Opposition demands answers on WE as Trudeau skips question period
OTTAWA – The Liberal government came under fire from opposition parties over the WE scandal as Parliament resumed Monday, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not in the House of Commons to answer questions.
The prime minister was instead taking a “personal,” according to his itinerary.
“The prime minister could have picked any day to summon Members of Parliament back to work,” Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, said in the House. “Why is the prime minister taking a personal day?”
Speaking on background, sources indicated the prime minister’s schedule had been set in advance of the agreement to have Parliament return Monday, it was initially not planned to return until Wednesday.
Unlike his predecessor, Trudeau issues a daily itinerary and the notice for Tuesday indicated he would be in the House for question period.
In the House, Scheer attacked the Liberals for their handling of the WE affair, saying, “It’s either corruption or incompetence, which is it?”
WE Charity is the subject of two House committee investigations, as well as a review by the ethics commissioner.
The Liberals gave the charity a sole-sourced agreement to oversee a $900 million volunteer grant program, despite clear conflicts of interest concerning the families of both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
· The Gospel of WE, the legend of the Kielburgers and their secularly sacred movement
· Scheer says Liberals' choice to give WE contract was 'corruption or incompetence'
WE was supposed to administer the program, help recruit students and find them volunteer placements and was set to be paid as much as $43.5 million. Students would have been able to receive grants of up to $5,000 for volunteering. When it came to light the charity had also paid Trudeau’s wife, mother and brother more than $300,000 in total fees the government and the charity backed away from the arrangement.
It was later revealed Morneau has a daughter who works for the WE organization.
Conservatives have been pushing for Trudeau to testify before the Commons’ finance committee and Scheer demanded he reveal when he would appear.
“This isn’t a plot line in a Soprano’s episode Mr. Speaker. This is the prime minister’s current scandal,” he said. “Will the prime minister show up at committee and testify?”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was happy to stand in for Trudeau and, along with other Liberal ministers, emphasized that to get the volunteer grant program off the ground quickly, the public service had suggested using WE Charity.
“The non-partisan public service recommended this structure as the only way to administer this process,” said Freeland repeatedly.
She also said it was clear the government had failed in the way it rolled out the program.
“The way this unfolded was regrettable and the charity will no longer be administering the project.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said the government could have used the summer jobs programs, or other initiatives, but instead chose to help out an organization with close ties to the Liberal party.
“There were lots of ways to get help for students, this was not it. It was a $1 billion bailout of close friends of the Liberal party and the prime minister.”
Singh said throughout the pandemic the government had been too slow to respond to the needs of students, seniors and other disadvantaged people, but they were happy to jump in and help WE.
“People who needed help were told again and again they had to wait, but when close friends of the Liberal government and the prime minister needed help they jumped in with a billion dollar bailout.”
Freeland said the government was aware that young people lost out in an economic decline and they were determined to get them help quickly.
“We acted swiftly to support young Canadians,” she said.
Last week, Trudeau apologized for his involvement in the process and said he was wrong not to recuse himself when the proposal came before Cabinet. Morneau also said he should have recused himself from the discussions.
• Email: email@example.com | Twitter: ryantumilty