Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing another investigation for conflict of interest after his office awarded WE Charity Canada to manage a $912 million grant program aimed at helping students during the coronavirus pandemic.
There are long-standing ties between the WE organization and the Trudeau family. Trudeau, his mother Margaret, brother Alexandre and wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have all appeared at the group’s many events.
Trudeau, and now his finance minister Bill Morneau, are being looked at for their roles in the affair and the fate of the Canada Student Service Grant remains uncertain.
Here is a timeline of the WE Charity controversy.
April 9: WE Charity sends feds a proposal for youth program
On April 9, WE Charity sent an unsolicited proposal for a youth program to Youth Minister Bardish Chagger and Small Business Minister Mary Ng.
The proposal said it aimed to help up 8,000 students become entrepreneurs, and provide each with $500 and “access to additional incentive funds and long-term mentorship opportunities,” the proposal reads.
The one-year cost ranged between $6 million and $14 million.
WE later called the proposal “distinct and clearly unrelated” to the one the Liberals unveiled for the student grant program.
April 19: Feds’ employment department contacts WE
Rachel Wernick, a senior official with Employment and Social Development Canada, said on April 19 she offered to call WE and explore potential options for a student service program because of the organization’s previous involvement with the department.
She told the committee she called WE co-founder Craig Kielburger, at which time she learned of the charity’s original proposal.
April 22: Feds announce student grant program
Trudeau announced plans for the Canada Student Service Grant on April 22. The grant program is meant to help students struggling to find summer jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the same day, Wernick said Kielburger emailed her an updated WE proposal for a grant.
June 12: WE says it was contacted about student grant on April 23
In a June 12 video chat with youth leaders, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger said he heard from Trudeau’s office on April 23 about the volunteer program.
Marc Kielburger later retracted, saying he misspoke. A public servant had called instead, he said.
June 25: WE Charity grant announced
The federal government officially launched its student service grant on June 25.
The government awarded WE Charity $19.5 million to run the $900-million program, despite the group’s ties to the prime minister and his wife.
Trudeau said the decision to use WE was made by the non-partisan public service, not by him. The prime minister also said there wasn’t a conflict of interest since the WE organization isn’t making a profit on the work and neither he nor his wife is paid for anything they do with the group.
June 28: Conservatives call for investigation
The federal Conservatives called for an investigation in the contract.
In a letter sent to Auditor General Karen Hogan on June 28, the Tories argued that “outsourcing” the Canada Student Service Grant to WE Charity undermined Parliament’s ability to monitor the aid program.
The Conservatives also noted the “well documented” connections between WE and Trudeau.
June 29: Trudeau doubles down on his decision
On June 29, Trudeau defended his decision for choosing WE Charity to run the federal student aid program, saying his government has “extensive practice” working with third parties and charities to deliver programs.
“The WE Charities are evaluated by our public service as being the best and only organization able to deliver on the scale that we need to make sure that young people have service opportunities this summer,” he told reporters at a media conference.
July 3: Grant called off and investigation launched
On July 3, WE gave up the contract amid the controversy about its connections to Trudeau,
Trudeau later said that public servants will administer the student grants instead.
On the same day, federal ethics watchdog Mario Dion said he’s launching an investigation into the federal government and WE Charity grant and that he had notified Trudeau about it.
July 9: Trudeau payment acknowledged
WE Charity confirmed on July 9 that Margaret Trudeau had been paid a total of $312,000 for speaking at 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, was paid $40,000 for eight events in the 2017-18 academic year, according to the charity.
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have regularly participated in WE Charity events, and Gregoire Trudeau hosts a podcast on the charity’s website for which she is not paid. In 2012, she received $1,400 for a single appearance.
The charity said the prime minister never been paid by WE Charity.
On the same day, Trudeau admitted he didn’t recuse himself from the discussion and decision by the Liberal cabinet to approve the contract. Finance Minister Bill Morneau also said did not recuse himself.
Two of Bill Morneau’s daughters, Grace Acan and Clare Morneau, are connected to the group.
Acan is a contract employee for WE, a spokesperson for the minister’s office confirmed. Morneau’s daughter Clare has spoken at three WE Day events.
July 10: Tories ask RCMP to launch criminal probe
On July 10, the Conservatives said it wanted the RCMP to investigate the Liberal government’s decision to award WE Charity the contract.
During a news conference, Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Michael Barrett — the party’s finance and ethics critics — said they believe the payment of those fees raises the issue to a potentially criminal level and represents “sufficient grounds to be investigated by police.”
July 12: Conservatives call on Trudeau, Morneau to testify
On July 12, the Conservatives called on both the prime minister and finance minister to testify before a parliamentary committee on the WE Charity decision.
“We need to hear from him directly on these questions, because only he has the answers, only he knows how this came about and how it came to be.”
July 13: Trudeau and Morneau apologize
On July 13, Trudeau said he “made a mistake” in not recusing himself “immediately” from discussions about the WE Charity grant. Trudeau said he should have done so given his immediate family’s relationship and financial ties to the WE organization.
Hours after Trudeau, Morneau took to Twitter and issued an apology saying he “now” realizes he should have recused himself “in order to avoid any perception of conflict.”
On the same day, WE Charity’s co-founders, released full-page ads in the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star saying they want to “set the record straight.”
Craig and Marc Kielburger told readers they agreed to take on the $900-million student volunteer program “because we have 25 years of experience building youth service programs that are in 7,000 Canadian schools engaging students to support 3,000 plus charities and causes.”
