Evidence of meeting #12 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was charity.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ian Shugart  Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office
Gina Wilson  Deputy Minister, Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Department of Canadian Heritage
Benoît Robidoux  Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development
Mary Dawson  As an Individual

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Okay.

How much, specifically, was flowed, not theorized, but how much actually flowed from the Government of Canada to the WE organization?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I can refer to the contribution agreement as to the first cohort, the supplemental cohort and the second cohort. I cannot tell you how much was flowed. What we do know is that the program is no longer running. The money, as the organization has indicated, will be returned to the government.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Why hasn't the money been returned to this point? It seems odd. It's been quite some time since the program was cancelled, or that they withdrew, following the Prime Minister's announcement that he failed to recuse himself. What's the holdup?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I think, Madam Chair, as I've been trying to share in testimony and in any of my communications, we want to ensure that all processes are being followed. I can assure you that the public service is working with the organization to ensure that it is returned.

If you would like, I can refer to my deputy to provide and elaborate on this answer.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

No. If you can get back to the committee, though, with that information, it would be very much appreciated.

My next question, Minister, is with respect to your communication with any member of the finance minister's staff or in their office or any Finance Canada officials between April 5 and April 22 concerning WE Charity, the Kielburgers, support for students and how the WE organization could provide support for students.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, as I testified at finance committee, within the time frame that the member has requested, I personally did not have those conversations with officials at Finance Canada.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

At the finance committee I had the opportunity to ask you some questions, Minister. There was a disparity between my question to you and your response. I asked if you had spoken with the WE organization about the CSSG, and you responded that no, you hadn't, but you had spoken to them, we later learned, in the time period in question. I believe the date was April 17.

In that call, what details did you discuss with this organization? Was it about anything that would later appear in the proposal for the CSSG?

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, just to make sure it is on the record, on December 10, I appeared at WE Day in Ottawa after I had become Minister of Youth. That was to talk to an auditorium full of youth at the National Arts Centre.

The second time I interacted with WE Charity, Craig Kielburger personally, was over the phone on April 17, 2020. I had a phone call with him as well as another member of his team at 11:00 in the morning. That phone call lasted just over 30 minutes. We spoke about an unsolicited program in regard to youth entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and something that had been shared. As it was not something that I was not considering, I referred it to officials.

That phone call on April 17 was not in regard to the Canada student service grant at all. I did not comment on that.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Okay. I'm tight for time. Thank you, Minister.

Your signature is on the—

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

On a point of order—

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

Mr. Barrett, you have 10 seconds.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

Michael Barrett Conservative Leeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, ON

Your signature's on the funding agreement. It's backdated to May 5. Did you tell either of the Kielburgers or anybody at WE that they could start incurring expenses as of May 5?

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

At the recommendation of the public service, it was the only organization that could deliver the program. I did, after a lot of back-and-forth, sign the contribution agreement. No, I did not personally have those conversations with the organization.

2:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

Mr. Dong and Madam Brière, you have six minutes.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Minister, thank you very much for participating.

I recall that you said you had spoken to WE Charity after the organization sent you and a few other ministers a proposal on youth social entrepreneurship. We learned that WE Charity had not at the time registered to lobby the government, but you agreed to speak with them.

Can you please explain why you agreed to speak to an organization that wasn't registered on the lobbyist registry? How often do you check whether organizations that request to speak to you are registered, and in your opinion, whose job would it be to do that?

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, the unsolicited proposal regarding youth social entrepreneurship was shared with my office. As the Minister of Youth, I speak with numerous organizations all the time. I keep an open-door policy to ensure that we're having those conversations. As we are a federal government that committed to being more open, more transparent and accessible to Canadians, it's important that we have these conversations.

With regard to lobbying, my understanding of the act is that it is for the lobbyist themselves to declare that they have lobbied ministers, officials and so forth, so my understanding is that it would not fall under my responsibilities.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Mrs. Brière, the floor is yours.

2:50 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you, Mr. Dong and Madam Chair.

Good afternoon, Madam Minister.

Thank you for answering our questions. In your presentation, you mentioned the values that guide you in your work and you repeated the fact that the people working around you must abide by the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons, the Conflict of Interest Act, and so on. Earlier, Mr. Shugart, the Clerk of the Privy Council, told us once more that his duty was to properly and impartially advise ministers, and always to tell the truth. I imagine that you also expect that from your whole team, do you not?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Yes. The members of my team and myself, just like everyone, I believe, are trying to do our work in the middle of a pandemic. We are therefore working at a speed that we have never seen before. We do not have a lot of experience of this type of situation. We are doing the best we can. Our priority is to respond to the needs of Canadians during this pandemic. That remains my priority.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

You may not have an exact figure and I understand that, but can you tell us how many people were involved in making the decisions about the Canada Student Service Grant and how many helped to develop it?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

As far as the public service is concerned, perhaps my Deputy Minister can also answer that question. All our teams, including mine, worked very hard with a number of people. I feel that all my team worked on it, as did a number of people from the public service. I am sorry that I am not able to give you a specific number.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

I understand.

As a government, why were you so determined to implement a program to support young people?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I would say that, on April 22, the Prime Minister publicly stated that we were coming out with $9 billion for numerous programs that would be accessible to students.

When it comes to the youth portfolio, it's something that's been close to the Prime Minister. Prior to entering office, he was very active with youth organizations as well as youth, and when he was in the third party, he was the critic for youth. When he became Prime Minister, he kept that portfolio as Minister of Youth. In 2019, he asked me to take on these responsibilities because it was instrumental that we respond to the second-largest demographic in our country.

The pandemic has impacted all Canadians, and youth are no exception. That's why we know that students have costs in the fall and we will ensure that they also have the supportive mechanisms. This pandemic has disproportionately impacted certain communities, and that's why my portfolio and my responsibilities are so instrumental, because we need to ensure that nobody is left behind. Every Canadian deserves to be supported, and we will be there to support and provide programs to all Canadians.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

In that context, what are the comments about the fact that the program has not been launched?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, when I speak English the translation comes through as French in my headset, so I missed the member's question. If she could repeat it, that would be great. I will keep my answer short.