Tories ask police to investigate prime minister over WE Charity deal
'It's not just a conflict of interest. It's much more serious than that,' Conservative finance critic says
The opposition Conservatives are calling for a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ties to the WE Charity after the federal government tasked the organization with administering a $900-million sole-sourced contract.
The call comes a day after CBC News and Canadaland reported that, despite initial claims, WE had financial dealings with some of Trudeau's family members, most notably his mother Margaret and brother Alexandre.
WE and its affiliates paid out some $300,000 in speaking fees to the two through the Speakers' Spotlight Bureau over the last four years.
CTV News also reported that the prime minister's wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, received $1,500 for participating in a WE event in 2012, before Trudeau became leader of the Liberal Party. She currently hosts a podcast for the charity.
The prime minister isn't the only member of cabinet with personal ties to WE. CBC News reported Friday that Finance Minister Bill Morneau's daughter also works for the charity, as a paid employee of the charity's travel department since 2019.
Neither Trudeau nor Morneau recused themselves from cabinet's discussion on the student grants program.
Federal Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced last Friday that he was investigating Trudeau over the choice of WE to run the grants program.
But Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said a probe by the ethics commissioner alone is insufficient, given the new revelations about payments to Trudeau family members before Ottawa awarded WE the contract to administer the the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG).
"It's not just a conflict of interest. It's much more serious than that. We have a prime minister that has used his powers to get a benefit out of an organization related to himself and his family," he said in French.
Poilievre cited Section 121 of the Criminal Code as a potential avenue for the police.
That section, titled "frauds on the government," says it's an offence for someone to give an elected official or any member of their family "a loan, reward, advantage or benefit of any kind as consideration for co-operation, assistance, exercise of influence or an act or omission in connection with the transaction of business with or any matter of business relating to the government."
"We're asking the relevant authorities if this could apply," Poilievre said.
In a letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said his party is also concerned about the seven other federal grants and contributions — valued at more than $5 million — that WE has received from Ottawa since 2017.
"I encourage the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to investigate the possibility of criminal offences arising from these disturbing facts. You and the very able members of the national police force possess the necessary skills, expertise and tools to get to the bottom of this," Barrett said in the letter.
The initial decision to outsource the student grants program to a third party with ties to the prime minister's family was criticized by some in the charitable sector and by the opposition Conservatives.
WE decided to pull out of the contract last week, citing the "controversy" over the partnership. WE agreed to give up the $19.5 million it was to be paid to administer the program.
Trudeau had defended the partnership, saying WE was the only group with a nationwide network capable of operating a program of this sort for young people. Other charitable organizations have questioned that assertion.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said today the prime minister wasn't the one who picked WE to dole out the grants to students.
He said that the recommendation came from bureaucrats working at Employment and Social Development Canada. They selected WE because of its extensive partnerships with other youth organizations, he told reporters.
"Make no mistake — the directions that we take are really based on the non-partisan advice that we get from our public service," he said. "They made a clear recommendation and we followed that recommendation."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said the government needs to produce the records that show public servants were behind the original recommendation to work with WE on this program.
He said Liberal parliamentarians should be just as curious as opposition MPs about the prime minister's handling of this file.
"It's getting to the point where I'd challenge other Liberal MPs and Liberal cabinet ministers — Did they know that the prime minister was in this position?" Scheer said in an interview with CBC's Power & Politics. "When cabinet was signing off on this decision, was Mr. Trudeau open and forthright with his colleagues? Did he inform them what he was asking them to agree to?
"How closely do they want to be associated with Justin Trudeau's ethical behaviour here? We really do need to get to the bottom of this."
Barrett said it's "essential" that the police probe the government's decision to hand such a valuable contract to a "Trudeau and Liberal-friendly firm."
"Canadians deserve to have a prime minister and a cabinet and a Parliament that they have confidence in," he said. "It is clear that confidence has been shaken yet again."
In an interview with Power and Politics, Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez insisted that federal bureaucrats were the ones who picked WE — and that it wasn't the only charitable organization the government worked with to roll out pandemic aid. The government also has worked with the United Way and Food Banks Canada, he said.
He said the government is ready to move on with the grants program without WE.
"You have to understand that we're in a COVID environment where we made decisions day-by-day — sometimes faster than we wanted," Rodriquez said today. "Sometimes the programs weren't perfect."
He also promised that "all documents that can be shared will be shared."