MPs call We Charity scandal unprecedented

July 27, 2020, 8:00 am
Kevin Weedmark


Members of Parliament for southeast Saskatchewan and southwest Manitoba say the way the government handled a sole source contract to We Charity to run a $912 million program to pay youth for volunteer work this summer is an unprecedented breach of ethics.

Souris-Moose Mountain MP Dr. Robert Kitchen, Yorkton-Melville MP Cathay Wagantall and Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire all say there are multiple problems with the contract, from the way the contract was awarded to the fact that both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau failed to recuse themselves from a discussion involving a charity they or their families benefited from, to the disclosure the contract wasn’t with the We Charity as the Prime Minister had said but with a separate body set up as a holding company for $50 million worth of Toronto real estate.

Souris-Moose Mountain MP Dr. Robert Kitchen
Dr. Robert Kitchen says the entire program didn’t make any sense to him, since expanding the Canada Summer Jobs program could have provided meaningful employment to students across the country, including through non-profit organizations and charities.

“My thought when this program was first announced was ‘what were they thinking? You’re paying people to volunteer?’ $912 million—we’re talking basically a billion dollars—that was going out to a program that didn’t seem to make any sense.”

“Throughout the riding we had applications for the Canada summer student job program which we’ve had for years,” says Kitchen.

“What better place to put that money than into that program. There were business and organizations throughout the riding that were looking for people and wanted access to the summer job program and were turned down. As much as I tried to get them in, they still were turned down.

“They opened it up for late applications, but they didn’t increase the funding. The amount of money available was the same as in years past. There are multiple businesses, service groups, parks, recreation organizations throughout the area that were turned down this year who have received it in the past.

“For Trudeau to say that We was the only organization that could deliver a program like this, to me that’s a slight to the civil service.

“Every day we hear something new about what was not put out on the table. Ultimately, cabinet had to make that decision, including the prime minister, Minister Morneau, Minister O’Reagan. How many of them had connections with We, because we’re hearing every day about more connections between these people and We, and just yesterday we heard Mr. Morneau say ‘guess what, I just happened to write a cheque for $41,000-plus to pay We back for a trip.’

“I knew the moment I became a member of parliament that I could not accept trips without them being recognized beforehand. I learned from day one that a minister or parliamentary secretary could not accept them at all. Every year a member of parliament is given a form from the Ethics Commissioner asking if we have participated in any of these trips and to quantify exactly the cost, whether there were any gifts as part of that. Minister Morneau has got that every year for the last five years. And he forgot?

“Or for the Prime Minister to say ‘I made a mistake—I’m sorry.’ That doesn’t cut it. When someone makes a mistake, that’s like when I go shopping and I forget something on my list. That’s a mistake. But close to a billion dollars in taxpayers’ money to a group that has paid your family more than $300,000? That’s more than a mistake. That’s a lot more serious.

“When I became a doctor and I signed my hypocratic oath, I recognized that as my role in everything I did. To do no harm and to abide by the rules. When I became a member of parliament, the same thing came to my mind. To serve honorably. Unfortunately we’re seeing a prime minister and a minister not living by those standards.

“Both the prime minister and minister Morneau have been hauled before the ethics commissioner before. Both have been found guilty, the prime minister being found guilty on two previous occasions, the first with his trip to the Aga Khan’s island and the second with SNC Lavalin.

“You have a finance minister who has been found guilty once before and has now admitted he has done wrong. The unfortunate part is the punishments are not significant, and that’s where that honor comes into play. One expects somebody, when they are called honorable as our ministers are, to live up to those standards and to step down when there is a scandal like this, and that is why we have asked Mr. Morneau to step down.”

Kitchen said the scandal is a cloud over all charitable organizations.

“This is a tarnish on the reputations of charitable organizations. There are a lot of great organizations out there that do stellar work and they keep their expenses to a minimum and the majority of the money goes to helping people. Unfortunately this puts a cloud over other charities that do a lot of good work.”

Cathay Wagantall
“Right from the beginning it was questionable. Even the concept,” says Yorkton-Melville MP Cathay Wagantall.

“There were so many people excited to apply for the Canada Summer Jobs program because they had extended the program but didn’t include any more funding, so there were all these organizations, businesses, charities that were ready to hire youth coming out of university, and there was no money. The concept of paying youth to volunteer is an oxymoron.

“We knew it wasn’t the case that We was the only organization that could deliver this program.

“The Liberal government has used this whole pandemic to further their own interests on so many levels and I think in time we will see even more come to light.

“I’m proud of our team and the finance committee and the ethics committee. It’s been an interesting few days watching as new things came to light.

“They have bought up significant real estate on Queen Street in Toronto. To see our government giving taxpayer dollars to this organization, going to that arm, clearly there is inappropriate behavior going on, on the part of the government and obviously on the part of We.

“One of the groups that testified was Volunteer Canada, because they got a call from We before the contract was even awarded, because they needed help to find volunteers and find organizations that need volunteers. They were not prepared in any way to do this. Their offer to them was $100,000 for their assistance. And Volunteer Canada stepped right away from it. They knew this was not good. And volunteer groups had done their due diligence. They got online, they figured out how to adapt to Covid-19, they’ve got more people than they can use at this point in time, so the whole thing just smacks of a scheme with other intentions.

