Ethics commissioner expands probe of Morneau on eve of PM’s WE testimony

Ethics commissioner expands probe of Morneau on eve of PM’s WE testimony

Ethics commissioner expands probe of Morneau on eve of PM’s WE testimony

OTTAWA — Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion is widening his investigation of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s dealings with WE Charity.

Dion was already investigating Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for possible violations of the Conflict of Interest Act for not recusing themselves during cabinet discussions about an agreement to have WE Charity run a federal volunteering program for students who couldn’t find work in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both have apologized for not doing so.

Morneau’s problems grew bigger Wednesday over his repayment of $41,000 in WE-sponsored travel expenses for family trips three years ago, with Dion telling the opposition parties he would look into that potential ethics violation.

Rules prohibit ministers or their families from accepting free travel, lest it be seen as buying influence in government policy.

In letters released by NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus and Conservative critic Michael Barrett, responding to their complaints, the commissioner wrote he will look into whether Morneau ran afoul of that rule and a separate one for “failing to disclose these gifts” that could lead to a fine, albeit not a large one.

For Trudeau, the issues stem from speaking fees and related expense reimbursements the WE organization paid to his mother, brother, and wife, amounting to over $500,000 based on testimony the charity’s co-founders provided to the House of Commons finance committee Tuesday.

During an afternoon news conference Wednesday, Conservatives said the new numbers related to the travel expenses also demand an additional investigation by Dion to see if the payments violate conflict-of-interest rules.

Dion rejected a call from the Tories to look into whether Morneau has failed to publicly declare previous recusals from cabinet decisions, saying they offered him no reasonable grounds to believe that had happened.

It all landed on the eve of Trudeau’s own appearance at the Commons finance committee about the events that led to his cabinet to ask WE Charity to oversee a program that provides grants to students and graduates for volunteering if they couldn’t find work this summer due to the pandemic-related economic slowdown.

His chief of staff, Katie Telford, is also to appear.

The two were originally scheduled to appear separately for one hour each, but opposition MPs on the finance committee voted Wednesday evening to have Trudeau appear for at least three hours and Telford for at least two — each of them alone.

The partisan barbs and rhetoric on display Wednesday set the stage for a potentially contentious and rare prime ministerial appearance.

“We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said in Ottawa.

He warned the Opposition would look to pry more testimony out of Trudeau this fall if he didn’t provide detailed answers.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he wanted Trudeau to explain why the Liberals opted to have the charity run a service program when there were other, potentially easier, avenues to help financially strapped students.

He cited increasing student grants or putting more money into the Canada Summer Jobs program as examples.

“This was never about helping students,” Singh said Wednesday in Burnaby, B.C.

“This was about helping close friends of the Liberal government and of Prime Minister Trudeau and that is deeply troubling.”

The Liberals budgeted $912 million for the student-volunteer program, but only agreed to pay a maximum of $543 million to WE. That included about $43.5 million in administration fees to the group, with the remainder to be spent on the grants.

The program is to pay eligible students and graduates $1,000 for every 100 hours of volunteering, up to a maximum of $5,000. The government has yet to roll it out nearly a month after WE backed out over the controversy.

On Tuesday, WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger told the finance committee they expected the program to cost up to $300 million because the majority would earn between $1,000 and $3,000, with few hitting the maximum amount.

They also spoke about the expenses paid to Trudeau’s family members, and the $41,000 in travel expenses for Morneau and his family, which the finance minister paid back last week.

Their message to the committee was that it was their history as an organization that earned them the deal, not any political ties. Similarly, the Liberals say they acted on the advice of the non-partisan public service.

The ethics committee is meeting separately to look into the conflict-of-interest safeguards around government spending decisions.

While its members have asked Trudeau to testify there, a Conservative proposal to have cabinet ministers declare whether any of their relatives have ties to WE failed to land the necessary votes.

