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Margaret Trudeau speaks on stage during the 2018 WE Day Toronto Show at Scotiabank Arena in September.Dominik Magdziak/Getty Images

Liberal MPs pushed back against an attempt by the opposition to launch another probe into the WE Charity controversy, as the Conservatives called for a broader investigation into the issue and asked the Lobbying Commissioner to investigate WE.

The MPs countered a Conservative proposal Friday at the House of Commons ethics committee for a third parliamentary review into the controversy, with Liberal MP Greg Fergus calling it a politically motivated “fishing trip.”

Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan said the committee should wait for Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion’s investigations of the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill Morneau.

“We are not an investigative body,” she said.

The committee voted to adjourn the Friday meeting without deciding on the motion.

During the meeting, the Conservatives announced in a press release that they are asking the Lobbying Commissioner to study whether anyone in the WE Charity should have registered to lobby public office holders, but failed to do so.

The Commissioner’s office confirmed that it received the request for an investigation. It also said organizations like WE Charity must register their communications with federal public office holders when that communication makes up 20 per cent or more of one individual’s work. The Commissioner’s office said the charity would also have to register if communications from various officials cumulatively equated to the same threshold.

In response to the Conservative request, the WE Charity said on Friday that “while WE is confident of its compliance, we welcome the role of the Commissioner of Lobbying in clarifying what is a grey area for many organizations, and will assist her in that regard.”

The Lobbying Commissioner’s office said there are no lobbying registrations logged from WE Charity, its for-profit entity ME to WE, or co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger.

The Conservative request followed testimony from civil servants at Thursday’s House finance committee meeting who said the charity had provided an unsolicited proposal to government to administer the new Canada Student Service Grant and had previously sent another pitch to the federal government for a program of WE’s own design.

The testimony “suggests that the WE organization communicated extensively with senior members of the government, including both public servants and public office holders,” said the letter to Lobbying Commissioner Nancy Bélanger from Conservative MPs Michael Barrett and Pierre Poilievre.

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On Thursday, WE said it “regularly submits proposals for consideration by the government.”

The $900-million contribution agreement it ultimately reached with the government landed WE at the centre of a political controversy for the Trudeau Liberals. It was asked to administer the program, which was set up to pay students for volunteer work during the pandemic, but the agreement has since been cancelled.

Opposition parties say many questions remain, including how the agreement came to be in the first place. WE Charity was to be paid up to $43.5 million to administer the program.

Mr. Poilievre said Friday that Liberal ministers should simply explain what happened.

“The truth is going to come out,” Mr. Poilievre told The Globe and Mail on Friday.

“It appears the government is trying to cover up how this WE program came to exist. I simply don’t believe that nobody has any recollection of who came up with the idea and who set it in motion. … The evidence so far suggests that WE Charity and top Liberals were cooking up this scheme well before the bureaucracy recommended it.”

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger said she was “not directed by the Prime Minister’s Office,” in response to a question about whether she was given a directive to award the contract to WE. She declined to answer whether anyone in her office discussed the matter with the Prime Minister’s Office before it was brought to cabinet.

Last week, WE Charity confirmed that the Prime Minister’s wife, mother and brother were each paid to participate in events.

Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau have both apologized for not recusing themselves from the cabinet decision to award WE the contract. Mr. Morneau’s daughter works at the charity.

“I made a mistake,” Mr. Morneau said at a press conference in Toronto on Friday. “I regret and I apologize sincerely for having made that mistake. I think it’s made our ability to deliver on this program more challenging.”

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus said Friday that deep ties between the Trudeau family and the WE Charity demand greater scrutiny, including why this did not raise red flags inside the PMO.

“It raises the question whether there was an attempt to buy political influence. That, to me, is the issue before us … the financial interests of the Trudeau family and WE have become very convoluted and very connected. That is what we need to clarify.”

Mr. Barrett said that past government ministers have recused themselves to avoid any conflict of interest, including then-prime minister Stephen Harper. Mr. Harper withdrew from a decision that involved a company where his brother worked.

“We don’t need to go back to Plato and we don’t need to practice our Latin to look at very, very recent and relevant examples of why what we’re doing here is essential to preserve public confidence in our institutions,” Mr. Barrett said.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said Friday that she did not speak to anyone at WE, adding that it was not her file to carry.

She also said it was a mistake to have Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau at the cabinet table for the decision but she stood by the decision to award the contract to WE.

“I can assure everyone, and all Canadians, that at cabinet we were very confident that this was the best way forward for students.”

With reports from Bill Curry

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