Evidence of meeting #43 for Finance 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

Paulette Senior  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation
Rahul O. Singh  Executive Director, GlobalMedic
Vivian Krause  Researcher and Writer, As an Individual
Jesse Brown  Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual
Michelle Kovacevic  Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

The WE Charity originally denied having made any payments to the Trudeau family for speaking fees. As a result of your reporting, we now know that those speaking fees occurred, but we don't know how much in expenses—purported or otherwise—WE Charity paid for members of the Trudeau family. I'm not now talking about fees, but expenses to transport Trudeaus from place to place, or to cover their accommodation while they were in attendance.

Do you have any knowledge of how much that number would be?

1:05 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

No.

I know that WE Charity has confirmed that they paid for Sophie Grégoire Trudeau's expenses during the trip to the U.K. I am aware that media questions have been submitted to the WE organization about the exact number. I do not believe that those figures have been disclosed.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, both.

We will turn to Ms. Dzerowicz, followed by Mr. Morantz.

1:05 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you so much, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank all four panellists for presenting today. I am very grateful.

My first question is a quick one for Ms. Senior.

Ms. Senior, thank you so much for the amazing work of the Canadian Women's Foundation. I know that you're a champion for many of the small organizations in my riding. Because they're so tiny, they tend to work with larger organizations like yours.

One of the questions before the committee has been whether or not it's effective for the federal government to work with non-profits to actually deliver funding as quickly as possible. You've indicated that you've received a certain portion of the $50 million that we've put out in emergency funding for women's shelters and sexual assault organizations. Do you think working with organizations like the Canadian Women's Foundation was an effective way for us to get money out fast to women's shelters and sexual assault organizations?

1:05 p.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation

Paulette Senior

I'm happy to say that I actually do think it's efficient. We have been able to get the $3 million out to sexual assault centres in a matter of three weeks. That was quite efficient and effective, and organizations have told us in their own testimonials how grateful they've been for that.

We've been able to provide that additional $10 million in funding. I believe the number we've funded to date is 245 organizations through this. We've made the process simple and effective, with very little paperwork, which would be the usual non-COVID way of working. It's been effective.

We were able to get that out. Once an organization filled out the form, we would get back to them within [Technical difficulty-Editor] business days. That was very effective and efficient on our part and we were—

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Ms. Senior, I'm sorry to cut you off. It's just that I have three more questions. Thank you so much, and thanks for getting that money out. Thank you for helping the organizations in my riding as well.

My next question is for Ms. Krause.

Ms. Krause, I want to make sure I have this right, so please confirm this. You indicated that WE had shared data to the Liberal Party in 2015 in order to help the Liberal Party target ridings to win. Did I get that right?

1:10 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

I said that I wrote a letter last week to WE asking what they did with the data. I asked them if they give it to their corporate partners, if they give it to political parties, or if they give it to anyone working on political campaigns. I asked them what they do with the data.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Ms. Krause, you said that there is one source that had indicated to you that data was shared by WE to the Liberal Party in order to help them target ridings to win. Did you not say that?

1:10 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

I have no evidence of that. I was just told that. I don't have any documentation, so—

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Okay.

I do have some other questions. I just wanted to make sure I had that right. I was going to ask you whether or not you had any proof, because it's very difficult to leave those questions out there hanging.

1:10 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

To be honest, that was my question to you—was there any proof—and you indicated that you don't have any proof on that. I appreciate your indicating that.

My next question is for you, Mr. Singh. Your organization, GlobalMedic, is very well known. Thank you for your extraordinary work around the world and also nationally.

You indicated that the biggest loser of the Canada student service grant program has been students and that we as a government need to do better as a program.... I don't think there's anybody who doesn't agree with you more. I know that our Prime Minister has said that our students are the biggest loser in terms of everything that's transpired around this Canada student grant program.

I guess my key thing to you is that when we were launching all these programs, it's often said that perfection can't be the enemy of the good, and we were rolling out a number of things very, very quickly. We're going to start seeing that we made some mistakes. In some cases, we did things really great, very fast and very efficiently. In other cases, that wasn't the case.

I just want to say thank you for your excellent suggestions. I think we're all looking right now to our public service to see what we can salvage of the program and how we can actually move forward on it. You've made some recommendations. Are those recommendations inside the document you sent us?

1:10 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul O. Singh

They are. I would also like to respond to your comment.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Sure.

1:10 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul O. Singh

First of all, the government is doing its best. I understand that. You have great intentions in getting programs out. The concerns I'm raising are about efficacy and doing things better. We're in the long haul of a fight here. We're not at the end of this fight. Chances are that your government will be programming more money. If we can make that additional money more effective and do a better job with it, then we'll help more Canadians.

The biggest loser definitely is the students. What I really want to know is this: How are we going to be able to put more students into our gymnasiums in schools where they can pack more aid so that we can drive costs down and help more shelters and deliver more hygiene kits to certainly some of the shelters that Paulette's group helps? I do respect that we're doing our best and we're trying. I'm glad you're admitting that some mistakes have happened. I'm so hopeful that we can put politics aside for just a second and ask how we're going to do more, and better, to help the folks who really need it.

I have given you a lot of suggestions there, but I think the greatest suggestion would be to deal directly with charities. Just infuse funds directly. If you just underwrote our human resources or our rent or basic operation costs, we could liberate funds to just go ahead and target the work that needs to get done. Those programs aren't really on the table right now, because the wage subsidy doesn't really apply to us. I know we've opened that up, but there are better ways, and direct ways, of dealing with our very efficient public service to do that.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julie Dzerowicz Liberal Davenport, ON

Thank you.

