, and one NDP MP.

Watch: Trudeau pummelled with questions about WE Charity deal

The committee is examining the abandoned deal with WE Charity, which fell apart earlier this month amid questions about Trudeau’s personal ties to the Toronto-based international organization. Trudeau has appeared at several WE events over the years and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is an “ambassador” and hosts a podcast for the organization.

It was also revealed by Canadaland and CBC News that members of the Trudeau family have received tens of thousands of dollars for speaking at WE Charity events in recent years.

WE Charity said this month that Margaret Trudeau, the prime minister’s mother and a mental-health advocate, received “a total of approximately $250,000 in speaking honorariums” for speaking at 28 WE Charity events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, received $32,000. Those figures do not include a 20 per cent commission to the Speakers’ Spotlight Bureau.

WE Charity also said Grégoire Trudeau received a “one-time speaking honorarium of $1,400” in 2012.

Trudeau has said that while he knew his mother and brother worked as professional public speakers and wasn’t surprised they were paid for appearing at WE events, he didn’t know the details of their payments.

The prime minister is facing an ethics investigation for not recusing himself from discussions about awarding WE the deal.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history,” Trudeau told reporters two weeks ago. “And I’m sincerely sorry about not having done that.”

WE Charity was tapped last month to manage the Canada Student Service Grant program to provide eligible post-secondary students and recent graduates with up to $5,000 for volunteer work in programs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has said that WE Charity stood to earn $43.5 million for successfully administering the program.

Though the program has a budget of up to $912 million, The Canadian Press has reported, based on a copy of the agreement between the government and WE filed with the finance committee, that Ottawa agreed to pay no more than $543.5 million with $500 million budgeted for student grants.

Trudeau has maintained that WE was selected on the advice of the non-partisan public service. Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart told the committee last week that there is “absolutely no evidence” that would suggest Trudeau “had any interaction with WE Charity in relation to this program.”

Trudeau, Morneau facing calls to step down

Still, Trudeau is facing calls from the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois to resign over the issue. So too is Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who is also facing an ethics probe for not recusing himself from discussions about WE Charity and the program. One of Morneau’s daughters has done contract work for WE and another has been an unpaid speaker at WE events.

During his appearance before the finance committee last week, Morneau revealed that he had repaid the WE organization $41,366 for travel expenses just before meeting with MPs. Morneau said he recently discovered the unpaid expenses in a review of two family trips to Kenya and Ecuador in 2017 to visit WE Charity’s school projects.

“I expected and always had intended to pay the full cost of these trips. And it was my responsibility to make sure that was done,” Morneau said. “I want to apologize for this error on my part.”

He also told the committee that his wife donated $100,000 to the WE organization in the last two years.

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The Conservatives have argued Morneau’s trips violated sections of the Conflict of Interest Act that prohibit ministers or their families from accepting paid travel.

Tory finance critic Pierre Poilievre — who serves as vice-chair of the finance committee — suggested to reporters last week that the only reason the prime minister hasn’t fired Morneau is because it would bring more heat on him.

“If Justin Trudeau imposes any level of ethical standard on Bill Morneau, then others would ask that he impose it on himself,” Poilievre said.

Trudeau has also been invited to appear before the ethics committee, which is conducting its own investigation. The Prime Minister’s Office wouldn’t say Monday if Trudeau will accept that invitation.

On Tuesday, the finance committee is expected to hear from WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, as well as the organization’s chief financial officer Victor Li, and former board chair Michelle Douglas.

Douglas told The Globe and Mail that her resignation from the board in March “was a result of concerning developments” and that she did not “resign in the ordinary course of matters.”

With files from The Canadian Press

Note: HuffPost’s previous owner, AOL, sponsored and participated in WE Charity events and Free The Children trips.

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