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

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'll just ask the cameras to clear the room, please.

Mr. Kurek.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair. On a point of order, I would ask that the witness be put under oath.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Okay, so be it. We will proceed under that direction.

Welcome. As you know, Mr. Shugart, we are discussing the motion that was passed on July 22 at this committee:

That, pursuant to Standing Orders 108(3)(h), the Committee review the safeguards which are in place to avoid and prevent conflicts of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, contribution and other expenditure policies;

Mr. Shugart, you have been asked to come testify today as you currently serve as the Clerk of the Privy Council. In just a moment I will give you 10 minutes for opening remarks, and then we will proceed to questions from members around this table.

I would ask that we be aware of the time. I will interrupt and stop questioning at the [Inaudible—Editor] minute. Please bear with me. I do not mean to be rude, but certainly I mean to be fair and to use our time wisely.

With that, Mr. Shugart, I would—

Yes.

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Chair, there's no interpretation at the moment.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'm just going to suspend for one moment.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I will bring the meeting back.

Mr. Shugart, you have 10 minutes to give opening remarks. Then we will proceed to questions from the members.

Yes, Mr. Gerretsen.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

On a point of order, now that the meeting is back in session, I have a question on the issue that was raised by Mr. Green, who has now been replaced by Mr. Angus, with respect to asking the Clerk of the Privy Council to be put under oath.

I want it to be known that I believe some other members of this committee misunderstood the manner in which the chair handled it, by assuming there was unanimous consent—

12:45 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Chair, the interpreter can't hear the remarks.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Sorry, Mr. Gerretsen, just wait for one moment.

I understand, Mr. Fortin. Thank you.

I will suspend. We still have an issue with the interpretation.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We're ready.

Mr. Kurek.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

I'll withdraw the motion. It seems like this will take unnecessary time, so I will withdraw my previous motion.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you so much, Mr. Kurek.

With that, we will proceed to testimony from Mr. Shugart.

Mr. Shugart, you have 10 minutes.

12:50 p.m.

Ian Shugart Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Madam Chair, I don't have an opening statement.

Perhaps the only comment I would make is that I first began engaging with members of Parliament 40 years ago this summer. As a public servant, I have many times appeared before parliamentary committees. I understand absolutely the sacred rites of the House of Commons. Whether I were sworn or not, members of the committee would hear exactly the same thing from me.

Thank you.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Shugart, thank you very much.

With that, we'll proceed to questions from the members. Our first round is six minutes for each member who is asking questions.

Mr. Barrett, you may begin.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Mr. Shugart, I believe that the documents submitted to the finance committee would be useful for our study as well. Would you be able to provide them to this committee?

12:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I certainly would make them available to any committee of the House. I'm not familiar with the procedures across committees, but I would be absolutely prepared to make the same material available.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you.

You supplied those per the deadline to the committee. I understand they are being vetted at this time. Are members of that committee able to see the documents in the same state they were submitted by you?

12:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

As far as I know, Chair, again, I believe the law clerks of parliamentary committees do some examination of the documents. I gather there are still some translation issues, so what will be provided and has been provided is entirely in the hands of the committee, at that point.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

The Prime Minister testified that he pushed back against your recommendation on May 8 before the cabinet meeting, saying that you hadn't ensured that i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed and that he demanded due diligence be done. Did that conversation happen electronically or in person?

12:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It was in person, but I would mention that during this entire period, because people have been working at a distance, typically in our briefings of the Prime Minister, certainly by the time he was no longer in isolation, it would have been a mix of people in the room and on the phone.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Is there a recording? Would those meetings be recorded if they're by Zoom or by the Government of Canada teleconference system?

12:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I can't be definitive; I assume not. I do know that in one case where I was asked to provide a Zoom recording of a particular meeting and I undertook to do so, if there were a recording, it transpired that there was not a recording. So to the best of my knowledge, there were not recordings of meetings.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you.

Did the Prime Minister ask for hard proof that the public service could not deliver the CSSG?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, the questions were specific, and the answers, I think, were taken as honest and true answers. It was a serious question and taken as such. Officials gave their best answers.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

But did he ask that question specifically? Because—

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

You mean for documentary evidence, for example?

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Yes.

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No, he did not as I recall.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Did he ask if, for example, the WE organization had a functioning board that was governing it?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Did he ask if they were in violation of any of their bank covenants?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Did he ask if their financials were in order?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No. I think he entrusted public servants to do their due diligence with respect to the proposed contribution agreement and the program that would be delivered.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Did he ask that you provide other options for organizations that could provide this service?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, as we indicated to the finance committee chair, there was extensive discussion, prior to the briefing of the Prime Minister and then again at the May 8 briefing and the subsequent briefing, that the due diligence had been done. As parliamentarians know, there was no formal call for proposals, but officials were thorough in understanding given the parameters of the program.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Was the question asked if this organization could deliver the program in both of Canada's official languages in accordance with the Official Languages Act?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

And was the answer that they were able to?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Are you aware that the WE organization was going to subcontract out 100% of the French delivery of the program?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No, I'm not aware of that.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

You haven't seen media reports to the effect that they had NATIONAL Public Relations contracted as their sub to deliver in French-speaking communities?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'm not aware of that.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

The Prime Minister said he wanted to make sure i's were dotted and t's were crossed in the two weeks between that cabinet meeting and the next. What due diligence would have been done during that time that wasn't done previously, up to that point on May 8?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, I think we have indicated that the kind of due diligence with respect to the ability of the organization to deliver the program had to do with official languages in one case, the ability to reach out across the country—in other words, take care of all the regional dimensions—and ensure that Canadians who are typically harder to access, disadvantaged people and so on, would be able to be reached by—

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

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

Sorry, I'm tight for time. I have one more question.

When you appeared at the finance committee, you said, “the Prime Minister was briefed [on the CSSG] prior to cabinet meetings and on at least one other occasion discussing the development of the program, the options, the design features, etc.” That's a quote from you. What was the date Mr. Trudeau was briefed about program development and options?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

If I remember correctly, it was late April, April 21 perhaps, when the broad outlines of the entire package for students were being briefed.

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

That's time, thank you.

Madame Brière, go ahead for six minutes.

12:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Good afternoon, Mr. Shugart.

Thank you for accepting the invitation to join us this afternoon.

Could you just explain how the file progresses once it gets to the Privy Council Office?

12:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

There is a preliminary period during which officials from Employment and Social Development Canada, or ESDC, and the Department of Finance outline the program and develop the details. I don't have the specific dates right now, but at some point during that period, officials from the Privy Council Office were informed and invited to take part in the conversations. In terms of overall development of the program, the details were becoming more and more established, and the discussions more detailed.

The role of the Privy Council Office is to prepare elements of the proposal for consideration by the Special Committee on the COVID-19 Pandemic and, ultimately, by cabinet.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

You mentioned that, in the circumstances, it was justified to proceed with a contribution agreement, which is a standard tool, rather than a tendering process.

Today, can you tell us why it was justified?

1 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It's a standard mechanism for working with a—

third party to deliver a program. It was already determined at that point that the elements of the program required a third party, and therefore a contribution agreement would be required. The contribution agreement itself follows the broad lines of any contribution agreement. There are standard clauses. There's a template for contribution agreements to ensure financial probity and results for Canadians, and that took some time to develop, as it always does. The more sophisticated or complex, and the larger scale of program, the more detailed the contribution agreement will be. That procedure was followed when it became clear that the department did not have the internal capacity to deliver the program that was being designed.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

When you were appointed, you said that it was your responsibility to advise ministers, and to tell them the good news and the bad news. Under both Mr. Harper's government and that of Mr. Trudeau, you have always considered it your duty to tell the truth and to give them the best possible advice. I believe you expect the same from all deputy ministers in the government.

Along the way, if you had doubted that WE Charity was the best option, would you have said so?

1 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Yes.

I wouldn't have said it personally. That was the opinion of senior officials at Employment and Social Development Canada. I didn't give that advice myself, but it was already the opinion of senior officials at ESDC at the time.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Okay, but I would like some clarification on your sense of duty and your responsibility to always advise ministers to the best of your ability.

1 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

This is absolutely consistent with the duties of public servants to consider options and to respond to ministers' requests in light of established program development preferences. That's normal and that's what was done in this case. The advice and analysis of senior officials was provided to ministers as usual.

1 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

In the Privy Council Office are there mechanisms, such as due diligence procedures, in place to identify areas of concern and potential conflicts of interest?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Everything is based on the Conflict of Interest Act. As the committee knows, it is the responsibility of individuals to make their business known to the commissioner. If the commissioner deems that action is necessary, it's the responsibility of senior officials or ministers—

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'm sorry, that's time. Thank you.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

Thank you.

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We'll move to Mr. Fortin for six minutes.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Good afternoon, Mr. Shugart.

With respect to the due diligence of WE Charity, you said earlier that Mr. Trudeau had not inquired about this, but that he assumed the officials had.

Can you tell us exactly what due diligence was done on WE Charity's activities?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I indicated earlier that the due diligence had to do with the organization's ability to deliver the program. Other issues related to the organization, such as those related to the board of directors, were not considered at that time.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

In terms of the financial aspect, was the creditworthiness of WE Charity checked?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No, because senior officials said that they had dealt with the organization before, that there was a track record. The content of the contribution mechanism is specific enough to determine that expenditures, for instance, are well managed. This kind of due diligence also assesses the organization's ability to deliver the program and interact with citizens, among other things.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I don't mean to be rude, Mr. Shugart, but we have so little time that I feel compelled to corner you. Please excuse me. You said that this organization has an established track record and that it was enough to judge them on it. What was the duration of the track record of WE Charity that reassured you?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I’m afraid I don’t know the details of that. The department had worked with the charity on other occasions. They knew them well.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do you know that the contribution agreement was not given to WE Charity, but rather to the WE Charity Foundation?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Yes, I learned that recently.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do you know how long the WE Charity Foundation has been incorporated?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do you know how solvent the WE Charity Foundation was and how many assets it had, among other things?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I only know that in conversations between ESDC officials and WE Charity people, it was determined, partly for administrative reasons, that the WE Charity Foundation was the best vehicle.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I don't know the exact figure off the top of my head, but WE Charity had liabilities of a few tens of millions of dollars.

Did you know that?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I don't know the details, but I understand that there are—

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

If I told you that the WE Charity Foundation had no known assets, would you believe it's possible?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I have no specific information on that.

1:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

How often does the federal government give $43.5 million in contracts to manage $900 million to empty shells that have no assets and no known track record?

1:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

All I can say, Chair, is that the contribution agreement in this case was typical of relationships between a government department and an entity. They are guided by principles of audit and of due diligence with respect to the interest of the Crown. This contribution agreement will bear scrutiny as typical of the mechanisms that have been approved by the Treasury Board and that have been used in the government for a very long time.

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I'll take your word for it, Mr. Shugart. It seems to make sense to me. I can't believe the federal government put an organization in charge of managing $900 million of our savings, or even our children's future savings, because we don't have that money and have to borrow it, without any due diligence.

I can't believe we paid an empty shell, with no assets, without checking anything. It seems absurd to me. That's why I'm asking you to reassure me, because you're still the Clerk of the Privy Council. You advise the Prime Minister on these things. You have been involved in these decisions. Yet you're telling me that there was no financial due diligence and that you simply relied on the fact that the department had already dealt with WE Charity and on the fact that they knew these people. That doesn't make me feel any better.

Can you tell me anything else to make me feel better?

1:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

You're absolutely right about the government's responsibility to reassure Canadians about the reliability of things. I would simply say that there was an established relationship between WE Charity and the department. As I mentioned before, I don't know the specific reasons why the vehicle was transferred between WE Charity and the WE Charity Foundation. However, I can say that the procedures and rules were followed in terms of carrying out this contribution agreement.

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I have one last question for you, Mr. Shugart. My colleague asked you about this earlier.

On May 8, the Prime Minister backed down because he felt he might be in a conflict of interest in this matter. The decision to award the contract to WE Charity was postponed for two weeks. That is part of the story, and we now know that two weeks later, Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Morneau voted in favour of the decision.

Between May 8 and May 22, were you consulted on whether or not a conflict of interest prevented the Prime Minister from making a decision?

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You have 10 seconds for your answer.

1:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I was generally aware, because the item had been removed from the cabinet agenda, that there was a desire for due diligence on the part of the Prime Minister's chief of staff and the Prime Minister, and that that would be undertaken between the two cabinet dates. I was not personally involved in that due diligence. My opinion was not sought, and I did not see anything at the time that required my giving the Prime Minister specific advice. The follow-up to his request was being undertaken by officials and it did not occur to me at the time, or indeed in retrospect, as I've thought about this, that there was anything in that circumstance that called for more than the follow-up that was being done by officials.

1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do you have a copy of the report?

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Green, the floor is yours for six minutes.

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

This is a very interesting line of questioning. Through you, Madam Chair, who would have provided the due diligence in this regard?

1:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, those who did the follow-up, Chair, which is to say ESDC officials who had carriage of the file, and the Privy Council Office would have been monitoring that as well.

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

So you would have been providing advice to Ms. Telford in this regard of due diligence?

1:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, the nature of our advice was when the item returned, the homework having been done by the officials, and the Prime Minister was again briefed prior to the cabinet meeting—

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

In your opinion, was the due diligence sufficient?

1:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

In my opinion, it was.

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

How does Ms. Telford, in her testimony before the finance committee, state that she didn't even know the contract was with the WE Charity Foundation?

1:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

At that time, we did not know that information.

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

How is it that you—not you personally, but through you, Madam Chair.... How is it that during this due diligence process nobody read the 2019 audited financial statements that WE Charity was in breach for the second year?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, I've indicated that the focus of that due diligence was on the ability of the organization to deliver the program—

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Would due diligence—

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

—and in the interactions with the organization—

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Which one? Just for clarity, Madam Chair, which organization?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

With WE Charity.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

With WE Charity Foundation?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

As I understand, they made the suggestion.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Specifically, through you, Madam Chair, was it WE Charity Foundation, for the record?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No. I'm going to say that WE Charity, as far as I'm aware, made the suggestion that the WE Charity Foundation would be the better vehicle.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Chair, through you, in the due diligence process, who would the due diligence be applied to, the WE Charity Foundation or WE Charity proper?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

The same issues.... I don't know at what point the focus shifted from the WE Charity to the WE Charity Foundation. I do not know if it would be the same individuals responding on the other side to both parts of the organization. I can tell you that the officials were focused with their interlocutors at WE on the due diligence, the ability of the organization to deliver the program.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Chair, through you to Mr. Shugart, I apologize. I can't accept that in a $43-million administrative exchange to administer a $912-million program that the governance of the WE Charity Foundation wouldn't have been a part of the due diligence process, so I'll put the question clearly. Was the governance of the WE Charity Foundation's stability part of the due diligence process, knowing that they were going to, as a shell company, hold the liability?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Chair, I understand completely the question and its legitimacy. I have every confidence that going forward we will learn from this situation whether those questions should have been examined. I'm not in a position to give the detail on the negotiation of the contribution agreement between ESDC officials and the WE organization broadly.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Through you, Madam Chair, that's not what I'm asking. I'm asking whether in your report back on the due diligence the governance structure of the WE charitable foundation was part of the due diligence?

I'll explain why. It has been reported by Charity Intelligence that in the due diligence the process was whether the charity was able to provide full and frank disclosure to the founder about the radical change in its governance. For instance, none of this would have come to light until the June 28 tweet of the former chair Michelle Douglas, which showed that the board of directors had gone from seven to five. That's a radical departure.

I've been a part, Madam Chair, of many processes. I've been a member of the Hamilton Community Foundation. I've been on the endowment fund for the City of Hamilton, the enrichment fund. I can assure you that if there were a radical departure by the board of an organization that I was about to present money to, without any real explanation, that would raise a flag. Yet in your testimony, through you, Madam Chair, Mr. Shugart, you suggested there were no flags raised. How is that?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I've been very clear, a few times now, in answering your question to say that those issues with respect to the WE Charity Foundation were not raised in the subsequent briefing. To my knowledge, they were not flagged as material in the examination of WE's ability to deliver the program.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Is that still your opinion, with all the information that's been disclosed since then?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

In retrospect, I think if we had known what we know now, we probably would have inquired further, but I must also say that even looking back now, I have no evidence that the WE organization, had the program gone ahead, would not today be able to deliver the program as set out in the contribution agreement.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

This will be my last question. With regard to the April update that you referred to following the previous speaker's question, was the Prime Minister briefed at the time that he was involved, back in April? We know that Ministers Chagger, Ng and Morneau were already heavily involved with WE. Did the Prime Minister know at that time during your briefing that WE was on the docket for this particular program?

1:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

My understanding is that he did not.

1:15 p.m.

NDP

Matthew Green NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

I don't see how that's possible.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

Mr. Poilievre, you have the floor for five minutes.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

So the Prime Minister had no idea how the program would be delivered when he announced the program on April 22.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

The details of the design of the program had yet to be worked out. The policy was what the Prime Minister announced. The details were to be fleshed out later.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

“Later” came on May 8. At that meeting, was the Prime Minister's family's relationship with WE ever raised by anyone?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It was not, that I recall. The Prime Minister's own history with WE was—

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, I know that.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

—but beyond that, sir, no.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Was it raised at all?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I do not believe it was.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

You do not believe so.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

To the best of my knowledge, the answer is no.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

You were there.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Either I was there or my colleague Phil Jennings, who's deputy secretary at PCO was. I would refer—

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did the Prime Minister ask, at that meeting, for evidence that the public service could not deliver the program?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, as I said to the earlier question, this was oral, but yes, he asked for an understanding of the capacity of the public service, which was provided.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did he ask for any information about the financial state of the WE organization?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did he ask for any evidence that the organization had a governance structure?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Do you mean difficulties with that? No.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

He effectively said that your public service did not cross t's or dot i's, and that you did not provide him with enough scrutiny at that meeting. What did you lack? What did the public service fail to tell him that made him “push back”, in his words?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

My understanding of what the Prime Minister has said is that he wanted assurance that the i's were dotted and the t's crossed.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

But they weren't—

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I am not aware that he found any particular gaps in the information.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Well, he must have, because he claims—claims—that he pulled the document from the cabinet meeting.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

So he must have found a gap.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, he was not satisfied—

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Why not?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

—but he wanted greater assurance. I would not say he pointed to any specific gaps in the information.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did he give you a list of due diligence that he wanted?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Yes. We've referred to that as issues related to—

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

There's a list?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

We discussed this in the meeting. I've referred to what those topics were: the ability of the organization to reach harder-to-access Canadians, bilingualism, regional reach and that kind of thing.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

But he didn't ask about finances or governance, obviously, which would be necessary for an organization to deliver a program, and yet somehow he claims that he was seeking due diligence.

Has the WE organization repaid the money it received from the government yet?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I believe that is in process, but I haven't the details off the top of my head.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

It still has the money, as far as we know.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

We'll have to provide that information, Chair.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

The ESDC had carriage of the file, yet no minister from ESDC signed off on the contribution agreement. How many times have you seen a department do a contribution agreement with a funding recipient without the minister signing off?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

In fact, Minister Chagger was the responsible minister. She did sign the contribution agreement.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

She's not with the ESDC, so she's not with the department that—

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

She is, by order in council, associated with ESDC for the purposes of the relevant programs.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

When was she granted signing authority for this agreement?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

We would have to confirm that for you. I think it might have been in March, but I would have to confirm that.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

When did the employment minister decide not to sign either the MC or the contribution agreement?

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

The employment minister was not the responsible minister for the purposes of the program. Beyond that, I can't say.

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

I've never borne witness to a non-ESDC minister signing an ESDC contribution agreement and an ESDC memorandum to cabinet. It is bizarre that none of the ministers who are actually with that department would have been involved in either of those two submissions.

1:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

But the—

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

It suggests neither of them wanted to have their name on this.

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Poilievre, that is time.

You can give a quick response.

1:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I want to be very clear that Minister Chagger was associated with the department for purposes of programming related to youth, done by order in council, and that is not unprecedented at all. A minister can be effectively cross-appointed to another department for purposes of program responsibility. That's what happened in this case.

1:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

We'll move on to Ms. Zahid for five minutes, please.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair. I will be sharing my time with my colleague Mr. Gerretsen.

Thank you, Mr. Shugart, for appearing before the committee. Thank you for all the work you do on behalf of all Canadians.

Over the last five months, there has been a lot of discussion about the capacity of the public service to deliver programs like the Canada student service grant. I know that our world-class public servants adapted during these extraordinary circumstances, trying to navigate through this pandemic to deliver several key emergency benefits to all Canadians, all in condensed time frames, clearly stretching our program delivery ability to its limit.

Would you agree that at the time the Canada student service grant program was being developed and different options were being explored, the public service was at the point where, in order to deliver programs like the Canada student service grant, they needed some assistance and didn't have the capacity to do it themselves?

1:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

We have indicated that with the particular design of this program, given its scale and the desire for rapidity of beginning the program, the closest vehicle within the public service for delivering it would have been the Canada Service Corps, which was being designed and gradually built. It was very clearly not going to be able to deliver a program on this scale and proactively to do the outreach to Canadian students to get them involved. At that point, therefore, the requirement for a third party was identified, and consideration was given to those who might be able to do it.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Would you say that the Government of Canada is normally in the business of delivering programs like the Canada student service grant and that these concierge types of programs help match and train people like our young Canadians? We see the government funding programs like the Canada summer jobs program, but we don't see the government doing the actual matching and hiring, and also the training of the young Canadians. Would that be correct?

1:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I think in general to this point that has been true, although the form of that may vary. The Canada Job Bank, for example, is a program of long standing which is fundamentally an IT platform for matching jobs with those looking for work. This program had features that were much more hands-on. There is nothing inherently saying that a government department could not deliver that kind of program, but it would be a matter of policy, an administrative policy as to whether that would be the most effective use of public resources.

Any time a government considers outsourcing services from the public sector to private sector providers, it's essentially the same question: Who is best placed to deliver this program in the public interest? In this case, there just was not the time or the existing capability in that tailored way for a public service program to take this on.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Salma Zahid Liberal Scarborough Centre, ON

Thank you.

I will pass it on to Mr. Gerretsen.

1:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you.

Madam Chair, I really don't have time for a question, so perhaps I'll just make a comment.

Mr. Shugart, I want to congratulate you on 40 years of public service. That is absolutely exceptional.

In any capacity that I can, I want to offer an apology for the fact that you felt the need to inform this committee at the beginning that anything you said would obviously be the truth. I think that any honourable member would assume that of their top civil servant. I want it to be known that at least from the position that I'm sitting in.... The other people around this table will come and go, but it's the folks who run the operation, the folks who maintain the integrity of the system, such as you, who are the ones who truly keep our democratic system in place for generations to come, so thank you.

1:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'll just say very briefly, if I could, Chair, that I take no offence from the earlier proceeding and I'm keenly aware that sometimes public servants come and go, as well. The first 10 years of my career—I should say, of my misspent youth—were on Parliament Hill, so I wasn't actually a public servant for the first decade of that time.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you very much, Mr. Shugart.

We will move to Mr. Gourde for five minutes.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I, too, would like to congratulate you, Mr. Shugart, for 40 years of service. Bravo!

Something intrigues me. Around the end of April, when you first met with the Prime Minister, how many scenarios did you present to him for delivering the Canada student service grant?

1:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

If I remember correctly, I wasn't at that meeting, but all the programs for students were discussed. That included the items announced by the Prime Minister, but not the program that received the most attention. At that point, guidelines were established but not determined. There was a lot of detail that needed to be clarified at that point.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

During the COVID-19 crisis, the government has introduced many initiatives to help Canadians, but where did the idea for the Canada student service grant come from? Was it a political directive or was it a response to advice from government departments to the Prime Minister? Was it the Prime Minister or cabinet that asked for this initiative?

1:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'd say it was a combination of things as to the will. In terms of personal goals—

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Was it political will?

1:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I understand your question. However, when staff in the ministers' offices and the public servants spoke, they found a problem.

There's been an explosion of ideas about what's possible. There has been a kind of back and forth that is typical of program development in any field. At that time, there were discussions between the office of the Minister of Finance, the office of the Prime Minister, ESDC and public servants.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Shugart.

On the same day the Prime Minister announced the initiative, the media informed us that WE Charity was already ready to apply.

Were other organizations able to apply for the program? IS WE Charity the only organization that got the information before the Prime Minister announced the initiative?

1:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

At that time, there was no established program. Of course, WE Charity passed on its ideas, but it wasn't a competition. The offer to manage the program wasn't made to WE Charity.

At that point there was no program. It was still being developed, but it has been established that WE contributed ideas at that point.

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jacques Gourde Conservative Lévis—Lotbinière, QC

WE Charity contributed so well to the development of the program that its recommendations and expertise were drawn upon. The program was tailor-made for WE Charity, and therefore, indirectly, only WE Charity was able to deploy the program, since it was tailor-made for it.

By the way, this is a unilingual anglophone organization that could not deploy the program in Quebec, where it had no base. You used a third party to set up a program that uses a third party to deploy it in provinces where it has no base. Was it really due diligence to think that WE Charity was the only one that could deliver the program?

The Prime Minister said that senior officials—and, indirectly, you—told him that it was the only organization that could do it, but it was the same organization that developed the program.

1:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I will say again, Chair, that the development of this program took place over a period of time. When WE submitted their ideas—and they submitted more than one idea—one proposal they made was not accepted by the government. The government said, “No, not that program. We're not interested in that.”

The development of this program, like that of any program, was organic. It was formed on the basis of first determining what features were needed, what problem was being solved. Ideas came from many quarters, and ultimately the program took shape. As it took shape, and as the features of the program became clear, it also became clear that a third party would be needed to develop the program, but at no point was WE developing a program for the government.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Shugart.

We will move to Mr. Gerretsen for five minutes.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Mr. Shugart, in your testimony at the finance committee on July 21, you indicated, “I do not see a way that the Prime Minister or the finance minister responsible for public funds could not have had involvement in the policy development and in the approval of finances on this scale.”

This committee heard from two academic witnesses yesterday who said that all conflicts have to be considered, regardless of the scale.

Can you elaborate on your remarks?

1:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Yes. I think I indicated to the finance committee my identification of a problem. I do not have a final answer, but I did indicate that one of the main vehicles—it's clearly in the Conflict of Interest Act—for dealing with conflict of interest is disclosure of the conflict so that if there is a tension in objectives, people can see that, and people can judge for themselves whether it is likely that the decision-maker is going about the responsibility of making decisions so as to further his or her own interests.

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Let me just build on that for a second. To continue your point, you also said in that meeting, “I must say that, of course, one of the standard means of dealing with conflict of interest...is disclosure.” You then noted that the Prime Minister's involvement with WE was well documented in the public domain, and therefore was in essence disclosed.

Can you comment on that?

1:35 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I offer that as at least some insight into why I, for my part, did not identify any looming conflict of interest here. The Prime Minister's past involvement with the charity was well known.

I would say that what the Prime Minister himself said about recusal.... That is the second classic vehicle for dealing with conflict of interest. He has indicated that when it came to the actual decision-making moment, he looks back and regrets that he did not absent himself from that discussion.

Every conflict of interest situation is a situation unique to itself. Yes, there are classic issues to be aware of and avoided, but this was a matter of major public policy involving significant public resources. To a substantial degree, it seemed to me that this did call for the knowledge, at a minimum, of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance on that scale.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Mr. Shugart, would you say that rampant ethics problems exist within the PCO, the Prime Minister's Office and the greater public service at large?

1:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I certainly would not. We are governed by the Conflict of Interest Act. I very deliberately am not going to pass judgment on questions that are before the Ethics Commissioner. That is his responsibility. But I would indicate that the Conflict of Interest Act is followed every day by public office holders with respect to declarations, the consultation with the Ethics Commissioner with regard to potential conflicts of interest, orders to divest, and screens for conflict that are set up sometimes beyond what the commissioner has called for.

The Conflict of Interest Act is very definitely a living reality for our government institutions.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

In your opinion, does the act work? Is it fulfilling its objective?

1:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

The act, as every other mechanism of accountability, is the result of successive encounters with problems over decades of governments. In that sense, it is kind of a living document.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you—

1:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It's ultimately for parliamentarians to say whether it is adequate to the challenges we face.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Shugart.

Mr. Fortin, you have the floor for two and a half minutes.

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Shugart, there is a range of topics I'd like to address with you. If I've understood correctly, you said that the Prime Minister wasn't in a conflict of interest given that his family's involvement with WE Charity was known to the public.

Is that what you said?

1:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'm not sure it was public at that point. It may have been. Having said that, I imagine his mother's involvement with WE Charity was in the public domain.

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

However, we agree that he could be in a conflict of interest, even if these facts were known, right?

1:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I was talking about the involvement, the Prime Minister's own past relationship with the organization. The family aspect wasn't necessarily raised.

1:40 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

All right. Anyway, you aren't here as an expert on ethics. I don't want to bother you with pointed questions. We're going to proceed with facts.

Earlier, I asked you a question that I don't think you really answered. I asked you how often the federal government gives a $43.5 million contract to an organization that turns out to be an empty shell, an organization that has no known track record, has been incorporated for a year or two and has no assets, to manage $900 million.

Have you ever seen that before?

1:40 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No, I cannot say it is common, but I can say that the procedures followed with the organization in order to ensure a solid contribution agreement are common. In fact, they're standard.

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Okay. Thank you, but you've already said that. I'm not saying it's not important, Mr. Shugart, but I only have two minutes, and I have one last question for you.

You said that you came to the conclusion that the public service couldn't run this program. How did you come that conclusion?

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

That was the reasoned opinion of the officials at the department responsible.

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Who are these officials?

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

As the committee said, they were officials at Employment and Social Development Canada, including the—

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Could you give us the name of a person who said that at one point?

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you. That's your time.

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Ms. Wernick was identified as being responsible, and she presented the facts to the committee.

1:45 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

So it's Ms. Wernick who decided that the public service couldn't run—

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Shugart and Mr. Fortin, that's your time. Thank you.

Mr. Angus, you have the floor for two and a half minutes.

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I thank you for your service.

Clearly, something went terribly wrong here. The second this program was announced, it fell apart, and it fell apart on the obvious connections between the Prime Minister's family and the Kielburgers.

That question of conflict of interest was the first question. That's before we learned that they were setting up a shell company that had no assets. That's before we learned that they'd fired their board. That's before we learned that the Prime Minister's family was getting paid when the board was being told they weren't. It was a question of conflict of interest.

I'm not saying that it's your job, but given that your predecessor lost his job in the last ethics scandal, it had to be someone's job to raise this as an obvious red flag. Who in the Prime Minister's Office raises a red flag of this significance, so that you and everybody involved would not be blindsided when this came out? Whose job was that?

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, I think, Chair, that Ms. Telford indicated to the finance committee that she raised the question of wanting to be absolutely certain that this was done in an appropriate way and everything was above board, given the relationship, the history, that the Prime Minister had. That was in this case, and the due diligence proceeded as we have described—

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

So that was Ms. Telford's responsibility, because under—

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

She indicated that she was the one who raised the question, but I—

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

That's a good question. I only have two minutes here.

The other question I have—obviously, this thing fell apart—is on this line that only WE had the capacity to deliver a project of close to a billion dollars. Now, we get different numbers—$530 million, $43 million, $912 million—but I'm looking at WE's record with the government: $40,000 for a contract, $24,990, $24,996, $17,050, $13,374. Then there are a few contribution agreements, and the highest is $3 million.

How in anybody's world, looking at WE's record with these penny ante contracts, could you have signed off and said, “I think we can give these guys $912 million and we're not going to have any problems”? That alone, without asking the questions about why they had to set up a shell company and the fact that they were in financial free fall when they came to the government for the money.... They don't have a track record of doing this—

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, that's time. We're going to let that hang. I'm sorry.

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We're moving on to Mr. Kurek.

You have five minutes.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Shugart. I appreciate your coming and the forthrightness with which you started your testimony.

Is it still reasonable to state that only WE could deliver this program, when it actually couldn't deliver the program in either official language and there were other issues with the program being delivered in different parts of the country?

1:45 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

As I indicated, Chair, I have not seen anything that would indicate that if the program had proceeded and were in operation today the WE organization would not be able to deliver it. When you examine the contribution agreement, including the nature of having to report against objectives and milestones.... Yes, things fell apart, but not for any demonstrated inability of the organization to deliver the program.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Yet the program is not being delivered.

Specifically, regarding delivery, was there ever a question asked about whether or not WE could deliver programs effectively in rural Canada, yes or no?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I believe so, but officials at ESDC would have to provide that detail.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Sure.

Did you listen to the Prime Minister's testimony before the finance committee?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Was there anything in that testimony that surprised you?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

On what date did the public service become aware that the Canada Service Corps was not able to run the program?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I don't know specifically, but as I've indicated, at one point, for the scale of what was being sought—the number of placements, for example, and the need to reach disadvantaged youth and so on—the program had not reached such a level of maturity that it was going to be able to handle that.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

I do find that interesting, because if you have an organization with obviously limited capacity versus a new government program that has limited capacity, it seems like a non-starter, which leads me to my next question.

I've read a lot of government briefing notes, but rarely have I seen a briefing note outline such a binary choice as the one that has been described to members of this committee and others. Is it common practice for the public service to provide a binary option to a prime minister or cabinet minister to move forward on a program of this scale, something close to $1 billion?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, there was analysis provided about the ability of other options to deliver, and given the facts of the case, the issue for ministers essentially would have come down to “Do we proceed with this program or not?”

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

So, if I'm understanding you correctly, it was either WE or nothing.

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

To deliver this program at that stage under those contingencies, yes.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Okay.

Regarding all the third parties that the government reached out to in order to see if they could run the Canada student service grant, would you be able to provide the dates and details of all the contacts between the department and those various organizations?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I believe that material is included in what we've undertaken to provide. If further information is sought, we would be responsive to that.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Okay. Thank you. I appreciate that.

In your experience, does the Prime Minister usually read the full briefing material he is given before an announcement or a decision is made?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'm not with him when he does his reading, but based on his performance and that of all his predecessors, I would say yes.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

Damien Kurek Conservative Battle River—Crowfoot, AB

Okay. I appreciate that.

How often does the government make program announcements when they don't really have a general idea of how, when or even if they will deliver a specific program?

1:50 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

That, I think, is very much attributable to the circumstances that we faced. The head of a government will, I think—and I can't provide details off the top of my head—often indicate that a government will do something about such-and-such a problem. The government, in this period of the pandemic, I think, frequently declared its intentions in order to send reassurance to Canadians, and then details followed and, as we've seen, were sometimes changed in response to changing circumstances. In that regard, this has been a very unusual period.

1:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

The floor is Mr. Dong's for five minutes.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Mr. Shugart, for being here. I certainly appreciate that.

Can you tell us how you and your office or the public service have adapted, over the last several months, to the new norm of running the government during this national crisis caused by the pandemic? I ask this because I've been listening to some of the comments made at this committee, and there's a lot of talk and comparison with how the government should normally function and the processes during normal times. If I may make an observation, the past several months have been nothing like normal times.

When it comes to your office and the government and the public service, how have you been doing in comparison with normal times?

1:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I would say there are differences of procedure and of substance.

With respect to procedure, I think we have experienced what members of Parliament have experienced. The normal interactions out in the country with groups and communities were vastly curtailed. With respect to how we made decisions and so on, a lot of it was virtually, as the committees are experiencing, and often at all hours of the day and night, given the amount of business and the extent of the impacts of the pandemic. People were pressed. People were tired. Some public servants were doing their work but knowing that it was not being called on. Other public servants were under pretty unrelenting pressure to deliver. The same is true for ministers.

With respect to the substance, I would say that none of us have been happy with the speed at which analysis had to be undertaken. In fact, we conveyed informally, as did the former government during the financial crisis, to the Office of the Auditor General that we anticipated that there would be mistakes. We set out our objectives in advance so that there would be understanding in the Auditor General's office about the constraints that were affecting things.

In this particular case, if we had all the time in the world, I am sure—I'm speculating here—that one of the options to mount this kind of program would be, “How could we accelerate the development of the service corps?” In the circumstances, action was required sooner than that, and that led to what we're now familiar with.

I don't present any of that as an excuse for any mistakes that collectively may have been made or may subsequently come to light, but simply to provide background to the nature of the circumstances.

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Yes, I agree with you; it's fair to say that things weren't operating normally with the government. There's the fact that many public servants have had to work from home, which is very different from the situations they've dealt with in their past experience.

At this committee and also at the finance committee—I've watched the testimony—there has been quite a bit of talk about contribution agreements. In your opinion, do you think contribution agreements are unethical? In your opinion or in your experience, is it common for the government to acquire third party services through contribution agreements?

1:55 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It is. It is absolutely common. I wouldn't say it's the default, but it is common. We have a vibrant civil society sector, voluntary sector, in this country. The support to women's shelters, the support to food banks, the support to long-term care facilities and other mechanisms during the pandemic were delivered on the part of the public by third parties. Contribution agreements were the vehicle for arranging that support.

The contribution agreement is a tested mechanism that has been used over decades by governments—

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Shugart.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

—with, over time, greater precision in order to ensure probity.

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

2 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Shugart.

2 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

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

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Mr. Shugart, you testified at the finance committee that there is no evidence that anyone in the PMO had been in contact with WE in the lead-up to the announcement of this initiative. The chief of staff to the Prime Minister has since contradicted you and said that at least five members of the PMO were in contact with WE. Can you give us their names?

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I don't have those names with me, Chair, and I wouldn't normally know. I think Ms. Telford made commitments to follow up on that.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

That's fair enough. Did anyone in the PMO communicate with anyone in PCO about WE in the period from the beginning of March until the contribution agreement was signed?

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It is possible. I don't know the details of it. Particularly toward the end, the latter stages of the process, it is possible.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Is it possible that they communicated about WE with the PCO prior to the May 8 recommendation that public servants provided the Prime Minister, that WE deliver the program?

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

In the form of discussions about the proposal as it was being developed, that is possible. PMO-to-PCO communication, that is possible.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Right, I think it is probable that we had political-to-public service communication before we got public service recommendations back to political.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Communication is not direction.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Well, that's what we're going to find out.

When did you first hear that WE was considered for this program?

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

As I indicated to the finance committee, I take the question, Chair, as a personal one. I became aware of this particular file in a fairly light way and toward the latter stages.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Do you have a date, just because we don't need to go—

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I can't confirm if it was at the May 8 briefing.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Were you at that briefing? If I understand your answer earlier, you said you might have been there, but you might not have been, and you think you were, but you—

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Sometimes I am at a briefing. I'm typically at a briefing of the Prime Minister before cabinet, but not always.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Were you at that one?

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I suspect so, but I cannot be certain. I can check, if that's material.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Well, it's just that this is a particularly important cabinet briefing. It's the meeting at which the Prime Minister claims he first learned that WE was going to deliver this program.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I have examined the record and consulted with colleagues and confirmed that that is the case.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

But you don't know for sure if you were at the meeting.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I suspect that I was there for the briefing on May 8 and May 22, but I don't want, without being certain, to tell the committee definitively. I believe, yes.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

You believe you were at the meeting.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I suspect that I was there. If you want me to confirm with my calendar, then I will do that. I can be at a meeting with the Prime Minister and be called out of the meeting, so there's—

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

This might have been one of those meetings that I wouldn't want to be at, and if I was there, I wouldn't want to remember it.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

No, it's never that.

