OTTAWA—A second House of Commons committee is debating whether to probe the aborted deal between the federal government and WE Charity to run a massive student-volunteering program.
WE gave up running the $912-million program amid controversy over hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees the WE organization paid to members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family for appearances at WE events.
Trudeau has said he should have recused himself from the decision but didn’t.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau, one of whose daughters works for an arm of the WE organization, has said the same.
The Tories say the committee needs to understand how well the government’s conflict-of-interest regime works and the WE Charity deal presents a case study.
“Let’s put some sunlight on this,” said Ontario Conservative MP Michael Barrett, his party’s ethics critic, as the meeting began.
According to WE, most of the fees went to Trudeau’s mother Margaret, a mental-health advocate, for events between 2016 and 2020, and Justin Trudeau has never been paid anything.
Quebec Liberal MP Brenda Shanahan argued the ethics committee is not an investigative body. It broadly oversees the work of people such as federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion, she said, but doesn’t do probes itself.
Dion is investigating Trudeau and Morneau in the affair, to determine whether they violated the Conflict of Interest Act.
Shanahan said that’s the way the probe should be carried out.
“Is that really the way we want to go? Investigate everyone publicly? When there are other tools available?” she asked.
Thursday, the Commons finance committee heard from Youth Minister Bardish Chagger and senior public servants about how the arrangement with WE came together after Trudeau announced plans in April for a volunteering program for students who couldn’t find work this summer because of COVID-19.
That committee heard WE pitched the government on a different but related project days before the announcement, and officials saw the group’s connections with young people as vital to making the government’s program work.