Members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family were paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for speeches at WE Charity events before the government awarded the organization a now-cancelled contract to run a $900-million program.
WE Charity said on Thursday that the Prime Minister’s wife, mother and brother were each paid to participate in its events. His mother, Margaret Trudeau, received by far the most money, at around $250,000. Most of the payments came from the organization’s for-profit affiliate, ME to WE.
WE Charity said in a statement that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau was paid $1,400 for an event in 2012. While that payment was made before Mr. Trudeau became Prime Minister, the ones to his mother and brother were made while the Liberals were in government.
”The only payment that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has ever received from WE Charity or ME to WE social enterprise was in 2012. It was a one-time speaking honorarium of $1,400 for her participation at a youth event,” the statement from the charity said.
The statement came one day after the Prime Minister’s Office said: “The Prime Minister and his wife have never been paid by WE.”
On Thursday, the PMO did not reply when asked why it gave the wrong information on Wednesday, but it disputed the amount Ms. Grégoire Trudeau was paid, saying it was $1,500.
Mr. Trudeau and his wife regularly participate in the charity’s events. Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is an official ambassador for the charity and hosts a podcast for it.
In June, Mr. Trudeau announced that WE Charity had received a contract to administer the new program to pay students for volunteer work.
After days of controversy over the Prime Minister’s ties to the charity, the federal government and WE last Friday ended the contract. That same day, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said his office would investigate whether Mr. Trudeau had breached the Conflict of Interest Act.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau confirmed his cabinet decided to award the contract to WE, and that he did not recuse himself from the discussion or the final decision. He said the choice of WE was based on the advice of the public service.
The Globe attempted to contact every cabinet minister on Thursday to ask if they were made aware of the payments to Mr. Trudeau’s family when they made the decision.
None of their spokespeople replied.
The charity was to be paid at least $19.5-million to run the program, with $5-million of that going to other organizations.
In Thursday’s statement from WE, the charity said: “Margaret Trudeau had her speaking fees sponsored by ME to WE social enterprise, and was paid via Speakers’ Spotlight [agency].”
Between 2016 and 2020, Margaret Trudeau was paid about $250,000 to speak at about 28 events, the charity said in the statement. That sum was minus the 20 per cent commission the speakers’ agency takes, meaning a total of $312,000 was paid for Margaret Trudeau’s events, the charity said.
“Alexandre Trudeau also spoke at eight events during the 2017-2018 academic year and received a total of approximately $32,000 in speaking honorariums via the Speakers’ Spotlight,” the statement said. Including the 20 per cent commission, about $40,000 was paid for his participation.
According to the charity’s statement “an error in billing/payment” led to WE Charity rather than ME to WE paying for some of Margaret Trudeau’s speeches. “For these speeches, the charity paid the speakers’ bureau directly, and the charity was reimbursed by ME to WE social enterprise for their sponsorship of the speeches,” the statement said.
“The amount paid from the charity to Speakers’ Spotlight was approximately $64,000. This was an error and corrected by accounting. All speeches by Alexandre Trudeau were paid by ME to WE social enterprise,” the statement said.
News of the speaking fees was first reported by Canadaland on Twitter. WE Charity confirmed the details to The Globe. Later on Thursday, Canadaland reported it had obtained invoices showing Margaret Trudeau was paid by Free the Children, the former name of WE Charity.
“The Prime Minister’s relatives engage with a variety of organizations, and support many personal causes on their own accord,” Mr. Trudeau’s spokesperson, Ann-Clara Vaillancourt, said in a statement. “What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students.”
The revelation that the Prime Minister’s immediate family financially benefited from its relationship with WE Charity before the government awarded the contract prompted Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet to call for Mr. Trudeau’s step down temporarily.
“Justin Trudeau must step aside as Prime Minister until the Ethics Commissioner’s investigation is completed,” Mr. Blanchet said in a statement.
In a separate news release, the Bloc Leader said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland could take over.
“The Prime Minister should temporarily hand over the reigns of power to the Deputy Prime Minister, who we would offer to work with,” he said.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said Parliament should be recalled “immediately to get answers and bring accountability.”
“The Prime Minister personally intervened to direct a billion-dollar program to a group that had paid his family almost $300k. Not in Venezuela. Not in Zimbabwe. In Canada,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Prime Minister announced the Canada Student Service Grant in April. The program is aimed at providing grants to students who volunteer over the summer in programs related to COVID-19.
On June 25, the government said it would outsource management of the program to WE. Over the next week, media outlets reported on issues with the arrangement, including that WE planned to pay teachers $12,000 to recruit and manage volunteers, and that WE itself was listed as a potential spot for hundreds of the students.
Volunteer advocates, including Volunteer Canada, also questioned the idea of paying students to volunteer. The grants – $1,000 for each 100 hours of volunteering up to $5,000 – worked out to $10 an hour, which is less than the minimum wage in all provinces.
The Globe and Mail is a media partner of WE Charity.
On Thursday, the House of Commons government operations and estimates committee agreed to launch the second committee investigation into the controversy.
With the unanimous support of the Liberals, the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc, the committee will study the awarding of the contract, prior government contracts with WE, and why the civil service could not administer the program.
The committee will start its hearings after the finance committee has wrapped up its own study this month.
“I have some really deep concerns about the evolving nature of the information that is rolling out and I think that this certainly deserves more scrutiny,” said committee member Matthew Green, an NDP MP.
The WE organization is made up of two main divisions. WE Charity is a registered charity that focuses on development projects and education programs. A separate division called ME to WE is a for-profit private company that sells products and services such as bracelets and trips abroad.
The WE organization says ME to WE donates 90 per cent of its profits to WE Charity, with the rest reinvested in the business.
Charity Intelligence, an independent organization that rates charities based on criteria such as financial transparency, has expressed concern that WE blurs the line between its charity arm – which is legally required to produce public financial reports – and the for-profit company, which is not required to disclose its financial details.
The Globe reported last week that WE Charity’s oversight board experienced a major turnover earlier this year, including the resignation of Canadian board chair Michelle Douglas.
Mr. Trudeau has faced other controversies related to charities and paid speaking events.
The year he became leader in 2013, he was criticized after revealing he had earned more than $1.3-million in public speaking fees since 2006. Of that amount, he said, $277,000 came from 17 groups after he was first elected as an MP in 2008.
Mr. Trudeau said he stopped accepting fees in June, 2012. The groups that paid speaking fees to Mr. Trudeau included charities and other organizations.
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