Politics

Trudeau, Telford to appear before Commons committee Thursday to answer questions about WE Charity deal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his chief of staff Katie Telford will appear before the House of Commons finance committee Thursday to explain their roles in the decision to strike a partnership with We Charity — which has close ties with the Trudeau family — to deliver a $900 million student grant program.

Committee will hear from Trudeau for one hour on Thursday, July 30

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confers with his chief of staff Katie Telford at the National Press Gallery Dinner in Gatineau, Quebec, in 2017. Telford and Trudeau are scheduled to appear before the House of Commons finance committee Thursday July 30. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his chief of staff Katie Telford will appear before the House of Commons finance committee Thursday to explain their roles in the decision to strike a partnership with We Charity — which has close ties with the Trudeau family — to deliver a $900 million student grant program.

The committee is scheduled to hear from Trudeau from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from Telford from 4:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. 

Last month, Trudeau announced that WE Charity would administer the Canada Student Service Grant, which would provide eligible students with grants of up to $5,000. The grants were intended to help students cover the cost of post-secondary education in the fall.

The contract awarded to WE Charity to run the program was set up as a contribution agreement between WE Charity and the government and not through a competitive process. It has since been dissolved.

Shortly after it was announced that WE Charity would be running the program, the Liberal government came under fire from opposition parties over the Trudeau family's close relationship with the organization.

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.

WATCH | The significance of Trudeau testifying about WE Charity controversy:

Justin Trudeau will be the first prime minister since 2006 to appear before a House committee when he testifies about his government's decision to partner with WE Charity for a summer grant program. And Trudeau’s appearance comes while his popularity takes a hit because of the controversy. 2:03

On July 9, 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.

WE Charity at committee

Craig and Marc Kielburger, the founders of WE Charity, will appear before the finance committee Tuesday morning.

The Kielburgers initially were scheduled to appear with WE Charity's CFO, Victor Li, from 1 pm to 2:30 pm, but at the request of the Conservatives, committee members agreed Monday to have Li appear on a different day later in the week.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre asked to extend the time the Kielburgers would answer questions to four hours. MPs on the committee debated the witness list earlier today and agreed to ask the brothers — once they are before MPs on Tuesday — if they can stay that long and, if not, if they can return later in the week to complete the four hours of questioning.

Poilievre also moved a motion asking the committee to extend Trudeau's appearance from one hour to three. The MP also asked for Telford to appear for two hours instead of just one. The committee failed to agree to those time extensions before the meeting was adjourned. 

'I am sorry,' Trudeau says

Earlier in July, Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced that he was launching an investigation into Trudeau over the government's decision to task the WE Charity with administering the summer student grant program.

Dion said he will be investigating Trudeau 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 deal with giving someone preferential treatment and failing to recuse from a conflict of interest.

A few days after CBC News and Canadaland reported the details of the payments made to Trudeau's mother and brother, the prime minister said he was sorry for not recusing himself from cabinet discussions about WE Charity given his family's close personal ties to the organization.

"I made a mistake in not recusing myself. I am sorry," Trudeau told reporters.

Separately, the Commons Ethics Committee voted last week to call Trudeau before that committee to answer MPs' questions but the prime minister has yet to confirm his appearance.

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