No evidence of Trudeau contact with WE Charity before deal awarded: PCO Clerk

No evidence of Trudeau contact with WE Charity before deal awarded: PCO Clerk

No evidence of Trudeau contact with WE Charity before deal awarded: PCO Clerk

OTTAWA — The federal government’s top public servant says there is no evidence to suggest Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with WE Charity before the organization was awarded a deal to run a student-volunteer program.

Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart made the comment during testimony Tuesday morning before the House of Commons finance committee.

He faced numerous questions about the decision to have WE Charity administer a $900-million student-volunteering program, including whether anyone in the public service raised red flags about the organization’s finances.

Shugart told the committee Trudeau was briefed about the development of the program, and suggested the prime minister had no contact with the organization to which Trudeau and his family have close ties.

“There is absolutely no evidence, no suggestion in anything that I have reviewed that would suggest the prime minister had any interaction with the WE Charity in relation to this program,” Shugart said.

“None whatsoever.”

The now-aborted deal with WE could have paid the organization some $43.5 million. Shugart said the first tranche of funding for grants in exchange for volunteer hours was to be $500 million, with a budget ceiling of $912 million.

MPs want Trudeau to appear before the Commons committee, but he didn’t answer a question from the opposition Tuesday about whether he’ll accept the invite.

In the House of Commons itself, Trudeau — and his cabinet — were pummelled with questions about WE, with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer at one point accusing Trudeau of using the pandemic as an excuse for corruption, something Scheer called “gross and disgusting.”

At the outset of the crisis, the Liberals had sought to give themselves extended and broad spending power, with limited oversight. They reversed course on that position but Scheer said Tuesday that Canadians now know why they wanted it.

“They will stop and take the time to reward their friends, that is the essence of this Liberal party, under this Liberal prime minister. I don’t even have a question. It’s just disgusting,” Scheer said.

In response to direct questions on WE, Trudeau reiterated that he regretted not recusing himself from deliberations, but cabinet was following the advice of the non-partisan public service.

“The public service took a look at the ways they could deliver that program and determined that the WE organization was the only one that could deliver that program as ambitious as it was this summer,” Trudeau said.

“I should have recused myself because of the connection with … my family, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the public service recommended that organization.”

Shugart’s testimony provided more details about the timeline for that decision.

WE sent an unsolicited proposal to Youth Minister Bardish Chagger and Small Business Minister Mary Ng in early April for a program to help youth become entrepreneurs, which carried a price tag of between $6 million and $14 million.

Federal officials were already discussing ways to help students unable to work this summer due to the pandemic, intending to announce something by mid-May. The notion WE could be involved came up in conversations between the Finance Department and Employment and Social Development Canada, which oversees student-related programs.

Rachel Wernick, a senior ESDC official, called WE co-founder Craig Kielburger on April 19, at which time she — and from what the Shugart said Tuesday, the Privy Council Office as well — learned of the original proposal.

Three days later, on April 22, Trudeau announced a $9-billion package of student aid, including the outline of a volunteer program paying students up to $5,000 toward education costs, based on the number of hours they volunteer.

Kielburger emailed Wernick an updated proposal the same day, mirroring Trudeau’s announcement. The decision was ultimately made to have WE run the program.

Shugart said the Privy Council Office asked about running a competitive process to oversee the grants, and ministers questioned whether WE Charity could deliver on what the government wanted. He said all were confident in the recommendation to go with the group.

In early July, the organization handed back control of the program to the government.

Shugart said a program will roll out, but will offer much less in the way of support services to students as a consequence of the public service having to deliver the program.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is set to appear before the committee Wednesday afternoon.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Trudeau called on the prime minister to waive cabinet confidentiality and release all documents around the WE agreement.

He said the affair raises concerns about the Liberals’ handling of emergency aid programs to help Canadians concerned about their jobs, finances and health.

“To deal with all these concerns, not having a job, the future, a pandemic, people need to have confidence in their government,” Singh told a morning news conference.

“What this scandal has done is really rocked the confidence of people in a government that doesn’t seem to be acting for the interest of people, but to help out their close friends.”

The WE organization released a statement saying its charity was in “good financial standing” when it got the contract for the volunteering program. It also said the agreement included several levels of financial oversight, from basic audited financial statements all the way up to allowing an audit by the federal auditor general.

The idea, the statement says, was that WE would enumerate its expenses in running the program so that those, and only those, could be reimbursed.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said Tuesday the faster the prime minister reveals the entirety of what was said and done around the WE agreement, the better it would be for the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2020.

— with files from Stephanie Levitz

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

Police officers and their dogs undergo training at the RCMP Police Dog Services training centre in Innisfail, Alta., on Wednesday, July 15, 2015. Mounties say they are searching for an armed and dangerous man near a provincial park in northern Alberta who is believed to have shot and killed a service dog during a police chase. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
RCMP search for armed man in northern Alberta after police dog shot and killed

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine says a police service dog named Jago was shot during the pursuit

Alberta now has 2,336 active cases of COVID-19, with 237 people in hospital, including 58 in intensive care. (Black Press file photo)
Red Deer down to 73 active cases of COVID-19, lowest since early November

The Central zone has 253 active cases of the virus

Marco Mendicino, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday, May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada to welcome 45,000 refugees this year, says immigration minister

Canada plans to increase persons admitted from 23,500 to 45,000 and expedite permanent residency applications

FILE – Most lanes remain closed at the Peace Arch border crossing into the U.S. from Canada, where the shared border has been closed for nonessential travel in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Thursday, May 7, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. The restrictions at the border took effect March 21, while allowing trade and other travel deemed essential to continue. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Feds to issue update on border measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents

Border with U.S. to remain closed to most until at least July 21

Blair Lebsack, owner of RGE RD restaurant, poses for a portrait in the dining room, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. Canadian restaurants are having to find ways to deal with the rising cost of food. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canadian restaurateurs grapple with rising food costs, menu prices expected to rise

Restaurants are a low margin industry, so there’s not a lot of room to work in additional costs

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose behind vials of both Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines on the counter, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. An independent vaccine tracker website founded by a University of Saskatchewan student says just over 20 per cent of eligible Canadians — those 12 years old and above — are now fully vaccinated. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
At least 20% of eligible Canadians fully vaccinated, 75% with one dose: data

Earlier projections for reopening at this milestone didn’t include Delta variant

This undated file photo provided by Ernie Carswell & Partners shows the home featured in the opening and closing scenes of The Brady Bunch in Los Angeles. Do you know the occupation of Mike Brady, the father in this show about a blended family? (Anthony Barcelo/Ernie Carswell & Partners via AP, File)
QUIZ: A celebration of dad on Father’s Day

How much do you know about famous fathers?

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Most Read