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

A sign is seen this past summer outside Yunesit’in Government office west of Williams Lake reminding visitors and members to stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rebecca Dyok photo)
Yunesit’in First Nation completes second round of vaccinations

A total of 26 people have since recovered from COVID-19 after having tested positive

A 100 Mile RCMP officer stands watch at the intersction of Highway 97 and Horse Lake Road. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Volunteers, police search Highway 97 for articles related to high-speed chase

Search will stretch from Canco Gas Station in Lac La Hache to 150 Mile House.

An aerial photograph captures snowmobile tracks in the Cameron Ridge area earlier this year, which is closed to snowmobilers. The closures are in place to protect sensitive caribou herds. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Snowmobilers fined for operating in closed caribou habitat near Likely, B.C.

The investigation revealed they had spent several hours in the closure leaving extensive tracks

The RCMP arrest one of the suspects on Highway 97 courtesy of cell phone footage shot by a bystander. (April Thomas photo)
WATCH: Two suspects arrested after multi-jurisdictional chase

A half dozen police cars were seen heading north on Highway 97

Commercial tenants at the Williams Lake Regional Airport have been granted an additional six-month rent reprieve. (Angie Mindus file photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Continuing rent relief for Williams Lake Airport tenants considered

City council discussed the option during a committee of the whole meeting

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

Most Read