Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer rises during a sitting of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday July 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer rises during a sitting of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Monday July 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Scheer calls Liberals’ choice to give WE contract ‘corruption or incompetence’

Both Trudeau and Morneau have said they should have recused themselves from the decision

The Opposition Conservatives accused the Liberal government of either corruption or ignorance Monday as they pressed for more answers around a decision to hand control over a major student grant program to an organization with longtime ties to the Trudeau family.

The House of Commons was sitting to pass a new bill to extend the wage subsidy program, send a special COVID-19 top-up to people with disabilities and to extend legal deadlines for court cases.

While those measures were expected to pass on Tuesday with the support of all opposition parties, the same collegial spirit did not extend to question period.

There, the dominant line of inquiry was around the Liberal government’s decision to award WE Charity the responsibility for a $900 million student job program.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mother, in particular, has received hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for participating in WE events, and Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter works for an arm of the WE organization.

The organization has handed the program back to the government. Both Trudeau and Morneau have said they should have recused themselves from the decision.

But the international development and youth empowerment group is now under scrutiny for its internal practices, adding further fuel to the opposition’s charges that the decision to grant the contract to WE was suspect.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pointed Monday to a report by Canadaland that red flags were raised in 2018 by auditors reviewing WE’s financials, as well as the fact that their board had undergone a major shakeup earlier in the year.

“Either the Liberals were aware of these issues and still approved the decision or they were incompetent,” he said.

“It’s either corruption or incompetence, which is it?”

It is neither, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland replied repeatedly, nearly reading verbatim from a sheet of paper with the Liberals’ current top-line talking point on the issue: that the idea of having WE run the Canada Student Services Grant was brought forward by the non-partisan public service.

“The way this unfolded was regrettable and the charity will not longer be administering the project,” she said.

READ MORE: Commons finance committee to begin probing WE Charity’s volunteering contract

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the government’s approach to WE raises questions about whether the program was ever about students at all.

“There were lots of ways to help students. This was not it,” he said.

“It was a billion-dollar bailout of close friends of the Liberal party and of the prime minister.”

The House of Commons had been recalled to pass the latest suite of COVID-19 measures.

The Liberals want to extend the wage subsidy program to December and have its criteria loosened so more businesses can reopen and employ workers.

The original program covered 75 per cent of wages, up to a weekly maximum of $847, for eligible companies and non-profits. Companies had to show a 30 per cent drop in revenues.

The proposed changes will see the program pay on a sliding scale based on revenue drops due to the pandemic, with the hardest-hit businesses eligible for a 25 per cent increase to the previous maximum payment.

The disability payment measures in the bill would provide up to $600 in a one-time payment to some Canadians with disabilities in order to help with COVID-19 costs.

The Liberals had sought to pass that measure in a bill last month, but did not get unanimous consent due to the opposition concerns with other elements in that particular bill.

Originally, the payment was limited to those who received the disability tax credit, but the new bill lays out expanded criteria to include, among others, veterans who are currently receiving disability supports.

Singh said ensuring the disability benefit went to far more Canadians was a win for his party, and why the NDP will back the new bill.

“It’s still not enough and we will continue fighting,” he told reporters afterwards.

The Tories said they too support the disabilities measures, but the new wage subsidy plan is too convoluted and they want the government to make it simpler.

Still, they intend to back the bill, having won concessions of their own: to get two days of debate for it instead of one, and at the same time securing the ability for the Commons committee on Canada-China relations to sit, as well as the public safety committee.

Tuesday’s sitting also opens up an opportunity for the Conservatives to do something else they were hoping to achieve Monday, but couldn’t — press the prime minister himself.

Trudeau took the day off Monday, and the Tories suggested he was skipping out on questions about WE.

He is expected to attend Tuesday’s sitting, as well as for the special COVID-19 committee of MPs that is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

A lingering question is whether Trudeau will also appear at the House of Commons finance committee, where MPs want to grill him on the WE issue.

Scheer said Liberal MPs should also be asking themselves questions about supporting their boss going forward.

“If they allow him to continue, if they don’t demand he resign, then they are telling Canadians that they are comfortable with his corruption,” Scheer said.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Andrew ScheerCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

West Shore RCMP pulled over a 2010 Jeep Grand Cherokee on Nov. 23 after noting that it didn’t appear safe for the road. (West Shore RCMP)
West Shore RCMP pull over vehicle held together by tape and cargo strap

RCMP deemed the vehicle unsafe for the road and had it towed away

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society has seen a five per cent rise in call volumes compared to this time last year. (Black Press Media file photo)
Winter blues a concern for Vancouver Islanders during COVID-19 Christmas season

Statistics show British Columbians anticipate worsening mental health

Jason Soukochoff is wanted on a Canada-wide warrant, say Victoria police. (Courtesy VicPD)
Victoria police seek man with violent criminal history against elderly

Jason Soukochoff wanted on Canada-wide warrant for parole violations

Sooke parks staff are all smiles as they welcome the opportunity to bring the holiday spirit to the community with the hanging of festive décor on light standards. (Contributed - District of Sooke)
Sooke lighting up holiday spirit

Sooke Road roundabout lights up Dec. 1

The growing field lacrosse program at Royal Bay Secondary has produced a number of scholarships for its players to American universities, starting in the fall 2021. (Aaron Guillen/News Staff)
Five Royal Bay students sign Lacrosse scholarships at U.S. universities

“It’s a village that raises these kids,” says lacrosse coach

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 walks in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. The use of masks is mandatory in indoor public and retail spaces in the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. records deadliest day of pandemic with 13 deaths, 738 new COVID-19 cases

Number of people in hospital is nearing 300, while total cases near 30,000

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of Nov. 24

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

(AP Photo/Haven Daley)
POLL: Do you think the current COVID-19 restrictions should continue beyond Dec. 7?

One week into the new restrictions to curtail the spread of the… Continue reading

(File photo)
Alberta woman charged after allegedly hitting boy with watermelon at Okanagan campsite

Police say a disagreement among friends at an Adams Lake campsite turned ugly

Court of Appeal for British Columbia in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. woman loses appeal to have second child by using late husband’s sperm

Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits the removal of human reproductive material from a donor without consent

An excavator was stolen from a rural property south of Nanaimo this month, say police. (Photos submitted)
Excavator stolen from property south of Nanaimo

Bobcat Mini believed to have been stolen between Nov. 12-14, say RCMP

Krista Macinnis displays the homework assignment that her Grade 6 daughter received on Tuesday. (Submitted photo)
B.C. mom angry that students asked to list positive stories about residential schools

Daughter’s Grade 6 class asked to write down 5 positive stories or facts

B.C. projects targeting the restoration of sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser and Columbia Watersheds will share in $10.9 million of federal funding to protect species at risk. (Kenny Regan photo)
13 projects protecting B.C. aquatic species at risk receive $11 million in federal funding

Salmon and marine mammals expected to benefit from ecosystem-based approach

Most Read