Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mother and brother have each been paid tens of thousands of dollars over last four years to speak at events organized by WE Charity, the organization originally tapped to administer a $900-million government aid program.
The developments add a new layer to a growing controversy over the prime minister’s personal ties to the Toronto-based international charity, which is now at the heart of an investigation by the federal ethics commissioner.
WE Charity told HuffPost Canada in an emailed statement Thursday that Margaret Trudeau received honorariums to participate in “WE Day” events, where speakers address thousands of young people.
“Margaret Trudeau had her speaking fees sponsored by ME to WE Social Enterprise, and was paid via Spotlight Speakers’ Bureau,” the organization said. ME to WE Social Enterprise is the WE organization’s separate, for-profit entity.
“Margaret Trudeau spoke to the students primarily on the topic of mental health. During 2016-2020, Margaret Trudeau spoke at approximately 28 events and has received a total of approximately $250,000 in speaking honorariums via Speakers Spotlight (approximately $312,000 in total payments to the speakers’ bureau, minus a 20 per cent commission to the bureau),” the statement reads.
Alexandre Trudeau received $32,000 for speaking at eight events “during the 2017-2018 academic year,” minus a 20 per cent commission of $8,000 to the Spotlight Speakers’ Bureau, the charity said.
However, in what the group has called an “error in billing/payment” that was discovered after an internal review process, WE Charity paid Spotlight Speakers’ Bureau directly for a number of Margaret Trudeau’s speeches and was “reimbursed by ME to WE Social Enterprise for their sponsorship of the speeches.”
“The amount paid from the charity to Speakers Spotlight was approximately $64,000,” the statement reads. “This was an error and corrected by accounting. All speeches by Alexandre Trudeau were paid by ME to WE Social Enterprise.”
The organization said “Justin Trudeau has never been paid by WE Charity or ME to WE Social Enterprise for any speeches or other matters.”
Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife, “has participated in six WE Day events over eight years,” the organization said, and has spoken at more than a dozen other youth events.
WE Charity said Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who serves as an “ambassador” for the organization, is not paid for the WE Well-Being podcast she hosts with Leysa Cerswell Kielburger, the wife of WE co-founder Craig Kielburger.
“Other than the reimbursement of expenses, the only payment that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has ever received from WE Charity or ME to WE Social Enterprise was in 2012,” the organization said. “It was a one-time speaking honorarium of $1,400 for her participation at a youth event.”
Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced Friday he will investigate if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act when the government awarded WE Charity a sole-sourced contract in June to administer a $912-million program placing post-secondary students and recent graduates with paid volunteer opportunities.
PM didn’t recuse himself from WE decision
The group and the government ended the partnership last week amid questions about the Trudeau family’s links to charity and accusations of cronyism from opposition MPs. WE Charity stood to receive $19.5 million to run the program.
The prime minister confirmed at a press conference Wednesday that he did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision to give WE Charity the since-scrapped contract.
“No, I did not,” he told reporters. “I had long worked on youth issues both before I got into politics and since I’ve been in politics as youth critic, getting young people involved in serving their country, recognizing their desire to build a better Canada, particularly through this time of crisis is something I believe in deeply.”
In an emailed statement to HuffPost Canada Thursday, Trudeau spokesperson Chantal Gagnon said the “prime minister’s relatives engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own accord.
“What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students. The Canada Student Service Grant program is about giving young people opportunities to contribute to their communities, not about benefits to anyone else.”
Recall Parliament, Tories demand
In a statement Thursday afternoon, Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett called the revelations scandalous.
“We know now that Justin Trudeau handed almost a billion-dollar contract to a charity that not only had close ties to the Liberal Party, but which paid his family almost $300,000,” Barrett said.
“Parliament must immediately be recalled so that we can get to the bottom of this. All of the documents related to the contract must be made public. Every single cabinet minister needs to come clean about whether or not they knew that the prime minister’s family had a financial relationship with WE Charity when they approved this massive contract.”
Barrett also called on the ethics watchdog to “accelerate his investigation,” and asked the auditor general and procurement ombudsman to launch their own probes. Tories wrote to the federal procurement watchdog last week to review other smaller, sole-sourced contracts between the Liberal government and WE Charity.
The ethics investigation is Trudeau’s third since becoming prime minister in late 2015. Last year, Mario Dion found the prime minister improperly pressured his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. In 2017, then-ethics watchdog Mary Dawson found Trudeau breached conflict rules when he accepted family vacations on the Aga Khan’s private island.
With files from Althia Raj
Note: HuffPost’s previous owner, AOL, sponsored and participated in WE Charity events and Free The Children trips.