The parliamentary committee charged with investigating the beleaguered Canada Student Service Grant program will soon release its report on the “scandal”.
After a year of political scandal surrounding a possible conflict of interest between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and WE Charity, which was tapped to lead the $543-million program, Canada’s ethics watchdog cleared Trudeau of all wrongdoing in May 2021.
After nearly a year of negative press coverage initiated by political attacks, WE Charity has already experienced significant damage to its reputation: The international charity suspended Canadian operations in September and founders Craig and Marc Kielburger said they were leaving the organization in Canada and their families even received death threats.
The story could have finally ended with Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion clearing Trudeau — and by extension WE Charity — in his May report.
However, NDP MP Charlie Angus and fellow conservative Pierre Poilievre immediately discounted Dion’s report. Angus said the parliamentary standing committee on ethics (ETHI) would release its own report on “Questions of Conflict of Interest and Lobbying in Relations to Pandemic Spending.”
Given the embarrassing, partisan spectacle that played out at 20 committee hearings over the last 10 months, we can expect the wrath of the committee to once again come down on a children’s charity trying to do its part to support young Canadians during the pandemic, rather than the politicians whom the committee was charged with investigating.
The Canada Student Service Grant program, or CSSG, was meant to provide Canadian students with volunteer opportunities during the pandemic. Controversy erupted around WE Charity’s role in the program as soon as it was announced in July 2020.
The debate centered around two questions: Did WE Charity ask to lead the student program? Did Trudeau have a conflict of interest because his family members were previously paid to speak at WE events?
The answer to both questions, according to Dion, is no. The evidence clearly shows that the Canadian government approached WE Charity, wrote Dion, who also said that he was “satisfied that Mr. Trudeau did not give preferential treatment to WE,” and that Trudeau had “no involvement” in the decision to choose the charity.
Dion also said there was nothing improper in WE Charity paying Margaret Trudeau to speak to Canadian youth on mental health issues.
Dion added, however, that both Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau should have recused themselves from the program, as Trudeau himself has said.
Angus drew the opposite conclusion from Dion’s report, claiming it actually proved that the Liberal party gave “blatant insider access for their cronies and their friends,” and promised that the ETHI committee would move forward with its own conclusions.
The tone of both Angus and Poilievre has been consistently prosecutorial. After the Kielburgers announced the closure of WE Charity’s operations in September as a result of the scandal, Poilievre tweeted: “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
The controversy has affected more than just WE Charity and Trudeau and his family. Other Canadians have been caught in the crossfire. Martin Perelmuter, the founder of a small business that books speaking engagements for the Trudeau family, testified that he and his employees were harassed and received personal threats as a result of the political attacks and negative press.
The ETHI committee should apologize not only to ordinary Canadians like Perelmuter, but also to all the youth affected by the political cancelling of a children’s charity and a summer student grant program in the middle of a global pandemic.
Prior to the cancellation of CSSG, about 35,000 students had applied to take part in the program.