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

4:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Poilievre, thank you.

Madam Brière and Ms. Zahid have the floor.

I understand you are sharing your time. You have five minutes.

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Good afternoon, Madam Minister. Thank you for joining us this afternoon.

When reading your resume, one cannot help but be impressed. You have worked as a human rights lawyer, you are a Paralympic athlete and, what is more relevant to this committee, you sat on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.

Can you tell us how you make your decisions? What importance do you give to ethics in your decision-making?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Thank you for the question.

I take my responsibilities very seriously both as an MP and as a cabinet minister. I have sat on the board of the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Sport. In fact, I taught an ethics course at Algonquin College in Ottawa. I'm aware of my reporting obligations. I'm aware of the Conflict of Interest Act and the conflict of interest code. I hold myself up to high standards and, quite frankly, I hold my team around me to very high standards.

We, my team and I, consider whether my involvement in a file or a decision would be a real or a perceived conflict of interest. For me personally, that means it protects or kind of insulates my own personal integrity, but it also insulates the process that leads to these decisions. I'm up to date on my reporting obligations.

I can reiterate that we all come into these jobs with a history. We have met a lot of people; we know a lot of people. We've had past affiliations, relationships and friendships. I've worked with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner on a proactive basis when I've had questions or wanted to be sure of a particular circumstance to make sure there was nothing that was even remotely perceived as a conflict. I've dug in because of my personal interest in ethics on my own personal approach to this, in this job.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thanks, Minister, for joining us today. On behalf of all of the constituents of Scarborough Centre, I want to thank you for all the work that you have done in trying to help Canadians navigate through this pandemic.

I know, and you have also mentioned, that you have appeared at a WE Charity event. Obviously you are not the only politician or public figure to appear at such an event. Can you please talk us through why you appeared at that event, why you decided to do that? Were you paid, and did the WE Charity cover your expenses? If you can, please explain that.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Thank you.

As I said, I participated in one WE Day event. It was in Vancouver in November 2016. I actually brought my two daughters with me. We were there for about an hour and a half. I didn't get paid and I claimed no expenses.

To be honest, these jobs are really hard, and they're hard on our families. They take us away from our families. When I first got elected, my younger kids were two and five, so my husband and I really wanted to do this job as a family and really show my kids why I was away so much. When I got an opportunity to speak at WE, I brought my two daughters with me to show them what I was doing.

It was also really important for me to speak about inclusion at the WE Day event. This was an opportunity to talk to thousands of kids, young people, on how they can choose to include. As a kid with a disability, I wasn't included. I've seen other MPs be so impactful on that stage. Mike Lake went on WE and brought Jaden with him, and they talked about autism. It was so impactful. I have such respect for Mike for doing that and sharing their story, because it makes it easier for other families. To be honest, I maybe overzealously was super keen to do it and to share it with my family like I'd seen others do.

4:20 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

I want to put it on record that volunteering is really very important, and why, during this pandemic, it is important for our young people to volunteer. I am proud of the thousands of volunteers, young volunteers especially, who stepped up during this pandemic and were there to help Canadians.

I am proud of the work that young volunteers have done at the food banks in my riding. I went to volunteer at the Rogers Centre to pack boxes and took my 22-year-old son with me. I think it is important that we provide opportunities to our young people so that they can volunteer and make a difference in their communities.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mrs. Zahid.

The floor goes to Mr. Poilievre for another five minutes.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Thank you very much.

Mr. Robidoux, Ms. Wernick says that you were the one who first gave her the WE proposal. Do you remember that?

August 11th, 2020 / 4:20 p.m.

Benoît Robidoux Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Madam Chair, I didn't get the second part of the question.

Could you repeat it, please, Mr. Poilievre?

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Yes.

Ms. Wernick said that you were the one who first directed her work with respect to what became the WE proposal. Do you recall that?

4:20 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

Yes, I do recall pretty well in early April to have asked her to come along. I was overseeing the student package for what was related to ESDC, under Minister Qualtrough's leadership, so I asked her to come to support me as I was at the end and was asked to be leading the package.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Thank you.

You gave the proposal from WE to Michelle Kovacevic, did you not?

4:20 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

The package was given to me by Rachel as an attachment to another proposal we had through this, before the announcement about the...after April 15, and I did send that proposal to Michelle. That was given directly to me by Rachel.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Rachel gave you the WE proposal and you gave it to—

4:20 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

I'm sorry. She gave me a proposal, which was from ESDC, to which was attached the WE proposal on social entrepreneurship that was discussed many times up to now. I shared that with Michelle Kovacevic at Finance.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

When was the first time you heard that WE might be the appropriate organization to deliver the Canada student service grant?

4:25 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

I was not involved in this. The first time we all heard at ESDC about the new name of the program was at the announcement.

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Sorry, but we don't have a lot of time here. Not the new name of the program, but that WE could deliver the program—when did you first hear that?

4:25 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

I never heard that. We talked about WE as a potential to supplement some of the proposals—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Right—

4:25 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

—we had, but never as—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Right, but when did you first hear that? I'm sorry. It's the same question again. When did you first hear the words “WE” or “WE Charity” as a potential delivery body? When?

4:25 p.m.

Associate Deputy Minister, Department of Employment and Social Development

Benoît Robidoux

The first time was.... In fact, I didn't hear it; it was in an email from Rachel around April 16 about something...we could use WE for social media to make sure that whatever we were doing for the proposal at that point would be—

4:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

April 16. Thank you.

Did you ever hear anyone else, other than Rachel Wernick, talk about WE before WE was publicly announced as the delivery body?