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

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'm sorry, Minister. We are out of time.

I'm going to hand the floor over to Mr. Gerretsen for five minutes.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

On a point of order, Madam Chair, I do think that they should have a chance to respond, if possible.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Poilievre, you're putting me in a difficult position here.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I thought he only did that to us.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Gerretsen, the floor is yours for five minutes.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Minister, you were on the receiving end of a fairly hostile accusation there by Mr. Poilievre. Would you like the opportunity to respond to that?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I think it would be important for the deputy to be provided an opportunity to answer the accusations that are being provided by the Conservative member.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

The floor is yours.

3:20 p.m.

Deputy Minister, Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, Department of Canadian Heritage

Gina Wilson

The question was in relation to an earlier start date. Why was it effective on May 5? As generally occurs with contribution agreements, a start date may be identified prior to the date of the agreement's signature. This is routinely done when organizations may incur eligible expenses prior to that signature. If the earlier start date is not approved, the organization is reimbursed for expenditures incurred, and does this completely at its own risk. Similarly, if the agreement is not signed, the organization would not be reimbursed for any expenses incurred. It may often take weeks for a contribution agreement to be negotiated, and that is what occurred in this particular instance.

Thank you.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you.

Minister, let's not beat around the bush here and pretend that your appearance before this committee somehow has nothing to do with the fallout of the WE situation with the student service grant. I'll just be blunt. Did you knowingly brush off signs of a conflict of interest or any perception thereof when you were presented with the recommendation to enlist the WE Charity to deliver this program?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I can tell you that I take the Conflict of Interest Act very seriously. No, I would never brush off any signs. That's why I ensured that I worked with officials to ensure that due diligence was done. I believe that they did their due diligence.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

They did give you that recommendation, right, Minister? When Mr. Barrett was speaking with the Clerk of the Privy Council previous to this, he said—these are Mr. Barrett's words—“cabinet accepted the recommendation of the public service”. This goes a little bit against what the Conservatives have been trying to purport in their rhetoric out there, that somehow that wasn't the case.

This was a recommendation from the public service, as Mr. Barrett said. Is that correct?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, this was a recommendation that was repeated on numerous occasions. As has been noted, it is a proposal that went to the COVID committee. There were numerous questions asked. Those questions were asked of officials. Officials responded and came back with the same recommendation. We also asked for other recommendations. Who else could deliver a program to this scale, this scope and this timeline? Once again, in writing, the public service did provide us that it was the only organization that could deliver the program to the scale, scope and timeline that we were looking for.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair. That's everything.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I will proceed with giving one question to the Conservatives and one question to the Liberals.

A Conservative member can go.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair. The question is not about why the contribution agreement was backdated. The question is very simple. The Prime Minister claims that he put the entire WE program on hold on May 8.

Minister Chagger, did anyone in the government, at that moment, direct WE to stop administering the program when the Prime Minister did that on May 8, yes or no?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, that was a lengthy question, but I'll provide a short answer: not that I'm aware of.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

That's strange.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

A Liberal member is next.

Madam Shanahan, the floor is yours.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, minister, for being with us here today.

The Prime Minister and the finance minister have both apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to enlist the WE Charity to deliver the Canada student service grant program, but the Clerk of the Privy Council has also testified that given the sheer scale and cost of the program it's difficult to see how they would not have needed to be involved.

What was the expectation for you, as the minister responsible for the CSSG, when it came to assessing potential conflict of interest before entering into the contribution agreement with the WE Charity?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, for me, this was part of a suite of programs. Nine billion dollars had been allocated for students, recognizing that they were also impacted by the pandemic.

When it came to this exact program, for me, a priority was ensuring that students who need assistance the most get it. I was concerned about official languages and making sure that the program was available for both francophones as well as anglophones. I wanted to ensure that youth and students in rural and remote areas also had access to it, and I wanted to ensure that under-represented communities had access to it. That's why I wanted to ensure that we were collecting disaggregated data. It was to understand where it was going, so that as we went through the contribution agreement checks and balances were in place.

The way contribution agreements work is that we have to be able to deliver the scope and scale and timeline of the program, so this is information we would be continually receiving before we opened up any opportunities to expand it to the second cohort. Those were some of the checks and balances we put in place—

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—to ensure that people who needed a hand up were actually getting a hand up through the programs we were advancing.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister, thank you.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, minister.

With that, we will draw this meeting to a conclusion, and I will suspend while we switch to our next witness.

Again, Minister Chagger, thank you so much for giving us your time today.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, members.