“In the Conservative government we had a minister resign over a glass of orange juice—freshly squeezed, $15. And the people in this government seem to think they are above the law, above the ethics requirements. I don’t know how the entire cabinet could agree with what has gone on.

“They’ve thrown Chaggar under the bus, saying it’s her responsibility. She’s the youth minister, but there’s employment, there’s procurement, there’s no way everyone in cabinet wasn’t aware of Trudeau’s connections with We. The blatant indifference just makes me shake my head.

“We requested the RCMP become involved, the auditor general, the procurement ombudsman.

“I do believe once all is said and done, a lot more will be uncovered about the use of this pandemic as an excuse to move things forward so quickly.

“As members of parliament, we are aware and we are constantly reminded that we have to declare anything we receive in excess of $200. As a minister, they know what they can and cannot do.

“This is his second time. He (Morneau) didn’t declare his villa in France. Even if you are not on the ball personally, there are people around you, on your staff, who are there to hold you accountable and ensure these things are done properly on behalf of the Canadian taxpayer.

“There is clearly a blatant disregard for that within the Liberal government, because it’s just not reasonable to say ‘I somehow forgot’ or ‘I missed it.’ No. These excuses cannot be acceptable.

“If you look at the We Charity as well, clearly they have lost their direction. They came out yesterday and said ‘we do this all the time. We take people who have money and send them on a trip because it’s profitable for us to do these things.’

“But he took on a public role, and he can no longer operate in that way because there is the potential for lobbying to take place. All of the Prime Minister’s mandate letters say it must not even appear that you in any way are in conflict.

“I hope it raises people’s concerns to actually check out these charities. When I think of We Charity, I think of their interaction across Canada in schools and their messaging.

“If you look at their time on Parliament Hill, there is a clear connection there between We and the Liberal party.

“People need to look and make sure the charity is doing the right thing. There are so many issues here with this particular group. We have challenged them in the House now because it’s clear that information about all of these young people has been collected by the Liberal party. So this is an arm of the Liberal party that has gone into overreach to gather the next generation of voters. That’s what this is truly about.

“There are lots of charities doing very good work that should be supported, but people have to be careful. When you’re buying up expensive property in downtown Toronto, there are all kinds of dynamics going on here that need to be explored.

“We will leave no stone unturned. It’s our tax dollars, it’s your tax dollars they are using.

“I believe the RCMP need to be involved and they need to look deeper to see if there is criminal negligence here.”

Larry Maguire
“I just thought it was atrocious. Paying teachers to find students for a program that’s being set up to do something the Canada Summer Jobs is already doing?” says Brandon-Souris MP Larry Maguire.

“They were very slow to get the Summer Jobs program off the mark this summer, but the same day they receive a proposal from We, the Prime Minister announces it. That’s what struck me, it’s very odd that would be done.

“To come out and say there’s only one organization that has the ability to do this when you have a $900 million problem, and you’re not going to tender it? It just seems out of context for the government.

“To have this put out with no tender, and to make the public announcement that this is the only organization that could do it, and then we find out the involvement of several Liberals with the organization. That’s why we are asking the Ethics Committee to send a letter to every Liberal member of parliament to see if they each individually knew about it, because this is much wider than just Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau. Ms. Chagger was involved and other ministers should have been aware of this.

Maguire says he doesn’t think Justin Trudeau deserves any more chances.

“As they say in baseball, three strikes and you’re out. The Prime Minister had a $200,000 free trip to an island in the Bahamas in his first year, and the ethics commissioner found him guilty of that, he was found guilty of tampering in the SNC Lavalin affair, and now this. It’s just unreal that all this has happened since he came to power in 2016. For his mother to get $250,000 from We Charity for speaking engagements, and his brother to get $4,000 every time he speaks at a We Charity event.”

He said Morneau should resign for his involvement.

“We found out Mr. Morneau paid back $41,000 to We just before he went in to testify the other day. That would not have happened if the ethics commissioner hadn’t announced he was going to look into this. I looks like a case of ‘oh well, I guess we’re guilty, we better pay up.’

“It seems very odd this money is paid back and some people think ‘oh well, they just forgot.’ Well, Morneau forgot a French villa in his first conflict of interest declaration. Nobody forgets that they own a villa. Most of us, if we had a second home, we would know about it.

“There just seems to be a history of mistakes here.

“I think all parties want to get to the bottom of this, even some of the Liberal members. There’s no reason we can’t get to the bottom of it if Mr. Trudeau testifies. Mr. Morneau has already testified before the Finance Committee. If they go before the ethics committee and testify there, there’s no reason we can’t find out just where the guilt lies.”

Will the Liberals pay a political price for the scandal?

“That will be up to the Canadian people,” says Maguire. “There are really no ramifications really—just a slap on the wrist and a small fine. Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau have every ability to pay any fine that could be levied. That is not what this is about. It’s up to the Canadian people to vote them out in the next election if they think this behavior is wrong. That’s the way to ensure that this does not continue. We have seen other ethical violations and it’s up to the Canadian public to decide whether this kind of behavior will be tolerated.”