Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre pledged to hold Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accountable for their roles in the deal, which has sparked two separate federal ethics commissioner investigations.
“We are going to use the tools of Parliament to hold Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau accountable for this avalanche of illegal activity,” Poilievre said. He called the prime minister and finance minister “law-breaking machines.”
Asked by a reporter for examples of what those tools of Parliament are, Poilievre pointed to the prime minister’s recent acceptance of a finance committee invitation to appear as a witness.
If WE Charity had successfully run the program, the Toronto-based international organization could have earned $43.5 million.
Conservatives on the ethics committee will push for the disclosure of documents, he said, adding the party is also pushing for the full resumption of Parliament “so we can daily question the government on these revelations.”
Morneau appeared before the House of Commons finance committee Wednesday to answer questions about his role in the cabinet decision to award WE Charity nearly $1 billion to administer the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), a new federal volunteer program.
New questions were raised after Morneau said he wrote a $41,366 cheque to the WE organization right before his committee appearance.
The finance minister said the cheque was to repay three-year-old travel expenses from a trip he took to visit the charity’s projects building schools in Ecuador in 2017.
His wife and daughter also travelled with WE Charity to Kenya that year without him. Morneau said he was “completely surprised” to find no expenses charged to him for the Ecuador trip.
He said his office contacted the WE organization Tuesday, the day before his committee appearance, to confirm any unpaid expenses.
“I expected and always had intended to pay the full cost of these trips. And it was my responsibility to make sure that was done,” he said. “I want to apologize for this error on my part.”
After Morneau’s testimony, WE Charity issued a statement calling the finance minister and his wife to be “well-known philanthropists with a history of significant donations to international development programs.”
The organization confirmed it had been a complimentary trip. Morneau’s family “then reimbursed WE Charity for what they would have been charged if they had paid at the time: [CAD $5,893.30] per person,” WE said.
Despite having a daughter currently working on contract with WE Charity until the end of August, Morneau did not recuse himself from cabinet discussions related to the deal.
His other daughter has also been involved with the organization as an unpaid speaker at events.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper said the idea Morneau forgot to pay for a five-figure family trip is “absurd.”
“Most Canadians would certainly know if they had received $41,000 in unpaid expenses — indeed it’s more than what many Canadians earn in an entire year,” he said Thursday.
Morneau family’s $100,000 donation to WE
On top of the forgotten travel expenses, Morneau also told the committee that his wife made two $50,0000 donations to WE Charity in recent years: once in April 2018, and another as recent as June.
Conservative and NDP MPs were skeptical about the finance minister pleading ignorance to not knowing he and his family received a trip valued up to $41,366.
“WE paid for your travel. That has the perception of attempting to buy political influence,” NDP MP Charlie Angus said during the committee meeting.
“You’re not thinking there’s a problem here, but they’re paying for influence. I think that that’s really, really concerning that you didn’t seem to think that that was a problem.”
Conservative MP says it’s ‘disgusting’ how Liberal minister is being treated
At one point during Morneau’s testimony, he distanced himself from the decision-making process that resulted in the controversial CSSG agreement with WE.
He said he was not the minister responsible for the program. That responsibility, Morneau said, fell on Diversity, Inclusion, and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger.
Chagger, who appeared as a finance committee witness last week, shifted the blame at the time onto a member of the public service for endorsing WE as the only organization with the capacity to run the new federal program.
That public servant is Rachel Wernick, a senior official at Employment and Social Development Canada, who told MPs that it’s not up to the civil service to make sure elected officials are acting in compliance with the Conflict of Interest Act.
“The department did not conduct or provide any assessment of potential conflicts of interest by public office holders,” she said at the time. “The onus is on the public office holders to uphold the guidelines.”
It was also during that day’s testimony when it was revealed WE had sent at least two unsolicited project proposals for programs related to youth service.
Trudeau is under a separate ethics investigation for his role in the WE Charity controversy following revelations his mother and brother were paid to speak at some of the organization’s events.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made an effort to tell the public that she has “complete confidence” in Trudeau’s leadership amid the new controversy that has rocked the government in the middle of a pandemic.
She told reporters last week that she thinks “everyone in our government, everyone in cabinet, bears responsibility for this situation.”
“The onus is on the public office holders to uphold the guidelines.”
On Thursday, Poilievre called Morneau’s decision to pin responsibility for the $912-million WE Charity deal on Chagger, a junior cabinet minister, “disgusting.”
“It symbolizes everything that is wrong with the rot at the head of this government.”
The Conservatives and NDP said they will ask federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to launch a new investigation into Morneau’s admission that he accepted a free trip.
This statute of the Conflict of Interest Act garnered significant attention a few years ago after the federal ethics watchdog found that the prime minister broke federal law when he accepted a 2016 family vacation to the Aga Khan’s private island.
Despite Trudeau apologizing at the time, saying that he had learned his lesson, the prime minister is currently under a new ethics investigation for potentially breaching the same section of the Conflict of Interest Act he violated years earlier.
The Prime Minister’s Office has yet to confirm when Trudeau will appear as a witness before the finance committee, which is currently studying government spending related to the WE Charity controversy.
Committee members are expected to hear from WE Charity co-founders Marc and Craig Kielburger on Tuesday.
Note: HuffPost’s previous owner, AOL, sponsored and participated in WE Charity events and Free The Children trips.