Morneau didn't recuse himself from decision on WE contract, despite daughters' connection to charity
OTTAWA -- Finance Minister Bill Morneau did not recuse himself from the federal cabinet decision to grant WE Charity a contract to deliver a now-halted $900 million COVID-19 student grant program, despite his two daughters having connections to the organization. Now, the NDP are calling for an ethics investigation.
In a statement to CTV News, Morneau’s office said that there is “absolutely no link” between his daughters’ involvements with the charity and “any work that WE does with the Government of Canada.”
The statement confirmed what website Canadaland first reported: that the finance minister’s daughter Clare has spoken at WE events, and his daughter Grace is currently employed by WE Charity.
“Clare has spoken at WE events, as well as many other public events, in the context of the release of her book on young refugee girls. She has never been compensated for that work,” said Maeva Proteau, press secretary for Morneau.
As well, Morneau’s daughter Grace is a “contractual employee of WE in an administrative role in the travel department,” a job she has had since 2019 following her internship, according to Morneau’s office.
“She got this position on her own merits. There is absolutely no link between her employment and any work that WE does with the Government of Canada,” Proteau said.
Proteau confirmed that Morneau did not recuse himself from the discussions about the decision to offload the program meant to administer grants to students and new graduates for their volunteer work this summer.
NDP WANT INVESTIGATION
In light of Morneau’s statement, the New Democrats are calling for Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion to investigate Morneau. In a letter to the commissioner obtained by CTV News, NDP MP and ethics critic Charlie Angus says he thinks the finance minister’s decision to not recuse himself from conversations about outsourcing the program to We Charity merits more scrutiny.
“The Act has clear stipulations that prevent public office holders from making or participating in a decision related to the exercise of an official power, duty or function if the public office holder knows or reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision, he or she would be in a conflict of interest,” writes Angus.
“It would seem apparent that Minister Morneau would recognize that the fact that his family member was an employee of this organization necessitated him to recuse himself regarding this extraordinary decision to outsource nearly billion-dollar commitment of public funds in a single source contract,” Angus writes.
With the program halted, thousands of students are now in limbo without summer jobs and, for now, no chance for volunteer grants to help cover costs like fall tuition. The grant to post-secondary students and recent graduates was set to provide payments that amount to less than minimum wage for volunteering in pandemic-related programs, depending on the number of hours worked. For every 100 hours spent, a student would receive $1,000.
“The recommendation to have WE administer the program came from the public service,” Morneau’s office said.
APPEARED 'TOO CLOSE': LIBERAL MP
With Dion already looking into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ties to WE Charity and his decision to not recuse himself from the contract discussions, the Conservatives are now calling for an RCMP probe, and for a full accounting of what all cabinet ministers knew about the extent of the Trudeau family’s connections to the charities. Trudeau’s wife, mother and brother were paid a range of amounts to speak at WE events over the years.
In an interview on CTV News Channel, Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith said that while he can’t speak for the state of mind either Trudeau or Morneau were in, he was “skeptical” about how the project was announced.
“I was glad to see the government reverse course in response to feedback… The prime minister and the finance minister appeared to me to be too close to this as far as decision-making goes, but ultimately this is in the hands of the ethics commissioner,” he said.