Ethics Commissioner Expands Probe of Morneau on Eve of PMs WE Testimony

OTTAWA—Federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion is widening his investigation of Finance Minister Bill Morneaus dealings with WE Charity.

Dion was already investigating Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for possible violations of the Conflict of Interest Act for not recusing themselves during cabinet discussions about an agreement to have WE Charity run a federal volunteering program for students who couldnt find work in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both have apologized for not doing so.

Morneaus problems grew bigger Wednesday over his repayment of $41,000 in WE-sponsored travel expenses for family trips three years ago, with Dion telling the opposition parties he would look into that potential ethics violation.

Rules prohibit ministers or their families from accepting free travel, lest it be seen as buying influence in government policy.

In letters released by NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus and Conservative critic Michael Barrett, responding to their complaints, the commissioner wrote he will look into whether Morneau ran afoul of that rule and a separate one for “failing to disclose these gifts” that could lead to a fine, albeit not a large one.

For Trudeau, the issues stem from speaking fees and related expense reimbursements the WE organization paid to his mother, brother, and wife, amounting to over $500,000 based on testimony the charitys co-founders provided to the House of Commons finance committee Tuesday.

During an afternoon news conference Wednesday, Conservatives said the new numbers related to the travel expenses also demand an additional investigation by Dion to see if the payments violate conflict-of-interest rules.

Dion rejected a call from the Tories to look into whether Morneau has failed to publicly declare previous recusals from cabinet decisions, saying they offered him no reasonable grounds to believe that had happened.

It all landed on the eve of Trudeaus own appearance at the Commons finance committee about the events that led to his cabinet to ask WE Charity to oversee a program that provides grants to students and graduates for volunteering if they couldnt find work this summer due to the pandemic-related economic slowdown.

His chief of staff, Katie Telford, is also to appear.

The two were originally scheduled to appear separately for one hour each, but opposition MPs on the finance committee voted Wednesday evening to have Trudeau appear for at least three hours and Telford for at least two—each of them alone.

The partisan barbs and rhetoric on display Wednesday set the stage for a potentially contentious and rare prime ministerial appearance.

“We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said in Ottawa.

He warned the Opposition would look to pry more testimony out of Trudeau this fall if he didnt provide detailed answers.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he wanted Trudeau to explain why the Liberals opted to have the charity run a service program when there were other, potentially easier, avenues to help financially strapped students.

He cited increasing student grants or putting more money into the Canada Summer Jobs program as examples.

“This was never about helping students,” Singh said Wednesday in Burnaby, B.C.

“This was about helping close friends of the Liberal government and of Prime Minister Trudeau and that is deeply troubling.”

The Liberals budgeted $912 million for the student-volunteer program, but only agreed to pay a maximum of $543 million to WE. That included about $43.5 million in administration fees to the group, with the remainder to be spent on the grants.

The program is to pay eligible students and graduates $1,000 for every 100 hours of volunteering, up to a maximum of $5,000. The government has yet to roll it out nearly a Read More – Source