Evidence of meeting #47 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was cabinet.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Katie Telford  Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Caroline Bosc

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

That's the end of your round, Mr. Poilievre.

Mr. Prime Minister, you have about 30 seconds to respond.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

As I said to Canadians a number of weeks ago, I should have recused myself, knowing the connections between my family and the perceptions around this issue. However, I did not intervene to make this recommendation happen. When the recommendation came forward from the public service, I sent it back to the public service to say that they really needed to make sure that this is indeed the only organization that can deliver this program, and that this is done exactly the right way, because there is going to be careful scrutiny on this.

At that point, I should have recused myself, but I didn't. I decided to push back instead, and that I regret because young people aren't having the opportunities they would have had this summer through that program, even though there are many other things we're doing for young people this summer.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thank you, Prime Minister.

We'll turn to Mr. Fragiskatos for four minutes, and Ms. Koutrakis for two, on a split round.

Mr. Fragiskatos.

July 30th, 2020 / 3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you, Prime Minister, for being here.

First of all, Mr. Prime Minister, is there a personal relationship between you and the Kielburgers? Are you friends? Have you spent social time together? Have you had dinners together or anything like that?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

No. I have seen them at events but not outside of official or public events.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

I want to ask you, Prime Minister, about the lack of recusal. Some have suggested that perhaps the recusal did not happen because the pandemic is forcing decisions to be made more quickly than ever before, and when decisions are made quickly, mistakes are more likely to happen.

First of all, to what extent is that a fair observation, in your view? Second, if it is a fair observation, COVID-19 will certainly set the context within which policy is made for some time to come. This implies that choices about policy and programs will need to continue to be made very quickly.

Are there mechanisms in place at the cabinet level or in other institutions of decision-making to prevent a mistake of this kind from happening again?

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

First of all, thank you for the question.

Obviously yes, during a time of pandemic things are accelerated, and as I said from the beginning and as I have said throughout this pandemic in all my press conferences, we have moved quickly to try to get help out to people as fast as we could, as flexibly as we could and would fix those mistakes as we went on. There was an understanding that if we waited until everything was perfect before doing anything, far too many Canadians would suffer and, because of the health emergency, even die. We needed to act quickly.

That is certainly part of the context, but I don't think it's the whole reason as to why I didn't recuse myself. Youth issues are something I've been deeply involved with through all my career. I care deeply about the idea of youth service and seeing young people be able to help in their communities with organizations across the country.

This proposal mattered to me, and instead of encouraging it along, as some people say, because it was somehow connected to my family, I actually slowed it down and pushed back on it to try to make sure that everything was done exactly right, because I knew there would be questions asked because of the links to the family.

In no way was this benefiting my mother or my brother, to be creating a grant program for students to volunteer in their communities right across the country.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Peter Fragiskatos Liberal London North Centre, ON

Thank you.

I have a final question before I turn it over to Ms. Koutrakis.

Prime Minister, speaking to the point about youth and the Canada student service grants, it is in principle of course a great idea, a great vision. I am worried, though, about whether or not the program will come to fruition. I've asked this question to Minister Morneau, to Minister Chagger and to the Clerk of the Privy Council. I know that colleagues may accuse me of repeating myself here, but we have you at committee.

I have many constituents anxious to volunteer. I have many not-for-profits and charities in the community of London, Ontario, that want this volunteer effort as they try to deal with the challenge that is COVID-19.

Will this program go ahead? If not, why not? Also, if the program does not go ahead, where will the money that was allocated towards it go?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Prime Minister, could you keep the response pretty tight, sir?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Of course.

First of all, young people are right now volunteering in their communities across the country. We're seeing young people step up in big ways to help out, to contribute, in this time of crisis. What they won't be getting through this program is rewards or recognition for 1,000 hours of work or 4,000 or 5,000 hours of work. That was what we were trying to encourage young people to do—even more volunteering that way.

However, at the same time we continue to look for ways to encourage volunteerism, to encourage young people to be involved. I know Minister Chagger continues to work very hard on that, and I am hopeful that we will be able to continue to support young people in volunteerism, as we're supporting them with both the emergency benefit for students and with lots of jobs for students through the summer jobs program.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Ms. Koutrakis.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Prime Minister, for accepting to come to our committee this afternoon to clarify some really important issues for all Canadians.

Let's remind ourselves of the grave and unprecedented crisis that you and our government had to deal with—in a real hurry, as you have said—to ensure the safety of Canadians and to save our economy.

There has been a suggestion that WE Charity started to pay your mother in 2016 because of your role as Prime Minister. Can you please speak to your mother's personal experience, her advocacy and commitment to mental health before you were elected as Prime Minister in 2015 and to her qualifications as a speaker on this issue?

As a follow-up, because I know I'm short on time, did you at any time encourage your mother to be involved in the WE organization or other charitable causes?

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

My mother has had a fascinating but challenging life in many ways, and she shared that story in her 2010 autobiography. After that, she started speaking, sharing stories and encouraging different organizations who were working particularly in mental health but in other areas. As she did that, she realized there was a need and a demand for more destigmatization around mental health issues and better advocacy for it, so she actually wrote another book called “The Time of Your Life” that is focused on mental health issues, which she published in 2015. Publishing that book also involved working with doctors and experts in the field of mental health.

She has been empowering people and supporting organizations across the country professionally for a long time since then with the greater focus on mental health that has come over the past five years. It is not a surprise at all that various organizations would turn to her expertise and her involvement, but I never directly or indirectly encouraged her to work for WE or any other specific organization.

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Okay, we will have to go on to Mr. Fortin.

Mr. Fortin, you have six minutes.

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Prime Minister, in terms of your relationship with WE Charity over the past few months, did you check the registry of lobbyists to make sure the people the government was dealing with were registered?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

I have personally had no interaction with the people from WE over the past few months. I expect the ministers who have engagements with various organizations to check the registry of lobbyists.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

My understanding is that you have not personally checked, nor have you asked your chief of staff to do so. Is that right?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

My chief of staff had no interaction with WE.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Did you ask to check whether the Kielburgers or other members of the board of directors were in the registry?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Neither I nor my chief of staff had any interaction with them.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

So you did not ask to have that checked.

We know that Mr. Morneau and his family went on a trip with the Kielburgers and that your family had ties with them. In addition to finding out whether or not giving talks was appropriate, the fact remains, and it must be said, that there have been fairly close ties between the Trudeau family and the people from WE Charity.

However, you have never checked this issue in the Registry of Lobbyists or asked anyone you know to do so. Is that correct?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

First, Mr. Fortin, you talked about close ties with the Kielburgers. I am not friends with the Kielburgers. I know them, but we have no close ties. I have actually done youth work for a long time, long before politics. So I have some knowledge of their work. I have participated in their events a number of times in my life as Prime Minister and beforehand.

However, in terms of the Registry of Lobbyists, you know full well that it is up to individuals and businesses to take action in that regard. Those checks are not really a political responsibility.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

In your opinion, when someone approaches you or a member of your cabinet, you are not required to ensure that they are in the registry?

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Justin Trudeau Liberal Papineau, QC

Yes, that is absolutely the case when we have a meeting for lobbying purposes. However, on no occasion did the Kielburgers or anyone from WE Charity have any lobbying involvement with my government. It may have happened before, but certainly not in the last few months.

3:35 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Mr. Trudeau, how many millions of dollars have been given to WE Charity or to an organization in the WE network since your election in 2015?