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Trudeau testifies at July 30 parliamentary hearing

(MNI) Ottawa
OTTAWA (MNI)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to quell the biggest political threat to his minority government since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, making a rare appearance at a parliamentary committee to explain why he and his finance minister didn't recuse themselves from approvals of a CAD900 million contract to a youth charity their families have done business with.

The opposition Bloc Quebecois and Conservatives had earlier called for Finance Minister Bill Morneau to step aside, and they along with the left-leaning NDP peppered Trudeau with hostile questions for more than an hour. The prime minister expanded on past statements that government officials said only WE Charity could deliver the volunteering program, saying he "pushed back" when he learned the idea was going to be sent to cabinet around May 8.

"We knew that the selection of WE Charity would be closely scrutinized," Trudeau said Thursday, referring to him and his chief of staff. "Given the public service advice, I was comfortable" with it starting to move forward, he said.

The contract with WE Charity to help find students paid summer volunteer opportunities was canceled after media reports revealed members of Trudeau's family were paid to appear at WE Charity events. Morneau's daughter also worked at the charity and he had some travel expenses paid for by the group. Both Trudeau and Morneau had earlier made public apologies, and are under investigation by a parliamentary ethics officer.

"WE Charity received no preferential treatment, not from me, not from anyone else," Trudeau said. "I should have recused myself from this decision to avoid any appearance of favoritism," he said, and "I deeply regret how this has unfolded."

Trudeau and Morneau are in the middle of delivering a record CAD343 billion deficit to tackle record unemployment and thousands of deaths from Covid-19. While Trudeau's Liberal Party government needs some opposition party support to pass fiscal bills and stay in power, before the WE Charity contract most proposals moved fairly fast through Parliament.

MNI Ottawa Bureau | +1 613-314-9647 | greg.quinn@marketnews.com
MNI Ottawa Bureau | +1 613-314-9647 | greg.quinn@marketnews.com

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