Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday brazened a grilling from a parliamentary committee investigating his role in awarding a now-cancelled CAN$913 million contract to a Canadian charity.

Trudeau’s virtual appearance came on the heels of Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion opening an investigation to determine if Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act for taking part in discussions about the WE Charity contract. Dion has also asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to determine whether Trudeau ran afoul of the Criminal Code.

The money was to be used to set up a Canada-wide youth employment program – the contract was not tendered – for which the charity would be paid CAN$43.53 million.

But that came to a screeching halt when it became known that Trudeau’s family had close ties to the charity, as did his finance minister Bill Morneau.

Both Trudeau and Morneau admitted they should have stepped aside from the decision-making process in awarding the Canada Student Service Grant program because of the appearance of conflict of interest.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself immediately from the (Cabinet) discussions, given our family’s history, and I am sincerely sorry about not having done that,” Trudeau said at a press conference, July 13.

“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.”

But at the finance committee Thursday, Trudeau maintained he did nothing to direct the contract to We Charity, that there was “no preferential treatment. I did not influence it.”

He also reiterated that the public service recommended We Charity as the only one that had the organization to deliver the program across the country.

However, after the contract was awarded last month, questions were raised when it was learned that Trudeau’s wife Sophie, his mother Margaret and his brother Alexandre were paid a total of about $500,000 to make speeches for the charity, plus reimbursement for expenses.

For his part, Morneau and his family had taken a trip courtesy of We Charity. Morneau said he paid the charity back but was then “surprised” when told he still owed them $41,000. He wrote a cheque to pay the charity just a few hours before he appeared in front of the finance committee, July 22.

The opposition Conservative Party and Bloc Quebecois said earlier this month that both had breached ethics rules and called for Trudeau and Morneau to resign.

“I don’t believe he deserves to govern this country,” Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said, adding that Liberal MPPs should take action and replace Trudeau. “Are they prepared to sacrifice their personal integrity to protect their scandal-plagued leader and to cover up corruption?”

Peppered with questions by the finance committee members, Trudeau struck to his guns and insisted that while he should have divorced himself from the decision to give the contract to WE Charity, his family’s ties to the organization played no part in the decision.

The finance committee is made up of Members of Parliament from the four main political parties, the governing Liberals, official opposition Conservatives, the New Democrat Party and the Block Quebecois.

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