The question Canadians must ask themselves is should we believe the word of Justin Trudeau?
If we accept what he says to be true, it still wouldn’t grant him or his government a pardon from the WE fiasco.
From every possible angle, this was a bad decision - let’s walk through the evidence.
When the Prime Minister recently testified at the Finance Committee, he said he “pushed back” on the WE contribution agreement. We still don’t exactly know what that means.
Multiple Ministers and senior officials have testified at the Finance Committee. Yet, not one of them said the Prime Minister pulled the WE proposal from the May 8th Cabinet meeting and sent it back for further scrutiny.
The Prime Minister chairs the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Agenda, Results and Communications. This is the Cabinet Committee which approves every other Cabinet decision.
As Chair, the Prime Minister is supposed to set the agenda. He reviews what the other Cabinet Committees have decided, and he sets the priorities of his government.
So, when he openly admitted he didn’t know that another Cabinet Committee had already agreed to give WE the money, there is no excuse not to know this information.
The Prime Minister said the first time he heard about the WE agreement was when it ended up on the agenda for the Cabinet Committee (that he supposedly chairs). Evidently, this is a Prime Minister who isn’t into details.
When the Prime Minister and Bill Morneau decided to create the Canada Student Service Grant, they asked their staff to come back with a plan.
This is where things get murky.
First and foremost, the Liberal defence of saying the public service gave them a “binary choice” is bogus. According to him, it was WE or nothing.
It’s a stretch to believe this was the ultimatum he was given.
Chris Alyward, the head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, called out the Prime Minister for his comments. Mr. Alyward said that not only was the Prime Minister factually wrong, it was insulting to the civil service.
Andrew MacDougall, who worked in the previous Conservative government wrote in Macleans, “having read dozens upon dozens of Memorandums to Cabinets, I can’t say I can remember one with a binary choice.”
If we believe the Prime Minister, which is getting more difficult with each passing week, he claims if WE didn’t get the contract to administer the Canada Student Service Grant, it would fail.
If that’s what the public service said, then reveal it.
If the Prime Minister and others are willing to break Cabinet confidence by revealing what discussions took place, then release the document so everyone can see what was contained in the Memorandum to Cabinet.
When Bardish Chagger, the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, appeared at the Finance Committee, she confirmed she signed the Memorandum to Cabinet, which proposed the WE contribution agreement.
She said her staff looked around, came back and said that only WE, and WE alone, could do it.
Rachel Werneck was the departmental official who was tasked with this file. She testified at the Finance Committee and was asked if she spoke to any other organization to see if they could administer the program. She replied she hadn’t.
When she was asked if the department put out a call for proposals to see what other organizations might be interested, she replied they didn’t.
What she did say was on April 19th, she spoke to WE, which happens to be the organization she inevitably recommended. She said she spoke to them “in the context of exploring options”.
It was during this phone call, WE spoke of an unsolicited proposal on “youth social entrepreneurship”, which they were already marketing to Liberal Ministers.
Ms. Wernick went on to say WE sent her their proposal on “youth social entrepreneurship”, which was then edited to fit the Liberals’ idea on the Canada Student Service Grant.
This is the equivalent of changing the language in a resume to fit the requirements in a job posting.
It’s now evident why Ms. Wernick recommended WE.
It was the only organization she spoke with, she sought no other proposals, and she had a written plan in hand.
Now back to Minister Chagger, she stated she didn’t discuss her Memorandum to Cabinet with anyone in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) nor in the Minister of Finance’s Office.
The Rosetta Stone is needed to decipher a few of her answers, as when pointed questions were put to her, there wasn’t a lot of clarity.
She did provide it was both her political and departmental staff who spoke to their counterparts to discuss the details.
While we still don’t know what was discussed, the Finance Committee has begun the process to compel them to hand-over the documents.
If the Liberals had kept their platform promise to make these sorts of emails and documents available through an Access to Information request, no ‘compelling’ would be necessary.
Putting that aside, the question everyone wants to know: was the deal with WE already done before Cabinet even met?
The answer is yes, and the evidence is overwhelming. Let’s examine the timeline.
The Canada Student Service Grant was announced on April 22nd.
Someone from the PMO spoke with WE about their proposal on May 5th.
That same day, WE started charging expenses for administering the program.
Here’s the kicker, Cabinet didn’t approve the proposal until May 22nd.
If the whole point of the Cabinet meeting was to rubber stamp the deal, just admit it.
Because the Liberals refuse to provide any coherent response, it leads us to the next question: Who in the PMO has enough power to tell WE, regardless of what Cabinet Ministers had to say, they were going to get the money?
To answer that question, we must turn to Kate Telford, who is the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister. When she was testifying at the Finance Committee, she was hesitant to reveal who said what and when it was said.
It turns out that it was none other than the Prime Minister’s Director of Policy, Rick Theis who spoke to WE on May 5th.
While Ms. Telford said, “No, I don’t believe so…” in response to a question if Mr. Theis gave WE the go-ahead to start charging expenses before Cabinet met, it is beyond incredulity this was all just a coincidence.
Slowly and surely, we are getting the facts. In the coming weeks, reams of documents and more evidence will be tabled.
We will continue to uncover this boondoggle to get the answers that Canadians deserve and ensure students get the help they were promised by this failed program.