Politics

MPs begin probe into government's choice of WE Charity for student grant contract

A parliamentary committee will begin its probe today into the federal government's decision to task the WE Charity — which has ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family — with administering a $900-million summer student grant program.

Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger to be first witness

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on stage at We Day on Parliament Hill. The House of Commons finance committee begins its probe today into the federal government's decision to have WE Charity run a $900-million student grant program. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

A parliamentary committee will begin its probe today into the federal government's decision to task the WE Charity — which has ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family — with administering a $900-million summer student grant program.

The House of Commons finance committee voted last week to hold four three-hour meetings this month to "examine how much the government spent in awarding the $912 million sole-source contract to WE Charity."

That motion called on Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart, Minister of Diversity Bardish Chagger, a senior deputy minister from Employment and Social Development Canada and a representative from Volunteer Canada to appear before the committee.

It remains unclear if Shugart will appear at a subsequent meeting, but the notice for today lists Chagger as the first witness set to appear before the committee when the hearing begins at 3 pm ET. CBCnews.ca will livestream the committee hearings today.

Also appearing today is Gina Wilson, senior associate deputy minister at Canadian Heritage. Two people from Employment and Social Development Canada are set to appear before the committee: senior assistant deputy minister Rachel Wernick and Stephanie Hébert, an assistant deputy minister.

The committee also will hear from Paula Speevak, president and CEO of Volunteer Canada, which has criticized the student grant program.

Prime Minister Trudeau and his government have been under fire since announcing the program and the contract with WE Charity late last month because of the charity's close association with the Trudeau family.

Trudeau and his mother, Margaret, have appeared at a number of WE Day events, while Trudeau's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast for the group called "WE Well-being."

Initially, WE Charity said members of the Trudeau family were not paid for appearing at WE events, although Sophie Grégoire Trudeau had been reimbursed for travel expenses.

Late last week, it emerged that Trudeau's mother Margaret was paid approximately $250,000 for speaking at 28 events, while his brother Alexandre spoke at eight events and received about $32,000.

Watch | Trudeau asked Thursday if he'll appear at committee studying WE contract

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with reporters on Parliament Hill about the Commons committee examining the now-canceled deal with WE charity. 2:12

Multiple inquiries launched

The deal between WE Charity and the federal government has since been dissolved but the controversy over Trudeau's role in the contract continues to haunt his government.

Late last month, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion launched an investigation into Trudeau's role in the contract after both the Conservatives and the NDP wrote to him asking for a probe. 

Dion said Trudeau is being investigated under subsection 6(1) of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act, which prohibits public office holders from making decisions that further their own private interests or the interests of another person.

Trudeau also is being investigated under sections 7 and 21 of the Act, which relate to giving someone preferential treatment and failing to recuse from a conflict of interest.

Calling on the RCMP

The democratic reform advocacy group Democracy Watch, meanwhile, has asked Dion to investigate Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who also has ties to WE Charity through his family, and to look into whether Trudeau or anyone operating on his behalf — such as his chief of staff, Katie Telford — tried to influence the public service to undertake the contract with WE Charity.

A spokesperson from Dion's office told CBC on Tuesday that all requests for investigations are being considered and a decision will be made later this week.

Watch: 'The mistake that we made was on me': Trudeau apologizes for WE Charity furor

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau admitted Monday that he made a mistake when he took part in the government's decision to use the WE charity to run a student volunteer program. 2:54

The Conservatives also have written to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki asking the Mounties to investigate the student grant program and the seven other federal grants and contributions — valued at more than $5 million — that WE has received from Ottawa since 2017.

Democracy Watch has asked the RCMP to look into whether the prime minister violated the Criminal Code in his dealings with the charity.

Yesterday, the National Post reported that Trudeau asked WE Charity to host a 2017 Canada Day event on Parliament Hill, for which the government paid the charity $1.18 million.

The National Post also reported that Trudeau's mother, who had been receiving fees for making public appearances at WE events at the time, was a speaker at the event.

PMO spokesperson Chantal Gagnon told CBC News that the PMO was aware of the event on July 2, 2017, but was "not aware of any payments to event participants."

WE announces internal review

The WE Charity was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995. Last month, Trudeau announced that WE would administer the Canada Student Service Grant, which will provide eligible students with up to $5,000.

The grants are intended to help students cover the cost of post-secondary education in the fall. The amount of the grant depends on how much time students spend doing volunteer work.

Last night, WE Charity issued a statement saying that it had decided to "refocus on [its] mission" by concentrating on international aid. It said it would cancel WE Day events going forward, "reflecting the realities of COVID-19," and launch an organizational review to "streamline the WE organizational structure."

That review, said the statement, will include an evaluation of the "future" of ME to WE Social Enterprises — the profit-making arm of the organization that paid Margaret Trudeau for some of her speaking engagements.

"The purpose of the review is to streamline the WE organizational structure, including evaluating the future of ME to WE, with the goal of a clearer separation of the social enterprise from the charitable entities," said the statement.

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