(CBC) – Former finance minister Bill Morneau breached the Conflict of Interest Act and should have recused himself from cabinet deliberations on the WE Charity summer student grants contract, given his close ties to the charity, according to an investigation by the federal ethics watchdog.
However, Federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who faced similar allegations, did not breach the Conflict of Interest Act.
“Consequently, I found that Mr. Morneau had the opportunity to improperly further WE’s private interests,” wrote Dion in his report, titled “Morneau II.”
“The examination found the relationship between Mr. Morneau and WE included an unusually high degree of involvement between their representatives and afforded WE unfettered access to the office of the minister of Finance, which amounted to preferential treatment.”
As part of his investigation, Dion examined the relationship between Morneau and Craig Kielburger, one of WE’s co‑founders.
His report said, for example, that Kielburger wrote to Morneau and his wife in April, 2017 to share the news that he and his spouse were expecting a baby.
“In his email, Mr. Kielburger wrote that Mr. Morneau and Ms. McCain were ‘among the first to know’ news and expressed his gratitude for the ‘many wonderful friends and family’ to impart parenting advice,” the report says.
Morneau said he couldn’t remember if he gave the couple a gift.
That same year, Morneau’s office wrote to various provincial chiefs to staff to set up meetings on funding proposals with Kielburger, calling him a “dear friend” of the office.
“When Mr. Morneau’s office was notified by their provincial counterparts that funding had been approved, Mr. Morneau called Mr. Kielburger to personally convey the news,” notes Dion’s report.
“On at least one occasion, the families socialized together at the Morneau residence. All these indicators point towards a friendship.”
Morneau, who resigned as finance minister and member of Parliament in August, tweeted this morning that he should have recused himself from cabinet discussions on awarding WE Charity a multi-million dollar contract to administer the summer student grants program.
In the wake of reporting by CBC News and Canadaland that showed the prime minister’s mother Margaret and his brother Alexandre were paid in excess of $300,000 by WE and its entities for speaking engagements over the last four years, Trudeau apologized as the scandal engulfed his government last summer.
Ethics report cleared Trudeau
The ethics report released today on Trudeau’s actions — titled “Trudeau III,” since it’s the third ethics commissioner probe into the PM — found the prime minister didn’t have to recuse himself.
“Although the connection between Mr. Trudeau’s relatives and WE created the appearance of a conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict is insufficient to cause a contravention of the Act’s substantive rules,” it found.