A common man's problem indeed.
Despite the fact that one of the finance minister's daughters worked for WE and his family took a WE-sponsored trip in Ecuador, he did not recuse himself.
Now all of these ethical breaches by the Prime Minister and the finance minister follow the same pattern. The Prime Minister will deny he did anything wrong; then he will try to pass the buck; then he will say that he is sorry and then he will get the rest of the Liberals to cover it up.
He said he is sorry, but we know he is only sorry he got caught. If he were sorry, he would have accepted the invitation to appear at committee. If he were sorry, he would waive cabinet confidence. Really, if he were sorry, could he not have just written a letter to the chair of these committees and said that in light of very public revelations about his failure to recuse himself from deliberations and discussions concerning a nearly $1-billion sole-sourced agreement with a firm he has direct ties to, he would like to appear at their committees? Would that not have been the transparency the Prime Minister called for?
We know when the Prime Minister says he is sorry that, he is “sorry, not sorry”. That is why he blocked the investigation into the SNC-Lavalin scandal. We know from the “Trudeau II Report” it was the second time the Prime Minister had broken the law, the second time he had the distinction of being the first prime minister in Canada to to be found guilty of breaking ethics laws. We know from that report that there were nine people who wanted to provide testimony to the commissioner during his investigation, but were not able to. Why? Their response was uniform: it was because it would reveal a confidence of the Queen's Privy Council.
What does that mean? It means that the witnesses were muzzled by cabinet confidence. It means they were not allowed to testify. They were not allowed to listen to their conscience. How can that be? We heard in this very place that the Liberals fully co-operate with the work of officers of Parliament and the Ethics Commissioner every time.
The then government House leader talked about the historic waiving of cabinet confidences. That is not the case. It is not what happened.
He got away with it. He got away with obstructing that investigation. The Prime Minister was not properly incentivized to follow the rules.
We follow that pattern and we find the Prime Minister yet again facing an investigation.
With the WE Charity scandal unfolding before us and despite the Prime Minister's best efforts to the contrary, it is important to establish the facts as we know them. We know this did not begin with the government picking the WE organization at random in June to administer a program for youth. In fact, we found out that the WE organization was pitching the government in mid-April before the government even announced the program. We know that the organization circulated a proposal to several ministers in mid-April.
On April 19, at a meeting with officials from the finance department and ESDC, a Finance official told another senior official, who testified at the finance committee, Ms. Wernick, the senior assistant deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada, that in fact it was she who contacted the WE organization.
It is interesting that a mid-level public servant picked up the phone, got the founder of this organization, which we know has tens of millions of dollars in real estate holdings in downtown Toronto among all of its laundry list of other things it engages in, and said, “It is me calling. Is that WE? It is,” and it was the founder on the phone ready to take her call. I am not sure how surprised they were at the WE organization to find out that they were going to be on the receiving end of administering nearly a billion dollars in taxpayer funds.
We also found out at that meeting that this organization was going to benefit by about $43 million dollars in administrative fees. We heard today one of the ministers say that it was just $43 million. What is $43 million between friends?
On April 22, interestingly, the Prime Minister announced that the government would be moving ahead with plans to help young people economically during the crisis and that details would follow later, but while the Prime Minister was making that announcement, the WE organization was submitting a new proposal to the government by email to that same public servant who placed the call only a few days before.
We know that a few days later Volunteer Canada, a national coordinating body for the volunteer sector, reached out to the government to offer support in building a volunteer program aimed at youth. In response, little information was made available while program approval was pending. The government was not interested in Volunteer Canada's expertise or help, and what happened next is most interesting.
The WE organization, which had not been awarded anything at that point in time, contacted Volunteer Canada, which was told that the government did not need its help, and asked for help administering a really big program that was worth about $912 million. That is interesting. I thought that Volunteer Canada was not needed by the government. That is very interesting, and it is interesting, indeed, that the WE organization was already calling people, knowing that they had this in the bag.
