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Conservatives accuse Trudeau of ‘coverup’ via prorogation, redacted documents

Wednesday, August 19, 2020 @ 4:36 PM | By Terry Davidson


Tory MPs are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of using prorogation to “cover up” heavily redacted documents and communications they say suggest a cozy relationship between Trudeau, his former finance minister and a charity at the centre of a conflict of interest scandal.

During an Aug. 19 news conference, Conservative Party finance critic Pierre Poilievre and ethics critic Michael Barrett shared documents recently released by the Liberal government to the House of Commons finance committee, which had been probing an alleged conflict of interest between Trudeau, now-former finance minister Bill Morneau and the WE Charity.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

This comes a day after Trudeau prorogued Parliament until Sept. 23, thus ending investigations by both the finance and ethics committees into why Trudeau and Morneau failed to recuse themselves from a cabinet decision to give the WE Charity a $900-million students grant contract, when both men had family members who benefited financially through the organization.

Trudeau’s mother and brother had been paid to speak at WE-related events in the time since Trudeau has been prime minister and his wife was paid to speak at an event in 2012, when Trudeau was an MP.

As for Morneau, it was discovered that his daughter worked in WE’s travel department. He stepped down as finance minister on Aug. 17 and was replaced by deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland the next day.

Just hours after Freeland was sworn in as Canada’s new finance minister, Trudeau pulled the trigger on prorogation.  

“We now know why Justin Trudeau shut down those parliamentary investigations yesterday, we have the documents right here,” said Poilievre, who pointed to documents and e-mail messages predating May 8 — the date given by Trudeau to the finance committee as to when he first learned of the WE proposal.

(Trudeau reportedly told the committee that upon learning of the WE proposal, he sent the matter back to the public service for more due diligence because of how a deal may be perceived.)

Poilievre pointed to an April e-mail from a public servant to the Privy Council Office “in which she says — in direct contradiction to what Justin Trudeau testified under oath — that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was ‘weighing in.’ This is in April, well before the May 8 date when the Prime Minister claimed he first learned of it. … If he just learned of it on May 8, why is it that his office was ‘weighing in’ on the issue 17 days earlier?”

Poilievre then turned to a document released from the PMO that he said predates the WE proposal going before cabinet — a document containing the highlighted names of Trudeau’s wife and mother.  

“This comes right from the Prime Minister’s Office. And what was the critical information they were considering the day before the proposal went to cabinet? Well, let’s turn the page. And what do you see here? Sophie Gregoire Trudeau — highlighted. Margaret Trudeau — highlighted. Why would it have been relevant for the Prime Minister’s Office to have in its possession a document that highlights the prime minister’s mother and spouse, who just happened to be paid by the same organization that the [COVID-19] cabinet committee would approve a half a billion dollars for the very next day?”

As for Morneau, Polievre pointed to e-mail involving the government’s finance department, turning to an April 20 e-mail by a “highly respected” finance department official who called the student grant “a bit of a shit show.”

“That’s not how bureaucrats normally communicate in their official e-mails and memos back and forth,” said Poilievre. “But apparently this highly respected public servant felt it was an appropriate characterization. That was April 20, exactly when [WE Charity was] in the process of negotiating to get this … program setup.”

Poilievre pointed to another e-mail by the same official stating that WE would be connecting with Morneau’s office and that they were all “besties.”

Poilievre also turned to an e-mail from WE co-founder Craig Kielburger, which included attached documents with information that had been redacted.

“We’d love to learn about the attached documents in it, but, unfortunately, in what is to become a trend throughout this package, all the relevant information in the two documents are completely blacked out. Another e-mail from Craig Kielburger that went to someone in the government the same day he spoke to Bill Morneau on the phone, but we don’t know who received the e-mail — that’s blacked out — or what the e-mail said — all blacked out.”

Poilievre also referred to several other pages that had been heavily redacted.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a coverup. … The prime minister personally intervened to give a … grant to a group that had paid his family half a million dollars. He is covering it up by blacking it out and shutting down our investigations. But I’ve got news for him: Conservatives are just getting started.”

Ethics shadow critic Barrett said the redactions cannot be removed because Trudeau has prorogued Parliament.

“The prime minister made a big show yesterday that there’d be documents released. They’re redacted; they’re blacked out. There can be no order from committee to unredact them because he’s locked the committee doors.”

Barrett also said that on Aug. 19, the House of Commons ethics committee was to receive documents pertaining to WE and its relationship with Trudeau family, but that prorogation has stopped that from happening.  

When asked if Trudeau is trying to force an election, Barrett said that it would be a way of having people vote without knowing about the dealings with WE.  

“At the end of September, there [could be] an election, and there is no more information. Canadians would go and cast their ballots not knowing the full truth.”

If you have any information, story ideas or news tips for The Lawyer’s Daily, please contact Terry Davidson at t.davidson@lexisnexis.ca or call 905-415-5899.