The Conservatives’ Barrett argued opposing the motion amounted to “complicity in a cover-up,” prompting Liberal MP Greg Fergus to argue the committee shouldn’t be used for a political witch hunt where MPs investigate each other.

Angus, the New Democrat on the committee, cautioned against forging ahead with any probe against MPs or ministers absent a specific reason: ”Fishing expeditions, I believe, are beyond the purview of the committee.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2020.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the commissioner is expanding investigations of both Bill Morneau and Justin Trudeau; however, he is only expanding his investigation of Morneau.

ethics

Just Posted

(Advocate file photo)
Red Deer down to 102 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 332 cases with 26 in hospital and five in ICU

Storm clouds gathered in Mulhurst, Alta., just before noon June 15, 2021. Photo/ Dan Moster.
Areas of County of Wetaskiwin remain under severe thunderstorm watch

Environment Canada has issued a severe thunderstorm watch for areas of the County.

Maskwacis Pride crosswalk (Left to right): Montana First Nation Councillor Reggie Rabbit, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Louise Omeasoo, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Katherine Swampy, Samson Cree Nation Councillor Shannon Buffalo, Samson Cree Nation Chief Vern Saddleback.
Pride in Maskwacis

The 4th inaugural Maskwacis Pride crosswalk painting took place on Saturday June 12th, 2021

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer COVID cases continue to fall

114 cases in Red Deer, down one from Saturday

Manluk Centre/ Impress
Manluk Centre re-opens to the public

Drop in and registered programs will be available; one-third facility capacity to be followed.

People watch a car burn during a riot following game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final in downtown Vancouver, B.C., in this June 15, 2011 photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Howe
10 years ago: Where were you during the 2011 Vancouver Stanley Cup Riots?

Smashed-in storefronts, looting, garbage can fires and overturned cars some of the damage remembered today

A worker, at left, tends to a customer at a cosmetics shop amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday, May 20, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Half of cosmetics sold in Canada, U.S. contain toxic chemicals: study

Researchers tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56% of foundations and eye products, 48% of lip products and 47% of mascaras contained high levels of fluorine

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party of Canada, speaks at a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on June 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul facing no-confidence motion from party brass

move follows months of internal strife and the defection of MP Jenica Atwin to the Liberals

Tulips bloom in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Day two of a full week of scheduled hearings will be heard in Federal Court today on a case involving Indigenous children unnecessarily taken into foster care by what all parties call Canada’s “broken child welfare system.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
AFN slams Ottawa for ‘heartless’ legal challenge of First Nations child compensation

2019 decision awarded $40,000 to each Indigenous child removed before 2006

A health-care worker holds up a sign signalling she needs more COVID-19 vaccines at the ‘hockey hub’ mass vaccination facility at the CAA Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic in Brampton, Ont., on Friday, June 4, 2021. This NHL-sized hockey rink is one of CanadaÕs largest vaccination centres. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
‘Vaxxed to the max’: Feds launch Ask an Expert campaign to encourage COVID shots

Survey shows that confidence in vaccines has risen this spring

Children’s shoes and flowers are shown after being placed outside the Ontario legislature in Toronto on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Ontario commits $10 million to investigate burial sites at residential schools

Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified 12 locations of unmarked burial sites in Ontario

Two hundred and fifteen lights are placed on the lawn outside the Residential School in Kamloops, B.C., Saturday, June, 13, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former Kamloops Indian Residential School earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Days after Kamloops remains discovery, Tk’emlups families gather to unite, move ahead

‘We have to work together because this is going to be setting a precedent for the rest of the country’

In this Saturday, May 29, 2021, file photo, people crowd the Santa Monica Pier in Santa Monica, Calif. California, the first state in America to put in place a coronavirus lockdown, is now turning a page on the pandemic. Most of California’s coronavirus restrictions will disappear Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
With COVID tamed, it’s a ‘grand reopening’ in California

No more state rules on social distancing, no more limits on capacity, no more mandatory masks

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Most Read