Chagger originally said she did not discuss the $43.5 million grant with anyone at the WE Charity before “discussing it with cabinet.”
But on August 11th, Youth Minister Chagger confirmed to the Commons ethics committee that she called the WE organization five days before they submitted their proposal for the student grant administration program, reports Blacklock’s.
She spoke directly to Craig Kielburger for approximately 30 minutes, but Chagger said she could not recall all the details of her conversation.
During the hearing, MPs noted that the Youth Minister never mentioned this supposed call in earlier testimony at the Commons finance committee which took place three weeks ago.
During the testimony three weeks ago, this specific question was asked by Conservative MP Michael Barrett (Leeds-Grenville, Ontario).
Barrett asked the Youth Minister, “Did you discuss the program with anyone at We before discussing it at cabinet?”. Chagger at the time responded that she “did not,”.
Now yesterday, Youth Minister Bardish Chagger is saying that she in fact did speak with the WE Charity organizers on April 17 prior to discussing it at cabinet. NDP MP Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ontario) asked the Minister “why didn’t you tell us?”.
“My frustration here is when you’re asked a simple question, did you meet with the Kielburgers, and you can’t give us a straight answer, it makes the waters seem very, very murky,” said MP Angus: “Something happened in that meeting, and you didn’t tell us. Tell us now. Just come clean.”
Chagger said that her call with Kielburger did not provide any inside information and that she was not aware then that Prime Minister Trudeau would announce later that the WE organization obtained the contract.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre (Carleton, Ont.) responded, “So you didn’t know even though you’re the Minister responsible for that announcement? Strange,”. A back and forth ensued:
MP Poilievre: “Was youth service mentioned?”
Minister Chagger: “I will tell you youth service is top of line for myself.”MP Poilievre: “Okay, so that’s a yes? Yes or no?”
MP Poilievre: “Okay, so that’s a yes? Yes or no?”
Minister Chagger: “I think it’s important that I – “
MP Poilievre: “Yes or no.”
Minister Chagger: “I’m wanting to provide accurate information…”
Chair: “The question has been asked of you. It’s quite simple. It is really a yes or no question. You need to respect the member who’s asking you that question and answer accordingly. Thank you. Minister, yes or no?”
Minister Chagger: “I would say public service opportunities, yes it was said.”
MP Poilievre: “Okay, good. Now we’re getting somewhere. This was just five days before the Canada Student Service Grant was announced and given its name.”
Blacklock’s reports that “records show that the WE Charity submitted their grant proposal the same day the program was announced on April 22nd”, which may point to some inside information having been leaked to the organization from someone with close knowledge of the program.
Cabinet then approved the grant a month later on May 22nd, while no other Canadian charity had been invited to bid on the proposal to manage the student aid program.
Mudding the water further is that Finance Minister Bill Morneau endorsed the grant without having disclosed that the WE Charity hired his daughter out of college in 2019, and that he accepted $41,366 in free travel to WE Charity resorts in Kenya and Ecuador, which are both clear conflicts of interest.