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Well, I am sure that there are occasions of that nature.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

There are often places where you would rather not be if you had the complete choice, but—

2 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

I can't imagine what you're referring to.

At the same time, we have this story that the Prime Minister pushed back. You didn't mention that in your original testimony. Minister Chagger didn't mention it. No one else who was there mentioned it. I would think, if a Prime Minister, particularly someone who likes to box, were to put up his dukes and push back, you'd remember it. You probably would have gone home at the end of that day feeling like you had a rotten day, that the boss pushed back against you, but you don't remember having been at that meeting.

2 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I did say to the finance committee that Ms. Telford raised those questions, so it's well established that the Prime Minister and his chief of staff raised the issue of due diligence. That's been very clear and consistent.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Right, we just can't get any sense of what due diligence they wanted or received. They knew nothing about the finances, about the board resignations, about the problems that WE.... They couldn't list the other organizations that were consulted, so it doesn't sound like they had any real—

2:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

We've provided the information on the other organizations, and I've been clear that the due diligence did not extend to the financial matters of the foundation.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Right, which would have been necessary to know if they could deliver it—

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

That's time.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

I would conclude, Madam Chair, if I may, by agreeing with Mr. Gerretsen.

Mr. Shugart, you are an exceptional public servant. I think it is terrible the way the Prime Minister has thrown you and the public service under the bus, the way that he has implied that you and your organization are to blame. I want you to know—

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Poilievre, that's time.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

—that Her Majesty’s official opposition does not believe it for a second.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

Mr. Shugart, if I may, the original agreement was that you would be here until 2:00; however, due to technical difficulties at the beginning of this meeting, we got started quite late. Would you agree to be here until 2:30 today?

2:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'm at the committee's disposal. I'm delighted to be here.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Shugart, that's an excellent answer. Thank you so much for accommodating us.

2:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I think we did begin a little before the time. I do have other appointments, but I'll be happy to stay.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I will get you out of here no later than 2:30.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

I have a point of order.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Yes, Mr. Gerretsen.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Mr. Poilievre made a comment towards the end there, and you—

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

This doesn't sound like a point of order.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

It actually is, because it has to do with the procedural order of the meeting. It's a point of order. He made a comment. In past comments that have been made at the end—this is not debate; it is to the procedure—you have allowed, as chair, the witness to respond, in this case Mr. Shugart. I'm wondering if, procedurally, you will allow Mr. Shugart to respond to Mr. Poilievre's comment.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Gerretsen.

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Sorry, I have a point of order.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus.

2:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Chair, I'm not knocking you, but in the last two meetings you have not allowed the witness to respond to my second round. Mr. Gerretsen is new here. He's just shown up, so I don't think he should be assuming how things are done and undermining your work.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Angus.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

We are all equals here, Mr. Angus.

2:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We'll be moving forward at this time.

Mrs. Shanahan, the floor is yours for five minutes.

2:05 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Actually, while we are discussing so much the finance committee, I wonder, Chair, if we could ask the clerk to ask for written copies of the testimony that has been provided to the finance committee by the witness so that we can avoid undue duplication in the future, and for any other witness who will be appearing on the same issues here at our committee.

But while we are talking about the finance committee, Mr. Shugart, on July 21 you noted, “I must say that, of course, one of the standard means of dealing with conflict of interest...is disclosure.” You went on to note that the Prime Minister's involvement with WE was well documented in the public domain and therefore was, in essence, disclosed. Can you elaborate for the committee on your thinking in this matter?

2:05 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I have no intention of establishing any new doctrine of conflict of interest, of course, but in a situation where decisions are made and the decision-maker has an interest, a private interest, and that is not disclosed, that is an unacceptable situation because nobody can judge the basis upon which the decision has been made. Maybe it is private interests, and maybe it is public interests, but it's invisible. That's why the Conflict of Interest Act requires public office holders to declare their private interests, including their financial dealings and often what would be considered by many Canadians to be quite intimate details of their affairs and of their family. The purpose is so that the light can be shone on their interests.

That does not by itself solve all conflict situations, but it is one of the classic ways of resolving conflict of interest situations so that other parties can judge whether in fact there was a conflict, or, if there was, whether it was resolved in the public interest.

In this case, the Prime Minister was the Minister of Youth in the previous Parliament, and at the same time he had extensive background with an organization that at least in part deals with youth affairs. Therefore, it would not have come as a surprise that he would have had a relationship with WE. Whether that by itself constitutes a conflict of interest is a matter before the commissioner. I think, in his comments, the Prime Minister has indicated that he is willing to submit himself to that finding.

I simply meant that in terms of my own conduct through that period, it did not occur to me that there was a private interest here, because the Prime Minister's interest and involvement and history with WE were anything but private. They were very public. At that time, therefore, I did not say, “Prime Minister, I understand that you have a background with WE, so maybe you shouldn't be part of this conversation”, because it was a very public thing.

2:10 p.m.

Liberal

Brenda Shanahan Liberal Châteauguay—Lacolle, QC

Thank you. That's very helpful, especially to the motion that we have before us here today.

In further testimony, you noted, “I do not see a way that the Prime Minister or the finance minister responsible for public funds could not have had involvement in the policy development and in the approval of finances on this scale.” Now, we heard from academics yesterday who were asked about your remarks, and noted that no matter the scale of the program, conflicts still have to be considered. Can you elaborate on your remarks, particularly on why it was so important to have the first minister's input on such a significant spending approval?

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You can give a very brief answer.

2:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I just think that there are certain matters of public policy that the Prime Minister as the leader of the government is of necessity going to be involved in. I think this is a conundrum that certainly we at PCO will reflect on, going forward.

2:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

Madam Gaudreau, the floor is yours for two and a half minutes.

2:10 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Good afternoon, Mr. Shugart.

We have received a lot of answers. Thank you for giving us more time. I would like to go back to the public aspect and explain to you why this concerns me. For a number of years, I helped not-for-profit organizations, mostly to obtain assistance. I remember clearly how complicated and difficult that could be. I also recall that, without government assistance, some organizations could not provide services.

Today, as a new member of Parliament, I have to get used to extremely strict rules. Under those rules, when one becomes an elected public figure, one is required to provide all the information at one's disposal. The rules are already complex for small organizations, but how could the government have failed in its own responsibilities, which were actually well-known to the general public? Despite the need for urgent action and the huge need for assistance, how is it that, at a minimum, the government did not follow the rules that have to be observed?

2:10 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I do not really understand what specifically was not done.

In my opinion, with regard to the contribution agreement, the officials did their job and fulfilled their responsibilities to negotiate it.

In terms of the Cabinet decisions, it was basically a question of public policy. Students needed support. Factors were considered and an analysis of the design and implementation of the program was done The Cabinet made the decisions and the public service fulfilled its responsibilities.

2:15 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Thank you.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, you have the floor for two and a half minutes.

2:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

When the pandemic hit, the work of the public service to me was extraordinary with people working around the clock to get this out. I feel this debacle is someplace I don't want to be. There were a lot of failures along the way.

I want to know who came up with the parameters for this program.

2:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

It cannot be boiled down to a person. As typically occurs, it is an organic process among political staff in ministers' offices, policy staff and officials, in this case Finance and ESDC with PCO supporting and at one point becoming more involved in the analysis.

That is typical. Also, NGOs were involved in identifying possible solutions for students and so on. So it's an amalgam.

2:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

That's interesting because we dealt with so much in our office. We were talking to ministers' offices, and nobody ever suggested we had a problem with volunteerism. We had a serious problem with university students not getting jobs.

I'm not saying this as an attack on the PCO. You were given what has already been put together by ESDC. We know that Craig Kielburger had already approached Bardish Chagger. He had approached Minister Ng; Minister Morneau's office was involved. They had a first proposal, and they said no, how about a second proposal.

On April 23 the Prime Minister makes an announcement that sounds very similar to the Kielburger proposal. From that point on, it seems they are the only game in town.

I really need to know how this happened, that the Kielburger brothers who are in financial free fall can call three ministers' offices, get a proposal in, and have that proposal reflect almost what the Prime Minister's saying, and then we're moving forward with a $900-million deal.

Those parameters that made them the only game in town, to me how did those parameters...? Was it the NGO? Was it WE that came up with those parameters, working with the advice they got from the ministers: Minister Chagger, Minister Ng? Is that how this happened?

2:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I think the record of testimony shows, and the documentary evidence we're providing will show, that there were various contributors to the design of the program.

2:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

The Kielburgers would have been one of them because it was their proposal.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus.

2:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

They did interact, but—

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

It's time. Sorry. Thank you.

I have to give the floor to Mr. Barrett for two and a half minutes. This will be our final round: Conservatives, Liberals, Bloc Québécois and then the NDP. Again, two and a half minutes, Mr. Barrett.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

What was the total value of the contribution agreement?

2:15 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I will speak to the program, Chair, because I don't know the exact amounts in the contribution agreement. It was in the order of $500 million that could be extended up to $900 million depending on take-up. That was the program cost.

With respect to the actual administrative costs and disbursements for various purposes, the contribution agreement itself will show that, and we're providing you with that.

2:15 p.m.

Conservative

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

It's been said a few times that the process failed, that there are lessons to be learned, but there also have to be accountability measures in place. This was by no means a success. Who bears the responsibility for this program not launching? Who is responsible for this program? It was deemed vital during an important time, worth nearly $1 billion, brought forward to cabinet and received that approval. The contribution agreement was signed, and today we have nothing. Money's been spent; it's not been returned to the taxpayer. Who's responsible for that?

2:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

As the committee knows, there are procedures for returning the funds, and that is part of any contribution agreement. That is standard and would have been followed in this case.

The program did not proceed because WE themselves terminated it in the face of public controversy about the program.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

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

And that was as a result, in the Prime Minister's words, of his failure to recuse himself from this process. Those were his words in his testimony.

To follow up on Mr. Poilievre's earlier comments, I also don't support the notion that this is the fault of the public service. I think that cabinet made a decision, cabinet accepted the recommendation of the public service, and I think cabinet members are responsible for this decision.

We've heard parsing from some members of the committee about whether or not something was in bounds or out of bounds with the Conflict of Interest Act. Something being disclosed is simply not enough for it being in the public domain. The act requires that there's a disclosure to the commissioner's office. The act requires formal recusal when there's not a screen set up.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Barrett, that's your time. Thank you.

The floor is now Mr. Dong's for two and a half minutes.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Mr. Shugart, I still hear a lot of questioning on the testimonies given by senior public servants with regard to the consideration or perhaps decision-making around CSSG. In your opinion, do you have full faith and confidence in the answers provided thus far by your colleagues and in the integrity of their decision-making?

2:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I absolutely do, Chair. I always—and this applies to myself as well as anyone else—admit the possibility of speaking in error and, as I've indicated to any parliamentary committee, including this one, if there is a contradiction or if there is subsequent information that my testimony is in error, I am more than prepared to clarify and explain. That is, to the very best of my knowledge, the ethics that would be followed by any public servant.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

How would you rate the performance of the public service of Canada, considering that we're doing very well compared to the rest of the world in dealing with the pandemic as well as rolling out all these programs to support Canadians and the Canadian economy? How would you rate their performance?

2:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Well, it won't surprise you that I think our public service has performed extremely well because it is a very, very solid institution that fits within the context of our parliamentary institutions, which are the envy of much of the world. If I can say that the public service has performed well during this pandemic, and I do, it's because we stand on the shoulders of giants who have built this institution, and I can only hope that we're today building it for our successors, but I would apply that same principle to the House of Commons and all of our institutions.

2:20 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Mr. Shugart.

2:20 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

We'll move on to Madame Gaudreau for two and a half minutes.

2:20 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

I would like to go back to the government commitment, more specifically in terms of trust.

In your opinion, what level of trust do Canadians have in the government now?

2:20 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I would say that that question is more for the expertise of members of Parliament than for that of public servants. I hope and I believe that, in general, the public trusts our institutions, including the public service. We value evidence, independence and objectivity. Those are the values we espouse. I hope that, if there are deficiencies, we are all responsible for finding solutions.

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

That is where I want to get to, actually. Trust can quickly be earned, but it can unfortunately also be lost. It is a little difficult to earn it back when errors are made.

When there are public aspects, when you want to be transparent—or perhaps to regain that trust—and given the work that you do and your role as clerk and advisor, would it not instead have been valuable to have everything wide open, given the flood of ideas and our need to help Canadians?

What do you think about that?

2:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I have complete confidence in my colleagues.

No one can bear those responsibilities without a team or without interactions between the various components of our oversight system. We work with that dependence all the time. That is why we are constantly seeking to improve our systems, whether it is the legislative system or the procedural system. However, safeguarding it is something very precious.

2:25 p.m.

Bloc

Marie-Hélène Gaudreau Bloc Laurentides—Labelle, QC

How come—

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'm sorry. Your time is up.

The floor is Mr. Angus's for two and a half minutes.

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I just want to follow up on my previous question about who came up with the parameters for the program.

You said NGOs. What NGOs?

2:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

We are providing a list. I know that Universities Canada was involved in some meetings, the AFN.... There were other groups that were consulted early on with respect to the—

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

How early on?

2:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

The record will show that, Chair. I would say as early as April.

