Opposition MPs win votes for documents, special committee meetings to probe WE Charity deal

Opposition parties aren’t letting up in their battle to shine light on every aspect of the federal government’s dealings with WE Charity — compelling a Commons committee to produce a trove of documents and hold special meetings on the issue later this month. 

Earlier today at the House of Commons finance committee, opposition MPs passed two motions designed to elicit more information about the federal government decision to task the WE Charity — which has ties to Trudeau’s family — with administering a $900-million summer student grant program. That deal was cancelled earlier this month following uproar. 

In the minority Parliament, the Liberals do not have the numbers to prevent motions from being passed by the opposition parties at Commons committees. 

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre’s successful motion called for “no less than four meetings for a duration of three hours each” to take place this month that will “examine how much the government spent in awarding the $912 million sole-source contract to WE Charity.”

The motion also calls for at least four witnesses to give testimony including: Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger as well as a senior deputy minister from Employment and Social Development Canada and a representative from Volunteer Canada to appear. 

A separate motion from NDP MP Peter Julian doesn’t call for special meetings or witnesses but it does demand all documents, memos, briefing notes, correspondence and other documents related to the federal government’s deal with WE Charity to be delivered to the committee by Aug. 8. 

Julian’s motion also calls for all “matters of cabinet confidence and national security to be excluded” from the request and any redactions for privacy to be “made by the Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel of the House of Commons.”

Under fire over WE Charity partnership

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government have been under fire since announcing the program and the contract with WE Charity late last month because of the charity’s association with the Trudeau family.

Trudeau and his mother, Margaret, have appeared at a number of WE Day events, while Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast for the group called “WE Well-being.”

WATCH | Federal government ends partnership with WE organization to distribute student grants:

The federal government is ending a partnership with the WE Charity that would have seen $900 million in federal student grants distributed this summer. However, the foregone partnership has now sparked an investigation by the ethics watchdog. 2:01

WE Charity has said that members of the Trudeau family don’t receive fees or honoraria when they appear at WE events, but Grégoire Trudeau has been reimbursed for travel expenses related to her volunteer work with the organization.

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion last week said he would be conducting an investigation into Trudeau’s role in the deal, which has since been cancelled.

Ethics investigation

Dion announced his probe after Conservative MP Michael Barrett and NDP MP Charlie Angus separately wrote his office asking him to examine the prime minister’s conduct in relation to the deal.

Trudeau is being investigated under subsection 6(1) of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Act, which prohibits public office holders from making decisions that further their own private interests or the interests of another person.

Trudeau also is being investigated under sections 7 and 21 of the act, which relate to giving someone preferential treatment and failure to recuse from a conflict of interest.

The WE Charity was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995. The Canada Student Service Grant program it was formerly tasked with administering provides eligible students with up to $5,000 for volunteer work.

The grants are intended to help students cover the cost of post-secondary education in the fall. The amount of the grant depends on how much time a student spends doing volunteer work.

Bankruptcy rates decline during pandemic

The Commons finance committee on Tuesday also heard from Judith Robertson, the commissioner of the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada and Elisabeth Lang, the superintendent at the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy.

Both officials answered questions about the number of bankruptcies Canada has experienced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Similar to other countries, bankruptcies have significantly declined during the pandemic, they said. 

Lang said that in 2019, insolvency filings took place at a rate of 4.64 filings per 1000 adults, a level that has remained pretty much constant since 2011. 

Robertson and Lang attributed the decline to government financial supports that have helped to float the economy during the shut down and to the flexibility of lenders who they say have decided to give clients leeway or work out payment schedules that allow individuals and businesses to survive into the recovery period.

Both Robertson and Lang, however, warned that because bankruptcy rates are a lagging indicator, they do not provide much insight on where the economy is headed, just where it has been.

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