Conservatives claim ‘coverup’ after Trudeau shuts down Parliament

Conservative MPs are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of a “coverup” by shutting down Parliament to dodge scrutiny of his government’s role in the WE Charity student-grant controversy.

During a news conference in Ottawa, finance critic Pierre Poilievre and ethics critic Michael Barrett brandished documents released by the government to a committee probing the affair, which were heavily redacted.

They said that amounts to a “coverup.”

“It’s clear Justin Trudeau has something to hide,” Poilievre said. “He does not want Canadians to know what’s in these documents, and that’s why he shut down this parliamentary investigation.”

Trudeau announced Tuesday that Gov. Gen. Julie Payette had granted his request to prorogue Parliament until Sept. 23.

He said the move will allow his government to present a long-term economic recovery plan for Canada post-pandemic and an opportunity for the House of Commons to vote on whether it has confidence in the government to move forward on that plan.

The prorogation of Parliament suspends the committee work of MPs probing the WE Charity student volunteer grant controversy.

Thousands of pages of internal government records related to the We Charity contract were released yesterday that were requested by MPs on the finance committee.

WE Charity was awarded a $43.5 million contract to manage the $900 million student volunteer grant program. Trudeau and then-finance minister Bill Morneau did not recuse themselves from cabinet talks on the deal, despite both having family ties to the organization.

WATCH / Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre accuses Trudeau of ‘coverup’:

Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre lists why he believes the documents released by the government related to the WE controversy constitute a coverup. 2:14

Morneau announced his resignation Monday evening, saying he did not intend to seek a third term in office and that it was time for a new finance minister to lead the country into a long-term, post-pandemic recovery plan.

Poilievre said despite the heavy redactions, the documents show that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the finance minister’s office was involved in crafting the contribution agreement with WE Charity, despite assertions by Trudeau and others that the program was designed and negotiated by public servants.

Email chain on student aid

As one example, Poilievre pointed to a June 27 message from WE Charity co-founder Craig Kielburger to senior PMO staffer Ben Chin thanking him for his help on the the program.

“Hello Ben. Thank you for your kindness in helping shape our latest program with the go’vt. Warmly, Craig,” reads the mssage sent through LinkedIn.

Chin responded two days later: “Great to hear from you Craig. Let’s get our young working!” 

The exchange came several weeks after senior bureaucrats negotiated the deal with WE, and two days after the agreement was formally announced by Trudeau.

He also flagged an April 20 email from assistant deputy minister for finance Michelle Kovacevic about the broader student aid package that was in the works.

“There has been a lot of back and forth on a student package, as you well know, and PMO has been weighing in on a version we shared with our minister on Saturday,” she wrote.

WATCH / Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre on WE Charity ‘ambassadors’:

Conservative Finance Critic Pierre Poilievre asks why a document released by the government highlights pictures of Sophie Gregoire Trudeau and Margaret Trudeau. 0:55

Trudeau announced a $9 billion assistance package for students two days later on April 22, which included the broad strokes of a volunteer grant program.

“The Canada Student Service Grant — bit of a shit show and the way it is positioned right now is not exactly how we will go forward, there is positive communication with WE to be a partner here and discussions are encouraging on that front. (but just discussions, no agreement),” Kovacevic wrote in the email.

Confidence vote looms on throne speech

When the House of Commons returns on Sept. 23, it will be with a throne speech, debate and a confidence vote. A vote of non-confidence would trigger a federal election.

Poilievre said the top priority for Conservatives is not to topple the government but to hold it to account and to uncover the truth about what occurred in the WE Charity deal.

“Trudeau would love to have an election before the truth comes out,” he said. “But the Conservatives want Canada to have the truth before they go and vote.”

Conservatives will choose a new leader to replace Andrew Scheer on Sunday. Barrett said the successor will speak with caucus on next steps forward, but noted the country is in the throes of a global pandemic and economic tough times.

“We’ll wait and see what September brings,” he said.

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