Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for WE Charity prior to the Liberals forming government.
Through their work with a group called Artbound, Mr. O’Regan and Ms. Telford were involved in raising $400,000 for WE Charity, then called Free the Children, in 2010 and 2011, according to Amanda Alvaro, one of Artbound’s founders, and a close friend of Ms. Telford.
The 2010 press release announcing the launch of Artbound described it as a “nonprofit volunteer initiative in support of Free The Children.” Mr. O’Regan, then a host with CTV, was its honorary chair. Ms. Alvaro said Ms. Telford is a co-founder of the organization and her work with the group ended after 2012.
Mr. O’Regan also travelled with Artbound to Kenya in 2011 to help build an arts school that would then be managed by WE Charity. His office said he paid for the trip.
The two were both involved in the decision to award the charity a now-cancelled contract to administer a new $900-million program to pay students for volunteer work. The Prime Minister’s Office said Ms. Telford did not recuse herself from discussions about the contract and Mr. O’Regan’s office said he did not recuse himself from the cabinet decision.
Artbound was founded with a mandate to “help create sustainable change in developing countries through the arts,” according to the press release. Ms. Alvaro said the group has evolved to also raise funds for other charities. It became a registered charitable foundation in 2015, according to the CRA.
Artbound raised money through events like ‘The pARTy,’ which was attended in 2010 by Mr. O’Regan, Ms. Telford, and WE Charity co-founder Craig Kielburger.
“I am tremendously proud of what we have created with volunteer-led Artbound and I saw firsthand how Free the Children changed lives,” Ms. Alvaro said.
Ms. Telford helped establish Artbound and developed the group’s mandate and how it could contribute, Ms. Alvaro said. But she added that Ms. Telford played a more peripheral role to herself and another founder who took on leadership roles.
“None of us had a personal tie to the Kielburgers,” Ms. Alvaro said, in reference to Craig and his brother, Marc Kielburger, who together founded WE Charity.
The Globe and Mail is a media partner of WE Charity.
In a statement, Mr. O’Regan’s office emphasized that he was working with Artbound, rather than directly with WE Charity.
“Minister O’Regan was not paid. Note that Artbound and WE (previously Free the Children) were separate organizations,” spokesperson Ian Cameron said.
Mr. Cameron said the minister has not been involved with Artbound since he entered politics. Mr. O’Regan announced that he would seek the Liberal nomination in the Newfoundland riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl in August, 2014.
Both Ms. Telford and Mr. O’Regan are subject to the Conflict of Interest Act. It requires public office holders to recuse themselves from “any discussion, decision, debate or vote” that would put them in a conflict of interest.
The act says “a public office holder is in a conflict of interest when he or she exercises an official power, duty or function that provides an opportunity to further his or her private interests or those of his or her relatives or friends or to improperly further another person’s private interests.”
The connections between Mr. Trudeau’s most senior adviser and one of his cabinet ministers, and close friends, follows several other ties between the Liberals and WE Charity over the past decade. On Friday, The Globe reported that Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his family also travelled with the charity in 2017. And one of his daughters works for the charity.
And contrary to previous statements made to The Globe and online news outlet Canadaland, it emerged last week that members of Mr. Trudeau’s family were paid for their participation in WE Charity events.
His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, was paid $1,400 in 2012, according to the charity, his mother, Margaret Trudeau, was paid approximately $250,000 between 2016 and 2020 and his brother, Alexandre Trudeau, was paid about $32,000 between 2017 and 2018.
Neither Mr. Morneau nor Mr. Trudeau recused themselves from the decision to award WE Charity a contract to administer the $900-million program.
WE Charity was to be paid at least $19.5-million, with $5-million of that going to other organizations.
In a rare move, Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said the Tories will add Mr. Trudeau to the witness list for the House of Commons finance committee’s study of the controversy.
Mr. Poilievre said the Prime Minister will be part of the set number of witnesses that the Conservatives are allowed to call for the meetings. If Mr. Trudeau rejects the invitation, he said he will put forward a motion to try to compel Mr. Trudeau to testify.
“We hope that the Prime Minister will say that he has nothing to hide and just accept the invitation that I will put before the committee,” Mr. Poilievre said.
The Prime Minister’s Office said Sunday that it wouldn’t comment on Mr. Poilievre’s invitation to Mr. Trudeau.
Mr. Poilievre said he would also call Mr. Morneau as a witness.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is investigating whether Mr. Trudeau breached the Conflict of Interest Act. The NDP and Conservatives have also asked Mr. Dion to investigate Mr. Morneau.
The Globe asked all other cabinet ministers on Saturday whether they have any previous or current connections with WE Charity, Free the Children, or with ME to WE, the charity’s for-profit affiliate organization.
As of Sunday night, seven ministers did not reply to the request for comment. The offices for Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson were among them.
Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna’s office declined to answer the Globe’s specific questions, including detailing what work she has done with the charity or ME to WE, but spokesman Bruce Cheadle said, “Minister McKenna has never been paid for any work with the charity.”
Most minister’s offices said their ministers had no connection with the charity or its affiliate.
The spokespeople for ministers Bardish Chagger, Marc Garneau, Karina Gould, David Lametti, Joyce Murray and Carla Qualtrough said their ministers have spoken at or attended a WE event but have never been compensated for their appearances and have no other connections with the organization.
International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s office said she hasn’t attended WE Charity events since her election in 2017. But spokesperson Ryan Nearing said it’s possible that some of the charitable events she attended prior to that had affiliations with WE. For example, she attended some Artbound events and paid for her own tickets.
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