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Okay, because the changing moment seems to be when Craig Kielburger calls. Are you aware that they're not registered to lobby? Because they signed a contribution agreement that said they followed the Lobbying Act....

2:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I'm not aware of those details.

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Okay.

Well, that's important, because he calls Minister Morneau's office. Minister Morneau's office tells Rachel Wernick to talk to Craig Kielburger. He meets with Minister Chagger and he meets also with Minister Ng. Then he writes to Rachel Wernick and says that based on the support they've got, they've got one of two programs and they can deliver both of them or one of them. The one they go with is the one that the Prime Minister agrees to. The second proposal is the proposal, so again, in a question of due diligence—

2:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

I have not seen that communication, Chair.

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Okay. He writes to Rachel Wernick to introduce himself. He says that in the “spirit” of his conversations with Minister Chagger and Minister Ng, “we have proposed two programs” and we're ready to “deliver one or both”. That's his way of getting in.

My question, then, is this. We're talking about a $900-million proposal by a group that is not even registered to lobby but has three key departments and ministers onside before it goes to the civil service. He has the proposal all written up. Where was the due diligence to protect the people of Canada?

2:25 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Chair, I'm not prepared to support that construction of events. I have not seen that correspondence, but I think the testimony of officials does not support that construction of events.

2:25 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

How is it possible?

2:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, that's your time. Thank you.

Mr. Shugart, during the questions that were asked today, there were two pieces of information that were brought up and that I believe you will get back to this committee. One is information regarding whether or not the money has been paid back from WE and, two is as to whether or not you were at the briefing meeting on May 8. If you could get back to the committee with that information, it would be much appreciated. Thank you.

2:30 p.m.

Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Privy Council Office

Ian Shugart

Happily.

2:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Shugart, thank you so much for giving us your time today. We hope that you have a good rest of your day.

With that, we're suspended.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

I'll ask everyone to take their seats. We will get started. Thank you.

Minister Chagger, welcome.

2:35 p.m.

Waterloo Ontario

Liberal

Bardish Chagger LiberalMinister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth

Thank you, Chair.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

As you're aware, a motion was passed by this committee on July 22:

That, pursuant to Standing Orders 108(3)(h), the Committee review the safeguards which are in place to avoid and prevent conflicts of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, granting, contribution and other expenditure policies;

Minister Chagger, you've been asked to present to this committee and to answer any questions that come from the members today in regard to the motion that I just read aloud. Minister Chagger, in just a moment I will give you 10 minutes for opening remarks, and then the members around the table will have an opportunity to ask you questions.

I would ask that we all remain conscious of time. For the first round, each person will be given six minutes to ask their questions. As time approaches its end, I will try to signal to you, but inevitably I may have to cut you off. I'm not meaning to be rude, but we do have to run an efficient meeting.

Minister Chagger, I will give you the floor for 10 minutes.

Yes, Mr. Poilievre.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

On a point of order, the Conservatives would ask that the minister swear an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Thank you.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister Chagger, are you willing to swear an oath?

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Yes, and I have one here with me, so I can read that into the record.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I, Bardish Chagger, do solemnly swear that the testimony I am about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Minister Chagger.

Mr. Angus.

2:35 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

On a point of order, I don't want to interrupt the minister, but at Finance the rules are we're going with COVID rules so that we're not being rude to each other. I don't want to be seen talking over the minister while she's speaking. Are we going to have the same protocol of shorter questions, shorter answers, and parity on time? Because she's on a screen, it's much harder to maintain that balance. Would you maintain that here?

2:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, I cede your point.

Minister Chagger, I would ask that you try to honour that, that your answers be about the same length of time as the question asked of you. Thank you.

With that, we'll allow you to proceed with your comments.

2:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, members of the committee, Canadians, I appreciate your inviting me today to appear before you. With me is my senior associate deputy minister, Gina Wilson. I will refer to her as my deputy.

We are here, as requested, to provide you with information on the safeguards that have been put in place within the federal government to avoid, mitigate and prevent conflicts of interest. These safeguards apply to the federal government policies on procurement, contracting, grants and contributions, and all other federal spending policies.

I would like to begin by pointing out that the Government of Canada is committed to open and transparent governance. What I mean by that is a government that gives all Canadians broad access to its data and information. Since 2014, the directive on open government has promoted transparency and accountability across all departments.

As Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, I received a very clear mandate letter from the Prime Minister. That letter is available publicly online. It states that, like all of my cabinet colleagues, I am committed to building a government that is transparent, honest and accountable to Canadians; upholds the highest ethical standards; pays close attention to the management of public funds; and exercises the utmost care and prudence in this regard. These values guide me every day in my work. That's true for me, it's true for my colleagues, and I hope we would agree that it is even true for my departmental officials. All the ministers received these guidelines in our mandate letters, and we are all subject to the same laws.

Whatever our role, there are mechanisms in place to guide us. All members of Parliament must comply with the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. Ministers and parliamentary secretaries must also abide by the regulations and measures set out in the Conflict of Interest Act. Our staff must also meet the high standard of probity and integrity as set out in the “policies for ministers' offices”.

It's in this context that I'm fulfilling the mandate I have been given and that I am passionate about: namely, to build a more open, diverse and inclusive country where all Canadians have an equal opportunity to succeed.

My responsibilities also include policies and programs in support of LGBTQ2 people and youth. It's a broad mandate that involves working with several ministers and departments, particularly Employment and Social Development Canada, Canadian Heritage, Women and Gender Equality Canada, Health Canada, Public Safety Canada and Justice Canada.

Public servants in all these departments are also bound by strict rules of integrity. They must all comply with the public service values and ethics code for the public sector. The public servants at Employment and Social Development Canada who support me through, among other things, the Canada Service Corps program. are governed by this code as are all the staff at Canadian Heritage who support me in the delivery of programs to promote multiculturalism and fight racism. They all receive training in this area. As well, employees involved in the delivery of transfer payment programs receive additional training to help them identify and deal with potential conflicts of interest. It's also important to note that all Canadian individuals and organizations applying for funding are required to disclose any potential conflicts of interest at the time of application.

The distribution of financial support is governed by the Financial Administration Act and the federal government, as a whole, is governed by the oversight and accountability procedures of the Treasury Board Secretariat. Without naming them all, I would like to single out the policy on financial management, the policy on transfer payments, and the policy on results, evaluation and internal audit.

Unlike how the Conservatives are choosing to portray this, the policy on transfer payments, in particular, allows the government to ensure that these payments are managed in a manner that respects sound stewardship and the highest level of integrity, transparency and accountability. Government programs also have terms and conditions approved by the Treasury Board Secretariat. The anti-racism action plan, for instance, includes terms and conditions to ensure that all organizations have equal access to funding. In this particular case, we are required to publish the program guidelines at least six weeks before the application deadline. There are also guidelines for communicating clearly with funding applicants.

Allow me to touch briefly on a few points that I am sure will be of interest to the committee.

The first is risk management. The Financial Administration Act helps us strike an appropriate balance between the high-risk decisions, which require input from senior management, and those that are more operational. Risk-based decision-making models allow us to assess the risks associated with, among other things, the funding applicant and the activities being considered for funding. They reduce program delivery costs, alleviate the administrative burden and reduce the time it takes to notify recipients.

The second is conflict of interest. I've already touched on the subject, and I'm coming back to it because it's important. Mechanisms are in place in all departments to prevent the risk of bias or conflict of interest. At Canadian Heritage, for example, the decision to approve a grant or contribution is never made by a single individual. In addition to regular internal assessments, they can call on peer reviews or reviews by internal or external committees. Government employees can also work with the office of values and ethics to address any apparent or potential conflict of interest situation. There are requirements to disclose the involvement of former public servants who are subject to the conflict of interest and post-employment guidelines.

The third is internal controls. In addition to government controls such as the policy on government security, several departments have internal control frameworks that outline financial management roles and responsibilities. These frameworks are designed to provide reasonable assurance that public resources are used prudently and that financial management processes are effective and efficient.

The fourth is transparency and accountability. Via the open government portal at Canada.ca, all Canadians can view grants and contributions that have been awarded. Canadians can also consult the various departmental websites for information on those departments' plans, outcomes, costs incurred, contracts awarded, consultations and evaluations undertaken, and a wealth of other information about government and public sector representatives. Mandate letters and transition materials are also freely accessible.

As stated in the Clerk of the Privy Council's 26th annual report, the public service of Canada has received “clean, unqualified audits” for two decades. It tied with the United Kingdom for first place on the 2018 open data barometer and is recognized internationally as one of the most effective public services. I would like to acknowledge and appreciate their work.

I would like to conclude with a concrete example that illustrates the rationale behind all these measures and safeguards.

Last May, in response to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Canada adopted a series of measures to support individuals and organizations in many sectors of our economy. For my part, I insisted that my programs be adapted, whether by streamlining processes or speeding up payments, in order to support organizations that advance multiculturalism, diversity, inclusion and opportunities for youth in Canada. Thanks to the rigorous mechanisms that frame our actions, we've been able to respond quickly and effectively to the pressing needs of Canadians, but we are not out of the woods yet, and we have a lot more work to do.

We have adapted to the situation without compromising our rigour, and together we are continuing to build a government that is open and transparent to all Canadians.

Madam Chair, members of the committee, I thank you for your attention, and I look forward to your questions. I've tried to keep my comments brief so that we can answer as many questions as possible.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you so much, Minister Chagger.

We will begin with our six-minute round. Mr. Barrett, the floor is yours to begin.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Minister.

We just heard testimony from the Clerk of the Privy Council that you were given authority to sign as a minister for ESDC by order in council. Can you tell us on what date that OIC was issued?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I recall the OIC being issued in March to give me jurisdiction within the department, within ESDC as well as Canadian Heritage, which fall under my mandate as Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Minister, have you, with the exception of the CSSG contribution agreement, used that signing authority as allowed by that OIC for any other program?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, through my responsibilities I also have three secretariats within Canadian Heritage. Numerous grants and contributions have been awarded through multiculturalism and others. I can refer to my deputy if you would like any concrete examples.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

No, it's not for those, Minister, thank you, but with respect to ESDC, which was my question. Have you used it with respect to ESDC?

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I just want to make sure that I do provide all the information. I know that the Canada Service Corps is under my responsibilities, so I just don't know if any have been renewed since I became minister in 2019.

I can get back to the committee if you would like.

2:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

I appreciate that.

How much money did the Government of Canada pay to the WE organization for the CSSG? We've heard a lot of different numbers, so I'm looking for the final number.

2:45 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

We announced $9 billion of programs for students on April 22. When it comes to the Canada student service grant, the contribution agreement was, I believe, $543 million. As documents have been requested, they have been provided to committee members at finance, and we can ensure that they are available.

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.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Élisabeth Brière Liberal Sherbrooke, QC

What are the comments about the fact that the program has not actually been launched?

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

We've received numerous emails and comments. We've seen the report in the media as well.

The Canada student service grant was an additional program. We have put out a series of programs to help students during this pandemic, recognizing that they also need supports. We also know that students are part of the solution. Right now we know that Canadians are hurting; communities are hurting.

We promote service. I myself know that growing up, I would not have been able to have the experience I had without volunteer opportunities. Volunteering, serving our communities is another way—

2:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister Chagger, thank you.

2:55 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—to develop and strengthen skills. It's an important aspect of the programs we're delivering. It's really unfortunate and regrettable that it is not.

3 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

We're moving to Mr. Fortin for six minutes.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Good afternoon, Madam Minister.

Earlier, you told my Conservative colleague that you do not know how much money has been sent to WE Charity and how much money the organization has returned. Did I understand correctly?

You have no idea about the amount of money that has passed between the government and WE Charity since this spring. Is that correct?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, it's not that we don't know how much money. We can share the details on the money that has been released: $30 million has been released to the organization through the contribution agreement. I was not aware of how much money has been returned. I have offered to provide that information to the committee.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Minister. That is kind of you and I am grateful.

If I understand correctly, you will be able to send us the information about the exact amounts that have been sent and the amounts that have been returned. Is that correct?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Yes. I will make sure you have that information.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you very much.

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

We know that the first cohort had an amount attributed to it through the contribution agreement, which members have received.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

So you will send us the figures.

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Then there was the supplemental cohort—

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I have a time problem, Minister.

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

That's exactly why I'm responding in English. I understand you get extra time for translation.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you.

When answering a question earlier, you replied that you have had speaking engagements for WE Charity without checking whether it was on the Registry of Lobbyists. You said that, in your opinion, it was not your responsibility to find out that information.

Did you actually say that it is not your responsibility to check whether WE Charity was in the registry?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I responded that I understand it is the responsibility of the lobbyists to report their lobbying activities.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

So you did not think that it was your responsibility to verify that information. Is that correct?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I have responsibilities to my stakeholders. I have responsibilities to the people who have elected me to represent them. I take my responsibilities very seriously.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

You have a lot of responsibilities, but do they not include responsibility with regard to the registry?

