Opinion: PM’s apology won’t make furor over WE go away

Opinion: PM’s apology won’t make furor over WE go away

Justin Trudeau made a bold bid to break up with the ethics controversy consuming his government this week with a new twist on an old classic: “It’s not WE. It’s me.”

There was nothing vague about the prime minister’s apology for how he and WE Charity have become tangled in an ethics storm over pandemic relief. In fact, Trudeau approached near-mathematical precision on Monday with his very personal regrets for what he had failed to do in the whole mess.

“The mistake we made was on me and I take responsibility for it,” he said.

Trudeau said he was sorry he didn’t excuse himself from cabinet discussions about WE Charity, and also sorry he didn’t know more about the extent to which his family was involved with it.

What his apology didn’t cover was how this ended up in front of his cabinet in the first place, and the absence of red flags for him or his government — the crucial “what were you thinking” question that hangs over the entire story.

So while Trudeau’s words on Monday may have slightly cooled the ethics uproar that’s erupted in the midst of this pandemic, they won’t make it go away.

Significantly, his apology also offered no assurances for the future, and that’s important — this being his third brush with ethics investigations in his career as prime minister.

What has he learned about why this failed to set off ethical alarms from the outset? Monday’s me-not-WE apology didn’t quite cover that.

Trudeau’s regrets, for now, are intensely personal — maybe intentionally so. A larger, more expansive apology may not come until after the ethics commissioner’s inquiry.

It’s worth looking closely at how precise the prime minister was when he laid out where he’d gone wrong with WE and the proposal to have the charity handle nearly $1 billion in pandemic relief for students.

Trudeau did not say he was sorry about the idea, which he again said came from the public service, only that he didn’t officially bow out of the discussions about it.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history. I am sincerely sorry about not having done that,” Trudeau said, going on to cite all the ways the government had been working with other charities on pandemic relief.

“But when it came to this organization and this program, the involvement I’d had in the past, and my family has, should have had me remove myself from those discussions.”

The most sincere, genuine part of Trudeau’s apology came when he was talking about how all of this has affected his mother, who has been very public — including at WE events — about her lifelong battles with mental illness.

“Obviously, I knew she worked with WE,” Trudeau said. “I didn’t know the details of how much she was getting paid by various organizations, but I should have, and I deeply regret that. What I also deeply regret is the fact that I have brought my mother into this situation in a way that is really unfair to her.”

Margaret Trudeau’s involvement with WE was definitely obvious. She and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau were together in London at a WE event in March, which is where the prime minister’s wife was believed to have contracted the COVID-19 virus that put the PM into isolation early in the pandemic.

“It’s not WE, it’s me,” may work as a break in the heat of this controversy, but those won’t be the last words in this fraught relationship.

Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Marcus Golczyk, with Taco Monster, hands food to a customer during Food Truck Drive and Dash in the Westerner Park parking lot in Red Deer Friday afternoon. The drive-thru event will run every Thursday from 4-7 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. through June. Photo by SEAN MCINTOSH/Advocate staff
Food Truck Fridays, Food Truck Drive and Dash return in Red Deer

Red Deerians are able to take in a drive-thru food truck experience… Continue reading

Don and Gloria Moore, of Red Deer, are set to celebrate their 70th anniversary later this month. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer couple to celebrate 70th anniversary

Red Deer couple Don and Gloria Moore are set to celebrate their… Continue reading

Chris Scott, owner of The Whistle Stop Cafe, was put in handcuffs after an anti-restriction protest Saturday in the parking lot of the business. (Screenshot via The Whistle Stop Facebook page)
UPDATE: Central Alberta cafe owner arrested after anti-restriction protest

The owner of a central Alberta cafe, which was the site of… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer now has 911 active COVID-19 cases

Central zone has 2,917 active cases

Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre's expansion project is still a high priority, says Alberta Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer hospital ICU admissions stable, but rising, says surgeon

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre’s intensive care unit is in better… Continue reading

FILE - A firefighter wears a mask as he drives his truck. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward, File
VIDEO: Flames rip through Edmonton-area seniors complex, but no fatalities

ST. ALBERT, Alta. — Fire has destroyed part of a retirement complex… Continue reading

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada's vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel's approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

JASPER, Alta. — A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing… Continue reading

The smouldering remains of houses in Slave Lake, Alta., are seen in a May 16, 2011, file photo. The wildfire that is devastating large swaths of the northern Alberta city of Fort McMurray comes just five years after another blaze destroyed 400 buildings and left 2,000 people homeless in Slave Lake, Alberta. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ian Jackson
Ten years later: Five things to know about the Slave Lake wildfire

A wildfire burned about one-third of Slave Lake in northern Alberta in… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid races to 100 points this NHL season

Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid sprinted to a 100-point NHL season and… Continue reading

A Foodora courier is pictured as they pick up an order for delivery from a restaurant in Toronto, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Two-year EI review needed to buy time for needed tech upgrades, Qualtrough says

OTTAWA — Canada’s employment minister says a budgetary pledge for funding to… Continue reading

A person wears a face mask as they walk through McGill University during light snowfall in Montreal, Sunday, December 20, 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Some universities say no to proof of vaccination requirement

A COVID-19 vaccine likely won’t be a requirement to return to the… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland, participate in a virtual discussion with seniors from Residence Memphremagog in Magog, Que., from Ottawa on Monday, May 3, 2021. Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats are on the move in advance of a potential election this year, recruiting candidates, training volunteers and grappling with how to kiss babies and press the flesh in a virtual, pandemic-restricted world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Grappling with how to press the virtual flesh, parties gear up for election showdown

OTTAWA — The three main national parties are firing up their election… Continue reading

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, is setting off a social media reaction with his calls to stop non essential shopping, such as "buying sandals at Costco", with this photo of his worn sandals, which he published to social media on Saturday, May 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Dr. Robert Strang, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Nova Scotia’s top doctor sparks meme with caution on non-essential shopping

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia’s top doctor has launched a social media meme… Continue reading

Most Read