Canadian Prime Minister and Chief of Staff to testify before the Parliament in ethics probe

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The Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau is headed for the hot seat this week as he and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, will testify before the House of Commons finance committee on Thursday.

The Prime Minister has been at the centre of a probe on his government’s decision to award WE Charity, with which he is said to have a personal tie a deal to administer student-grant program.

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Trudeau is scheduled to speak with the committee for one hour Thursday afternoon while Telford will address the group immediately after the prime minister.

Trudeau has appeared at several WE events over the years and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is an “ambassador” and hosts a podcast for the organization.

WE Charity said this month that Margaret Trudeau, the prime minister’s mother and a mental-health advocate, received “a total of approximately $250,000 in speaking honorariums” for speaking at 28 WE Charity events between 2016 and 2020. Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s brother, received $32,000. Those figures do not include a 20 per cent commission to the Speakers’ Spotlight Bureau.

Trudeau has said that while he knew his mother and brother worked as professional public speakers and wasn’t surprised they were paid for appearing at WE events, he didn’t know the details of their payments.

The prime minister is facing an ethics investigation for not recusing himself from discussions about awarding WE the deal.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history,” Trudeau told reporters two weeks ago. “And I’m sincerely sorry about not having done that.”

WE Charity was tapped last month to manage the Canada Student Service Grant program to provide eligible post-secondary students and recent graduates with up to $5,000 for volunteer work in programs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government has said that WE Charity stood to earn $43.5 million for successfully administering the program.

Though the program has a budget of up to $912 million, The Canadian Press has reported, based on a copy of the agreement between the government and WE filed with the finance committee, that Ottawa agreed to pay no more than $543.5 million — with $500 million budgeted for student grants.

Trudeau has maintained that WE was selected on the advice of the non-partisan public service. Clerk of the Privy Council Ian Shugart told the committee last week that there is “absolutely no evidence” that would suggest Trudeau “had any interaction with WE Charity in relation to this program.”

Still, Trudeau is facing calls from the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois to resign over the issue. So too is Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who is also facing an ethics probe for not recusing himself from discussions about WE Charity and the program.

During his appearance before the finance committee last week, Morneau revealed that he had repaid the WE organization $41,366 for travel expenses just before meeting with MPs. Morneau said he recently discovered the unpaid expenses in a review of two family trips to Kenya and Ecuador in 2017 to visit WE Charity’s school projects.

“I expected and always had intended to pay the full cost of these trips. And it was my responsibility to make sure that was done,” Morneau said. “I want to apologize for this error on my part.”

He also told the committee that his wife donated $100,000 to the WE organization in the last two years.

The Conservatives have argued Morneau’s trips violated sections of the Conflict of Interest Act that prohibit ministers or their families from accepting paid travel.

On Tuesday, the finance committee is expected to hear from WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, as well as the organization’s chief financial officer Victor Li, and former board chair Michelle Douglas.

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