OTTAWA: Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologised Monday for not recusing himself from discussions about a government contract to a charity that had paid his family large sums of money for speaking appearances.
“I made a mistake not recusing myself immediately from the discussions, given our family’s history. And I’m sincerely sorry,” Trudeau told a news conference.
His apology came amid opposition demands for an investigation into a C$900 million contract awarded by the government to development and youth advocacy organisation WE Charity.
The NGO has admitted paying nearly C$300,000 to Trudeau’s mother, brother and wife for speaking engagements.
Trudeau himself admitted to taking part in negotiations with the charity over the contract.
He said he knew his mother Margaret worked for WE as an advocate on mental health issues but didn’t know the “details”.
“I didn’t know the details of how much she was getting paid by various organisations, but I should have and I deeply regret that,” he said.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau – whose two daughters worked with the charity, one as an actual employee – also apologised for not stepping away from the contract talks.
“I now realize I should have in order to avoid any perception of conflict. I apologize for not doing so,” he tweeted.
‘Spinning out of control’
WE Charity has said it was withdrawing from the US$900 million federal programme, which provides grants of up to US$5,000 to eligible students for volunteer work with non-profit organisations during the coronavirus pandemic.
It had hired more than 450 contract workers, according to the Toronto Star, and is now forced to lay them off.
Trudeau said he was “really disappointed in myself”, adding: “I think Canadians will make their judgments about what we were trying to do and what I should have done.”
The episode is already under investigation by the country’s ethics watchdog, and marks the third time in as many years that Trudeau has found himself at the centre of an ethics firestorm.
The ethics commissioner has already released two reports concluding that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act: in 2017, for taking a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island, and last year for trying to influence legal proceedings in the SNC-Lavalin case, in which a subsidiary of the engineering company was accused of paying bribes to secure contracts in Libya.
On Sunday, Canada’s opposition Conservative Party said it would ask Trudeau to testify under oath before the House of Commons finance committee about the contract.
Conservative lawmaker Michael Barrett, the party’s spokesman on ethics issues, said Monday that Trudeau’s apology was an attempt to keep the scandal from “spinning out of control”.
“We know that Justin Trudeau is only sorry when he gets caught and that’s what the apology was all about today,” Barrett said.