Did you ask the Commissioner of Lobbying whether, as a minister, you had the responsibility to make sure that the people coming to see you are properly registered in the Registry of Lobbyists? Did you verify that with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Any time I need information from the Ethics Commissioner, I make sure to write to the Ethics Commissioner or have my team do so, so that we can receive that information. Similarly, in ensuring understanding of what I am able to share today and so forth, I made sure that I had that information. I take my responsibilities very seriously.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

I will repeat my question: did you check with the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner or the Commissioner of Lobbying whether you had a responsibility to check the registry? Did you ask for an opinion?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

In this situation, I did not contact either of them on whether I could talk to a youth organization or not. As Minister of Youth I keep an open-door policy. I speak to numerous organizations. I think it's important that we be available and accessible to organizations so that we can hear not only their concerns but also their solutions. I will be accessible to Canadians.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Okay, thank you, Minister.

I am sorry, I don't want to rush you, but I just have a few minutes. You are nice, but time is not on my side.

Madam Minister, to your knowledge, what checking did you do into the financial viability of the organization to which you were supposed to entrust this mandate, that being WE Charity?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I will ask my Deputy Minister.

3 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do you know, Madam Minister?

Madam Chair, I would prefer an answer from the minister.

We will be able to hear from your deputy afterwards, Madam Minister. What checks did you do personally?

3 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I know that the member does not have a lot of time to ask questions. I want him to get the information that assures him that all the work was done. It is important to give the member a few moments in order to provide that information and to make sure that he has it.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Do not waste time telling me all that, Madam Minister, I know it already. With all respect, I am aware of that.

I want to know whether you personally were aware of any vetting of the We Charity Foundation. Yes or no.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I can tell you that, as was shared at the finance committee, numerous conversations took place. Yes, concerns were raised to ensure that due diligence was done. I know that the public service, the professional and non-partisan public service, works really hard. I have confidence that they did that work. That's why—

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

That was not my question. We are not in the House.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—the deputy can actually provide concrete examples of the information that the member is looking for. I think it's important that the deputy be able to provide those details, if the member would like.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Chair, I just have a few minutes. Can you ask the minister to stop? My speaking time is running out.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

It's your question.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Excuse me, Madam Minister.

We have a delay in the interpretation and we have the delay you are causing, Madam Minister, by explaining to us all kinds of things that are not relevant to the issue. I do not have a lot of time.

Since you have told me that you do not know, I would like to hear from your deputy now. What due diligence into WE Charity was done?

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, the public service signs numerous contribution agreements in any given year. They are—

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

A point of order, Madam Chair.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—a professional public service that does their due diligence—

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Chair, you told us earlier that questions and answers would be about the same length. We are wasting our time.

I asked the deputy for an answer.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—and that's why it is important that the public service—

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Excuse me, Minister.

Mr. Fortin, I am happy to call on you, but there is an order. I have to ask the minister to stop and then you have the floor.

Mr. Fortin, proceed.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Madam Chagger, I do not want to rush you, but we do not have a lot of time. I have your answer and I thank you for it.

Now I would like to hear your deputy's answer to the same question. Is that possible or do you prefer her not to answer?

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Fortin, I'm sorry; the time is up.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

The time is not over.

I am sorry.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

The time is up.

3:05 p.m.

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

Thank you very much. I'm happy to provide you with that information.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Deputy Minister, I'm sorry, but the floor is not yours.

3:05 p.m.

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

Gina Wilson

In every agreement, there are risk mitigation clauses and controls. There are financial checks done—

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Deputy Minister, please stop.

3:05 p.m.

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

Gina Wilson

Okay. I'm sorry.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

A point of order, Madam Chair.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Fortin.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

We have a problem with an additional delay because of the interpretation.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, no.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Poilievre, you say no, but it is really yes.

Madam Chair, there are delays between the questions and the answers, which means time is wasted. When you speak English here at the committee, you have more time to ask questions than—

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Fortin, thank you.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Can I finish explaining the reason for my point of order, Madam Chair?

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you. You're done.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

You are thanking me, but I would like to finish.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

You're at seven minutes and 26 seconds, Mr. Fortin. I've been very generous with your time up until now, and I would ask that you respect that. It is up to the minister to answer the questions how she wishes to do so, and it is up to you to cut her off if you are not pleased with her answer.

Thank you, Mr. Fortin.

3:05 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Chair, when we started, you told us that the answers would be of about the same length as the questions. That is no longer the case, even not counting the delay for the interpretation.

3:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We are moving on.

Mr. Angus, you have the floor for six minutes.

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Madam Chagger, for returning.

When we were at the finance committee, you were asked a very straight-up question about whether or not you had had any dealings with the Kielburgers or anyone from WE Charity in the lead-up to this coming to cabinet. Why didn't you tell us about your meeting on April 17 with Craig Kielburger?

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, these meetings are public. The question I was asked was whether I spoke with the organization in regard to the Canada student service grant. I answered that question truthfully and openly. The member today provides me the opportunity to provide the information in regard to the organization writ large, and I have provided that information for the record. I answered the question that was posed to me.

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Actually, the question you were asked was very simple: Did you have any meetings with anyone from the WE organization in the lead-up to cabinet? They did not ask about the Canada student service grant. You put that in. It was a simple question.

My frustration here is that when you're asked a simple question—did you meet with the Kielburgers?—and you can't give us a straight answer, it makes the waters seem very, very murky for you. My concern is that this meeting, I think, was crucial, and yet you didn't tell us that. Why didn't you tell us that you had met with Craig Kielburger?

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I think you have noted the length of the question. I will take that time to respond.

The member is welcome to refer to the official record and to see that the question was in context to the Canada student service grant—

3:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

It wasn't.

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—in which the motion was put forward.

He can choose to interrupt, and that is an approach he chooses to routinely take. I have set the record clear today as to the two times that I have personally interacted with the organization. I went to WE Day on December 10 to speak to an auditorium full of youth at the National Arts Centre. That was on December 10, 2019. I was requested to have a conversation with the organization with regard to an unsolicited social entrepreneurship—

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister, I'm going to go to Mr. Angus now.

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you.

Here's the thing. You were asked a straight question, but of course we have the record. It's on the record. The thing is, of course you weren't speaking about the Canada student service grant on April 17, because it didn't exist. It wasn't announced until April 22. It's again this splitting of hairs that I find frustrating.

Let's just jump forward, because you also told us that Rachel Wernick came up with this idea. She told us that she had been instructed by officials to reach out, but it's the Craig Kielburger connection to her that I want to bring to your attention. He writes her an email—his introduction to her—and he says, based on the meeting with Minister Chagger, “In that spirit, we have proposed two programs—and we could deliver one or both programs”. You're Craig Kielburger's all-access pass.

I don't get how the fact that you were at some WE event at some auditorium is germane to anything, when it's the April 17 meeting you have with Craig Kielburger. You don't tell us this. This has to come out in the media. The fact is that Craig Kielburger uses you as the introduction to Rachel Wernick in saying that not only did they have the one program, but they had two programs they were ready to deliver. What happened in that conversation that led to having two programs instead of just one?

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I have been asked to testify, and I do my utmost to make sure that information is readily available. I know that definitely when I appeared at the finance committee I made sure that details of the contribution agreement were available. I also said that we would share all documents to ensure that members and Canadians can have these answers. I think it's important that they receive these answers.

In regard to the April 17 meeting the member is referring to, it was in regard to an unsolicited social entrepreneurship program for youth. As the Minister of Youth, it's important that I be informed as well. This proposal is not something that was first brought to my attention. As Rachel Wernick has testified, it had gone to another minister as well and then it was shared with me. I made myself available to listen to that information. It's not something that I would have full jurisdiction or be the lead on—

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

No, I know. I get that.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—but I did listen to it, and it's not something I was considering.

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Well, obviously you did consider, because Rachel Wernick gets her email from Craig Kielburger saying that he had not just one proposal but two proposals. It's the second proposal that became the Canada student service grant. That was the form.

On the fact that you were meeting on April 17 and the Prime Minister announces it on April 22, and on the fact that Craig Kielburger is then contacting Rachel Wernick because he's met with you and he has the two proposals, I think you need to just come a little more clean with us, Minister, and tell us what you recommended to Craig Kielburger so that we can get a straight answer here.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

On a point of order, Chair, for the second time today Mr. Angus has brought up this document between Mr. Kielburger and Rachel Wernick.

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

What kind of point of order is that?

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I'll submit it. Do you want me to submit it?

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I have the floor.

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

That's not a point of order.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Dong—

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I wonder if Mr. Angus can share the document with the rest of the committee.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Dong, that's not a point of order. I'm going to proceed.

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I'm sorry, but does that come out of my time?

I'm certainly willing to share the email to Craig Kielburger—

3:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I have no idea what he's referring to. I think it's a fair question.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Dong, it's not a procedural point of order. You are more than welcome to go and talk to the member after this meeting. If he is happy to show you the document, then he will do so.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

I think it's clearly—

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Madam Chair, I'm more than willing to share the email that has been made public. If my colleague didn't do his homework, I can't help that, but I'd like to get the answer from the minister.

3:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, I'm restarting the clock. The floor is yours.

3:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Can we just get the minister to tell us what happened in that meeting, without the interference of her Liberal colleagues? Craig Kielburger then went to Rachel Wernick and said he had two proposals. That second proposal became the Canada student service grant, with just a few bells and whistles added.

Something happened in that meeting, Minister Chagger, and you didn't tell us at finance committee. Tell us now. Just come clean.

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I was asked to swear an oath. I have sworn an oath. I think it's important to acknowledge that all the information I have available, I am making available. I do not disregard the member's interpretation, but I will not be told that I am not providing information openly. That's exactly what I'm doing.

The first opportunity that I had to be at finance committee, I was there.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister Chagger, thank you very much.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

The first opportunity I had to be at the ethics committee, I am here, to make sure all information is available to members.

3:15 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

If you'd told us at finance, we wouldn't be in this shemozzle.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Mr. Angus, your time is up. Thank you.

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

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did the word “volunteer” ever get spoken in your 30-minute meeting with Mr. Kielburger?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, off the top of my head, it was more of a listening exercise than—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Was it spoken, yes or no?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Not that I'm aware of. I can't say that I said it.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Were you there?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I was there.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did someone else say it?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, this is a lengthier answer, but I recall the conversation in regard to their advancing and sharing their unsolicited proposal. I listened to it.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, that's not my question. My question is about whether the word “volunteer” was spoken.

Was youth service mentioned?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Youth service is top of line for me.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay, so that's a yes.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

We brought in the Canada service corps in 2018.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Yes or no...?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I think it's important that since I am—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Yes or no...?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

—wanting to provide accurate information, that I provide all the information I have.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Minister, thank you. I do understand that, but the question that has been asked of you is quite simple. It is really a yes or no question. You need to respect the member who's asking you that question and answer accordingly. Thank you.

Minister, yes or no?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I would say that “service opportunities” was said, yes.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay, good. Now we're getting somewhere. This was just five days before the Canada student service grant was announced and given its name.

Of course, that grant wasn't mentioned because it wasn't created at the time of your meeting, but did you speak about anything at all other than the Kielburgers' social entrepreneurship proposal, anything at all, yes or no?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I would have definitely asked how the youth that they were working with were doing in the face of the pandemic.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did the Kielburgers know that the Prime Minister would make an announcement only days later, on April 22, regarding youth programming?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I cannot speak for the Kielburgers. I personally did not know on April 17 that the Prime Minister would be making that announcement.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay, so you didn't know, even though you're the minister responsible for that announcement—strange.

How many staff attended that meeting with you and the Kielburgers?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, for clarification, is he referring to my team or from the...?

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Yes.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I was the only person on the phone call from my team, because it was in regard to an unsolicited proposal.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay. Were there any officials?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

From my team, no. I made the phone call.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

It was just a phone call, two people.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

From my team, it was me. From the WE organization it was Craig Kielburger, and I believe Sofia was on the phone with us. He would know if there were other people from their side. It was a phone number they provided for me to dial into.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

That's fine. Thank you.

Was there anyone in the PMO or the finance minister's office aware that you were having this phone call?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Not that I'm aware of, but I can check into that information and share it with the committee.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Did you take any notes?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, from that phone call, it was in regard to the unsolicited social entrepreneurship program, so I received—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, that wasn't my question. Did you take notes, yes or no?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I was provided a briefing note, which has been shared.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay. Did you take notes on your phone call, yes or no, for the fourth time?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Everything I received was in line with what was on—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, did you take notes with your own hand? That was the question. It's a simple question, yes or no?

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

The only note I would have taken would have been to ask the team to follow up with colleagues' offices and officials in regard to the proposal.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

But that's strange, because a moment ago you said that by the time you did this phone call or finished it, you were not interested in that proposal. Now you were following.... It must have been a different proposal that you were following up on.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, the member can choose to put words in my mouth. It would not be his first time.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

They're your words.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

It is a repetitive behaviour—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Let's not get distracted.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

I will say that it's something that I was not considering, but it's important for the team and also for officials to be aware of it and to make sure they look into it and consider its merits.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay. All right, so you decided you weren't going to pursue that proposal, yet you wrote notes to your staff and officials to follow up on that proposal. Okay. It's very clear.

We're going to move on to another question now.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, I think I should proceed.

Madam Chair—

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Gerretsen Liberal Kingston and the Islands, ON

Madam Chair, she should have the opportunity to respond.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

No, I'm asking my question. I didn't ask a question yet. She's had plenty of chances to respond, and I'm glad.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

You've put words in my mouth—very classy.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

On the next issue here, were you aware that the Prime Minister withdrew your proposal from the cabinet meeting on May 8, yes or no?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

The Prime Minister testified and shared that information.

