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You would think after his Aga Khan fiasco, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would understand the need to avoid both conflicts of interests, and the appearance of conflicts of interest, when his government gives millions of taxpayers’ dollars to charities.
His failure to do so resulted in him becoming Canada’s first prime minister found by the federal ethics commissioner to have violated four sections of the Conflict of Interest Act, since the legislation was passed in 2006.
That happened in 2016, after Trudeau, his family and some Liberal guests accepted free vacations on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas, while his government was discussing a $15 million grant to one of the Aga Khan’s charitable foundations, and receiving tens of millions of dollars in other grants from the government.
Now Trudeau is in a new controversy involving more than $900 million in sole-sourced government contracts to the WE Charity foundation, founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, to which Trudeau has ties.
His wife, Sophie Trudeau, is a WE ambassador — she contracted COVID-19 while speaking at a WE event in London, England, in March — and Trudeau has publicly supported WE, appeared at events and done volunteer work for it.
Trudeau’s government recently gave a $900 million contract to WE to operate its new Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), awarding grants of up to $5,000 to post-secondary students for doing volunteer work this summer and fall.
According to the National Post, WE will be paid $19.5 million to administer the program and the charity has also received millions of dollars in other sole-sourced contracts (not tendered), grants and contributions from the federal government.
On Tuesday, WE co-founder Marc Kielburger said he “misspoke” when he told youth leaders the Prime Minister’s Office contacted WE in April about administering the student-aid program.
“Speaking loosely and enthusiastically, I incorrectly referred to the Prime Minister’s Office. In fact, the outreach came from unelected officials at Employment and Social Development Canada.”
Trudeau has defended the awarding of the contract to WE saying the charity is the “only one … capable of networking and organizing and delivering this program on the scale that we needed,” and that it was federal bureaucrats who awarded the contract after an independent review.
The PM said the $19.5 million given to WE to administer the program is for operating costs, WE won’t profit from it, and the government has worked with other charities to deliver programs.
WE, which began in 1995 as a grassroots, philanthropic organization, has grown into a major charitable foundation, receiving tens of millions of dollars in donations annually and holding substantial capital assets.
It stages WE Days to promote volunteerism among young people and operates educational programs in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Asked about the sole-source contracts awarded to it by the Trudeau government, the charity told the National Post in an email: “We Charity has, upon occasion, been contracted to perform services by the government of Canada. In all instances, appropriate contracting procedures have been followed.”
There’s been no finding of wrongdoing, but the Conservatives and New Democrats are asking the auditor general to investigate the government’s contracting out of the student grant program to WE.
Duff Conacher, of Democracy Watch, said he’s asked the ethics commissioner to determine whether Trudeau placed himself in a conflict of interest, in the awarding of the contract.