Politics

Conservatives call on Trudeau to appear before committee studying WE controversy

Opposition Conservatives are demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testify before the House of Commons finance committee as it prepares to study how much the government spent in awarding a now-cancelled contract to WE Charity.

Opposition MPs passed motions last week demanding deeper probe into WE contract

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre demanded Sunday that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appear before the House of Commons finance committee to shed light on his government's cancelled partnership with WE Charity. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Opposition Conservatives are demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testify before the House of Commons finance committee as it prepares to study how much the government spent in awarding a now-cancelled contract to the WE Charity.

"I will be adding Justin Trudeau's name to the list of witnesses. I will be calling on him to appear and testify under oath before being sworn in," Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said during a news conference on Sunday. "Normally, prime ministers don't appear before parliamentary committees, but these are not normal times." 

Poilievre successfully passed a motion on Tuesday calling on the committee to hold four meetings this month to examine the matter.

The Liberal government is under fire for its decision to award a $19.5 million sole-sourced contract to WE Charity, a partnership that would have seen the organization administer more than $900 million for student work this summer under the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG). 

Poilievre said Sunday that he would also be adding Finance Minister Bill Morneau to the witness list, given that both he and Trudeau have ties to the WE organization and did not recuse themselves from cabinet discussions about the contract.

"The prime minister can agree voluntarily to show up and attend and respect the invitation of a parliamentary committee," Poilievre said. "Or, Parliament can compel him to appear — something that would take longer but could be done and should be done if the prime minister hides from accountability."

If there is disagreement over Trudeau's willingness or ability to testify, Poilievre said, his party would simply present a motion, which would require the support of other opposition parties. 

The NDP declined to answer whether it would back such a motion but told CBC News that the party believes in "getting to the bottom of this, and the more answers we get (including from Trudeau and Morneau), the quicker we can get those answers for the Canadian public."

Poilievre said he would have "news in the days ahead" about whether his party would also ask WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger to testify.

Opposition MPs continue to exert pressure

Poilievre's Tuesday motion previously called for least four witnesses to provide testimony, including Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger, a senior deputy minister from Employment and Social Development Canada and a representative from Volunteer Canada.

His motion passed alongside a separate one from NDP finance critic Peter Julian, demanding that the government produce all documents, memos, briefing notes, correspondence and other documents regarding the creation of the program.

On Sunday, the NDP's Charlie Angus also called for Parliament's ethics committee to study "ethical conduct and avoidance of conflicts of interest within the Prime Minister's Office," requesting that PMO Chief of Staff Katie Telford testify, among other witnesses.

Should his motion pass, Angus wants the committee to release recommendations to "better permit the Prime Minister's Office to conduct the business of government with public confidence in its integrity."

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is already investigating Trudeau's involvement in awarding the contract. CBC News learned last week that Trudeau's mother, Margaret, and brother, Alexandre, have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to appear at WE Charity events. 

In June, the prime minister said federal public servants had identified the organization as the best fit for the job.

Margaret Trudeau arrives at the WE Day event in London, England, in 2017. WE Charity has told CBC News that she has received honoraria amounting to $250,000 for speaking at the organization's events, while Justin Trudeau's brother, Alexandre, has received approximately $32,000. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

Parties take aim at Morneau

The Conservatives and NDP have also asked Canada's ethics watchdog to investigate Finance Minister Bill Morneau after his connections to the organization came to light.

"One of Minister Morneau's daughters is a current employee of WE Charity. It would seem apparent that Minister Morneau would recognize that the fact that his family member was an employee of this organization necessitated him to recuse himself regarding this extraordinary decision to outsource nearly billion-dollar commitment of public funds in a single source contract," Angus wrote Friday in a letter to Dion.

Grace Acan, who was born in Uganda but joined Morneau's family in 2010, has worked for the charity's travel department since 2019. Morneau's other daughter, Clare, has also been involved with WE Charity, speaking at several WE Day events. 

Morneau's office said Acan's role in the organization is administrative and not linked to the work WE does with the federal government. The spokesperson said Clare Morneau's involvement has been strictly voluntary. 

WE lays off workers involved in deal

WE Charity has laid off hundreds of contract workers intended to administer the CSSG after the partnership with the organization was terminated earlier this month.

According to the Toronto Star, WE Charity had hired 465 contract workers before the project was pulled. The organization has laid off 450 of them while giving the other 15 full-time positions, the Star reported.

"WE Charity made the decision to not take any of the funds that were allocated to pay for the work delivered for the CSSG program. All sunk costs and remaining payments to contractors and vendors are being paid for by WE Charity," the charity said in a statement to CBC News Saturday.

The initiative, which the Conservatives argue could have been achieved through an expansion of the Canada Summer Jobs program, is now being taken over by the federal government. 

With files from the CBC's Janyce McGregor

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