Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says the defence offered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before a parliamentary committee studying his actions in the WE Charity scandal remains marred by a “pretty big hole” over Trudeau’s admission he knew his family’s ties to the group would be scrutinized.
In an interview with The West Block guest host Farah Nasser, Scheer said the Conservatives don’t buy the argument offered by Trudeau at the House of Commons finance committee.
In that testimony, Trudeau said he paused a proposal to give the WE Charity a sole-sourced deal to administer a student grant program in part because he believed his family’s ties would raise questions — but still did not seek an opinion from the ethics commissioner before failing to recuse himself.
“What we heard on Thursday just raises more questions,” said Scheer.
“If the prime minister would have us believe that he was concerned enough about the conflict of interest to push back on the public service but not to check with the ethics commissioner — well, that’s a pretty big hole in his defense.”
However, Scheer suggested he has no plans to try to force an election and instead wants the government to “come clean” and release more documents detailing how the determination was made that the WE Charity was the only group capable of running the student grant program.
That’s been the explanation offered by multiple top officials during the finance committee hearings over recent weeks, citing the determinations made by the public service.
Scheer said he has been clear he will resign once the Conservative party elects a new leader.
Voting by mail has been taking place for weeks given the coronavirus pandemic restrictions and the party says it will announce the results in late August.
Nasser asked Scheer what advice he would give to his successor and whether he believes the party needs to do a better job of recruiting Black, Indigenous and people of colour to run as candidates.
“Well, obviously, when you don’t win an election, you have to go back and look and see how you can appeal to more Canadians. We were able to build on a lot of success,” Scheer said, pointing to the increase in seats compared to when he took over the leadership.
“We always have to look at how we can attract more people to the Conservative message. I believe that the Conservative message of individual freedom, personal choice, individual responsibility, love for our country, appreciation of our history and our belief in free-market principles, that’s what creates prosperity in this country.”
“You didn’t answer my question,” Nasser pushed back. “Do you think, though, that we need to see more diversity within your party? And I’ll push out of it further — do you think systemic racism exists within your own party?”
“Look, our party believes in the fundamental worth of all human beings, regardless of their race, regardless of their ethnicity,” Scheer said. “As I said, we always have to do a better job to reach out to a broader section of Canadians.”
“We had a great set of diverse candidates representing every single walk of life in this country. We had members of so many different types of backgrounds,” he continued.
“It was great to be a leader during a campaign where we had that kind of diversity among our candidates. We did a great job of showing Canadians that we are a tolerant, inclusive party with a message that appeals to everybody.”
The Conservative Party has faced criticism that some of its rhetoric around irregular migration is racist and that officials in the party are not doing enough to root out racism, particularly anti-Muslim views.
Scheer insisted last year that there is “no room for intolerance, racism or extremism” in the party.
But Conservative leadership candidates vying to replace Scheer were divided during their English language debate on June 18 about how to tackle systemic racism.
Peter MacKay and Leslyn Lewis both acknowledged systemic racism is real while Derek Sloan and Erin O’Toole were less clear — O’Toole would not use the word and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it exists.
Canada is among the many countries in the midst of a national conversation about the need to dismantle systemic racism in the wake of global anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black American man, during an arrest by police in Minneapolis.
The cop arresting him –who has since been fired– knelt on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, and has been charged in connection with the death, along with three other officers alleged to have been involved.
–With files from Global’s Sean Boynton.