3:20 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

The WE organization had already begun implementing the Canada student service grant on May 5, three days earlier. Did you instruct anybody to immediately call WE and say, “Stop. The Prime Minister has pushed back. This program is not approved by cabinet; therefore, WE has to put its actions on hold,” yes or no?

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Bardish Chagger Liberal Waterloo, ON

Madam Chair, as the Prime Minister stated, this was about due diligence from officials, so I would like the deputy to have a minute to answer.

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.

3:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

We will suspend.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Welcome, everyone.

Minister Qualtrough, welcome.

3:35 p.m.

Delta B.C.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough LiberalMinister of Employment

Thanks for having me.

3:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

It's our pleasure.

Minister Qualtrough, as you know, this committee passed a motion on July 22:

That, pursuant to Standing Orders 108(3)(h), the Committee review the safeguards which are in place to avoid and prevent conflicts of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, granting, contribution and other expenditure policies.

That is the motion that you have been asked to come and speak to today. In one moment, I will give you 10 minutes to give opening remarks. It is going to be a little bit tricky for me to monitor and keep time just because there are no visual queues. Bear with me. I may have to interrupt you, but I will certainly do my best to be polite when I do so.

We would ask that you try to answer questions that are posed to you within about the same time frame in which they are asked. Those seem to be our COVID rules when we're using technology.

With that, then, I will pass it over to you, Minister, and allow you to have the floor for the next 10 minutes.

Thank you.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Thank you.

Please feel free to interrupt me at any point. I take no offence; I find it helpful.

Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to begin by thanking the committee for allowing me to participate by telephone. This allows me to use my accessibility software and participate in a more meaningful way in both languages, while having the chance to refer to my speaking notes.

I have with me today ESDC associate deputy Minister Benoît Robidoux. I'm hopeful today that my participation can be helpful.

It's my understanding, from your motion passed by this committee, that you are reviewing the safeguards in place, as you said, to avoid and prevent conflict of interest in federal government procurement, contracting, granting, contribution and other expenditure policies. In particular, I understand that you're using as a case study the speaking appearances for Justin Trudeau, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre Trudeau. I'll say at the onset that I had no prior knowledge of Margaret Trudeau's or Alexandre Trudeau's speaking appearances with WE Charity or otherwise.

I know that Margaret Trudeau is an advocate for mental health and wellness and admire her passion on this important issue. I know that the Prime Minister and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau had appeared at WE events in the past, and I considered this to be a well-known fact. They've both been advocates for youth leadership and youth empowerment for years.

Personally, I have spoken at one WE Charity event in November of 2016 in Vancouver. I spoke to thousands of young people about the power of inclusion and the everyday choices they can make to ensure no one was left out, in particular people with disabilities. I was not paid for this appearance and claimed no expenses.

As a member of Parliament and cabinet minister, I am very aware of my obligations pursuant to the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons and the Conflict of Interest Act. I take the management of my public declarations and ongoing reporting requirements very seriously.

I offer no excuse or justification for the Prime Minister or the finance minister with respect to their having not recused themselves from the discussions and decisions around having WE Charity deliver the CSSG program. Both have apologized and have acknowledged that they should have recused themselves, and there's an ongoing investigation by the Ethics Commissioner, and both are fully complying with it.

In this time of pandemic, the pace and breadth of decision-making has been beyond compare. As Minister of Employment, I have been at the centre of our pandemic response. For months our cabinet COVID committee met day after day to plan and implement our emergency response. The cabinet was also meeting regularly for many hours at a time. On any given day, we are making decisions that range from border closures to PPE distribution to whether we should be sending our military into our long-term care facilities because our seniors were dying.

My own responsibility included the CERB, Canada summer jobs, temporary foreign workers, disability support and various student measures. We've been operating under the guiding principle of delivering supports quickly and reliably to Canadians.

We knew from the start that things would not be perfect, and we were prepared to have the course corrected when needed. There was no time to test or pilot programs. We had to understand the limits of our existing systems and work within them. Anything new would have to be straightforward. I have tremendous respect for our public servants, with whom we've been working around the clock. They've gone above and beyond during these difficult times.

We've delivered to Canadians in three very important ways over the past few months, first through direct supports like the CERB, the student benefit and top-ups to the CCB, GST and OAS. Second, for the provinces and the territories, an example would be the essential workers top-up. Third, we have collaborated with third party intermediaries with extensive networks and proven track records that can deliver programs quickly and support individuals in a way that government simply can't. An example would be having Community Foundations of Canada, the Red Cross and United Way deliver our emergency community fund. Another would be partnering with Women's Shelters Canada to deliver funding to women's shelters across the country.

I offer the example of the community support fund and women's shelter fund to contextualize the decision to deliver the CSSG through WE Charity using a contribution agreement without an open competition. There was no competition in any of these instances, as it was determined that these organizations could effectively and efficiently get funds into the hands of the people and organizations that needed them while at the same time ensuring accountability on the part of the program deliverer. ESDC officials can provide the specifics of the accountability and oversight measures built into these contribution agreements, including audit, financial controls, monitoring and reporting requirements.

As the Minister of Employment I am the lead on student employment measures, the CESB, and the changes to the Canada student loans and grants program. The Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth leads the Canada service grant given her responsibility for the Canada Service Corps. Our respective responsibilities are very clearly laid out in our mandate letters.

We both heard very clearly from young Canadians and student groups that they were facing a summer without many job prospects and the real possibility that they may not be able to afford to go back to school in the fall. They needed income support, increased student loans and grants, and jobs. They also wanted the opportunity to help out in their communities. We looked at existing programs in terms of how we could enhance them or leverage them. On April 22, the Prime Minister announced a $9-billion suite of measures for students. As ministers, we then rolled up our sleeves and set about delivering on the measures within our respective portfolios. For my part, I was focused on the student loans, employment and benefit measures. This was a big piece of work that included new legislation and regulatory changes. I first learned that WE was being recommended to deliver the CSSG on May 5 as I was preparing for the COVID cabinet meeting, on the same day that the proposal was being discussed. I understood the purpose of the CSSG to be to provide young people with meaningful opportunities to serve in their communities and to assist the non-profit sector with some much-needed capacity.

Given the speed, scope and scale of the program, I strongly believed that we needed a third party to move it forward. As lead minister of ESDC, I knew just how stretched the public service was and what their workload could or couldn't handle. The organization that would deliver this program would be tasked with the screening, onboarding, training and mentoring of young Canadians during these important summer months. It would also track volunteer hours and distribute grants. I can confirm that the CSSG proposal was scheduled to be on the cabinet agenda on May 8, but was taken off. I was not involved in any of the discussions about why this was pulled from the agenda and the Prime Minister's request for more due diligence, as this was not my file. As you can appreciate, I cannot share the content of the May 22 cabinet discussions about the CSSG due to cabinet confidentiality, but as you know the cabinet decided to proceed with the recommendation to enter into a contribution agreement with WE to deliver the CSSG.

I'll conclude by stating that the CSSG was intended to be an innovative way to provide support for students, non-profits and communities, and more than ever Canada really needs bold ideas and innovative solutions. While WE Charity is no longer delivering the program, we remain as committed as ever to supporting young people and non-profits. I can assure every member of this committee that our government takes its ethical responsibilities seriously. We've not been perfect. I reiterate that both the Prime Minister and finance minister have apologized for having not recused themselves. I regret that this has taken the focus away from what we wanted the focus to be on.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Minister Qualtrough.

We will proceed then to our first six-minute round and we have Mr. Barrett up first.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Minister.

First, were you ever asked by anyone in the Prime Minister's Office or any other official to be the minister responsible for the CSSG?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I was not.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

You mentioned your involvement on the COVID-19 cabinet committee and that's where this program first received approval on May 5. Did you inform your deputy, your ADM, Madam Rachel Wernick or any officials in your department about the cabinet committee decision?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I would have briefed my chief of staff, yes.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Did you inform anybody, or did your chief of staff inform anybody at the WE organization about this decision?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Definitely not.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

You said that on May 5, at that committee, it was the first time that you learned about the CSSG. At that time what was your understanding of whose idea this program was? Where did it come from?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

May I clarify that I said that was the first time that I heard that WE would deliver the CSSG. I just want to be very clear and honest. I knew about the CSSG before May 5, but I did not have any idea who would be recommended to deliver it until May 5.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Once you learned about it on May 5, Minister, what was your understanding of where it came from? Whose idea was it?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

My understanding was that the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth and her staff had been working with officials. There had been back-and-forth. To be honest, I had just understood it to be a recommendation of the public service that the minister was putting forward.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Okay.

We heard testimony from the Clerk of the Privy Council, Mr. Shugart, at the finance committee that the proposal for the WE organization to be the third party partner was recommended by ESDC.

Who presented that proposal?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

To the cabinet committee, it was the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. Sorry, I want to make sure I get our titles correct.

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

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

Minister, we heard testimony from the Clerk of the Privy Council, and it was confirmed by Minister Chagger, that she, by order in council in March, was able to sign, as a minister for ESDC.

How is it that a nearly $1-billion dollar program was downloaded to a minister of state and not handled by you?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

If you'll permit me, we were sworn in, in November 2019, when the minister was made a full Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth. We then got our mandate letters on December 13, and she was given the responsibility to lead the development of a national youth service, including the Canada Service Corps.

We then went about, behind the scenes, working with ESDC and PCO, in getting all the legal instruments in place. There are five of us—ministers—responsible for various aspects of ESDC. For example, the OIC you're talking about for Minister Chagger was on March 6; the OIC for Minister Hussen was on March 8, I believe—and we'd have to check that. Then we went about delegating various financial authorities within. Because of the way the law is around ESDC, there is one legal minister, but then I delegate to the other ministers. It's a legal construct, but we have been working from the beginning with our mandate letters and really staying in our lanes.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Okay, thank you.

How involved were you in the development of the program since its inception?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Not at all. I was involved with my part, so the employment piece, the student loan and grant piece, and the student benefit piece.

Until two or three days before the April 22 announcement, I was not aware of all the other pieces that were going to be part of this bigger package.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Did you receive or review any reports or briefings about due diligence that was done on any element as part of the WE organization, WE Charity, WE Charity Foundation or any of their subsidiaries, before supporting this company administering a $900-million program?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

What I reviewed in preparation for May 5 was the recommendation that was going to cabinet. At that point in time it had been vetted by the public service. What I was told at that point was that due diligence had been done and there were no flags.

I believe my answer might be “no” to your question, but I want to make it clear what I did review.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Minister.

We were told that on May 5 the Prime Minister's Office redirected a call from their office to your department, from the WE organization. I am looking for details about that call. Who took the call, what was discussed, are there notes, is there a recording, and was WE told that it could begin charging expenses or “eligible expenses” for this program at that time?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I have no information, either indirect or direct, about that call.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Would you undertake to find information for this committee?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I sure can.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

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

Thank you, Minister.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

The floor is Mr. Dong's for six minutes.

August 11th, 2020 / 3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Minister, for agreeing to testify at the committee.

Before I begin my questions I just want to thank you for all the hard work you've done in the last few months. I have spoken to many constituents of Don Valley North. They want me to pass on their sincere gratitude for the work you've done, and staff in your department as well. Just so you know, I know you can't see us, but I have a lot of nodding heads around the committee table.

On the Canada summer jobs program, which is in high demand, I wonder if there was any discussion on why the government didn't just double down on the Canada summer jobs program instead of creating a new program, the CSSG. We know certainly the demand is there and it is being delivered by many good grassroots organizations. Can you explain why the government didn't run this through the Canada summer jobs program?

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I know that a lot has been said over the past weeks about why Canada summer jobs didn't just do this. You know, we modernized the Canada summer jobs program to reflect the realities faced by COVID, and we did increase funding to increase the number of jobs from 70,000 to 80,000 jobs this year. We created tens of thousands of other jobs through other student employment programs. I know what a successful program this is. I know that businesses like it, students like it and MPs like it.

Here's how Canada summer jobs works. We set objectives, we assess jobs against those objectives, we fund jobs that meet those objectives and then we post the jobs. We don't help individuals find these jobs. When ESDC wants to provide a more direct support to individuals, we always do it through a third party using a contribution agreement. Think of the YESS program, the youth employment and skills strategy. We fund local organizations to help youth at risk get jobs and flourish in these jobs.

The CSSG was different from Canada summer jobs. The goal, as I said in my opening remarks, was to provide young people with meaningful opportunities and also to help with the capacity issues that non-profits were facing. The organization that was delivering this program would be doing a lot of one-on-one with young people through screening, onboarding, training and mentoring. They would be tracking volunteer hours and distributing grants.

As much as this was a capacity issue, as I said, Canada summer jobs actually isn't built for, and the ESDC isn't in the business of doing, this kind of thing. I hope that makes sense.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Minister. It does make sense to me.

You brought up the issue of a contribution agreement, which I asked the Clerk of the Privy Council about earlier today. From your perspective, are contribution agreements unethical, or is it common practice by the government to have a third party deliver whole programs?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Contribution agreements are extremely common. I'll bet you there are thousands of contribution agreements. I think Benoît could give you an exact number. Governments for decades have been using this as a way to get money to individuals through third parties that have better ways of doing this relationship-wise or in connections to communities.

