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COMMENTARY: Another apology is done. Now it’s time for Prime Minister Trudeau to testify

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself over WE Charity talks
WATCH: (July 13, 2020) After much controversy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologized for not recusing himself from the federal government's talks with the WE Charity over a $912 million contract. Abigail Bimman has reaction, and looks at how WE is making statements of its own.

It’s another ethics violation probe and another apology from Justin Trudeau in what’s becoming a disturbing pattern for this particular prime minister.

But as Canadians digest Trudeau’s latest mea culpa in the WE Charity scandal, they should ask whether Trudeau is apologizing because he’s genuinely sorry for mishandling a multi-million contract that was awarded to an organization with ties to his own family, or whether he is just sorry that he got caught.

If that sounds harsh, consider the timeline here.

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Last week, when Trudeau was first asked if he had recused himself from any cabinet consideration of the lucrative student-grant contract given to WE Charity, he offered a defiant “no” and then proceeded to talk about how deeply he cares about helping young Canadians.

Read more: Trudeau, Morneau apologize for not recusing themselves from WE contract talks

He wasn’t sorry then. But the story changed drastically the very next day with revelations that Trudeau’s mother and brother banked hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to appear at WE Charity events.

So now the grovelling begins, and Trudeau and the Liberals hope this is another wet-firecracker scandal that fizzles out and goes away.

Just a few problems with that. The main one is this malodorous affair, unlike the complicated SNC-Lavalin scandal before it, is fairly straightforward and easy for Canadians to understand.

Trudeau’s family ties to WE Charity and its charismatic founders — brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger — go back many years.

Read more: WE Charity tries to ‘set record straight’ over contract in full-page newspaper ads

When news first broke that the Trudeau government had hired the organization to distribute $900 million in federal student grants this summer, questions were immediately raised about the organization’s links to the Trudeau family.

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WE Charity issued a statement in June insisting it had “never paid an honourarium” to Trudeau or his mother, Margaret Trudeau.

That denial was repeated for weeks by major news organizations until the bombshell revelation that “ME to WE Social Enterprise,” a related for-profit spin-off company founded by the Kielburgers, had paid most of the speaking fees to Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre “Sacha” Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother.

WE Charity also admitted some payments to the Trudeaus were made directly by the organization and apologized for the “error.”

Now Canadians are left to wonder whether Justin Trudeau would have ever got around to apologizing if this dubious money web had not been untangled.

Read more: Recall ethics committee to probe Trudeau family’s WE Charity ties, opposition says

There’s also the pressing question of why the government hired WE Charity in the first place.

The government already has an experienced, professional branch of the bureaucracy that oversees the successful Canada Summer Jobs program that has found work for 70,000 students.

The program has a tried-and-tested charitable component, paying 100 per cent wage subsidies for young Canadians to work for charities and non-profits.

In other words, there was no apparent or compelling reason for the government to hire an outside organization to do work the government itself was already capable of doing.

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Trudeau’s answer to all this? He says the decision to hire WE Charity was recommended by the government’s professional civil service.

But exactly who made the recommendation, and why? And what role did the Prime Minister’s Office play?

Those are just some of the questions that must now be answered. Canadians deserve to know the full story of what happened here.

And now that Trudeau has apologized — again — he could start making amends by ordering all government and political officials to co-operate fully with any and all investigations.

That includes the ongoing probe by Canada’s independent ethics commissioner, and any inquiries launched at the committee level by opposition MPs in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives have already announced that Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (whose daughter works for WE Charity) will both be called as witnesses at finance committee hearings on the matter.

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Whether Trudeau agrees to testify is another matter. He should, otherwise his apology after getting caught will look even weaker than it does now.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.