- WE Charity “would not have received any financial gain” from a $912-million federal grant and was not put in charge of it because of any relationship with Liberal politicians, but “we regret that we didn’t recognize how this decision would be perceived,” co-founder Craig Kielburger told MPs Tuesday and he and his brother Marc testified to the House finance committee. Here’s a timeline of what we know so far about how that contract was awarded.
- WE Charity’s former chair of the Canadian board of directors, Michelle Douglas, told MPs earlier Tuesday that she quit in March because executives wouldn’t hand over financial documents to explain why it was firing hundreds of staff, and “I could not do my job.” She also said the board’s understanding was that guests at WE Day events were not paid, as the Prime Minister’s wife, mother and brother were over a period of several years.
- On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau will testify to the finance committee, which sitting prime ministers have rarely done, and never before in a controversy of this kind. His chief of staff, Katie Telford, also speaks on Thursday.
Who testified today
A human-rights activist and former public servant, Ms. Douglas was the director of WE Charity’s Canadian board of directors until she resigned in March in a major shakeup of the organization. This past weekend, she told The Globe and Mail she quit due to “concerning developments” that were not part of a routine process, and elaborated on that when she spoke to MPs on Tuesday. Here is the full transcript of her opening statement and the full video of her testimony.
- On her resignation: In her opening statement, Ms. Douglas said WE co-founder Craig Kielburger asked her to resign on March 25, which she did because WE executives hadn’t been handing over documents related to their firing of staff during the pandemic. “I resigned because I could not do my job. I could not discharge my governance duties.” She said the numbers of layoffs changed drastically as executives kept her informed verbally about WE’s situation, and eventually the toll reached 400 employees out of about 1,000.
- On the grant program: Ms. Douglas said she had “no knowledge whatsoever” of the now-cancelled Canada Student Service Grant, which WE was contracted to administer after she resigned.
- On paying for guests: Ms. Douglas said the board’s understanding was that speakers at WE Day events were not paid. Several members of the Prime Minister’s family have received payments for speaking at those events since 2016.
Craig and Marc Kielburger
The Kielburger brothers were teenage anti-child-labour activists when, in the 1990s, they founded a group then called Free the Children. It evolved into WE Charity, an education and international-aid group known for organizing youth events called WE Days. Since April, they’ve been fielding a controversy about how the federal cabinet, including the Prime Minister and ministers with personal and family connections to WE (more on that below), put WE Charity in charge of the Canada Student Service Grant, which would pay young people for volunteering as a form of COVID-19 relief. Here is the full transcript of their opening statement, and full video of their four-hour testimony.
- On why WE got the contract: “We were not chosen for this work because of our relationship with politicians,” but because WE Charity had the experience needed to implement it at the “breakneck speed” required, Craig Kielburger said in his opening remarks.
- On WE’s financial status: Craig Kielburger said it “simply isn’t true” that WE was in “dire financial straits” before getting the student grant contract or that this motivated their actions in accepting it. Asked about Ms. Douglas’s testimony that financial documents were withheld, Marc Kielburger said the Kielburgers were giving “nearly daily briefings” to the board, and disputed Ms. Douglas’s account of a meeting where she said he hung up on the board when asked for financial data.
- On the Trudeaus: Marc Kielburger listed how many times Mr. Trudeau’s family members attended WE Days, and the average expenses involved. For the Prime Minister’s younger brother Alexandre Trudeau, it was eight WE Days over two years (average expenses of $2,447); for his mother Margaret Trudeau, 28 WE Days over five years ($5,998 on average); and for his wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, seven WE Days over three years ($3,618 on average).
Why are these hearings happening?
Since late June – when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced WE Charity would manage the Canada Student Service Grant – he and his colleagues have faced intensifying questions about past interactions between them, their family members and WE Charity, some of which involved money changing hands. Mr. Trudeau’s wife is an official WE ambassador and the host of a WE-branded podcast, and the Prime Minister’s mother and younger brother have accepted speaking fees for events over the past four years. One of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughters has a contract job with WE, and another worked with the group on a volunteer project in a Kenyan refugee camp.
Neither Mr. Trudeau nor Mr. Morneau recused themselves from cabinet’s decision to award WE the student-grant project, and they’ve apologized for that. But if Mr. Trudeau is found to be in a conflict of interest, it could be a breach of the federal Conflict of Interest Act. Ethics commissioners have already found Mr. Trudeau to have broken the act twice before, in the SNC-Lavalin affair and for accepting a free family vacation from the Aga Khan. The current Commissioner, Mario Dion, is looking into Mr. Trudeau in this case too, though not Mr. Morneau.
The House finance committee is where MPs, and in particular the opposition, get to ask key witnesses to explain the facts about WE’s proposals to the government, how cabinet agreed to issue the contract and what compensation WE received. Here is some background reading about the things we’ve already learned.
The political fallout so far
Two federal party leaders, Andrew Scheer of the Conservatives and Yves-François Blanchet of the Bloc Québécois, have so far called on Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau to resign over the WE Charity revelations. If they don’t quit, Mr. Blanchet has threatened a motion to censure the government when full House business resumes in September. The Liberals govern in a minority Parliament where opposition parties have more options to bring them down, but forcing an election in the middle of a pandemic would be complicated and potentially unpopular with voters.
Commentary and analysis
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Kristy Kirkup, Marieke Walsh, Bill Curry and Evan Annett
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