Liberals’ choice to give WE contract ‘corruption or incompetence’: Scheer
Report by Canadaland raised red flags in 2018 by auditors reviewing WE's financials, and its board had undergone a major shakeup.
OTTAWA — The Opposition Conservatives accused the Liberal government of either corruption or ignorance Monday as they pressed for more answers around a decision to hand control over a major student grant program to an organization with longtime ties to the Trudeau family.
The House of Commons was sitting to pass a new bill to extend the wage subsidy program, send a special COVID-19 top-up to people with disabilities and to extend legal deadlines for court cases.
While those measures were expected to pass on July 21 with the support of all opposition parties, the same collegial spirit did not extend to question period.
There, the dominant line of inquiry was around the Liberal government’s decision to award WE Charity the responsibility for a $900 million student job program.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mother, in particular, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for participating in WE events, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter works for an arm of the WE organization.
The organization has handed the program back to the government. Both Trudeau and Morneau have said they should have recused themselves from the decision.
But the international development and youth empowerment group is now under scrutiny for its internal practices, adding further fuel to the opposition’s charges that the decision to grant the contract to WE was suspect.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pointed to a report by Canadaland that red flags were raised in 2018 by auditors reviewing WE’s financials, as well as the fact that their board had undergone a major shakeup earlier in the year.
“Either the Liberals were aware of these issues and still approved the decision or they were incompetent,” he said.
“It’s either corruption or incompetence, which is it?”
It is neither, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland replied repeatedly, nearly reading verbatim from a sheet of paper with the Liberals’ current top-line talking point on the issue: that the idea of having WE run the Canada Student Services Grant was brought forward by the non-partisan public service.
“The way this unfolded was regrettable and the charity will not longer be administering the project,” she said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the government’s approach to WE raises questions about whether the program was ever about students at all.
“There were lots of ways to help students. This was not it,” he said.
“It was a billion-dollar bailout of close friends of the Liberal party and of the prime minister.”
A lingering question is whether Trudeau will also appear at the House of Commons finance committee, where MPs want to grill him on the WE issue.
Scheer said Liberal MPs should also be asking themselves questions about supporting their boss going forward.
“If they allow him to continue, if they don’t demand he resign, then they are telling Canadians that they are comfortable with his corruption,” Scheer said.