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World

Trudeau under pressure as he testifies in ethics probe

  • WE Charity has said it paid Trudeau's mother and brother nearly CAN$300,000 for speaking engagements in recent years.
Published July 31, 2020

OTTAWA: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared before Parliament on Thursday to deliver much-anticipated testimony about his awarding of a lucrative government contract to an organization that had previously paid members of his family.

Trudeau, the subject of an ethics investigation, is expected speak before the Finance Commission for about an hour, an exceptional move for a Canadian head of government.

"This entire scandal reeks of corruption at the highest levels of government," Andrew Scheer, the outgoing leader of the opposition Conservative Party, said Thursday.

"This is not the end of the story," he warned, adding that he expected "clear, direct and simple answers" from Trudeau.

Both main opposition parties on Wednesday again called on Trudeau, who heads a minority government, to resign.

Trudeau apologized for the affair on July 13, saying he made a "mistake" in not recusing himself from discussions about awarding a student scholarship fund government contract to WE Charity that was initially estimated at CAN$990 million (USD $662 million).

Canada's youth minister has said the program's final value actually came out to about CAN$500 million, local media reported.

The charity has given up the program, but the controversy remains. The organization could have already received more than CAN$40 million, according to reports.

WE Charity has said it paid Trudeau's mother and brother nearly CAN$300,000 for speaking engagements in recent years.

Trudeau's wife was paid CAN$1,500 for an event in 2012, before her husband became the leader of the Liberal Party.

A spokesman for the Conservative Party on Wednesday also accused WE Charity of reimbursing Trudeau relatives another CAN$212,000 in travel expenses.

"We have half a million dollars from WE to the Trudeau family," spokesman Pierre Poilievre said, in calling for a second Ethics Commission investigation into the prime minister.

The Conservatives are basing their numbers on testimony given by WE Charity's co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger to the Finance Commission on Tuesday.

"We were not chosen for this work by public servants because of our relationship with politicians," the brothers insisted during their four-hour appearance.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who has also found himself ensnared in the matter as a second subject of the ethics investigation, said last week that he had paid back more than CAN$41,000 in travel expenses to the charity.

Morneau also apologized for his involvement in discussions about disbursing contracts to WE Charity, as one of his children is employed by the organization.

Morneau's reimbursement check was meant to cover expenses incurred by the charity over two humanitarian trips he and his family took in 2017.

The scandal has damaged Trudeau in public opinion polls, but his party is still positioned well for an early election, according to the average of four polls cited by Canadian public broadcaster CBC.

More than half of the country -- 53 percent -- said they now have a lower opinion of Trudeau than they did a month ago, according to one such poll.

The prime minister has run afoul of the ethics commissioner on two previous occasions since 2017 for conflict of interest violations.

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