Waterloo MP Chagger says she won't resign over WE Charity scandal
'I have provided all information necessary on this file,' Chagger says
Waterloo MP and Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger says she takes responsibility for a now dissolved contract that would have seen the WE Charity receive millions to administer a $900 million student grant program.
She did not say she would call for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's resignation, something Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Liberal MPs should do.
She spoke with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris on Tuesday about the scandal and what she has personally learned.
You can listen to the whole interview here:
A transcription of the interview is below. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Host Craig Norris: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, as you've heard I'm sure you know, has called on Liberal MPs to ask the prime minister to resign. Is that something you'll do?
MP Bardish Chagger: Craig, I've been clear my focus remains on serving the constituents I was elected to represent as well as the stakeholders. So as the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, we know that COVID-19 has impacted all segments of society.
This of course impacting certain segments and youth are no exception.
Norris: So that's why you won't ask for the prime minister to step aside, just even during the investigation?
Chagger: There is an investigation going on by the conflict of interest the ethics commissioner. We've stated that we will comply with his office. The prime minister has also come out and acknowledged that he should have recused himself from the decision. He has apologised for that and our focus remains delivering for Canadians.
There's still a lot going on when it comes to this pandemic. People are hurting.
And our government is focused on people, we're working with all levels of government. The messages I've been getting in my office I've been involved in a U.S. border. We've extended the restrictions to ensure the safety and health of Canadians. And yet we know that some people are getting through ...
Norris: This is still a really big story. There's an ethics investigation you know against your party and the prime minister. Andrew Scheer is calling for the prime minister to resign. And if you don't [as Trudeau to resign], like MPs, it means that you're, and I'm quoting him, now "comfortable with his corruption." What is your response to that?
Chagger: My response is, members of all different parties at finance committee asked for answers and they asked me to appear. At the very first available opportunity, I was at a finance committee providing answers. They asked for my officials to be present, officials were present. And it's important that committees do their work independently of the House of Commons. So I was asked to testify. I appeared right away.
Norris: Now, they need to do their work. But on Friday the House of Commons ethics committee couldn't vote on an ethics probe largely because the Liberal MPs filibustered and then they ran out the clock. Is that the way you think Canadians believe we should be handling such a serious situation?
Chagger: We have officers of Parliament. We have independent agents that do the work to look into these matters. Members of Parliament are able to bring them to the attention of officers to the Parliament. In this case, it was the Conservative opposition that submitted a letter to the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner. Mr. [Mario] Dion replied stating, you've asked us to investigate, that office investigates under I'm not sure how many different sections. And the commissioner agreed that he would investigate under certain sections. And he said under the other ones he will not.
That letter is publicly available.
Norris: As minister of diversity, inclusion and youth, you were involved in awarding the student grant program contract to the WE Charity. What do you want your constituents to know that you've personally learned from this experience?
Chagger: I would have to say personally learned. Well, first of all, I really regret the way this situation has unfolded. My focus was on getting the program out the door. We're working in a very unprecedented, challenging time as all Canadians and the whole world is. And it was really about making sure that there was a third party to deliver the program.
I actually am one of the people who asked the public service if they could deliver it. The public service has also been working in overdrive considering they're delivering the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, Canada Summer Jobs, the list goes on. Bringing in the third party is something they've done in the past so in this case they recommended that.
We had ample conversations asking for other recommendations or at least it be able to be given a choice. They were adamant that this was the organization that could deliver the program and at some point, the non-partisan professional public service, they're hardworking people, and they made the recommendation.
Norris: What personally have you learned from this?
Chagger: I personally learned no matter how fast we had to work, it might always be good to take a little bit more time. Perception is reality in politics so as much as we were making a decision that was the right decision, it was an organization that is able to deliver the capacity, it's important that we share information and that's why I at my first attempt, or my first opportunity to appear at committee, I went.
The contribution agreement will be made public because they all are made public and I shared as much information as possible.
Norris: We are, yes, we are in trying times these are unprecedented times. That's a given. But do you understand why there are people out there who are upset about this?
Chagger: Oh, indeed. And you know I'm also upset that students aren't receiving these opportunities to receive these grants because expenses in the fall continue to accumulate. Not-for-profits are not able to take advantage of this program. It's something that we were hearing.
So I will strive to do better, Craig, and our government will strive to do better. And that's the commitment I made right away.
So right when people raise concerns about this, to ensure that we can continue delivering for programs during this time, WE Charity and the government mutually agreed to end the delivery of this program through WE Charity.
Norris: Ultimately though, who's responsible for this. At the end of the day, where does the buck stop on this?
Chagger: It would really matter who's having the conversation. I would say that, for myself as a person who did sign the contribution agreement, to the person who's delivered the program, I am responsible for this program.
Norris: Have you offered your resignation?
Chagger: Have I offered my resignation? Craig, I have provided all information necessary on this file to ensure that media can understand how we came to the conclusion.
I worked really hard with my team and officials. Many teams worked together to ensure that we were delivering a program that would work. When this program was launched, the response was pretty impressive. 35,000 applications within a couple of days. So there is a need out there. The program itself was well received. The controversy is around the third party that was chosen. And I have been clear as to how that recommendation came about and why I accepted it.
Norris: So why do you feel that you're ultimately responsible for this then?
Chagger: As the minister responsible for the file, I will take responsibility. The prime minister has taken responsibility for not recusing himself … the deputy prime minister yesterday stated that our entire government, the whole cabinet takes responsibility, because there was a discussion that was had. So we take responsibility and we remain focused on delivering for Canadians.
We have committed to strive to work even harder and do even better. And that's exactly what I'll continue to do.