Instead of appeasing the WE Charity controversy engulfing the government of Justin Trudeau, the long-awaited appearance Tuesday of the Minister of Finance rather amplified it. Because Bill Morneau revealed to have accepted from the charity organization (called Mouvement UNIS in French) for more than $ 40,000 in travel expenses which he reimbursed only this week.
The two trips took place in 2017. The first was taken by Mr. Morneau’s wife and one of his daughters to Kenya to visit a school building project led by UNIS. The second took place the same year, in Ecuador this time, with Mr. Morneau himself and his family. The aim was to carry out humanitarian work there, always in UNIS projects.
“Over the past few days, my family has been reviewing their personal files and we have found documentation confirming that we paid our expenses related to these two trips, including airline flights and hotel costs, totaling approximately 52,000. $, related Mr. Morneau. But we were unable to locate receipts for expenses related to UNIS programming, which includes living expenses. [accommodation]. I was surprised.”
Mr. Morneau reports having contacted UNIS to find out the value of stays in the group’s facilities. Answer: $ 41,366. Mr. Morneau sent a check for this amount on Wednesday morning, shortly before his appearance in parliamentary committee. “I always intended to pay the full cost of these trips and it was my responsibility to make sure that was done. Not to do so was inappropriate and I apologize for that. ” Mr. Morneau says he relayed this new information to the Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.
The opposition parties were unsurprisingly not satisfied with his apology. “Who did you think was paying those tens of thousands of dollars in luxury spending,” asked Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre. “Do you realize that accepting these travel benefits was strictly illegal under the Conflict of Interest Act?” The Act states that any public office holder or member of their family is prohibited from “accepting a gift or other benefit. […] which could reasonably suggest that it was given to influence the incumbent in the performance of his official duties ”.
New Democrat Charlie Angus added. “If you don’t remember the Conflict of Interest Act, don’t you remember the Ethics Commissioner’s decision in the Aga Khan case?” Mr. Trudeau was found guilty of breaking the law by accepting a trip to the wealthy philanthropist’s private island.
The Conservative Party calls for the resignation of the Minister of Finance, but Justin Trudeau’s office has reiterated its full confidence in Mr. Morneau.
Donations for UNIS
Mr. Morneau also revealed that his wife made two donations to UNIS, in 2018 and then last June, of $ 50,000 each. The most recent was to support COVID-related initiatives in Kenya. The Morneaus adopted a girl from Uganda, which marked the family. Their biological daughter piloted a correspondence project between young girls in Canada and Kenya and wrote a book about it. She promoted it during the activities of UNIS, a charitable organization active abroad with young people.
The Finance Committee before which Mr. Morneau appeared is trying to shed light on the UNIS affair. At its origins is the $ 912 million Canada Student Volunteer Grant program. The goal of this federal program was to encourage CEGEP and university students to volunteer in connection with the pandemic for compensation of up to $ 5,000. Ottawa hoped to kill two birds with one stone: to provide organizations such as CHSLDs with “arms” and to ensure that young people unable to find employment because of COVID-19 a means of paying their tuition fees this fall.
According to the Liberals, it was the officials who concluded that the government machinery was unable to deliver such a service and suggested that a third party be used. However, it appeared that UNIS has close ties with the families of Mr. Morneau and Justin Trudeau but that the two men did not recuse themselves during the discussions on this subject.
The UNIS group would receive $ 43.5 million to manage the program. Mr. Trudeau’s mother and brother have pocketed nearly $ 300,000 from UNIS over the past few years for speeches while Mr. Morneau’s daughter will work at UNIS until next August. The opposition cries out for a conflict of interest. The Commissioner opened an investigation.
Mr. Morneau reiterated that it was the Department of Employment and Social Development which made its choice on UNIS and not his. He argued in committee Wednesday that his officials first spoke to him about UNIS on April 18. He “verbally” approved the expenditure on April 21, but without mentioning UNIS. The program was announced by Mr. Trudeau the next day.
This controversy will not end there since Justin Trudeau has agreed to appear before the committee, probably next week. His chief of staff, Katie Telford, will do the same.
This will be a historic appearance. Prime ministers in office very rarely appear in parliamentary committees. The last appearance of this kind was that of Stephen Harper, in 2006. And again: the context was not one of confrontation. Mr. Harper himself had asked for speaking time to promote his Senate reform. The House of Commons has also tracked four appearances by Pierre Elliott Trudeau between 1980 and 1983 to discuss estimates and one by Joe Clark in 1979 on the same subject. Only Richard Bennett, in 1932, appeared to discuss the allegations made.
Video: UNITED Affair – Bill Morneau apologizes in parliamentary committee (Le Devoir)