OTTAWA — Finance Minister Bill Morneau will also face an ethics investigation over his role in awarding WE Charity a sole-sourced deal to administer a $912-million government program.
The Office of Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner announced Thursday that it will examine if Morneau breached two sections of the Conflict of Interest Act — including a public office holder’s “duty to recuse” from “any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which he or she would be in a conflict of interest.”
Watch: A timeline of the Trudeaus and their WE Charity appearances. Story continues below video.
Morneau apologized Monday for not recusing himself from the cabinet decision to offer the since-scrapped deal WE to administer the Canada Student Service Grant. The program, announced in April, will pay post-secondary students and recent graduates for COVID-19-related volunteer work. One of the finance minister’s daughters does contract work for the WE organization and his other daughter has spoken at WE events.
“I did not recuse myself from the discussions on this topic and, given the fact that my daughter works for the organization in an unrelated branch, I should have in order to avoid any perception of conflict,” Morneau said in a statement this week. “I apologize for not doing so, and moving forward, I will recuse myself from any further discussions related to WE.”
Conservative MPs Michael Cooper and Pierre Poilievre requested the ethics commissioner investigation following controversy over the former partnership.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is also under investigation in a separate ethics probe on whether his personal connections with the WE Charity breached three sections of the Conflict of Interest Act.
Following reports from Canadaland and CBC News, WE Charity confirmed the prime minister’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, received approximately $250,000 in honorariums for speaking at 28 events between 2016 and 2020. His brother, Alexandre, was paid approximately $32,000 for speaking honorariums, according to WE Charity. Those figures do not include a 20 per cent commission paid to the Speakers’ Spotlight bureau.
The prime minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, has active ties with WE Charity as a current “ambassador” for the charitable organization. She also hosts a podcast for the organization. The charity told HuffPost Canada last week that Grégoire Trudeau was also paid a “one-time speaking honorarium of $1,400” in 2012.
Trudeau repeatedly apologized Monday for failing to recuse himself from discussions related to the student grant program. He told reporters outside his Ottawa home that he made a mistake given his family’s connections with WE.
He expressed regret for subjecting his mother, a longtime public speaker and mental health advocate, to a political controversy.
“I should have been thoughtful enough to recuse myself completely from any discussions around WE because of these connections, from the very beginning, and I did not,” he said. “And I’m very sorry about that.”
The ethics commissioner has twice found Trudeau violated conflict rules. In 2017, then-commissioner Mary Dawson concluded Trudeau breached the Conflict of Interest Act — including his “duty to recuse” — by accepting two family vacations on the Aga Khan’s private island. In 2019, current watchdog Mario Dion determined the prime minister improperly pressured his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to intervene in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Dawson told CBC News this week that the prime minister’s concession that he should have recused himself from the WE Charity decision will make it difficult for the ethics commissioner not to find he contravened the act.
She also said Trudeau seems to have a “blind spot” on ethics matters. “One doesn’t continue to do the same thing twice,” she said.
In 2017, Morneau was fined $200 by the ethics commissioner for not properly disclosing a private corporation that owned his villa in Provence, France. He was cleared in an ethics investigation the following year into his tabling of a pension-reform bill that opposition MPs alleged would benefit human-resources firm Morneau Shepell.
With files from The Canadian Press
Note: HuffPost’s previous owner, AOL, sponsored and participated in WE Charity events and Free The Children trips.