The contract, according to the charity, would reimburse expenses it acquired to deliver the Canada Student Service Grant program, but it “did not provide the charity with a profit.”
July 15: WE Day canceled indefinitely
WE Charity said on July 15 it was cancelling its WE Day activities for the “foreseeable future” to prioritize its international work.
“WE Charity will return to its roots, prioritizing our international development work,” the organization said in a news release. “International development is where we began, and it is where the need for our services is greatest.”
July 16: Investigation launched against Morneau
Dion launched a conflict-of-interest investigation on July 16 into Morneau for his part in selecting a charity.
The ethics commissioner said he was looking into whether Morneau broke rules that prohibit politicians from making, or participating in, decisions that further their personal interests.
On the same day, Chagger told the House of Commons finance committee that Trudeau didn’t order her to make the agreement with WE Charity.
Chagger explained she didn’t personally have conversations with Trudeau or Morneau, or WE itself prior to cabinet approval of the deal.
Wenick, with the Department of Employment and Social Development, also testified that the total amount WE Charity could have received for managing the student grant was $43.53 million (instead of the $19.5 million that was originally reported).
July 17: House of Commons ethics committee begins probe
On July 17, a second House of Commons committee said it will investigate the deal with WE Charity.
Conservatives on the Commons ethics committee said they want copies of all records related to any speaking appearances involving Trudeau, his wife, his mother or his brother.
Quebec Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan argued the ethics committee is not an investigative body. It broadly oversees the work of people such as federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion, she says, but doesn’t do probes itself.
On the same day, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he wasn’t aware of “the particular circumstances” surrounding the connections between some of the prime minister’s immediate relatives and the WE organization.
July 21: Trudeau ‘considers’ testifying
During Question Period, Trudeau said he would consider testifying before a parliamentary committee to face questions about the evolving WE Charity scandal.
July 22: $912-million went to WE Charity Foundation
Global News reported the Trudeau government provided the $912-million student service grant to the WE Charity Foundation and not WE Charity.
In a previous statement, Trudeau said the money would go to WE Charity.
WE Charity and WE Charity Foundation are two different charities.
On the same day, Morneau told the finance committee during an appearance there that he and his wife had made two “significant” donations to WE Charity, each worth roughly $50,000.
He also said he had, earlier in the day, written a cheque to repay $41,000 in expenses he didn’t realize his family incurred during two trips to visit WE Charity facilities in Kenya and Ecuador in 2017.
The admissions prompted calls from the Conservatives for his resignation.
Trudeau also agreed to testify before that same committee.
July 24: Sponsors step away from WE Charity
Major corporate sponsors including Royal Bank of Canada and Virgin Airwaves announced they are reviewing or suspending their relationships with the WE Charity in light of the scandal.
“They don’t want to be associated with a charity that has the whiff of corruption,” said Dirk Matten, Hewlett-Packard chair in corporate social responsibility at the Schulich School of Business.
As well, Scheer announced his party will not try to trigger a confidence vote in the government over the ongoing controversy, saying that the focus is on getting to the bottom of what happened.
July 27: Trudeau, chief of staff scheduled to testify
Trudeau and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, are scheduled to testify before the finance committee on July 30 about their involvement in the scandal.
On the same day, new polling suggested that Trudeau’s approval rating has dropped and that 59 per cent of Canadians say they feel the matter is serious and significant.
That was twice the amount who said it was being blown out of proportion.
Documents filed with the finance committee also revealed that although the student grant program was budgeted to funnel out $912 million to Canadian youth, the actual agreement signed with the WE Charity Foundation only allotted half of that.
WE Charity officials released a copy of that agreement shortly afterwards with their own notations on it which said that the charity has so far been paid roughly $30 million in promised administration fees just on the signing of the deal.
The organization said it was in talks to repay the full amount to the government.
July 28: WE Charity founders testify
Craig and Marc Kielburger testified before the finance committee, and defended what they described as the good intentions behind the sole-sourced contract for their group.
Craig Kielburger also billed the willingness of the group to run the program as “a favour we were doing to be helpful to Canada.” The brothers denied any financial troubles for WE Charity or that the organization would have benefitted financially from the contract.
On the same day, former WE board chair Michelle Douglas also testified, and said she was asked by Craig Kielburger to resign in March after she and other board members asked WE executives to hand over financial documents to justify mass layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I resigned because I could not do my job. I could not discharge my governance duties,” she said. “It was our view that you could not fire hundreds of people without very strong demonstrable evidence and even then should explore mitigation measures to save jobs.”
July 30: Trudeau, chief of staff testify
Trudeau told the finance committee that he didn’t know anything about the decision to give the deal to the WE Charity until the matter was set to come before his cabinet in early May. He said when he learned of the plan, he had the proposal pulled back from the cabinet agenda and asked for more due diligence to be done, because he knew giving the deal to the charity might prompt questions given the close ties his family has with it.
The prime minister defended what he described as a focus on getting money out the door as quickly as possible to Canadians in the midst of the emergency response to the coronavirus crisis.
Telford was also questioned why the government moved forward with WE Charity despite flagging the recommendation on May 8 for additional review.
She said given the ethics commissioner had previously cleared the work that Sophie Gregoire Trudeau was doing with the group — hosting a podcast and having travel expenses reimbursed for speaking engagements with them — she and Trudeau believed moving forward would not be a conflict.
“You have heard the Prime Minister say that he has regrets about not recusing himself. I have regrets about that too. Obviously this didn’t happen as we intended to, and this is not what we had envisioned, and I share in that responsibility,” she said.
— With files from Global News, Reuters and the Canadian Press