Finance Committee Hearing or Liberal Campaign Ad?
Prime Minister Trudeau testified before the Parliamentary Finance Committee on July 30th in connection with the WE Charity scandal, currently under investigation by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion.
Canadians can be forgiven for wondering why.
Amping up the Trudeau charm, well lit and smiling directly into a high-resolution camera, coiffed hair blacker than beard; the relaxed PM was clearly focused upon communicating directly with voters, rather than answering questions from committee members.
The Trudeau brand was under attack, and the message for Canadians was that his Liberal government is doing a great job. The narrative ran that they would in fact be doing even more for Canadians, if it weren’t for Conservatives bringing up this nettlesome conflict of interest thing. Sure, he should have recused himself from approving the sole-source WE contract, but that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for COVID-19…and his long-standing interest in youth-affairs. The Liberals’ commitment to providing financial assistance to students during COVID-19 led to an accelerated implementation of the CSSG Program…which caused the PM to slow down the approval process because of the increased scrutiny and appearance of conflict of interest that his family affiliation with WE would bring…before then failing to recuse himself from the process. The Civil Service made all the decisions anyway, not the PM. If the logic is difficult to grasp here…well….
Although it is impossible to disconnect the damming, feculent bright-red Liberal dots leading from WE to the Prime Minister, distraught Liberal spin doctors had obviously been billing some overtime on damage control.
The central pivot from conflict of interest and Liberal corruption seems to be good intentions and the tremendous benefit to young Canadians that could have been…if only the unfortunate scandal hadn’t blown up (read, if they hadn’t been caught).
Canadians should blame the Conservatives and Bloc Quebecoise, for making a mountain out of a mole-hill, really…when you think about it…from a Liberal prospective…
MP Pierre Poilievre – “What is the total dollar value of all expenses reimbursed and fees paid and any other consideration provided by the WE group to you, your mother, your spouse, your brother and any other member of your family? Just the total please.”
PM Trudeau – “Uh…I don’t have that exact figure…uh…reimbursing expenses is something done by an organization…uh…for example…so I don’t have…uh…those totals.”
Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz (trying) – “Mister Speaker…uh…Point of Order…Mister Chair, sorry…not Mister Speaker. My Point of Order is what’s the relevance of these questions…uh…of ancillary…uh…fees paid to family members to the official motion…?”
Chairman Wayne Easter – “I don’t think that is a Point of Order Miss Dzerowicz, back to Mister Poilievre.”
Poilievre – “So you are telling me that you don’t know how much immediate family members have been paid in expense reimbursements by this organization.”
Trudeau – “Uh…my mother and my brother are professionals in their own right who…uh…have…uh engagements…uh…and have for many, many years with organizations across the country…”
Poilievre – “Do you know?”
Trudeau – “…uh…and I…uh…don’t have the details of their…uh…work…uh…work experiences of their…uh…expenses.”
Poilievre – “What about your spouse? What is the dollar figure?”
Trudeau – “Uh…WE…uh…I think WE Charity has been able to share those figures with you.”
Poilievre – “When was the last time that she had an expense reimbursed by WE Charity?”
Trudeau – “Uh…I…uh…believe it would have been to uh…”
As one can gather from this short excerpt, the Prime Minister was less than forthcoming. It’s a fine line between pivoting and refusing to answer. In Court, it may well have led to a charge of Contempt. Perhaps a Contempt of Parliament charge would be appropriate here.
Trudeau’s repetitive and vexatious use of the word “uh”
Also telling was Trudeau’s repetitive and vexatious use of the word “uh”. In linguistics, “uh” is known as a “hesitation form”, or “filler word”. Filler words are often a red flag for deception. In Psychology Today, Professor Jack Schafer of Western Illinois University, a behavioral analyst for the FBI, explains. “Little words, often ignored in normal speech, can signal deception. Words such as um and uh indicate cognitive load. Liars experience increased cognitive load. Um and uh signal impending delays is speech. Liars need time to evaluate their answers to ensure their lie will be believed. Liars also need additional time to choose the right words to camouflage the truth. Truthful people do not need extra time to convey information.”
The Prime Minister wouldn’t lie though, would he?
So, what are the issues with WE-Gate exactly?
The growing Hydra-like list may keep Commissioner Dion up at night:
- Was CSSG designed specifically for WE to administer?
- Why the Canada Service Corps was not tasked with CSSG?
- Why a sole-source contract?
- Details of due diligence done, due to the fact that WE appeared to be in financial trouble and in violation of bank covenants. WE Board Members had resigned and mass layoffs of staff had occurred. WE had also never delivered a similar program previously.
- Why was WE paid $30M upfront, and how will it repay taxpayers?
- Why was a WE real estate shell company used, instead of WE Charity?
- Why was a $30M upfront payment made on contract award?
- WE claimed initially that the PMO had called, asking if they wanted the CSSG contract.
- Who authorized WE, and why, to begin spending money on May 5th, prior to June 23rd approval?
- Failure to recuse/Conflict of Interest –
- PM has spoken for WE in past
- WE has paid for Trudeau campaign ads/gave Trudeau a platform to connect with hundreds of thousands of young voters
- WE has paid Margaret and Alexander Trudeau
- WE has paid Sophie Trudeau
- WE relationship with Katie Telford
- WE paid Bill Morneau $42K expenses
- WE employs two Morneau daughters.
Beyond the blatant corruption
Beyond the blatant corruption issues however, the CSSG model may have also been fatally flawed from birth. The very real possibility exists that CSSG could violate Minimum Wage laws. CSSG would pay a student up to $10 per hour, which is less than the minimum wages in all of Canada’s provinces and territories. If the concept of paid volunteers seems counter-intuitive, the law actually recognizes two classes of volunteers. According to Labour Law firm Goldblatt Partners, “Volunteers are not covered by the Employment Standards Act in Ontario, and need not be paid the minimum wage. But that does not mean that an employer can evade its obligations under the Act by classifying anyone as a volunteer. Only a ‘true volunteer’ is excluded from the protections of the Act…if a participating student views the program as a means to make a livelihood during a time that fewer summer jobs are available, they may be able to argue that they are not a ‘true volunteer.’” A class action lawsuit waiting to happen then.
But, back to the show.
Poilievre (translation) – “I have a simple question for you. How many times does a Minister in your Government need to break the Ethics Act before being sacked? How many times?”
Trudeau (translation) – “We…uh…take it very seriously, every time there are Ethics issues…
Poilievre – “How many times?”
Trudeau – “…and…”
Poilievre – “How many times?”
Chair – “The Prime Minister has the floor…and he has the right to answer. Mister Prime Minister”
He had the right to answer, but apparently not the ability.
How many times? That is the question…for all Canadians.
Great campaign slogan for Conservatives next election cycle…