Editor’s note: This story has been updated to provide additional clarity on the value of the WE Charity contract.
The federal ethics commissioner has announced a probe into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau relating to his government’s now-scrapped $900-million contract with WE Charity.
Ethics critics for both the Conservatives and the NDP had written to Commissioner Mario Dion seeking a review of whether the prime minister contravened the Conflict of Interest Act because of his personal connection with the group.
Trudeau has participated in WE events in the past. His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast on well-being for the organization, and his mother Margaret Trudeau is an ambassador for the charity.
Trudeau has said it was the public service — not him — that chose to partner with WE for the Canada Student Service Grant program. He also stated that the organization was the “best and only” group his government could team up with to administer the program.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s office said it is investigating Trudeau’s conduct under three sections of the act.
One section forbids public office holders from making decisions on matters in which they have a conflict of interest. Another states they must recuse themselves from votes or decisions on matters where they have a conflict. The third section deals with giving preferential treatment to a person or group.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said they would “of course collaborate with the commissioner and answer any questions he may have.”
The government’s deal with WE Charity was announced late last month. The grant program was established to allow recent graduates and students to receive compensation for volunteer work, up to $5,000 for 500 hours, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The program is worth $900 million, and WE Charity was set to receive $19.5 million for administration costs.
But on Friday, it was announced that a mutual decision had been reached to halt the agreement, though the program would still be administered by the federal government.
“The way this situation has unfolded is unfortunate,” Trudeau told reporters Friday. “We will continue to work hard to make sure that young people get the opportunities to serve their country but it will no longer be with the organization WE.”
Trudeau previously faced probes over the SNC-Lavalin affair and his family’s 2016 trip to the Aga Khan’s private island. In both cases, the commissioner found the prime minister had violated ethics rules.
–With files from the Canadian Press