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Tories call for answers on WE contract after reports Trudeau’s family was paid speaking fees

Growing scrutiny over WE Charity contract and Trudeau’s judgment
The relationship between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his family, and the WE Charity is under growing scrutiny, after the organization revealed it has paid Trudeau's wife, mother, and brother hundreds of thousands of dollars for their various appearances. As David Akin reports, there are also questions about the fate of the Canada Student Services Grant program.

The Conservative Party is calling for Parliament to be “immediately” recalled and for all documents related to a now-cancelled federal contact with WE Charity be made public, following news that two of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relatives have collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from the WE organization.

“Every single cabinet minister needs to come clean about whether or not they knew that the Prime Minister’s family had a financial relationship with WE Charity when they approved this massive contract,” Michael Barrett, the Conservatives’ ethics critic, wrote in a statement on Thursday.

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“Canadians deserve answers and the Prime Minister and his government must be held accountable.”

Trudeau did not recuse himself from Cabinet decision on WE charity
Trudeau did not recuse himself from Cabinet decision on WE charity

Read more: Trudeau admits he did not recuse himself from WE contract vote

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus called the revelations “extremely damaging.” He criticized the prime minister for not previously disclosing that his mother and brother received money from WE.

“I’m really shocked that nobody in the prime minister’s office pointed out that this would be an obvious problem and that they should have made sure that there was serious vetting done about the kind of money that had been changing hands,” he said.

“And none of that appears to have been done, or they just thought they could get away with it.”

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WE Charity had been selected by the federal government to administer a $900-million federal grant program for students and recent graduates volunteering this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic. The agreement quickly provoked criticism from opposition parties and raised conflict-of-interest questions given the ties the prime minister and his wife have to the WE organization.

Read more: WE charity to stop handling coronavirus student volunteer program after backlash

Global News has confirmed reports first published by Canadaland and CBC News that Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, and brother, Alexandre Trudeau, were paid sizable amounts of money via a speakers’ agency for speaking at WE Charity events in recent years.

The WE organization includes both WE Charity, a registered charitable organization, and a for-profit arm, ME to WE.  According to a statement from WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprises is among the corporate sponsors that have supported the charity’s “We Day” events and covered fees for speakers to participate.

Payments totalling $312,000 were paid to Speakers’ Spotlight for 28 events featuring Margaret Trudeau between 2016 and 2020, according to WE Charity’s statement. The agency took a 20 per cent commission, meaning Margaret Trudeau’s honoraria totalled approximately $250,000, the statement said.

Conservative MP says party won’t force election over WE Charity controversy after contract cancelled
Conservative MP says party won’t force election over WE Charity controversy after contract cancelled

In the 2017-2018 academic, Alexandre Trudeau spoke at eight events, for which Speakers’ Spotlight was paid about $40,000. After accounting for the agency’s commission, the prime minister’s brother received about $32,000 in speaking honoraria in total, WE Charity said.

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The charity’s statement said that an “internal review process” has since brought to light that WE Charity paid about $64,000 directly for “a number”of speeches by Margaret Trudeau, describing the blunder as “an error in billing / payment.”

“For these speeches the charity paid the speakers’ bureau directly, and the charity was reimbursed by ME to WE Social Enterprise for their sponsorship of the speeches,” the statement said.

“This was an error and corrected by accounting. All speeches by Alexander Trudeau were paid by ME to WE Social Enterprise.”

WE Day brings Margaret Trudeau to town
WE Day brings Margaret Trudeau to town

Contacted for comment about the speaking fees, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said that Trudeau’s relatives “engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own.”

“What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students,” a spokesperson for the PMO wrote in an email.

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“The Canada Student Service Grant program is about giving young people opportunities to contribute to their communities, not about benefits to anyone else.”

Read more: Students, groups looking for answers on status of $900M coronavirus grant program

The government’s contract with WE Charity to manage the Canada Student Service Grant program was called off earlier this month amid backlash.

The federal ethics commissioner is probing whether the prime minister violated conflict-of-interest rules in the matter.

Ethics watchdog investigating Trudeau over WE Charity’s $912-million contract
Ethics watchdog investigating Trudeau over WE Charity’s $912-million contract

Trudeau said in late June the non-partisan public service recommended Ottawa outsource the volunteer grant program to WE Charity but admitted on Wednesday the Liberal cabinet made the final decision to award the contract and he didn’t recuse himself from the discussion or the decision-making.

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“I have long worked on youth issues, both before I got into politics and since I’ve been in politics as youth critic,” the prime minister told reporters on Wednesday.

“Getting young people involved in serving their country, recognizing their desire to build a better Canada, particularly due to through this time of crisis, is something that I believe in deeply.”

PM ‘never paid’ by WE, Gregoire Trudeau got $1400 honorarium for 2012 event

Trudeau, who has participated in WE Day events, “has never been paid by WE Charity or ME to WE Social Enterprise for any speeches or other matters,” WE Charity said in a later statement on Thursday.

While the prime minister has said that neither he nor his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau have been paid for their activities with the WE organization, the charity confirmed that Gregoire Trudeau was once paid a $1,400 speaking honorarium for participating “at a youth event” in 2012.

The fee was paid for by Free the Children, which later rebranded as WE Charity, the group clarified when asked by Global News.

Read more: ‘All clear’: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau thanks well-wishers after recovering from COVID-19

Apart from that, Gregoire Trudeau has been reimbursed for expenses, the statement said.

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Gregoire Trudeau currently hosts a WE podcast on well-being and youth mental health, for which she isn’t compensated, WE Charity confirmed. The podcast is commercial-free, the statement added.

Over eight years, Gregoire Trudeau has either spoken or participated in “over a dozen” WE youth events and participated in six WE Day events, according to the charity.

Commentary: Canadians deserve answers on Prime Minister Trudeau’s ties to WE Charity

Barrett said Thursday’s news is “scandalous” and called for the ethics watchdog to “accelerate” his investigation and for the auditor general, procurement ombudsmen and two parliamentary committees to investigate the contract as well.

The House of Commons committee on government operations and estimates is scheduled to meet later Thursday to discuss a request from members to strike a study on the volunteer grant program.

-With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and The Canadian Press