FILE – Margaret Trudeau speaks to the audience at fans at a We Day event in Toronto, on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Conservatives say they want a criminal investigation into the Liberal government’s decision to award a $900-million contract to the WE organization. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

FILE – Margaret Trudeau speaks to the audience at fans at a We Day event in Toronto, on Thursday, September 20, 2018. The Conservatives say they want a criminal investigation into the Liberal government’s decision to award a $900-million contract to the WE organization. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

Trudeau apologizes for not recusing himself from WE decision

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologized for not recusing himself from the government’s decision to have WE Charity manage a $900-million student-aid program, saying his family’s longtime involvement with the organization should have kept him out of the discussions.

The surprise apology marked a sharp about-face for the prime minister after weeks of trying to defend the controversial, sole-sourced contract with WE, and follows revelations his wife, brother and mother had been paid a combined $300,000 for appearing at WE events over the years.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions given our family’s history and I’m sincerely sorry for not having done that,” Trudeau said during a news conference outside his Ottawa home on Monday.

“When it came to this organization and this program, the involvement that I had in the past and that my family has should have had me remove myself from these discussions. And I’m sorry that I didn’t.”

Trudeau said he was particularly sorry that the delay in the program caused by WE’s eventual decision to withdraw from administering the Canada Student Services Grant would harm students looking for ways to help in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Young people who are facing a difficult time right now getting summer jobs, contributing to their communities, are going to have to wait a little longer before getting those opportunities to serve, and that’s frustrating.”

Trudeau announced general plans for the program in April and then details of the Canadian Student Services Grant followed June 25. The government said tens of thousands of students having a hard time finding summer work due to COVID-19 could volunteer up to 500 hours to earn the maximum $5,000 toward their post-secondary costs.

But the program came under immediate scrutiny after it was discovered that WE had been chosen to administer it. Trudeau said federal public servants had recommended the organization and that it was considered the only one capable of delivering the program.

READ MORE: Conservatives call for Trudeau to testify at committee on WE Charity deal

Trudeau nonetheless faced accusations of cronyism and allegations of a conflict of interest over his past connections with WE. Those allegations only grew after revelations last week about the payments to his wife, brother and mother.

The prime minister and Finance Minister Bill Morneau both confirmed they did not recuse themselves from the cabinet vote that approved giving the contract to WE. One of Morneau’s daughters has spoken at WE events while another does contract work for the organization.

Morneau’s office on Sunday denied any link between his daughters’ involvement with WE and the contract to administer the student grant program, which Trudeau acknowledged would have paid the organization around $20 million.

WE has said, including in a full-page newspaper advertisement Monday, that money would only have covered its costs.

The government and WE terminated the deal on July 3. The federal Employment and Social Development Department has since taken over the program, though officials have acknowledged the change will result in delays in its roll out.

Trudeau sidestepped questions about whether he knew his family had received money from WE when cabinet was deciding whether to approve the contract, saying that he knew of their involvement with the organization but not the details.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is currently investigating Trudeau over a potential conflict of interest in relation to the deal with WE. The Conservatives and NDP have asked the watchdog to also look into a potential conflict of interest by Morneau.

The Conservatives have also said they want Trudeau to appear before the House of Commons’ finance committee to answer questions about how the arrangement with WE came to be.

Trudeau was noncommittal about doing so, saying he would look at any invitations and discuss them with his leadership team.

The opposition parties are also seeking an investigation by the Commons ethics committee, and Conservative Sen. Don Plett has written to the speaker of the Senate, calling for that body to be recalled this summer to begin a probe of its own.

The Globe and Mail reported on Monday that Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan and Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, previously helped WE raise money before the Liberals formed government in 2015.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Justin Trudeau

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
RDN Transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

The intersection at Moilliet Street and Despard Avenue where a 12-year-old boy was struck by an oncoming vehicle early November while crossing at a marked crosswalk. (Mandy Moraes photo)
City staff members, school district officials to discuss high-traffic Parksville intersection

Young boy suffered broken leg after being hit in Despard/Moilliet crossing

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Another staff member tests positive for COVID-19 at Nanaimo care home

Chartwell Malaspina Care Residence employee is isolating, says Island Health

Actions of Vancouver Island RCMP emergency response team members prevented a potential head-on collision accident on the Trans-Canada Highway on Jan. 19, says Nanaimo RCMP. (News Bulletin file)
Eight cars evade vehicle driving on wrong side of highway, says Nanaimo RCMP

Incident occurred near Trans-Canada Highway-Morden Road intersection earlier this week

A video posted to social media by Chilliwack resident Rob Iezzi shows a teenager getting kicked in the face after being approached by three suspects on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (YouTube/Rob i)
VIDEO: Security cameras capture ‘just one more assault’ near B.C. high school

Third high-school related assault captured by Chilliwack resident’s cameras since beginning of 2021

FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Oklahoma State Rep. Justin Humphrey prepares to speak at the State Capitol in Oklahoma City. A mythical, ape-like creature that has captured the imagination of adventurers for decades has now become the target of Rep. Justin Humphrey. Humphrey, a Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season, He says issuing a state hunting license and tag could help boost tourism. (Steve Gooch/The Oklahoman via AP, File)
Oklahoma lawmaker proposes ‘Bigfoot’ hunting season

A Republican House member has introduced a bill that would create a Bigfoot hunting season

Economic Development and Official Languages Minister Melanie Joly responds to a question in the House of Commons Monday November 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal minister touts need for new B.C. economic development agency

Last December’s federal economic update promised a stimulus package of about $100 billion this year

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Comox Valley RCMP are looking for witnesses after the theft of a generator worth thousands of dollars. Photo supplied
RCMP asking Vancouver Island residents to watch for stolen generator

Vehicle may have been travelling on Highway 19

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Most Read