We enter into a contribution agreement with an organization, and then it provides the support directly to individuals. I don't even know what else to say, it's so common.

As I said in my opening remarks, we did this for the community support fund and we did this for the women's shelter fund during the pandemic alone, but it really is a common tool that governments use. It's a very effective form of agreement with an organization.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

You don't think contribution agreements are unethical, like some people seem to be suggesting.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I don't at all. I think they allow us to get closer to people on the ground.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Okay.

I heard earlier that the Canada student service grant was developed by Employment and Social Development Canada. However, this didn't fall under your oversight. Can you explain why CSSG was under the purview of another minister, under Minister Chagger?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Yes. I don't want to say what I have already said, but very quickly, our cabinet was sworn in. We got our mandate letters. Minister Chagger got the Canada Service Corps and I got youth employment. That's how we worked from the beginning. Minister Chagger had the Canada Service Corps and I had all the other youth employment programs. Then, as I said, there was an order in council on March 6 that made Minister Chagger an ESDC minister.

In terms of the student measures, at least five other ministers were involved in the student measures. There was me, Minister Chagger, the immigration minister, the indigenous services minister, the ISED minister, the Minister of Finance, the President of the Treasury Board. As everybody has said, this was a really big package worth a lot of money. Many of us were involved.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

So all these five ministers had a hand in your department. Do they report to you? Do they share with you what they're working on? Do they need your permission to go ahead and develop their programs?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Let me clarify that the five ministers—

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

You have 10 seconds.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Okay: different five ministers, but no, we all have our lanes in ESDC.

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Han Dong Liberal Don Valley North, ON

Thank you, Minister.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

The floor is Mr. Fortin's.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Good afternoon, Madam Minister.

In your testimony just now, you said that you personally had not seen a report on the due diligence into WE Charity but that you supposed it had been done and a report had been prepared. Do I understand correctly?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Yes. What I said—and I'll clarify if it was unclear—is that I did not see the due diligence report on WE, but based on my reading of the materials that were presented at committee, and then eventually at cabinet, I understood that there were no red flags with respect to due diligence.

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

To your knowledge, who has seen this darned report? You are not the only one to tell us that. Everyone is telling us that they suppose due diligence was done, but no one seems to have seen the report.

Can you enlighten us about that? Who has seen the due diligence report?

3:55 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

It's a good question, and I would perhaps defer to Benoît. I don't know if it's actually called a “due diligence report”, so I don't want to create a construct that doesn't actually exist.

Benoît, can you talk about the due diligence that would have gone into the recommendation of the public service?

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Minister, am I to understand that you agreed with the contribution agreement being entrusted to WE Charity?

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

At that point, did you know that WE Charity would not be getting a contract with the government. It would be the WE Charity Foundation instead?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Yes.

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

At that point I didn't know the difference, so I assumed the shorthand of “WE” to be WE Charity. I didn't know which subsidiary of WE would actually sign the contract, no. I did not know that.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

To your knowledge, when you made that decision at the Cabinet table, did anyone know that the WE Charity Foundation, not WE Charity, would be obtaining this contract?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I honestly don't know what other ministers know. I'd prefer to just tell you my knowledge, and at the time, I didn't know.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Okay. If I understand correctly, no one at the Cabinet table discussed the fact that you would be dealing with a new entity that had been incorporated for one or two years at the time, that being the WE Charity Foundation. There was no discussion about that. Is that correct?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

As you can appreciate, I can't talk about what discussions happened at cabinet committee or cabinet, but I can share my own personal knowledge. I did not come out of those meetings with that distinction in mind.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

To your knowledge, Madam Minister, does the Government of Canada often allocate $43.5 million to manage grants totalling $900 million to an organization that has no staff and has been in existence for only one or two years?

Do you see that sort of thing often?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I cannot answer that, but I would say that we were aware of WE Charity's track record, and that is the track record upon which certainly I based my comfort with proceeding with WE for this contribution agreement.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

If I understand correctly, you based your decision on the knowledge that you had about WE Charity, but at that time, you did not know that the contract would actually be going to another entity, the WE Charity Foundation, a shell, in legal terms. Is that correct?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

That is correct.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

If you had to make the same decision today and you were told that the contract would be going to the WE Charity Foundation, would you be asking questions about that choice? Would you check who its staff is and whether a due diligence report had been done on it?

Are those questions that you would ask today if you had to make the same decision?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I'd prefer not to speculate because I would hope that we would also have discussions around mitigation and other factors that might go into answering our questions, but at this point I can't turn back the clock, and I'd prefer not to speculate.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Were you aware that thePrime Minister and the Minister of Finance were in a conflict of interest situation vis-à-vis WE Charity when the decision was made?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

As I said in my remarks, I did not know about the finance minister's connections to WE, and what I knew about the Prime Minister's and his wife's connections was about their public appearances. I had no knowledge of their familial ties or of any monies or expenses that were being paid for.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

At the Cabinet meeting of May 8, the Prime Minister decided to withdraw this item from the agenda because the decision made him uncomfortable. He tells us that he felt in a conflict of interest situation at that point.

Do you remember a discussion around the table about the fact that the Prime Minister was postponing the decision because he felt in a conflict of interest situation?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Again, I can't talk about what was discussed at the meeting, but I can confirm that it was pulled from the agenda before we even got to the meeting. It wasn't on the agenda at the meeting.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

You did not know why it had been withdrawn from the agenda. Is that correct?

4 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I had no specific knowledge of why it was pulled from the agenda, but it didn't seem at all unusual for me that it was, because so many things were happening so quickly and everything was so fluid at the time.

4 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Madam Minister, you told us that the public service was not able to manage the Canada Student Service Grant program. At the Standing Committee on Finance, we heard from the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada who told us that, in his opinion, it was possible. He added that, if the public service had been managing the program, it would be already up and running smoothly.

What do you have to say about that? Do you agree with the president of the Alliance, or do you believe he is wrong?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Respectfully, I'd like to characterize it as neither. I didn't hear his testimony, but I stand by my personal assessment that the public service was stretched and I don't think could have delivered the kind of hands-on experiences that we wanted students to have in any event. My opinion on that hasn't changed, but I respect his opinion on this.

4:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Minister.

Mr. Angus, the floor is yours for six minutes.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you, Madam Minister, I wish you were here with us, but we hope you are safe wherever you are and you're having a good summer.

The transformation of when this program came out to me is very problematic because I remember the Prime Minister's announcement on April 8 and it was about the crisis facing university students. That's what we heard about, the need for jobs. This is something that you were very engaged with. On April 22 he made the announcement of this Canada service grant that is about volunteerism and it was dramatically different. What happened in that period between April 8 and April 22 where we saw such a clear shift in the direction in terms of addressing the crisis facing university students?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I remember April 8 well. It's the day we announced our Canada summer jobs flexibilities and what we were going to do to change the program to respond to the pandemic. But we knew, and I even foreshadowed, that we had to do more. I spoke with student groups, I spoke with a lot of young people, student organizations; we all heard that it wasn't just about more jobs, it was about income support, it was about opportunities to give back to their communities, and what we were going to do in the fall around Canada student loans and student grants. Literally, we all dug in, and it wasn't just myself and the Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth, it was all of us. It was Minister Miller looking at how we could help indigenous students and Minister Bains looking at how we can help post-doctoral fellows. Really we all just dug in and came up with a really big package.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I get that and exactly what we were hearing. I felt at that point every parliamentarian across the political spectrum was on the same page and this project has thrown us off that. You were hearing about the need for income support, you were hearing about student loans, and yet we have this program that is paying university students less than the minimum wage. Who made that decision? The Kielburger brothers said it came from the government. That would have come from ESDC and that's your department. Why in the midst of this pandemic did we suddenly end up with a program that was going to say go work for 1,000 hours you'll get $10 an hour, or go work for 700 hours and you get nothing?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I can see your perspective, Mr. Angus, but what I will say is that we all within our portfolios dug in and figured out what we could do. As much as we did create tens of thousands of jobs, over 100,000 jobs, we knew that there weren't going to be enough jobs for students. The Prime Minister has always had a passion for creating a culture of service in Canada. The Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth has within her mandate to create some kind of service corps, some kind of national service opportunity. Young people were also saying that if they couldn't find a job they didn't want to sit around at home, they would like to have some kind of income support and maybe volunteer. It just became part of the package. At least that's how I lived it. How I lived it was all hands on deck.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I have enormous respect for your work here. My question is that in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic did we really need to follow up with the Prime Minister's passion of volunteerism? That was not what we were hearing from anybody.

I want to ask you about due diligence. With the Canada summer jobs we went through organization after organization trying to fill numerous forms for your officials to assure safety and yet we learn that the Kielburgers were offering $25,000 to summer camps if they could get 75 volunteers signed up. I don't know how that would be possible in the middle of a pandemic. Did you do due diligence on this? Did you say this is not how we do it at Canada summer jobs, this payout to sign up camp counsellors in the middle of a pandemic? Who signed off on that?

4:05 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I was not involved in that level of detail. Again, I wasn't the file lead on this. I don't know the context and certainly wasn't party to those discussions. I have really nothing to offer in response to that.

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Okay.

We've been told again and again, that our civil service couldn't do the job, but the civil service under you would have asked questions—what do you mean, you're going to be paying camps to sign up camp counsellors in the middle of a pandemic?

I would like to talk about the $12,000 per teacher that was being offered. I'm a former school board trustee. If you are telling teachers to reach out to students and you'll pay them cash, that violates multiple codes. I can't see the civil service signing off on that, and yet this was part of the Kielburger deal. Who signed off on this? Who did the due diligence on this? We're talking about legal questions.

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Absolutely. Again, I wasn't involved at that level of detail. The details you've just referred to certainly weren't part of the work within the level of detail that I saw on May 5.

Certainly there are mechanisms within the public service, though, to follow up on that kind of thing and that's what's built into the contribution agreements. But again, it's out of my lane, and I apologize. It's too hard for me to speculate in any kind of helpful way.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

I appreciate that. I think if it had been in your lane, those questions would have been asked because, to me, these are really fundamentals and this is the problem that we have: serious red flags.

I go to this contribution agreement that WE.... Everybody felt comfortable with WE because you guys were invited to a lot of their events. I'm not saying you did anything wrong, but they created a comfort level in WE. We look at their contribution agreements: we're looking at a $40,000 deal, a $24,990 deal, a $17,050 deal, a $13,000 deal with the government. One goes up to $3 million, but most of them are really peanuts. The government was more than comfortable with the Kielburgers because you guys all spoke at their events; they called up the ministers. They weren't even registered to lobby.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Angus.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

My final question is this. You do due diligence on your file. Don't you feel that if we had done more due diligence we wouldn't be in this debacle—

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you, Mr. Angus.

4:10 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

—right now?

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rachael Harder

Thank you.

I am going to turn the floor over to Mr. Poilievre for five minutes.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

On what date did Minister Chagger get the order in council powers to sign contribution agreements on behalf of your department?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

The order in council is dated March 6.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

I find it astonishing that you didn't know anything about the details of a billion-dollar program in your department until you got to the cabinet meeting where that proposal was presented.

I was the minister in your department back in 2015. If a billion-dollar program in my department were going to cabinet, I would have known about it before it got there.

Just to confirm, you knew nothing about the decision to give this program to WE until it got to cabinet. Is that what you're telling us?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I knew about the parameters of the program, as I've testified. I did not know who was being recommended to deliver the program until I was briefed on May 5.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

That's an astonishing admission, that you would have.... I think it's political malpractice that the minister responsible for the department wouldn't have known about a billion-dollar program her department was administering.

At the May 5 cabinet meeting, was anyone from the Prime Minister's Office present?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

I cannot recall.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

All right.

When the contribution agreement to flow half a billion dollars through WE was signed, did you see that agreement before it was signed by Ms. Chagger?

4:10 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

Mr. Poilievre, I don't see the contribution agreements in front of any of the other ministers to whom I have delegated that level of authority. In the same way, I don't see contribution agreements within Minister Blair's department either. They're full ministers with their own lines of responsibility.

4:10 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

The difference is that Minister Blair has a different department. This was your department. Your department's letterhead was on this agreement and, again, it's astonishing that the minister responsible for that department would not be up to date on a contribution agreement of this magnitude. We're not talking about a small $25,000 grant. We're talking about half a billion dollars and you've really got to ask yourself who is running the show in this government if the ministers responsible for a department don't even see the details of such proposals before the money goes out the door.

You listed the things that this Canada student service grant was supposed to do: track hours of youth, train youth and so-call “onboard” them to organizations. The Canada summer jobs program does all those things. It delegates them through charities, small businesses and other groups. Can you name even one thing that the Canada summer jobs program could not do that the WE brothers could?

4:15 p.m.

Liberal

Carla Qualtrough Liberal Delta, BC

First of all, Canada summer jobs does not help individuals get the jobs like the CSSG was going to do for students, whether it be help preparing resumés, help with training, help getting ready for the interview or acting as mentors. The other thing that was very real in the non-profit sector at this time was lack of capacity. They were saying that, even if they could get five people, they didn't have time to onboard them, train them and oversee them meaningfully. This was what the delivering organization was going to do for a non-profit for capacity in that sector. It was much more hands-on than anything done with the Canada summer jobs.