The Morning Brief – 07.21.20

By Bruce Carson


WE Charity—Conflict of Interest—Why—This is not Trudeau’s or Morneau’s First Rodeo

Questions that Need Answers

All Relevant Documents, Memos and Emails need to be produced—Cabinet Privilege Waived

Why Do Conflicts Continue to Arise?

In the early months of his government, Prime Minister Trudeau found himself embroiled in an ethics, conflict of interest scandal concerning a Christmas vacation involving the Trudeau family and others at the Aga Khan’s private island. This was investigated by then Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner Mary Dawson and Trudeau’s conduct was found wanting.

Last year before the federal election Trudeau once again found himself in another ethics problem as he tried to steer the work of then Attorney General and Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould in her dealings with the SNC Lavalin. That situation was investigated by the present Commissioner Mario Dion and again the actions of the prime minister were found wanting.

Investigations have now started into the conduct of the prime minister and Finance Minister Morneau over their failure to recuse themselves from a cabinet decision approving a contribution agreement between the Government of Canada and WE Charity. The agreement which might have paid the charity over $40 million in administration fees was for over $900 million. It should be noted that Morneau also had a previous run in with the Ethics Commissioner and received a fine of $200.00.

Mary Dawson who as Ethics and Conflict of Interest Commissioner had investigated Trudeau’s conduct in relation to the Christmas vacation during an interview with Vassy Kapelos on Power and Politics offered that she believes Trudeau suffers from an ethical blind spot and that is why these issues continue to arise regardless of investigations and findings by the Commissioner.

But perhaps the reason lies deeper than a blind spot. John Ivison in his recent book “Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister” set out that Trudeau and “his closest advisors are guilty of what American conservative thinker Thomas Sowell called ‘The Vision of the Anointed’ in his 1995 book of the same name. Sowell talked about the ‘special state of grace ‘ for those ‘Teflon Profits’ the ‘Anointed’ who predict future social, economic or environmental problems unless there is government intervention. ‘Those who accept this vision are deemed to be not merely factually correct but morally on a higher plane.’ Ivison adds that those who disagree with the prevailing views are referred to as the “Benighted.”

If this observation is correct, it explains a lot of Trudeau’s conduct going back to the Blackface revelations that emerged during the recent federal election. It could also be a view that infects all of cabinet or at least those close to Trudeau and those in the PMO.

One would have thought after the Aga Khan investigation that someone would have been designated in the PMO to deal with potential conflicts ensuring they do not become problematic. Also it is strange that Senior Assistant Deputy Minister Skills and Employment Rachel Wernick would say before the House Finance Committee last week that her role does not include spotting conflicts. She said “the onus is on the public office holders to uphold the guidelines.”

It will be interesting to see if the Clerk of the Privy Council, Ian Shugart shares that opinion.

Questions that Require Answers

Last week Minister Chagger and Ms. Wernick attempted to set out timelines dealing with how the proposal for the Canada Student Service Grant came into being. It starts with an unsolicited proposal circulated to some ministers, public servants and ministerial staff by WE Charity dealing with social entrepreneurship on April 9. Then on April 19, Wernick contacted WE to see if it would be interested in assisting with a different proposal but still involving young Canadians. On April 22, Prime Minister Trudeau announces the Canada Student Service Grant and on the same day a complete proposal to implement Trudeau’s announcement arrives in Wernick’s inbox from Craig Kielburger.

Thanks to the Toronto Star we now know that there was a conversation between Minister Chagger and Craig Kielburger on April 17, ostensibly about the first WE proposal. This conversation was not disclosed by Chagger during her appearance before the Finance Committee.

This timeline and the conversations lead to a number of questions about how the proposal that was placed before cabinet for a decision came about.

Whose idea was the student service grant? Why did the government not utilize the Canada Summer Jobs Program to get cash into the hands of students? Who developed the document that went to cabinet? Who provided the drafting instructions? Who signed off on it in the Privy Council Office, the PMO and the Finance Minister’s office?

There is no question that the cabinet document dealing with the proposal needs to be disclosed for many reasons, but two in particular; was it a memorandum to cabinet in the normal form or was it simply a communication strategy and its disclosure will reveal the timing of when cabinet’s decision was made.

The Finance Committee or the Ethics Committee or the Government Operations Committee need to have complete disclosure of all memos, email and records of conversations among ministerial offices, the PMO, PCO and the WE Charity concerning the Service Grant proposal. Such items were easier to identify during the SNC investigation because Wilson-Raybould was a careful note taker and diarized all meetings and conversations.

From her appearance before the Finance Committee last week, one could conclude that Minister Chagger is a ‘hands off’ minister not interfering in the work of public servants.

The Finance official that Wernick referred to last week needs to be identified and called as a witness as that person may be able to shed some light on the involvement of the Kielburgers in formulating the proposal subsequently adopted by the government.

It is important to know who pitched the idea first? Did it evolve or was the proposal submitted by WE on April 22, the one that was approved by cabinet? Who sold Trudeau on this proposal or was he already sold on it?

Non-partisan Public Service

It is time that the Trudeau cabinet ditched the talking point that has allowed it to deflect accountability for its decision onto the public service. Every answer on this matter contains the phrase that the “non-partisan public service recommended the WE Charity.”

The decision to engage in a contribution agreement with WE is that of cabinet and cabinet alone and it should stand up for itself and take ownership of the decision.

More Information is Needed

Canadians need to know the full extent of the relationship between the Trudeau government and the WE organization and its various entities and the amounts of money that the government has committed.

Committee members need to dig into the timeline involved in developing this program. The fact that on the day the program was announced that a complete proposal was sent by WE to Ms. Wernick without any inside knowledge strains credulity or as John Ivison put it in a recent article “was the deck stacked in WE’s favour?”

This is a minority Parliament; hopefully the opposition will use its majority wisely and effectively.

To Come

  • The House Finance Committee meets
  • Retail trade numbers for May to be released
July 22
  • The House Finance Committee to meet
  • CPI numbers for June to be released
July 23
  • The House Government Operations Committee to meet
July 28-29
  • U.S. Fed meets
July 31
  • GDP numbers for May to be released