Meetings were held between May 25 and June 5 between those groups, and on June 5 Volunteer Canada told the WE organization that it would not be participating, citing several problems with the program, including that the program was going to pay students below minimum wage in any province they participated. That does not sound like help for students.
That is very strange, because the official opposition, the Conservative Party, called for funding for the Canada summer jobs program to be increased beyond what the government had committed this year. I can tell you that in my riding, there were employers approved by the government and who had advised my office that they had students who had applied to work, but that the fund ran out of money.
There were lots of employment opportunities. There was a structure already set up. The Government of Canada was prepared to administer that, but suddenly this new program, plucked out of thin air almost inexplicably, to the benefit of $43 million for these administrators, at a cost of $912 million to the taxpayer and paying less than minimum wage to all program participants, was invented by the government.
I think Volunteer Canada's concerns were right on the money. That kind of consulting, which the government got for free, was for a program with all kinds of problems, but the government bashed on, and on June 25 the Prime Minister announced the program, and later that day his minister said that the WE organization would be administering it.
The current government dismisses questions of conflicts of interest in the awarding of the contract, and the PMO and the WE organization have told several media outlets that the Prime Minister's family was not paid to speak at WE events. Later, on July 3, the WE organization announced that it would not be administering this program. On that same day, the Ethics Commissioner, in response to my letter, announced he would be launching an investigation of the Prime Minister.
On July 9, we learned that the Prime Minister's family was paid by the WE organization.
On July 15, the WE organization issued a statement that it was returning to its roots and would conduct a review of its structure and activities. When a cheque is about to be cut for $912 million, due diligence by the government would have meant that it would have taken a look at what WE's structure and activities were: a board in shambles and a bank covenant not met.
A review of structure and activities should have been done by the Government of Canada before it offered its friends at WE Charity $43 million in a bailout. It is an unusual pattern, to say the least, but these ethical breaches by the Prime Minister certainly followed the same pattern I mentioned before.
Members will remember from the SNC-Lavalin scandal that the Prime Minister's first response was that the allegations in The Globe and Mail were false. We know that this was demonstrably false now. That was proven when it was deemed that he broke the law. The Liberal Prime Minister broke the law. His statements were false.
The Prime Minister's ties to this organization, the finance minister's ties to this organization and the Liberal Party's ties to this organization are deep and there are many.
It is hard to believe that there was no one in the cabinet room and no one on the line who saw this conflict, this problem on the horizon. Is it that everyone knows what happens when someone stands up to the Prime Minister? We saw that with the member for Vancouver Granville, the former attorney general. We saw that with Dr. Jane Philpott, the former president of the treasury board. She stood up to the Prime Minister. What happened to Dr. Philpott? What happened to Canada's first female indigenous attorney general? The Prime Minister fired them, and those Liberals sat silently when that happened. They were complicit in that cover-up and they are complicit in this one.
The Liberals filibustered at the ethics committee on Friday and waited until they talked out the clock. They spoke virtually uninterrupted for hours about all things unrelated and demonstrated misunderstanding in some cases and hypocrisy in others. I took to the floor to encourage them to have the courage of their convictions to vote. If they were going to vote against, they should let the chips fall where they may. Votes are won and lost all the time. However, they moved to adjourn the meeting. They did not have the courage of their convictions. They wanted to further the cover-up.
Therefore, we had the announcement for this bill. The Prime Minister has said it is all about helping people. When the WE Charity scandal first broke, he said that it was all about helping the children. I think it is all about helping the friends, family and donors of the Prime Minister. Canadians deserve better. The Prime Minister must allow the Ethics Commissioner to do his work unobstructed, with transparency, that disinfectant value that sunlight brings. He should waive cabinet confidence. What does he have to hide?
I call on all Liberals to have the courage of their convictions, to appeal to their better angels and to let the Prime Minister know that what he represents is not what Canadians deserve.
Canadians deserve better. They have elected 338 members. They have elected a Liberal caucus that can let their leader know that his behaviour is unacceptable. If they will not ask him to resign, why do they not at least tell him that he must appear at committee, must waive cabinet confidence and must own this scandal?