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, both. We are substantially over.

Just so you know, Mr. Singh, the document you sent in will be translated and sent out to members.

We'll turn now to Mr. Morantz, followed by Mr. Fragiskatos.

Marty.

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'll start with you, Ms. Krause. Boy, from what we've heard so far, it just sounds like such a swamp and a quagmire it's hard to see through it all. I just don't know that we'll get to the bottom of it, actually, through these committee meetings, at the end of the day.

Canadians at the very least deserve that their government respects their taxpayers' dollars. With WE it appears we have a situation where it was in breach of its obligations to its bankers. This was all information that was available. I saw the 2018 financial statement on their website. It was public information. Anyone in the public service could have seen it. That alone should have pre-empted the awarding of this contract. The company's under financial duress. There are loans that need to be repaid. Virtually their entire board just resigned. That alone should have pre-empted the awarding of this agreement. The Prime Minister and Minister of Finance had obvious conflicts of interest. That alone should have pre-empted the awarding of this agreement. WE is not even a registered lobbyist and yet had major access to high-up government officials. That is a huge red flag.

Craig Kielburger is a member of the Leaders’ Debates Commission at the same time as he's putting out campaign-style ads featuring the Prime Minister. I don't even know how to describe that. It just seems like such a huge conflict. Again, that alone should have pre-empted the awarding of this contract. The relationship between the government and the Kielburgers was so close it was bound to raise questions about an almost billion-dollar program being turned over to them. Any neutral observer of these facts, and these aren't all of the facts, would have to come to the conclusion that this is just not an honest use of taxpayers' dollars.

My preamble was quite lengthy, but I wanted to give you a little more time. You said in your opening statement that you could use a little more time.

Why would the government do this? They must have recognized all of these red flags. What would be any other reason that they would actually plow ahead and do this?

1:15 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

That's the big question here: Why? Why all these red flags and why were they all ignored? That's what got me looking into this.

There's one issue that we haven't talked about yet and that's the elections activism of WE.

In the 2015 election, for example, they authored an op-ed in the Globe and Mail urging youth to get out and vote. If you watch their videos, you'll see, for example, a little button which says “I voted today”, inserting the imagery of young people voting as part of being a good person. It's part of the brand of the WE movement: “We're people who vote.”

Even last fall in the 2019 election, WE hosted a federal election debate viewing party. This organization very clearly is about getting out the youth vote.

The question is, does that factor into any of the reasons why it got this money? I don't have the answer, but my hope in coming to the committee is that what I've shared, and of course what others have shared—Jesse brought up many important points—will help the committee to identify the right questions.

If you're asking the wrong question, it doesn't really matter what the answer is. There's been too much discussion on the speaking fees of the Trudeau family and the Morneau family operations. Personally, it doesn't make sense to me that this would have been the reason for a billion-dollar contract. It just doesn't make sense.

What does make sense is the fact that WE is part of the Liberal Party election machine. That makes a lot more sense.

What I'm suggesting is that the committee.... My understanding from Twitter is that the Kielburgers are going to come and testify. They should answer the question, yes or no, do they provide data or any information to any political party?

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

You mentioned you had written a letter to them asking that very question. When did you send that letter?

1:15 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

Last week.

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Marty Morantz Conservative Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

If the answer was no, it would have been simple just to reply no.

July 22nd, 2020 / 1:15 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

In fairness to them, they've probably been under a lot of pressure lately.

There are many big brands. The most nervous people these days must be the people in the boardrooms of the Royal Bank, Telus, Nordstrom and Ford Motors. All these big brands have given WE literally tens of millions of dollars.

There's one more point that I want to mention which hasn't been raised with regard to WE's financials.

On the expenditures, more than half of its total expenditures—well over $200 million—was unspecified. That's 52%. Another 11% was the fair market value of donated goods. That's two-thirds of its expenditures, and because it doesn't provide consolidated financial statements, there's no way of knowing whether those expenditures are just paying back and forth between the various entities.

1:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Ms. Krause, corporate donations, whether in money or services in kind, were abolished in 2003. Have you checked with Elections Canada? If there were donations in kind or in money for a corporation, that is entirely illegal.

We ought to be very careful at this committee. I know you are immune from being charged for what you say at committee, but if you said something in public, you could be challenged by legal counsel.

Do you have any evidence that there were donations to the Liberal Party in kind or in service? You said it was part of the Liberal Party election machine. That's a very serious charge.

1:20 p.m.

Researcher and Writer, As an Individual

Vivian Krause

Let's clarify.

There are many ways to be part of the election machine of any political party without making a cash donation. In fact, the way elections are run these days, it's the in-kind donations that are making the biggest impact, something as simple as a tweet from Barack Obama in the last election. Therefore, it's not just about cash.

Mr. Easter, if I may mention, I testified to your committee a year ago, on May 6. In that testimony I mentioned that I was concerned about how the political activity audits of charities had been handled. I mentioned that the CRA had audited 42 charities, and 41 out of 42 were not compliant. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected, he suspended those audits, rewrote the law, and the audits were finalized with a retroactively rewritten law.

In light of this WE Charity issue, we need to know who the audited charities were. Is WE one of them? Is WE Charity one of the charities that was under audit?