Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Finance Minister Bill Morneau should “not have accepted” the gifted portions of his family’s trips with WE Charity.
Trudeau, speaking at a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, was referring to the fact that WE Charity paid in part for two trips that members of Morneau’s family took in 2017 — one of which Morneau himself took part in.
Morneau has apologized for the “error” and said it was his full intention to cover the full cost of the trips — though he only last week repaid the $41,000 the charity had initially covered related to the trips to Kenya and Ecuador.
“As Mr. Morneau himself highlighted, he apologized and he should not have accepted the elements of that, that were gifts,” Trudeau said Friday.
Trudeau said in the press conference that “obviously” there are “questions” for Morneau, though the prime minister quickly followed that statement up by asserting the finance minister had “already addressed” them.
Trudeau also defended Morneau’s intentions in going on the trip.
“The idea that someone on their personal vacation would choose to support a good cause or get involved in helping make the world a better place is not something that we should reject or turn away from,” Trudeau said.
Despite Trudeau’s assertions, Morneau’s decision to take the trip is part of what landed both the prime minister and the finance minister in hot water over the decision to grant WE Charity a now-cancelled contract to deliver $543 million of an up-to $912 million grant. The ethics commissioner is now investigating both men for their decisions not to recuse themselves from talks about the contract, given their family ties to WE Charity — including the two trips that Morneau’s family took part in.
Trudeau’s mother, brother and wife have all been paid for their involvement in WE Charity events, while the finance minister’s daughter Clare has spoken at WE events, and his daughter Grace is currently employed by WE Charity.
Both men have apologized for not recusing themselves from the discussions. Trudeau has insisted that he was not in a position of conflict during the conversations about the grant — but rather, a perception of conflict.
“The concerns about the personal connections my family had were all around perception,” Trudeau said on Friday.
He went on to say that “delivering a grant program to students who volunteer across the country has absolutely nothing to do with any work my brother or mother did with WE, and that’s why there was no conflict of interest.”
The prime minister said he expressed concern about the choice of WE Charity when he first learned of it. He said he was worried about a perception of conflict, and as a result asked the public service to “put the brakes on” to ensure the organization really was the only one that could have delivered the program.
“I wanted to push back and really make sure that everyone could say without a shadow of a doubt that this was…the way to deliver the program recommended by our outstanding and professional public servants,” Trudeau said.
Still, some other organizations have pushed back on the idea that WE Charity was the only one that could deliver the student grant. Many of the groups that appeared on a government list of organizations it considered to deliver the program say they were never contacted about the student grant specifically, and at least one — YMCA Canada — says they could have delivered the program.
Peter Dinsdale, president and CEO of YMCA Canada, told CTV News in a Monday interview that his organization “absolutely” would have been capable of administering the program. However, he noted that COVID-19 has presented new challenges for YMCA Canada.
“It would have been tough given the state of YMCAs across the country, given the impact of COVID — really fighting for basic survival,” Dinsdale said.
“In normal times, (this) 100 per cent would have been something we could have done.”
Meanwhile, as the controversy continues, opposition MPs are calling for someone to be held accountable. Both the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois have called on Trudeau and Morneau to resign as a result of the WE Charity controversy.