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

Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop is changing owners with longtime owner Odean Long transferring ownership Dec. 1 to William Matthews. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Longtime owner of Sidney’s Haunted Bookshop closes chapter with sale

Odean Long and her late husband moved the business to Sidney in 1996

Goldstream Food Bank volunteers at work. Light Up the City will be offering various options for the public to drop off non-perishable food items to support this food bank and others in Greater Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can show their charity through Light Up the City

Drive-thru food bank and toy donation dropoff sites open up this Saturday around region

Victoria police arrested a man in a Yates Street grocery store Nov. 27 after he refused to wear a mask. (Black Press Media File photo)
Belligerent man arrested in Victoria grocery store after refusing to wear mask

Officers fined the man $230 under the COVID-19 Related Measures Act

A 43-year-old woman is facing charges for impaired driving and leaving the scene of a crash after attempting to flee from police by driving down the beach in front of the Oak Bay Marina on Nov. 23. (Oak Bay Police/Twitter)
Victoria woman drives over seawall onto beach near Oak Bay Marina

Driver faces charges for fleeing crash, refusing breathalyzer test

Friends with Dorothy opens in Victoria.
LGBT2Q+ lounge Friends with Dorothy opens second location in Victoria

The Kelowna-based lounge plans to open in Victoria mid-December

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Most Read