The WE Charity – now at the centre of a political firestorm involving the Liberal government – has done “excellent work,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday as he expressed regrets about the controversy.
While speaking in Ottawa, the Prime Minister was asked whether he shares in the responsibility for the hit that WE Charity has taken in recent weeks, including the withdrawal of corporate sponsors. “The situation that has flowed from this is deeply regrettable,” he said. “I am deeply sorry I didn’t recuse myself from the beginning.”
His comments come a day after he testified at the House of Commons finance committee, which is looking into the WE affair.
WE Charity has faced numerous questions, including from opposition MPs, after it was asked by the federal government to roll out a student volunteer program during the pandemic. A contribution agreement of up to $543.5-million for the arrangement has now been cancelled.
The Prime Minister reiterated Friday that instead of recusing himself from cabinet, he “pushed back” on May 8 when he was first told that the public service was putting forward WE Charity as the only option to administer the student program. He said he sought further assurances and that a cabinet decision on the matter was delayed for two weeks.
Earlier this week, Royal Bank of Canada, which has been one of WE’s main sponsors for more than a decade, decided to cut all its ties to the charity less than a week after announcing a review of its partnerships with the organization. Several other major sponsors have also begun to disassociate from WE.
Mr. Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau are both the subject of investigations by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion. They have each apologized for failing to recuse themselves from the cabinet decision to award WE the agreement.
The charity has been “extremely effective” in getting young people to volunteer, Mr. Trudeau said Friday, noting their work in many elementary and high schools across the country.
The Prime Minister did acknowledge that he was aware there would be “perception issues” around awarding the contribution agreement to the charity.
WE Charity has said that since 2016, the Prime Minister’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, has been paid about $312,000 in speaking fees and his brother, Alexandre Trudeau, received about $40,000. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the Prime Minister’s wife, was paid $1,400 for one appearance at an event in 2012.
The organization’s co-founders also said this week that expenses for Ms. Trudeau were around $167,944 over 28 events, $25,326 over seven events for Ms. Grégoire Trudeau and $19,576 over eight events for Alexandre.
The Globe and Mail has a sponsorship partnership with WE Charity. The agreement expires on Aug. 31 and will not be renewed.