Why did the Ethics Commissioner launch two separate investigations into the actions of Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau?
The short answer is, there is enough evidence to suggest they may have broken the law.
They should have recused themselves from awarding the WE Foundation millions of dollars, when they both have family connections to the organization.
In Canada, having the right last name doesn’t exclude you from following the law. No one is above the law.
However noble your intentions or dedication to making sure students’ “dreams weren’t derailed” (actual quote), there are rules and you must follow them.
To those who hold the highest offices of the land, voters have given you a tremendous amount of power and influence.
We know governments are going to make mistakes. That’s a given. But at the very least, we expect you to conduct yourself and your affairs accordingly.
The Prime Minister has now admitted he knew about the perceived conflict of interest but remained part of the decision-making process.
This is a head-scratcher.
How does someone knowingly push ahead when they themselves admit there was a perceived conflict of interest?
Moreover, when does he start to worry if people stop listening to his apologies?
There are obligations under the Conflict of Interest Act, these two gentlemen forgot or didn’t care to adhere to.
The evidence is quite clear, even to the casual political observer, both Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau should have recused themselves.
This isn’t about the Prime Minister being friends with the Kielburger brothers, after denying he was, while forgetting he previously said those exact words.
Or Marc Kielburger telling people he got a call from the Prime Minister’s Office, asking WE to implement the program, which Marc now says he misspoke because he was excited and the call never happened.
No, this is because of the Conflict of Interest Act, which was written to minimize the conflicts arising between the private interests and public duties of public office holders.
As we all know, the Prime Minister’s brother and mother were paid hundreds thousands of dollars by WE.
No one would have known about any of this if a whistleblower from inside the WE organization didn’t leak out the paperwork that showed they were paid.
Without that whistleblower, we would still all be in the dark.
Let’s not forget, WE started to pay members of the Trudeau family only after Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015. Make of that what you will.
The Kielburgers now say Margaret Trudeau wasn’t paid to speak at WE Days, even though the invoice issued by the agency she uses for arranging her engagements said it was for “speaking fees.”
Who can blame people for thinking she got paid for speaking at WE Days?
The brothers wanted the Finance Committee to know Margaret Trudeau got paid for going to “events to raise awareness” and to “help with donations”.
Does it really make a difference why she got paid? Not one iota.
She was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend their auxiliary events that are connected to WE Days.
As the Kielburger brothers said, it’s an “honour” for speakers to share their message with young people during WE Days and they don’t need to be paid to attend. Margaret Trudeau just needed to be paid to attend their cocktail receptions and fundraising breakfasts.
When the brothers presented this information to the committee, they had the tone that somehow this made the arrangement easier to swallow. Or somehow it absolved them.
It was as if they thought it provided them an opportunity to poke holes in the credibility of the questions being lobbed at them, regardless if they were to blame for the confusion in the first place.
Irrespective of how much Margaret Trudeau got paid from WE to be at their fundraising events, it is a moot point. The Prime Minister was obligated to remove himself from this conflict of interest.
Now, Bill Morneau is under a formal ethics investigation for a few reasons.
The first is his daughter works for WE. This conflict of interest is straight forward.
The second, there were two trips organized by WE, which he had not fully reimbursed them the costs. The one trip was to Kenya and the other to Ecuador.
On the eve of his committee appearance, Morneau wrote WE a cheque for $41,366, as it is illegal for a Minister to accept such a benefit.
The third reason is his family accepted travel from WE on a non-commercial chartered or private aircraft, which is direct contravention of Section 12 of Conflict of Interest Act.
We expect Trudeau Report III, the WE affair, to be released sometime around Christmas. The report will be thorough and detailed as were the previous ethics investigations.
Now there is a lot of debate about the consequences levied at those who are found guilty of breaking the Conflict of Interest Act.
There was a specific pledge in the 2019 Conservative Platform to dramatically increase the penalties. However, for the purposes of keeping this focused on the ongoing investigations, we will speak about that another day.
In the next post, it will focus on why the Liberal chose WE to administer the Canada Student Service Grant and give them a sizable contribution agreement to carry it out.