Minister of Finance Bill Morneau announces his resignation during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on August 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau announces his resignation during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on August 17, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Ethics watchdog clears Morneau of accepting gift from WE Charity

Mario Dion says he accepts Morneau ‘genuinely believed’ he had paid for the entire cost of two trips

The federal ethics watchdog has cleared former finance minister Bill Morneau of failing to disclose a gift from WE Charity.

In a letter to Morneau, ethics commissioner Mario Dion says he accepts that the former minister “genuinely believed” he had paid for the entire cost of two trips he and family members took in 2017 to view WE’s humanitarian projects in Ecuador and Kenya.

As soon as Morneau became aware last summer that WE had in fact covered $41,000 worth of expenses for the trips, Dion says he reimbursed the charity.

Because he immediately took “the appropriate corrective measures,” Dion concludes: “I am of the view that you did not accept a gift from WE Charity.”

Craig Kielburger, who co-founded WE with his brother, Marc, hailed Dion’s decision, saying in a statement that “we have always maintained that these trips were done in good faith and welcome this important clarification of the facts.”

Morneau reimbursed the money shortly before testifying on the WE affair at the House of Commons finance committee in July.

Dion says WE’s invitation to view the projects was intended to encourage Morneau’s wife to donate to the charity. He accepts Morneau’s explanation that he was not involved in her subsequent choice to make two large donations through the family foundation.

While he’s dropping his probe into this aspect of the former minister’s conduct, Dion says he continues to investigate whether Morneau breached the Conflict of Interest Act by failing to recuse himself from the cabinet decision to pay WE Charity $43.5 million to manage a since-cancelled student grant program.

Dion is also investigating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s failure to recuse himself, despite his own family’s close ties to WE.

WE’s involvement in the student services grant triggered immediate controversy when announced in late June. WE withdrew from the program a few days later and the program was eventually cancelled.

In what Kielburger called a further effort to correct “inaccurate information” about the charity promulgated by opposition parties and the media, WE released Thursday the results of what it said were investigations by non-partisan experts into the charity’s overall conduct and into the student grant program in particular.

WE said the reports were commissioned by the Stillman Foundation, a U.S.-based charity.

Matt Torigian, former deputy solicitor general of Ontario, concluded the government asked WE to submit a proposal, considered the ability of other organizations to run the program and its ultimate choice of WE was “not predetermined.”

After reviewing all the organization’s finances, forensic accountant Al Rosen dismissed suggestions that the charity was in dire financial straits before being awarded the contract or that there were financial irregularities in its operations from which the Kielburger brothers stood to benefit.

“These financial findings stand in stark contrast to many public allegations launched against the organization by members of Parliament, Canadian media, and select critics,” Rosen wrote.

Morneau resigned abruptly from politics in August, as the WE affair continued to engulf the government. There were also reports of tensions between Morneau and Trudeau over massive spending on pandemic relief.

The following day, Trudeau prorogued Parliament for six weeks — a move opposition parties charged was intended to shut down committee investigations into the WE affair.

Since Parliament’s resumption in September, the Liberals have been filibustering opposition attempts to reopen those committee investigations.

However, there is no mention of the WE affair in a report to Parliament explaining the decision to prorogue — a new requirement introduced by the Trudeau government ostensibly to prevent abuse of the prorogation procedure.

The report echoes Trudeau’s explanation at the time, that the government needed to prorogue in order to come back with a throne speech outlining its plan for coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and rebuilding the shattered economy.

“Five and a half months into this pandemic — the greatest challenge Canadians have faced since the Second World War — the people of Canada deserved to know that the federal government had a bold and comprehensive plan to get them through whatever challenge would come next,” the report says.

“In order for this to be the case, our government was duty-bound and honour-bound to ensure we had the continued confidence of the House of Commons. We needed to outline a clear, realistic plan on which parliamentarians would have the opportunity to vote.

“This was the only clear and transparent way to ensure that the federal government could continue to provide the support on which Canadians were relying.”

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

federal government

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

Just Posted

B.C.’s parliament buildings in Victoria. (Photo: Tom Fletcher)
Surrey gets two cabinet ministers, a parliamentary secretary and government whip

Premier John Horgan’s NDP MLAs were sworn in on Tuesday and the cabinet was revealed Thursday afternoon

Steve ‘Elvis’ Elliott performs for residents of Amica White Rock. Exercise-to-music programs that led to a threat of city fines due to a noise complaint are to resume next week. (Contributed file photo)
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Amica White Rock

Peace Portal Seniors Village outbreak declared over

Wickson Pier in Crescent Beach is closed to the public, as work to replace and repair piles continues. (Susan Richards de Wit photo)
PHOTOS: Repairs to Crescent Beach pier complete

$180,000 Wickson Pier project included pile replacement, says City of Surrey parks manager

Surrey city Councillor Brenda Locke. (File photo)
Brenda Locke trying to breathe life into Surrey’s defunct Public Safety Committee

Surrey councillor’s motion will be up for debate at a future council meeting

The Festival of Lights; Jingle Bell White Rock; and the Lighted Boat Parade all helped light up the White Rock waterfront on Saturday, Dec. 7. (Aaron Hinks photo)
White Rock Festival of Lights postponed

While event founder remains optimistic, the future of this year’s display is uncertain

(Photo: Amy Reid)
VIDEO: 2020 Community Leader Awards recognize Surrey’s unsung heroes

They don’t often receive recognition and don’t necessarily have a high profile in the community

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
B.C. mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby now at home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
New ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room opening next week in Chilliwack

It’s a space for reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, or gender-based violence to police

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

The online poster for Joel Goddard, who left his Willoughby home Nov. 10, 2020, has been updated by his family and friends who received word that he’s been found.
Langley man missing since Nov. 10 found alive and safe in Abbotsford

Family of the Willoughby area man had been searching for days. Police find him at Abbotsford Airport

Most Read