The National Post reported that WE Charity had received five sole-source contracts from the federal government since 2017 worth a total of $120,000
OTTAWA – The Conservative party is asking the federal procurement watchdog to review a series of sole-source contracts doled out to WE Charity over the past three years.
“The Liberal government’s pattern of providing untendered and sole-sourced contracts to an organization with close personal ties to the Prime Minister, who is head of the government, is deeply concerning to many Canadians,” reads a July 2 letter to Procurement Ombudsman Alexander Jeglic sent by Conservative MPs Kelly Block, Dan Albas and Raquel Dancho.
“We believe that it would be greatly beneficial to Canadians and to the principle of ‘open and transparent government’ if your office were to review these contracts,” the letter continues. The ombudsman’s office did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner’s office, who has published two damning reports on ethics breaches by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in recent years, said Thursday that it is monitoring the situation closely.
On Monday, the National Post reported that WE Charity, which will receive millions of dollars to administer a $912 million student volunteer grant program, had received five sole-source contracts from the federal government since 2017 worth a total of $120,000, according to public records.
Four of the five contracts were in the last 15 months, with the most recent one (January 2020) being the largest at $40,000.
Contracts are considered sole-source when they are handed directly to a specific supplier, without giving a chance to other organizations to provide competing bids.
In addition, WE Charity has received $5.2 million in grants and contributions from the federal government since 2017. That’s five times the amount received between 2012 and 2016, public records show.
A growing number of voices have questioned the Trudeau government’s decision to outsource the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) to WE Charity, especially considering its close ties to the Trudeau family.
Trudeau had regularly attended or hosted the organization’s annual stadium-sized rally for Canadian youth called “WE Day” up until 2017. His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, is currently a WE ambassador, hosts a WE podcast and attended a WE Day event in London in March with her daughter and the prime minister’s mother, Margaret Trudeau.
NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus has said that the outsourcing of the grant to WE Charity smells of “cronyism”, whereas the Conservatives have described it as “extremely concerning” and requested that Canada’s Auditor General review the decision.
Outsourcing a $900 million-dollar program designed to pay students and recent graduates for volunteer work to a third party raises justifiable concerns and a number of questions
Since last week, Trudeau has repeated that it was the public service, and only them, that had determined that WE Charity was “the best and only” organization that had the resources and network to administer the student volunteer grant.
But on Tuesday, video obtained by the National Post showed WE Charity co-founder Marc Kielburger telling attendees of a videoconference that the prime minister’s office had “kindly called” WE the day after the CSSG was announced, asking them to “help implement” the grant.
The same day, Kielburger wrote in an email that he “misspoke” and that WE had always only dealt with the federal public service on the grant program.
“Outsourcing a $900 million-dollar program designed to pay students and recent graduates for volunteer work to a third party raises justifiable concerns and a number of questions. In addition, the connections between WE Charity, the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister’s relatives are well documented,” the Conservative MPs wrote in their letter on Thursday.
Thursday, the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, confirmed to the National Post that he was keeping a close eye on the multiple reports linking Trudeau to WE Charity.
Spokesperson Jocelyne Brisebois said Dion is “carefully reviewing material brought to his attention”, but stopped short of confirming or denying if the commissioner was formally investigating the matter.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is subject to both the Conflict of Interest Act and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons. In any matter such as the one raised in a variety of recent media publications, there would be several factors that would need to be considered by the Commissioner with respect to whether a regulatee could potentially be in a conflict of interest,” she explained by email.