Justin Trudeau has testified. What did we learn?

PM answers finance committee questions on the WE scandal

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in the hotseat yesterday to provide testimony on his government’s handling of the $912 million grant to a paper company set up by WE group.

The Prime Minister would like you to know that he ‘pushed back’ when he allegedly first heard of the WE-linked government program on May 8th — this because he perceived the potential ‘appearence’ of a conflict of interest.

Why would it haved looked that way?

The Prime Minister explained that he was aware his wife, mother, and brother had done some work with the charity. But under questioning, the PM explained he was unaware of how much they had been compensated.

On her last trip to London, for example, the Prime Minister was unable to go into detail about the cost of flights and other expenses for his spouse, let alone what hotel she stayed at. None of these items appeared on their credit card statements, you see. WE had taken care of all of it.

So the ‘push back’ on May 8th is important for a few of reasons. Keep an eye on the dates.

First, the Trudeau government had announced the Canada Summer Service Grant (CSSG) on April 22nd. But the WE partnership had not yet been announced (or considered, if you believe the PM). Conservative opposition members jumped on the fact that a one billion dollar program had been willed into existence without a plan to execute or administer it.

Unprecedented times, explained the Prime Minister.

Second, the COVID committee of cabinet approved the WE partnership for the program on May 5th.

Remember, yesterday Trudeau said he ‘pushed back’ on the WE association with the program on May 8th.

Finally, WE-men Justin Trudeau, Bill Morneau, and Seamus O’Regan approved the WE partnership with the rest of cabinet on May 22nd. Despite Trudeau’s objections (if we are to believe him) just two weeks prior.

The government announced the deal with WE to the public on June 25.

So what about conflict of interest?

Trudeau and his Chief of Staff explain that the Ethics Commissioner gave the green light to Sophie Grégoire Trudeau’s WE-branded podcast that launched on May 4th. According to the podcast’s show notes, Craig Kielburger’s spouse Leysa Cerswell Kielburger is the co-host.

The Sophie pod is now doing a lot of heavy lifting for the federal government. Approved by the Ethics Commissioner. Therefore ethical. Please, let’s just move on.

“But wait a second,” I hear you saying. “How can we rely on an Ethics Commissioner permit on a podcast to absolve the whole of government on all of its future dealings? If the WE association with a $912 million government contract was new information to Trudeau just one day later, it would surely be new information for the Ethics Commissioner to consider as well!”

Maybe Team Trudeau should check in with the Ethics Commissioner again?

They didn’t, as we learned yesterday.

Project Radio Free Sophie (we also considered “WE 2 Sophie” — ed.) may be one thing but a billion dollar sole-sourced contract to friends of Sophie? Well now, the podcast instead becomes more suggestive of a conflict, not the blanket exemption the government had hoped for.

Let’s also not forget that the main concern that the WE group paid Margaret Trudeau and Alexandre Trudeau about $500,000 for speaking and associated appearences since November 2015 when they suddenly became more in demand as public figures (now with lived experience!)

Other committee highlights

While Conservative Pierre Poilievre (the MP from Carleton) was grilling the PM, Committee Chair Wayne Easter’s power went out. This led to some confusion which Mr. Poilievre was helpfully able to sort out.

What’s coming up next?

MPs Pierre Poilievre and Michael Barrett pushed Trudeau CoS Katie Telford for names. The Conservative MPs want to know who in the PMO had contact with the Kielbrothers and their intermediaries regarding the WE group’s administration of the CSSG.

Telford offered a lot of I’ll get back to yous and I’ll have to checks, before the committee passed a motion with Conservative, Bloc, and NDP support to compel the Prime Minister’s Office to provide a list of names.

We expect they’ll be witnesses at upcoming meetings of the finance committee.

Around the web

Aaron Wherry asks why do bad things keep happening to the Prime Minister.

MDS at Maclean’s breaks down three takeaways from Trudeau’s testimony.

Don Martin thinks something smells fishy about all of this.

John Ivison predicts a shakeup of senior staff and ministers

Matt Gurney is praying for the Sweet Meteor of Death to take us all

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