Northwest Territories MP Michael McLeod accepts the apologies of the prime minister and finance minister over their roles in the “very unfortunate” controversy surrounding the awarding of a $900 million contract to WE Charity.
“It doesn’t sit well with most of us,” he said from his home in Fort Providence. “We have two honourable individuals that have served our country very well especially during this time of global crisis. The reality is we’re going at breakneck speed dealing with issues around the (Covid) crisis. There’s bound to be mistakes. This one happened. It’s upset a lot of people and it’s upset people in the North.
“I appreciate that both the prime minister and finance minister recognize they made errors on this matter and apologized.”
WE Charity was awarded the contract to administer the $900-million Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) Program for student volunteers on a sole-source basis in June. The charity would have received up to $43.53 million for the work.
The spotlight turned to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau when it came to light that they failed to recuse themselves from cabinet discussions on the partnership, which was cancelled in early July as the scandal took on momentum.
The families of both men have had close ties with WE. Members of Trudeau’s family including his mother Margaret Trudeau and brother Alexandre Trudeau have collectively received hundreds of thousands of dollars to speak at WE events.
WE paid more than $40,000 in travel expenses for Morneau and his family to take trips to Kenya and Ecuador. The finance minister has since repaid the charity for those trips.
Both politicians now face an investigation by Mario Dion, the conflict of interest and ethics commissioner.
McLeod said he has no involvement with WE Charity. He said he’s more focused on what isn’t getting done in the meantime.
“It’s regrettable that the Canada Student Services Grant has been delayed,” he said. “I look forward to what the future of this is. That’s what is important for me.”
Asked whether Morneau should resign, McLeod said “we need to dig a little deeper and see what’s involved here.
“I’ve heard, as a member of the finance committee, I’ve heard first-hand that WE was deemed the best organization to administer the program. I know that the onus is on the ministers to disclose conflicts of interest (and) the prime minister and finance minister should have recused themselves from the cabinet decision. They apologized for that. Anything further, I need to see more detail as to any legal breaches.”
McLeod said the scandal reveals that politicians have to be very careful with potential conflicts of interest and perceptions of bias.
“It’s very important to constituents. There’s also a responsibility not only from the politicians and cabinet ministers but the bureaucrats sitting in the room and being paid to make sure things are done properly. If that reality is breached it does a lot of damage to the organization and the government, in this case.”
McLeod directly questioned Trudeau on Thursday during a virtual House of Commons standing committee on finance meeting about issues related to the student grant program.
“I need to ask you if the government is going to address the fact that the youth have lost out because of this delay (in the program),” McLeod asked.
“I share those concerns,” said Trudeau. “We’ll move forward in multiple ways to support people through this pandemic. We have a $9 billion package to support young people that includes creation of summer jobs and opportunities for them at a time where we know that their regular summer jobs might not exist because of the pandemic.
“(And there’s) the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, $1,250 per month for students who need it. And $2,000 a month for students who have dependents. That was something we worked out with the other parties as well.”
McLeod also joined the standing committee on finance meeting on Tuesday, where MPs questioned WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger about the activities of the charity and their relationship with members of the Trudeau family.
McLeod lauded WE for its We Stand Together campaign that promotes awareness of First Nation, Inuit and Métis perspectives in Canadian education.
“That came to the forefront for me as an Indigenous person,” McLeod told the committee. “It’s something I talk about on a non-stop basis. It is very important to me.”
He went on to say the closing of the student grant program contract has affected WE financially and in terms of its credibility.
“What we’re not hearing about is what this whole initiative was focused on, and that’s the youth. That’s what concerns me the most. We know the youth now are facing a real loss of opportunity, and there may be no replacement program. I haven’t seen it yet. Could you talk about what the shutting down of this whole initiative, this program, is going to cost the youth?” he asked.
Craig explained in his response that the program’s closure has halted student volunteering opportunities with seniors through Rotary clubs, nurse support opportunities and Tim Horton Children’s Camp coaching roles.
“All of this good was lost,” Craig said. “All of these extraordinary service opportunities were lost. The fallout had young people not earning the income to support their tuition. I know (the program) was criticized, but these teachers put up their hand over the summer to support 20,000 youth with direct supervision.”