Bill Morneau has family ties to WE Charity, did not steer clear of cabinet discussion of contract

Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not recuse himself from the Liberal cabinet’s consideration of a $19.5 million contract for WE Charity, despite the involvement of two of his immediate family members in the charity — one of them as a paid contract employee.

Two members of minister's family have ties to the charity — one as a paid contract employee

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau also has family ties to the WE organization. His daughter Grace is a staff member, and his other daughter, Clare, an author, has spoken at a WE event but was not paid. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not recuse himself from the Liberal cabinet's consideration of a $19.5 million contract for WE Charity, despite the involvement of two of his immediate family members in the charity — one of them as a paid contract employee.

Grace Acan, who was born in Uganda but joined Morneau's family as a teenager in 2010 when she was sponsored to come to Canada, has been a paid employee of the charity's travel department since 2019.

The website Canadaland reported on Morneau's familial ties to the WE Charity on Friday morning.

The minister's office says Acan's role is strictly administrative and her term contract ends on August 31. She joined the WE organization as an employee after working there previously as an intern during her undergraduate studies in community development.

"Like millions of Canadians, Grace Acan has been gaining valuable work experience in the charitable sector," Morneau's spokesperson, Pierre-Olivier Herbert, told CBC News earlier this week, in response to a question about whether her employment had anything to do with the charity's contract to administer the $900 million Canada Student Service Grant.

"There is absolutely no link between her employment and any work that WE does with the government of Canada."

The federal Ethics Commissioner is investigating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's handling of a contract with the WE organization, co-founded by Craig , left and Marc Kielburger, right. Trudeau's mother, brother and wife have been paid to speak at WE event. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Morneau's other daughter Clare also has been involved with the WE Charity, particularly following the publication of her book Kakuma Girls, which shares the stories of African schoolgirls in a refugee camp in Kenya.

During her secondary school studies at Havergal College, Clare Morneau started a pen pal program between her school and an all-girls school inside the camp that was supported by Morneau Shepell, the company co-founded by her family.

Since then, she's been engaged as a speaker to talk about this education partnership and has addressed the charity's WE Day events, where thousands of students gather to hear motivational speeches promoting civic engagement.

Morneau's office said Clare Morneau has done this work strictly as a volunteer and has never been paid.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that his cabinet had discussed and approved awarding the contract to administer the volunteer program grant. The prime minister said he did not recuse himself from that cabinet discussion, despite his family's involvement with the charity.

Following that statement from the prime minister, CBC News asked Morneau's office if he had recused himself from the cabinet conversation about awarding this administrative contract to WE Charity.

"The recommendation to have WE administer the program came from the public service," Herbert told CBC News on Friday, repeating his earlier statement that Acan's term contract has absolutely no link with any work the charity has done with the government.

"Mr. Morneau did not recuse himself from the discussions," Herbert said.

In August 2019, the federal government gave $3 million to the WE organization's social entrepreneurs initiative. At the time, WE said this funding would create 200 "youth-led enterprises" to address social issues at the community level.

Morneau, who represents the riding of Toronto Centre, made that announcement on behalf of Employment and Social Development Canada.

On Friday, Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said the public deserves to know which cabinet ministers were aware that members of the Trudeau family had been paid by WE Charity in the past.

"We need to find out when they knew that and we need to find out if they had participated in the cabinet discussion relating to this," he said. 

"Canadians deserve to have a prime minister, they deserve to have a cabinet and a Parliament, they have confidence in. And it is clear that this confidence has been shaken by yet another scandal from this prime minister."


  • An earlier version of this story said that Morneau Shepell was Bill Morneau's company. In fact, he stepped down as executive chair when he was elected to Parliament in October 2015, and no longer has any role at the company.
    Jul 23, 2020 1:59 PM ET


Janyce McGregor

Senior reporter

Janyce McGregor joined the CBC's parliamentary bureau in 2001, after starting her career with TVOntario's Studio 2. Her public broadcaster "hat trick" includes casual stints as a news and current affairs producer with the BBC's World Service in London. After two decades of producing roles, she's now a senior reporter filing for CBC Online, Radio and Television. News tips: Janyce.McGregor@cbc.ca

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