Records show char­ity closely tied to PM re­ceived mul­ti­ple sole-source con­tracts

‘It’s the old­est game in Ot­tawa,’ NDP critic says

Edmonton Journal - - CANADA - CHRISTO­PHER NARDI

OT­TAWA • WE Char­ity, which has close ties to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his fam­ily — and which will re­ceive mil­lions of dol­lars to ad­min­is­ter a fed­eral stu­dent vol­un­teer grant pro­gram — has re­ceived a se­ries of ex­clu­sively sole-source con­tracts from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over the last three years, gov­ern­ment records show. Sole-source con­tracts are gov­ern­ment con­tracts that are handed di­rectly to a cho­sen sup­plier, with­out the op­por­tu­nity for oth­ers to pro­vide com­pet­ing bids for the gov­ern­ment busi­ness.

The fed­eral Lib­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced last week that it had out­sourced a stu­dent-grant pro­gram worth over $900 mil­lion to WE Char­ity, which will re­ceive at least $19.5 mil­lion in fees for the work. Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau, whose fam­ily has worked closely with the WE or­ga­ni­za­tion for many years, de­fended the con­tract, say­ing the WE Char­ity was the “only one ... ca­pa­ble of net­work­ing and or­ga­niz­ing and de­liv­er­ing this pro­gram on the scale that we needed it ...” But records show this was not the first time the char­ity re­ceived an ex­clu­sive con­tract from the Trudeau gov­ern­ment, although it is by far the largest.

Ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s on­line data­base of gov­ern­ment con­tracts, WE Char­ity has re­ceived five fed­eral con­tracts worth a to­tal of $120,000 since March 2017. Four of the five con­tracts have been in the last 15 months, with the most re­cent — and largest, un­til now, at $40,000 — dated Jan­uary 2020.

“What’s re­ally con­cern­ing about these sole source con­tracts is that it’s the old­est game in Ot­tawa, the nud­genudge, wink-wink of putting out con­tracts just be­low the thresh­old to have them put out to pub­lic. And those are the con­tracts that tend to be given to some­one who ran your cam­paign, some­one who was in­volved with you at the party level,” the NDP’S ethics critic, Char­lie An­gus, told Na­tional Post.

The con­tracts were for vague ser­vices such as “Man­age­ment con­sult­ing”, “Pub­lic re­la­tions ser­vices” and, in three cases, “Other pro­fes­sional ser­vices not other­wise spec­i­fied," ac­cord­ing to the data, first brought to light by writer and ac­tivist Nora Loreto on so­cial me­dia over the week­end.

The CSSG con­tract award also comes only a few weeks after one of the co-founders of WE Char­ity, Craig Kiel­burger, pub­lished an opin­ion piece in some Post­media news­pa­pers ar­gu­ing that the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment should con­sider bail­ing out char­i­ties as much as pri­vate in­dus­try.

“More than just keep­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions afloat, gov­ern­ment sup­port con­veys so­cial value. What we chose to bailout rep­re­sents what we be­lieve should sur­vive,” Kiel­burger wrote in an op-ed that ap­peared in mul­ti­ple Post­media Net­work pub­li­ca­tions in late May and early June (Post­media Net­work is the owner of Na­tional Post).

Aside from con­tracts, WE Char­ity also re­ceived nearly $5.2 mil­lion in grants and con­tri­bu­tions from var­i­ous fed­eral de­part­ments un­der the Trudeau gov­ern­ment, start­ing in 2017, ac­cord­ing to an­other gov­ern­ment data­base. That’s five times the amount of grants and con­tri­bu­tions it re­ceived from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment be­tween 2012 and 2016 ($1 mil­lion) un­der the name Kids Can Free The Chil­dren.

There are no con­tracts listed in the gov­ern­ment’s data­base be­fore 2017 to WE Char­ity, nor its pre­vi­ous name, Kids Can Free The Chil­dren.

When asked for more de­tail about con­tracts by Na­tional Post, WE Char­ity re­sponded with an un­signed email: “WE Char­ity has, upon oc­ca­sion, been con­tracted to per­form ser­vices by the gov­ern­ment of Canada. In all in­stances, ap­pro­pri­ate con­tract­ing pro­ce­dures have been fol­lowed."

