Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday May 15, 2021
Trudeau cleared in WE Charity scandal but former finance minister broke conflict law, says ethics watchdog
The federal ethics commissioner has cleared Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of wrongdoing in last summer’s WE Charity scandal.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion also concluded Trudeau’s finance minister at the time, Bill Morneau, did breach the Conflict of Interest Act when he failed to recuse himself from cabinet deliberations on the summer student grants contract.
In his investigation report, Dion stated that Trudeau — who apologized for not recusing himself from cabinet talks on the now-cancelled program — didn’t have a close relationship with the Kielburger brothers, while Morneau — who faced similar allegations — “placed himself in a conflict of interest on several occasions.”
The Conservatives were swift to denounce the commissioner’s report, titled “Trudeau III” since it’s the third ethics commissioner probe into the PM.
The Liberal government’s decision to give WE Charity a $43 million contract to run a $900 million student grant program quickly blew up into a major scandal last summer following reports that Trudeau and Morneau’s families had ties with the organization.
Reporting by CBC News and Canadaland showed the prime minister’s mother Margaret and his brother Alexandre were paid in excess of $300,000 by WE and its entities for speaking engagements over the last four years.
“Although the connection between Mr. Trudeau’s relatives and WE created the appearance of a conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict is insufficient to cause a contravention of the Act’s substantive rules,” wrote Dion.
“The duty to recuse is only required when the public office holder would be in a potential conflict of interest.”
Today, Trudeau thanked the commissioner for his work.
“After his full review, the commissioner found that there was no conflict of interest. This confirms what I have been saying from the beginning,” he said.
“At the heart of this initiative was getting support for youth during this pandemic as fast as possible.”
Dion’s report did find that Morneau, who stepped down from cabinet and as an MP in August, had the opportunity to “improperly further WE’s private interests.”
“The examination found the relationship between Mr. Morneau and WE included an unusually high degree of involvement between their representatives and afforded WE unfettered access to the office of the minister of Finance, which amounted to preferential treatment,” wrote Dion. (CBC)