Ethics commissioner launches investigation into Morneau’s involvement in WE Charity contract

The federal ethics commissioner will probe Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s participation in a cabinet decision to award a multimillion-dollar summer student grants contract to WE Charity.

Opposition MPs asked Mario Dion to review Morneau’s role after CBC News and other outlets reported that his daughter, Grace, works for the charity in its travel department. Another of Morneau’s daughters, Clare, has volunteered for the organization and been a speaker at past WE Day events.

Dion said he will investigate whether Morneau should have recused himself given these family ties to the organization.

Section 21 of the Conflict of Interest Act stipulates that a public office-holder such as Morneau “shall recuse himself or herself from any discussion, decision, debate or vote on any matter in respect of which he or she would be in a conflict of interest.”

Section 6(1) stipulates that no public officer should make a decision or participate in making a decision “if the public office holder knows or reasonably should know that, in the making of the decision, he or she would be in a conflict of interest.”

The commissioner is already investigating Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on similar grounds. Trudeau’s mother and brother have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak at WE events and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts a podcast for the charity.

“Once again, the ethics commissioner has opened an investigation into a Trudeau Liberal Minister,” Conservative ethics critic Michael Barrett said in a statement.

“It’s also clear that a criminal investigation is warranted. Conservatives will continue to hold the prime minister and his government accountable for this scandal. We will not rest until Canadians have answers,” he said.

Both Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the cabinet talks, saying they should never have been part of such discussions given their close personal ties to the charity.

The government maintains it was the public service that first recommended WE as the best pick for the contract, given its nationwide reach and its experience connecting students with volunteer opportunities.

The sole-sourced contract would have given WE the authority to administer more than $900 million in public funds to eligible students.

WE Charity has since cut ties with the grant program and will forego the $19.5 million Ottawa earmarked for the charity in compensation. The charity has since announced a major restructuring of its internal operations after weeks of increased public scrutiny.

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