An investigation into whether Justin Trudeau ran afoul of ethics rules for the third time continued Tuesday even as the Canadian prime minister apologized for the latest alleged transgression.
This time Trudeau did not remain at arm’s length when the government awarded a CAN$913 million ($671 million) contract to WE Charity to administer a youth employment program. The charity is a Canada-wide organization that has ties to his mother, wife and brother.
Despite family involvement, which included more than CAN$300,000
($200,000) paid for speaking fees to members of his family by the charity, Trudeau took part in the Cabinet decision that handed the contract to WE without tendering the project. Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter works for WE.
Trudeau first said the charity was the only organization that could administer the program. But that changed abruptly when his family ties were discovered.
Trudeau and Morneau admitted they should have stepped aside from the decision-making process in awarding the Canada Student Service Grant program because of conflict of interests. The contract has since been canceled with the charity.
“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history, and I am sincerely sorry about not having done that,” Trudeau said at a news conference Monday. “The mistake that we made was on me, and I take responsibility for it. We will continue to work very, very hard to deliver the program.”
Opposition political parties attacked the awarding of the contract with the Conservatives calling for a police investigation and the ethics commissioner soon launched an investigation.
Two House of Commons studies have also been launched.
Trudeau noted that several Cabinet ministers would testify this week about the scandal.
The tempest has “raised concerns about the way this Liberal government operates and whether appropriate processes are in place to avoid conflicts of interest,” said Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Michael Barrett in a statement.
Opposition members want to know how such a blatant breach of ethics occurred and why his aides did not warn the prime minister of his family involvement in the charity.
It is the third time Trudeau has been investigated for such breaches since he became prime minister in 2015.
On two previous occasions he was found guilty, one because he accepted a free holiday for his family on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas and more recently he interfered in the prosecution of Quebec construction giant SNC-Lavalin.
Both times Trudeau apologized and told Canadians he learned from his mistakes.
But the cancelation has left thousands of students sitting on their hands rather than working as paid volunteers.
“Because of the mistake I made in not withdrawing from these conversations when the public service recommended we move forward with the WE organization, it has gotten a little slower for young people who are facing a difficult time right now, to be able to get involved in their communities and make a difference,” Trudeau admitted.
New Democrat Party MP Charlie Angus had scathing words for Trudeau.
“I feel like it is Groundhog Day,” Angus said. “We’ve seen so many instances where the prime minister gets caught (and) seems outraged that anyone could question him, and then as the scandal deepens, then he apologizes.”
The WE contract has been canceled and public servants will take control of the program.
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