Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stepped in it again. He’s apparently violated Canadian ethics laws by awarding a $900 Million government contract to a “non-profit” that members of his family have raked in $282,000 from via speaking fees.
The $900 Million contract was awarded to the WE Charity to dole out $5000 checks to youth who put in 500 hours of “volunteer” work over the summer, due to Covid preventing them from getting normal jobs. WE Charity was due to graciously accept $19.5 Million into their pockets for the deed.
Trudeau initially claimed that the WE Charity was the only entity capable of executing this task, as the CBC reported in June:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the WE Charity is the only organization capable of administering more than $900 million in grants for students this summer.
Speaking to reporters during a COVID-19 briefing, Trudeau said federal public servants identified WE as the organization with the best nationwide network for connecting young people to paid volunteer positions this summer.
WE will administer the Canada Student Service Grant, which will provide eligible students with up to $5,000 to support the costs of post-secondary education in the fall. The amount of each grant will depend on the amount of time the recipient devotes to volunteer work.
Then people actually did some digging around. The Star reports of the Trudeau family ties to the WE Charity:
Trudeau is facing his third ethics investigation as prime minister for his government’s decision to sole-source the delivery of a $900-million volunteering grant program to WE Charity.
The prime minister has said that both he and his family had “voluntarily” worked with WE in the past and they intend to continue that work. But WE confirmed that members of Trudeau’s family, including his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, have received financial compensation for speaking at WE-hosted events.
The existence of financial payments between WE and the Trudeau family was first reported by Canadaland and CBC News on Thursday.
Margaret Trudeau, the prime minister’s mother, received $250,000 in honorariums for speaking at 28 WE-hosted events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, received $32,000 in speaking fees between 2017 and 2018.
WE said both were booked for the events through Speakers’ Spotlight, a company that connects notable speakers to corporate and charity event organizers. The company once featured Justin Trudeau, before his acceptance of paid speaking gigs as an MP set off a minor scandal. The payments were supposed to be from ME to WE Social Enterprise, WE’s for-profit corporation, not the charity itself.
Grégoire Trudeau, an “ambassador and ally” to WE who also hosts a podcast for the charity, was given a one-time honorarium of $1,400 for speaking at a WE event in 2012.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Trudeau should step aside and allow Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland to govern until the ethics investigation is complete.
The Liberal government announced on June 25 that it would outsource the management of a $900-million grant program for student volunteers during the coronavirus pandemic to WE, a global charity co-founded by brothers Marc and Craig Kielburger. WE would receive $19.5 million in payments to manage the program.
The ties between WE and the Trudeau family are now the subject of a conflict of interest investigation by Canada’s ethics commissioner.
But this isn’t Trudeau’s first rodeo in a pay-for-play scandal, as the Star article continues:
Commissioner Mario Dion confirmed last Friday that his office was examining whether Trudeau violated three separate ethics laws — if the prime minister put himself in a conflict of interest in awarding the contract to WE, whether Trudeau gave preferential treatment to WE, and whether or not he should have recused himself from a cabinet vote to move ahead with the program.
Duff Conacher, the co-founder of Democracy Watch, said that Trudeau’s failure to recuse himself from the cabinet decision is a clear breach of ethics rules. But the new revelation about payments to the Trudeau family “compounds” the prime minister’s “conflict of interest.”
“We need more information about the big, outstanding question which is the prime minister’s claim that, on its own, the public service said only WE could do this contract,” Conacher said in an interview.
“(If that’s not true), then it potentially becomes much closer to breach of trust by Trudeau for participating in the decision-making process.”
“This looks more and more like a coverup,” said NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus in an interview Thursday.
“When the prime minister is being asked in an unfolding scandal if his family are financially benefitting from WE, you would think that they would do their due diligence. And I can’t imagine an operation as big and professional as the Prime Minister’s Office isn’t checking. So why did the prime minister (say) that people were not getting paid when his family members were getting paid?”
The WE Charity has also received other sweetheart government contracts, as The National Post reports:
According to the government’s online database of government contracts, WE Charity has received five federal contracts worth a total of $120,000 since March 2017. Four of the five contracts have been in the last 15 months, with the most recent — and largest, until now, at $40,000 — dated January 2020.
“What’s really concerning about these sole source contracts is that it’s the oldest game in Ottawa, the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of putting out contracts just below the threshold to have them put out to public. And those are the contracts that tend to be given to someone who ran your campaign, someone who was involved with you at the party level,” the NDP’s ethics critic, Charlie Angus, told National Post.
The contracts were for vague services such as “Management consulting”, “Public relations services” and, in three cases, “Other professional services not otherwise specified,” according to the data, first brought to light by writer and activist Nora Loreto on social media over the weekend.
Aside from contracts, WE Charity also received nearly $5.2 million in grants and contributions from various federal departments under the Trudeau government, starting in 2017, according to another government database. That’s five times the amount of grants and contributions it received from the federal government between 2012 and 2016 ($1 million) under the name Kids Can Free The Children.
There are no contracts listed in the government’s database before 2017 to WE Charity, nor its previous name, Kids Can Free The Children.
To the surprise of few, the WE Charity has also been mired in past controversy. The Canadaland Show reported last year:
But two dozen former employees, who worked with WE over the past two decades, laid out what they believed to be serious internal problems at the organization. Some suggested WE’s noble charitable mission was used to enable an internal culture of fear and secrecy that harmed its workers and at times, some said, compromised their safety and wellbeing. Some said WE demanded total personal commitment from young workers and volunteers, extracting 16-hour work days with unpaid overtime, at near-minimum wage. Some said that WE management used guilt to suppress dissent from employees, stressing that requests for better pay and support would take resources away from needy children in Africa.
“The way they treat young people,” said a former WE director who left in the last three years, “is incredibly toxic and inappropriate.”
Fourteen former employees likened WE to a cult, describing it as “cult-ish” or “cult-like.” Six former employees, interviewed separately, offered this comparison without prompting. Canadaland then asked other former and current WE employees if they believed this was an accurate comparison. Eight agreed that it was, and five said it was not.
WE is active in over 16,000 public and private schools, where kids are recruited to join the “We Movement.” Some of our sources who went on to work for WE began in high school as WE volunteers. One former employee alleged that she was asked to use misleading messages to motivate schoolchildren in a fundraising campaign. Former employees raised concerns about WE’s use of celebrities to connect with kids, and its practice of presenting its co-founder brothers, Craig and Marc Kielburger, as celebrities in their own right. The brothers, who are promoted publicly as inspiring leaders, were said by some to be prone to angry outbursts towards staff in private.
“Marc is a bully, one hundred per cent,” said a former WE director.
When Dan Mossip-Balkwill left his job as a WE manager in 2009, he also lost his home.
Leaving meant vacating the WE-owned house he shared with his co-workers. He wrote a parting letter listing the ways in which he felt WE’s culture was broken, and sent it to hundreds of colleagues, including management.
He brought up worker safety concerns, and wrote at length about the problems, as he saw them, with WE’s “culture of guilt.”
“I’m tired of being made to feel guilty about doing expense reports,” he wrote, “or asking to be paid a living wage, because that money would otherwise go to ‘educate starving students in Africa.’”
Mossip-Balkwill also said in his letter that “to reduce [employees] to tears, tell them to leave if they don’t like it, that they need to suck it up, or that their problems don’t compare to children in Africa is atrocious.”
He also raised a concern about ME to WE, the for-profit “social enterprise” which had launched just a year earlier.
“ME to WE was supposed to redefine business,” Mossip-Balkwill wrote. “Instead it became another private-sector company whose number-one aim is money, where people and staff come second.”