Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau goes before Parliament to face questions on WE Charity scandal, where insists of not knowing anything about a decision to give a sole-sourced deal to administer a $912-million student grant program to the WE Charity until the matter was set to come before his cabinet in early May.
He was asked to come before the House of Commons finance committee for explanation.
“I did absolutely nothing to influence that recommendation. I didn’t even know it had been made until May 8,” Trudeau said in his opening statement to the committee. “When I did, I pushed back.”
“We knew the selection of WE Charity would be closely scrutinized,” he said.
However, Trudeau confirmed that members of the policy team in his office did know about the plan.
“They said if we wanted this program to happen, it had to be through WE Charity,” he said.
“The choice was not between providers. It was between WE Charity and not going ahead at all.”
When NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus asked questions on whether he recognized concerns about a conflict of interest because of the close ties between his family.
“The fact is the Kielburger brothers carefully cultivated their relationship with you and your brand after you became prime minister,” Angus said.
“They put you on the stadium circuit. They hired your family members to the tune of half a million dollars.”
Answering this Prime Minister Trudeau shot back saying Angus was misleading people.
Trudeau said,“This is not something that cabinet selected. Cabinet was presented a choice by our professional public service, saying, ‘if you want to deliver this summer volunteer program it’s going to have to be with this third party organization,’”
“They didn’t give us a choice of two or three different organizations.”
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre accused Trudeau to trying to cast off blame onto bureaucrats.
“It’s time for the prime minister to stop blaming the public service,” Poilievre said. “He is an elected official who is accountable to Canadians.”
When pressed by the Bloc Quebecois’ Réal Fortin, Trudeau said he was not in any conflict of interest but apologized for not stepping aside from the decision because of the appearance it created.
“I was not in a position of conflict of interest,” he said.
“I apologized [for not recusing myself] because of the perception.”
Both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have admitted they did not recuse themselves from cabinet discussions on the decision to give the deal to WE Charity, but should have done so.
This is to remind everyone that Trudeau’s family is closely tied to the WE Charity: his mother, Margaret Trudeau, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the group for attending its fundraising events. His brother, Alexandre (Sacha) Trudeau has also been paid to attend.
“This proposal mattered to me and instead of encouraging it along, as some people say, because it was somehow connected to my family, I actually slowed it down, pushed back on it, to try and make sure that everything was done exactly right,” he said.
“I knew there would be questions asked because of the links to the family.”
The prime minister’s appearance comes two days after the co-founders of WE Charity, Craig and Marc Kielburger, also appeared before the committee.
Both the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois have called on Trudeau and Morneau to resign as a result of the WE Charity controversy.