Trudeau and his fam­ily have close ties to that or­ga­ni­za­tion, and have vol­un­teered for it reg­u­larly in the last decade. Trudeau has reg­u­larly at­tended or hosted the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s an­nual WE Day, a sta­dium-sized rally for Cana­dian youth, be­tween 2012 and 2017. His wife, So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau, is a WE am­bas­sador, hosts a WE pod­cast and at­tended a WE Day event in Lon­don in March with her daugh­ter and Mar­garet Trudeau, the prime min­is­ter’s mother.

“What I find sus­pect is that the amounts are very large for char­i­ties, and the pat­tern of it sud­denly hap­pen­ing after the Lib­er­als are elected, with the spouse of the prime min­is­ter be­ing a high-rank­ing vol­un­teer,” an­a­lyzed Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democ­racy Watch.

“That can eas­ily turn merit-based con­tract­ing and grant­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses into a ‘who-youknow’ process where the char­i­ties that know the prime min­is­ter and who are as­so­ci­ated with the Prime Min­is­ter’s fam­ily are the ones that get favoured. It’s il­le­gal, and for good rea­son,” he said.

“WE (Char­ity) made a tran­si­tion from be­ing a grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion to be­ing very, very tied to the Trudeau brand,” An­gus noted. “Then they go from hav­ing no con­tracts to sud­denly get­ting a se­ries of con­tracts handed to them. And then they get this $900 mil­lion pro­gram in the mid­dle of a pan­demic, with no his­tory or no cred­i­ble rea­son that they would be the ob­vi­ous choice.”

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment will pay WE Char­ity at least $19.5 mil­lion to cover the ad­min­is­tra­tive costs of run­ning the new Canada Stu­dent Ser­vice Grant (CSSG). The pro­gram, es­ti­mated to cost over $900 mil­lion, will send up to $5,000 to el­i­gi­ble post-sec­ondary stu­dents who com­plete vol­un­teer work with non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions by

Oc­to­ber 31, 2020.

Mon­day, the prime min­is­ter told re­porters this kind of agree­ment isn’t un­prece­dented.

“The Gov­ern­ment of Canada has ex­ten­sive prac­tice of work­ing with third par­ties, char­i­ties, to de­liver pro­grams. When we wanted to move for­ward to help var­i­ous food banks across the coun­try, we worked with the char­ity Food Banks Canada in or­der to de­liver the pro­gram. When we wanted to help grass­roots com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, we worked with United Way in or­der to de­liver that pro­gram,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau’s ar­gu­ment that WE char­ity was the only pos­si­ble op­tion didn’t con­vince op­po­si­tion par­ties. On Sun­day, the Con­ser­va­tives wrote to the Au­di­tor Gen­eral of Canada ask­ing her to dive into the de­ci­sion to out­source the CSSG to WE Char­ity. An­gus said the NDP was plan­ning to do the same.

“We know the Prime Min­is­ter is not afraid of in­flu­enc­ing de­ci­sions to ben­e­fit his friends. At this point, the Prime Min­is­ter is be­yond the ben­e­fit of the doubt and must come clean about his in­volve­ment in award­ing this $900 mil­lion con­tract to WE,” said Michael Bar­rett, the Con­ser­va­tive ethics critic, in an email to the Post on Mon­day. “The Lib­er­als must im­me­di­ately re­lease the con­tract for this part­ner­ship and tell Cana­di­ans why their own gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are un­able to ad­min­is­ter this pro­gram.”

Conacher said he plans on fil­ing a com­plaint to the fed­eral Ethics Com­mis­sioner, ar­gu­ing that Trudeau put him­self in con­flict of in­ter­est sim­ply by an­nounc­ing that WE Char­ity would ad­min­is­ter the CSSG.

“The ev­i­dence is clear. It’s an en­tire waste of money and also a vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral ethics law,” Conacher said.

Nei­ther the Privy Coun­cil, nor Em­ploy­ment and So­cial Devel­op­ment Canada, who over­sees the CSSG, re­sponded to Na­tional Post ques­tions by dead­line.

MON­ICA SCHIPPER / GETTY IM­AGES FILES FOR WE DAY

So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau and Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau speak on stage at the WE Day UN gath­er­ing at Madi­son Square Gar­den in Septem­ber 2017 in New York City.

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