PM Trudeau agrees to appear at House of Commons finance committee over WE deal

PM Trudeau agrees to appear at House of Commons finance committee over WE deal

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has agreed to appear before the House of Commons finance committee probing the Liberal government’s decision to give WE Charity a contract to run a $900-million student-volunteer program.

Cameron Ahmad, a spokesman for Trudeau, says the date and time have yet to be arranged.

The federal ethics watchdog is already investigating Trudeau’s role in giving the organization a contract to run the Canada Student Service Grant, a deal that has since been aborted.

The news comes after Finance Minister Bill Morneau revealed Wednesday that he sent a cheque to the WE organization just today to repay some $41,000 related to travel expenses the group covered — prompting calls for his resignation.

After going over receipts ahead of his testimony to the finance committee, the finance minister says it was to his surprise that he couldn’t account for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses related to accommodation and other charges the organization covered.

Morneau says it was always his intention to personally cover those amounts, but WE never charged them to him and his family.

Morneau says the amounts were related to a trip he took to Ecuador in summer 2017 to see some of the humanitarian work WE was undertaking there.

After contacting the charity, Morneau says, he sent a cheque for $41,366 today to repay the full cost of the trips.

He says accepting the expenses, even unknowingly, is not appropriate and he has forwarded the information to the ethics commissioner.

The ethics watchdog is also investigating Morneau.

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre says Canadians will find it hard to believe that Morneau couldn’t know about thousands of dollars of travel expenses the organization covered, particularly as a cabinet minister forbidden from accepting such a benefit.

“We know that this is illegal. We know that you ought to have recused yourself,” Poilievre said, referring to the decision on the student grant program, before adding: “Minister, you’ve lost the moral authority to hold your office.”

He then called on Morneau to resign.

Morneau said he should have recused himself from cabinet deliberations around the WE agreement, which would have paid it almost $43.5 million in fees. He said he did not know WE had not charged him for the travel expenses until very recently.

“I’m not making an excuse. It was my mistake,” Morneau said.

He added: “I will continue to work on behalf of Canadians.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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