(The Canadian Press)

Liberals turn over thousands of pages on WE decision, lawyers now vetting docs

Committee members are hoping the documents will shed light on the WE discussions

The federal Liberal government has handed over thousands of pages of documents related to the WE controversy to a House of Commons committee, which lawyers are now vetting for personal information and cabinet secrets.

The finance committee demanded the documents last month as it probes whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relationship with WE Charity influenced the government’s ill-fated decision to have the organization run a federal student-volunteer program.

Committee members are hoping the documents will shed light on the discussions that led to the decision to have WE run the Canada Student Services Grant, before the deal was cancelled amid controversy in early July.

“People are asking a lot of questions,” NDP finance critic Peter Julian said in an interview. “There’s been a lot of contradictions in testimony. So the documents should be revealing a lot more of what the real answers are.”

Yet while the Liberals turned more than 5,000 pages over to the committee ahead of Saturday’s deadline, it wasn’t clear when they would be released to members as committee lawyers go through them to prevent the release of protected information.

“We don’t know,” Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said during a news conference on Sunday when asked when committee members would get the documents. ”We have asked. They have not given us the timeline.”

Committee chairman Wayne Easter, a Liberal MP, predicted the documents would be released in the coming days to members as additional lawyers from the public service have been brought in to help review them for cabinet secrets and other information.

Even after the documents are released, however, there will could be disagreements about why certain information was withheld.

While Poilievre and Julian suggested they were keeping the door open to challenging any redactions, Easter said the vetting was being conducted by the professional public service — and noted the tradition of Parliament respecting cabinet confidence.

Usually prepared for ministers to aid government deliberations and decision-making, documents marked as cabinet confidences hold closely guarded political secrets and are legally protected from unauthorized release.

Trudeau has previously faced pressure to waive cabinet confidence when it came to allegations he tried to pressure then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould on a deferred prosecution agreement with Quebec engineering firm SNC-Lavalin.

“We respect the integrity of the public service,” Easter said when asked about the lawyers redacting cabinet confidences in the WE documents. “That’s why there is no political involvement in the redacting of these documents. That’s why the law clerk is involved.”

The Liberals have been embroiled in controversy since it was revealed on June 25 that WE had been selected to run the Canada Student Services Grant, which promised up to $5,000 toward the education costs of students who volunteered during COVID-19.

The sole-sourced agreement with WE was to pay one of its foundations up to $43.5 million to administer a grant program designed to encourage students to sign up for volunteer work related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have since apologized for not recusing themselves from cabinet’s discussions about the agreement before it was awarded to WE given their respective families’ ties to the Toronto-based charity.

Trudeau has spoken at six WE Day events since becoming prime minister, while his mother and brother have been paid almost $300,000 and reimbursed about $200,000 in expenses for appearing at WE events. Trudeau’s wife has also had expenses covered.

Morneau, meanwhile, acknowledged last month that he repaid WE about $41,000 in sponsored travel for him and his family to view the charity’s humanitarian projects in Ecuador and Kenya in 2017.

Yet the government has insisted that the decision was based on a recommendation from the non-partisan public service following its conclusion that WE was the only organization capable of running the grant program.

Opposition critics, meanwhile, are also training their sights on an agreement between a Crown corporation and a company employing the husband of Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford.

The agreement between the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. and MCAP, where Telford’s husband Rob Silver is an executive vice-president, involves the administering of a rent-assistance program for small businesses affected by COVID-19.

The Prime Minister’s Office has said Telford established clear ethical walls between herself and MCAP in January, even before COVID-19 shook the country’s economy and led to the creation of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program.

But Poilievre questioned why the government didn’t simply ask the Canada Revenue Agency to run the rent-assistance program given it is already managing the federal wage subsidy for businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“CMHC, which is strangely running this program, exists for the sole purpose of providing affordable housing. Not commercial real estate,” Poilievre said.

“Now, of course, the easy way to deliver this program would have been through CRA. CRA already had a program stood up to deliver a wage subsidy.”

Audrey-Anne Coulombe, a spokeswoman for CMHC, said in a statement Sunday that the federal housing agency had decided to go with an outside sub-administrator because it “does not have the internal capacity to stand up the program in short order.”

Coulombe said CMHC sought bids from two financial institutions and chose MCAP because its proposal was stronger and cost less. She said Silver was not involved in contract negotiations or the delivery of services.

Easter expressed concern about the committee getting distracted by opposition “fishing” efforts and not focusing on its main task of preparing for next year’s federal budget and overseeing COVID-19 spending.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

charityfederal government

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

Just Posted

Courtney Driver is the new president of the 100 Mile Performing Arts Society. (Photo submitted)
100 Mile Performing Arts Society elects new president

Courtney Driver wants to provide more diverse events

Erica Henderson the supervisor of early year services and programs at South Cariboo Early Years Centre and others were giving out Halloween Family Activity Kits the week leading up to Halloween. (Patrick Davies photo - 100 Mile Free Press)
Halloween activity kits offered to kids at home

South Cariboo Early Years Centre is finding ways to bring activities into children’s homes.

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
Interior Health records third COVID-19 death

A new community outbreak was reported at Okanagan Men’s Centre in Lake Country

Cariboo-Chilcotin MLA Lorne Doerskson of the BC Liberal Party and his partner Shelley Wiese celebrate at his campaign office in downtown Williams Lake Oct. 24. Doerkson has been elected as the new MLA in Cariboo-Chilcotin. (Angie Mindus photo)
Updated: Lorne Doerkson elected in Cariboo Chilcotin in preliminary results

Outgoing MLA Donna Barnett said win is ‘exciting’ for region

A woman wears a face mask and plastic gloves while browsing books as a sticker on the floor indicates a one-way direction of travel between shelves of books at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch, after it and four other branches reopened with limited services, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, July 14, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
B.C. reports 234 new COVID cases, 1 death of senior who had attended small birthday party

Roughly 5,700 people are isolating due to being exposed to a confirmed case

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports seven more COVID-19 cases

Eighty-nine cases remain active, none of whom are currently hospitalized

Burnaby RCMP responded to a dine-and-dash suspect who fell through a ceiling in March 2020. (RCMP handout)
VIDEO: Suspected dine-and-dasher falls through ceiling of Burnaby restaurant

A woman believed to be dashing on her restaurant bill fell through the kitchen ceiling

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A can of Canada Dry Ginger Ale is shown in Toronto on Thursday Oct. 29, 2020. The maker of Canada Dry Ginger Ale has agreed to pay over $200,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit launched by a B.C. man who alleged he was misled by marketing suggesting the soda had medicinal benefits. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Joseph O’Connal
B.C. man’s lawsuit over marketing of Canada Dry ginger ale settled for $200K

Soda’s maker, Canada Dry Mott’s Inc., denied the allegations and any liability

Vancouver Island-based Wilson’s Transportation has expanded to fill some of the routes left unserviced by Greyhound as of Nov. 1, 2018. (Black Press files)
B.C. bus companies say they need help to survive COVID-19

Like airlines, motor coaches have lost most of their revenue

A deer was spotted in October 2020 in Prince Rupert, B.C., with a bright pink yoga ball stuck in its antlers. (Kayla Vickers/Chronicles Of Hammy The Deer Official Page)
Hammy 2.0? Prince Rupert deer spotted with bright pink yoga ball stuck in antlers

The BC Conservation Officer Service is aware of the deer roaming around the city

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
Kelowna Mountie hit with 2nd lawsuit in 2 months for alleged assault

Const. Julius Prommer is accused of breaking a woman’s knee during while responding to a noise complaint

Most Read