The co-founders of a charity at the centre of the latest political scandal to rock the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are denying that Liberal patronage had anything to do with them being awarded the contract to administer a multi-million federal student volunteer grant program.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, the co-founders of WE Charity, appeared before the House of Commons Finance Committee on Tuesday where they were grilled for nearly four hours over the decision by the Trudeau government to award them the contract to administer the $912-million Canada Student Service Grant.
Trudeau and his minority Liberal government have been under fire since announcing on June 25 they were awarding a sole-source contract to WE Charity to administer the student volunteer grant program.
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It also emerged that WE Charity had paid Trudeau’s mother and brothers, Margaret and Alexandre Trudeau, nearly $300,000 in speakers fees for their participation in various WE Charity events over the years.
Finance Bill Morneau’s daughter was hired to work at the charity and WE covered over $40,000 in travel expenses for morneau and his family, which he reimbursed only after the scandal broke.
Following public outcry over the sole-source contract, the WE Charity and the federal government announced on July 3 that they were ending the partnership.
Canada’s Ethics Commissioner has launched an investigation into a possible breach of federal conflict of interest laws by Trudeau and Morneau over their handling of the WE Charity contract to administer the federal student grant program.
“When Employment and Social Development Canada asked us to administer the Canada Student Service Grant, we regret that we didn’t recognize how this decision would be perceived,” Craig Kielburger said in his opening statement on Tuesday.
“We would have never picked up the phone when the civil service called … if we had known the consequences, that young people would not get the help they need now and the 25 years of WE Charity programs helping millions of youth would be in jeopardy.”
To run the program, WE was set to receive $43.5 million.
The brothers testified that all of that funding was to be used in running the program and not to be kept as profit.
They were also asked about WE Charity’s financial structure and real estate holdings, and various initiatives included under the WE brand.
“Some have suggested that WE Charity was in dire financial straits prior to the CSSG and that somehow motivated our actions. It simply isn’t true,” said Craig Kielburger.
Trudeau and his chief of staff Katie Telford are slated to appear before the House of Commons Finance Committee on Thursday.