Canada

BONOKOSKI: Democracy Watch taking Trudeau to court over WE scandal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, are flanked by We Day co-founders, Craig Kielburger, left, and his brother Marc, right, in front of a crowd of 16,000 people during the We Day event at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa Tuesday Nov. 10, 2015.

Perhaps it’s just me.

But if my mother, brother and wife trousered more than $480,000 from a charity because of the bonus of their surname, and I then gave that charity a $43.5 million grant, I suspect more than a few would see that as a conflict of interest.

Yet if it were Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion giving it a sniff, he’d smell nothing that would turn up his nose.

“The appearance of a conflict of interest does not constitute a contravention of the Act,” wrote Dion. “The conflict must be real.”

The true-life scenario, of course, is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau giving a $43.5-million grant to the WE charity to oversee pandemic aid money for students.

Forget that Trudeau appeared six times on the WE charity stage. Forget that his mother, Margaret Trudeau, brother Alexandre, and wife, Sophie likely wouldn’t get a nickel if their last names were Smith.

Forget that more than $481,000 in benefits from We Charity to mere, frere and epouse, including expense-paid trips to London and New York, isn’t a bad payout for doing next to nothing.

But no conflict of interest for the PM whose wife, by the way, was a podcaster for WE?

It seems so impossible that the advocacy group, Democracy Watch, is taking Dion’s ruling to the Federal Court of Appeal.

“It’s a horrible precedent,” said Duff Conacher, the group’s co-founder. “If this is allowed, what is not allowed?

“It tells every cabinet minister, just tell your staff to do things you are not able to do legally,” alleged Conacher, his argument laid out in Blacklock’s Reporter.

“It is a terrible precedent. Any public office holder could now construct a scheme to benefit their friends or family members and get away with it.”

The prime minister, of course, was pleased with Dion clearing his name from conflict of interest in the WE charity cockup, which also had Bill Morneau not only resigning as finance minister but coughing up his Toronto Centre seat for his own WE dealings.

“There was no conflict of interest. This confirms what I have been saying from the beginning,” Trudeau wrote in a statement, although he did not address the massive amount of collateral damage of the WE charity’s implosion and the grant’s collapse.

Conacher said the court challenge will ask federal judges quash the ruling under Section 3 of the Conflict of Interest Act.

“It says ‘conflict,’ not ‘real conflict’ or ‘apparent conflict,’” said Conacher. “Conflict means every type. That is the purpose of the Act, to prohibit conflicts of interest. Where the commissioner talks about ‘real’ and ‘apparent’ conflict, he is just making that up.

“That’s not how you enforce a law,” said Conacher. “You don’t let the prime minister off with a ruling that is legally incorrect and ignores the purpose of the law.”

The PM, of course, was grilled when he appeared before the Commons’ finance committee.

“You’re telling me you don’t know how much immediate family members have been paid in expense reimbursements by this organization,” asked Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre.

“Nobody believes you when you say you don’t know how much money your family has got from the WE group,” he said. “You had a month to look into that. You knew you were going to testify here.”

“WE Charity received no preferential treatment, not from me, not from anyone else,” Trudeau said again.

That was his story, and he was sticking to script, and Mario Dion later bought in.

But Democracy Watch hasn’t.

markbonokoski@gmail.com

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