Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the WE Charity (WE) scandal but his former Finance Minister has been found in breach of the federal Conflict of Interest Act.
Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found there was no conflict of interest on the part of Trudeau in the decision to select the WE Charity as the administrator of the $900-million Canada Student Service Grant that would provide up to $5,000 in tuition for post-secondary students that volunteered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dion also found there was no breach of ethics in Trudeau’s involvement in the decision to award funding for the WE organization’s Social Entrepreneurship program.
In his decision, Dion said, “The decision taken in the Trudeau III Report considered an appearance of conflict versus a potential or real conflict of interest, as well as the requirement of public office holders to recuse themselves from certain decisions. The appearance of a conflict of interest does not constitute a contravention of the Act; the conflict must be real. Support for this conclusion is found in several sources in the report, including the Harper Government’s position during the 2006 adoption of the Federal Accountability Act.”
“During the examination, I determined there was no friendship between Mr. Trudeau and the Kielburgers, nor was Mr. Trudeau involved in any discussions with them leading to the decisions,” Dion added.
However, Dion found the relationship between former Finance Minister Bill 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.”
Dion found Morneau in contravention of three separate sections of the Act including Section 6(1) “making a decision or participating in the decision when they should know it would further their private interests, or those of a relative or friend, or the private interest of another person.” Also, Section 7 “prohibits public office holders from giving preferential treatment to a person or organization based on the identity of a representative” and Section 21 for a failure to recuse himself from the discussions.
In his decision, Dion said, “As soon as Mr. Morneau was advised that WE would likely play an important role in the student relief initiative, he should have recused himself from that point onwards from Cabinet discussions and decision making.”
Morneau resigned from his position as Finance Minister and as an MP in August. In September We Charity announced it was closing down and blamed both the COVID-19 pandemic and the fallout from the investigation claiming it was in dire financial straits.