Canada has been overcome by a case of ‘rules for me and not for WE.’
ME to WE Social Enterprise, a for-profit agency connected to WE Charity, admitted this week it has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to people in the Trudeau family – notably $312,000 in fees for Justin Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, and a more modest sum of $40,000 to his brother Alexandre.
The revelation shatters any benefit of the doubt that might have been afforded to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over his decision to sole source administration of a $900 million cash-for-volunteering program to WE.
I don’t care that the Trudeau family has managed to earn such a good living on the speaking circuit. I do care that Trudeau tried to get away with gifting a sweetheart deal to group that has given his family a considerable pile of cash in recent years.
It’s worth noting these speaking fees are only a small piece of the relationship between Trudeau and WE.
Trudeau himself has spoken at a number of WE events, as has his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Gregoire Trudeau hosts a podcast for WE and was most recently on stage at a WE Day event in London in March.
WE’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, have both donated to the Liberals, according to Elections Canada’s donation registry. Craig donated the legal maximum to Trudeau’s 2013 leadership campaign, in fact.
Trudeau said earlier in the week he would continue to lend his name to WE initiatives, though it’s not clear if that’s changed. Either way, Trudeau’s team says there’s nothing to see here.
“The Canada Student Service Grant program is about giving young people opportunities to contribute to their communities, not about benefits to anyone else,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Well yes, it’s easy to downplay the “benefits to anyone else” when your family members are the “anyone else.”
All of Trudeau-WE connections would be insignificant were it not for Trudeau’s still-inexplicable desire to start outsourcing functions of the Canadian bureaucracy to WE. To award any project that size to a single vendor without going through an open bidding process is concerning – made all the more so by the not-even-remotely-hidden web of ties between said vendor and the guy making the decision.
After initially claiming the public service was responsible for awarding the contract, the Prime Minister’s Office later confirmed cabinet – presided over by Trudeau – made the final call.
This decision has placed Trudeau in the crosshairs of Canada’s conflict of interest and ethics commissioner yet again. I can hope at this point that we’re getting a bulk discount on ethics investigations.
If a relationship or transaction is aboveboard, no one needs to go through any lengths to hide it. Yet with WE, Trudeau has downplayed his own connection to the (now abandoned) decision to have WE administer the program. And WE has tried to downplay the financial benefits afforded to the Trudeaus.
WE Charity previously said it never paid anyone in the Trudeau family to speak. This is little more than a technicality given speaking fees were paid out of ME to WE’s coffers instead.
A WE statement posted by Brian Lilley shows some pretty unique spin.
“Over the years, WE Day corporate partners have sponsored, via speaker bureaus, speakers to participate at the event,” the statement says. “One of the corporate sponsors has been ME to WE Social Enterprises.
To call ME to WE merely a “corporate sponsor” ignores that it is apparently sponsoring itself.
As someone who’s paid speakers and been paid to speak, I can say I’ve never seen or heard of a group booking a speaker referred to as the “sponsor.” “Client,” sure. But the speaker bureau is just the middle-man here: Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau were hired by WE. And then Justin Trudeau tried to hire WE.
Even so, I don’t see WE as being the culprit here. It’s the responsibility of lawmakers to not put themselves in a conflict of interest or the appearance of one – a lesson you’d think Trudeau would know by now having been found guilty of violating the federal ethics laws twice.
There’s always an excuse though. The first time, the Aga Khan was a close family friend, so taking a vacation from him was all good. The next time, with the SNC-Lavalin affair, it was all about Quebec jobs. Now, it’s all about the children.
As I mentioned on Twitter, things are so bad for WE right now they might have to rebrand as SNC-Lavalin to be taken more seriously.
Photo Credit: Edmonton Sun
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.