OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to temporarily step aside and let his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, take over while he remains at the centre of another ethics investigation, the Bloc Québécois said Thursday.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet made the suggestion shortly after it was first revealed by Canadaland that members of the Trudeau family were paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak at WE Charity events.
The Toronto-based international organization was selected by the government to administer a $900-million program through a sole-sourced contract. That contract has since been cancelled.
Earlier: PM defends WE Charity as only organization capable of running COVID-19 volunteer program. Story continues below video.
Blanchet told CBC’s “Power & Politics” the controversy unspooling around the prime minister indicates how it’s time to make a temporary change in government leadership.
“He cannot create a program which seemed to be custom-made, tailored for an organization that gave $250,000 of contracts to his mother, $30,000 of contracts to his brother, while his own wife is spokesperson for the same organization,” Blanchet said. “All of that is unacceptable.”
He added his party would offer “full collaboration” in Parliament with the Liberal minority government if Freeland temporarily takes over.
“Because for the time being, he cannot be considered as being qualified to keep doing the job,” he said of the prime minister, who is now being investigated by the federal ethics commissioner for the third time.
Blanchet’s endorsement for Freeland doesn’t come as a surprise. The Bloc leader spoke highly of the deputy prime minister during a press conference in Chambly, Que. in June, suggesting then that it’s her time to shine.
“I had the impression of speaking more with a leader than I was speaking with Mr. Trudeau many times,” he said of his interactions with Freeland during the COVID-19 pandemic. “And maybe she should take more of the room in order to improve what… still (has) to be improved in the present programs.”
Ethics watchdog investigating if PM breached same section of federal law
The WE organization said in a statement to HuffPost Canada Thursday, “Justin Trudeau has never been paid by WE Charity or ME to WE Social Enterprise for any speeches or other matters.”
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion announced last week, before revelation of the speaking fees paid to the Trudeau family, that his office will investigate if Trudeau breached the Conflict of Interest Act, including section 21.
That section requires public office holders to recuse themselves “from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which he or she would be in a conflict of interest.”
The prime minister confirmed with reporters Wednesday that he did not recuse himself from cabinet discussions related to the government contract that would have paid WE Charity $19.5 million to run a nearly billion-dollar program.
Trudeau has been found to have violated the Conflict of Interest Act in two separate reports.
Dion previously determined that Trudeau breached section 21 after he failed to recuse himself from discussions related to the Aga Khan.
That report came out in 2017 after Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer requested the watchdog investigate the prime minister for accepting family vacations on the Aga Khan’s private island.
Conservatives not calling on PM to step aside
Conservatives said Friday that the latest controversy involving the prime minister’s personal and political ties to the WE organization is ripe for criminal investigation.
Asked by a reporter if the controversy is “really criminal” or “really stupid,” given how the money was received by Trudeau family members years before the pandemic-related contract was awarded to WE Charity, Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said the former is up to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to decide.
There are also benefits that continue to be received by members of the Trudeau family for their continued participation in this organization.Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett
“There are also benefits that continue to be received by members of the Trudeau family for their continued participation in this organization,” Barrett said during a press conference in Ottawa. “That, in it of itself, gives rise to the need of the prime minister to recuse himself from this discussion.”
The prime minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is a WE Charity “ambassador” and hosts the WE Well-Being podcast with the wife of WE co-founder Craig Kielburger, Leysa Cerswell Kielburger.
The position is not paid, according to WE Charity.
Barrett said the onus is now on cabinet ministers to offer additional clarity on the controversy. “What did the ministers know, and when did they know it?” Barrett asked.
On Friday, Canadaland reported that Finance Minister Bill Morneau has his own family ties with the WE organization.
Conservatives said the party will send a letter to the RCMP formally requesting a criminal investigation later Friday.
Note: HuffPost’s previous owner, AOL, sponsored and participated in WE Charity events and Free The Children trips.