The Morning Brief – 07.23.20

By Bruce Carson

NATIONAL ISSUES

WE Charity—Morneau solidifies his ties to the charity

Surely Someone Knows where the idea of the Canada Student Service Grant Originated

Waiting for Next Week—Kielburger Brothers, Trudeau and Telford before the House Finance Committee

There is a saying in sports applicable when an unexpected result or upset occurs and it’s “that’s why they play the game.” Applicable to sports, it also seems to be applicable to House of Commons committee hearings as well; one never knows what might happen when a meeting is held.

Yesterday, at a meeting of the House Finance Committee ostensibly to shed more light on the genesis of the Canada Student Service Grant program and the possible role the Finance Minister in that development, it was thrown off track at the beginning by revelations from Finance Minister Morneau.

Events of the last few years have shown that there are close ties between the WE Charity and its founders the Kielburger brothers with the prime minister and his family, but the ties between WE and the Morneau family were largely confined to jobs for the kids.

Yesterday as the committee meeting got underway Morneau revealing that he had just repaid to WE expenses from two trips; one to Kenya and the other to Ecuador in 2017.  The amount was $41,366 which involved hospitality and accommodation provided by WE while Morneau or members of the family visited WE work sites in these two countries.

Morneau also told committee members about two $50,000 donations to WE from Morneau, the first in April, 2018 and the latter in June 2020.

He also informed committee members that he had notified the Ethics Commissioner of his actions and no doubt they will be added to the conflict of interest investigations presently being carried out by the Commissioner in relation to Morneau’s failure to recuse himself from cabinet when the matter of the student service grant and the contribution agreement for WE Charity was dealt with.

Make no mistake about it, accepting paid travel and accommodation while serving as a minister of the Crown is caught by the Conflict of Interest Act, an act that Morneau has previously been held to have contravened by the Commissioner.

As one can imagine the testimony yesterday by Morneau has led to calls for his resignation by the Conservative Party and Pierre Poilievre MP in particular. Former Paul Martin top advisor David Herle, now with the Gandalf Group said in an interview last evening that as this scandal deepens with no end in sight there may a need to sacrifice someone and at this point the only politicians involved are Trudeau, Morneau and Bardish Chagger. It won’t be Trudeau, always a problem when the opposition goes after the top person, so if this is looked upon as a solution then it would be one of the other two.

The committee meeting yesterday started to get close to arriving at answers to long standing questions. A discussion between Rachel Wernick of Employment and Social Development Canada and Assistant Deputy Minister Kovacevic from Finance on April 16 seemed to settle on WE’s involvement in delivery of the Canada Student Service Grant program.

From testimony, WE is involved from that date in submitting and amending proposals to put the service grant program into operation. As disclosed by Morneau, during this program development stage, on April 26, he had a telephone conversation with Craig Kielburger about matters unrelated to the grant.

On May 5, the COVID committee of cabinet met to deal with the proposal being advanced by Minister Chagger for the Canada Student Service Grant program and on May 22, it was approved by full cabinet with WE Charity as the beneficiary of the contribution agreement to implement the program.

Morneau did not attend the COVID committee meeting but both he and Trudeau were present at cabinet and neither recused themselves. This is a matter for which both have subsequently apologized.

A matter that was raised in committee yesterday and at previous meetings, the lack of a competitive bid process. Looking back at the timeline and those who were involved in pushing the grant proposal forward such an off ramp was never seriously considered.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, questioning Morneau at committee yesterday attempted to tie the payback of Morneau’s expenses to WE with WE’s involvement in seeking to deliver the student service grant program.

He argued that with WE paying for travel it was attempting to buy influence which resulted in the award of the contribution agreement. This is frame that the Trudeau government is going to be faced with unless it can once and for all put this matter to bed.

From the time the Trudeau government assumed office it has been singularly unable to manage damaging issues. The continuous drip, drip from the Aga Khan Christmas vacation and the SNC Lavalin affair hurt the government’s credibility and subsequently in the polls.

Next week with the appearance of the Kielburger brothers at the Finance Committee and then Trudeau and his Chief of Staff Katie Telford, there is an opportunity to kill this story, but if not done properly, the story could linger into the fall.

There is only one opportunity to trot out the prime minister and his chief of staff to smother the scandal. This is also not Prime Minister Harper appearing in front of a Senate committee to discuss Senate reform.

Trudeau has already apologized for failure to recuse himself from the decision making process dealing with the student service grant. He will have to do that again next week at committee and be prepared to answer all questions, not in an evasive manner as is the practice in question period, but in a forthright manner, fully and thoughtfully.

He will have to explain why these successive ethical failures continue to occur and what he plans to do to ensure this doesn’t happen again. Committee members will want to know why no minister at the two cabinet meetings raised the conflict issue.

In the attempt to end this he should bring with him all related documentation so that he gives the appearance of transparency. He should be clear that cabinet confidence has been waived.

He should also be ready to deal with questions about the conduct of the finance minister and Morneau’s future. He has to be briefed on why the contribution agreement did not go to tender. He should also be able to rebut the arguments advanced by Mr. Aylward, head of PSAC as Aylward was quite clear at committee that the public service could have handled the student service grant proposal.

Trudeau should also be prepared to answer questions as to the design of the program and how it originated.

All questions and questioners must be treated with respect. Trudeau must refrain from smirking after giving what he believes is a particularly smart answer.

As the goal of the appearance is to kill the story, Trudeau needs to take the time necessary to accomplish that goal. This can’t be a semi-serious appearance where he breezes in and breezes out.

When the meeting is over all outstanding questions should be answered. Trudeau should understand that his audience goes far beyond the committee room, it is to his own MPs to ensure their continued support and to Liberal supporters who are wondering why ethics issues keep occurring.

To Come


Today
  • FMM teleconference
  • EI numbers for May to be released
July 28
  • House of Commons Finance Committee meets with Kielburger brothers as witnesses
July 28-29
  • U.S. Fed meets
July 31
  • GDP numbers for May to be released

The Morning Brief returns on Tuesday, July 28.

– BC