Paul MacNeill

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Justin Trudeau was on COVID cruise control until allowing yet another inexplicable ethical lapse to remind many Canadians why they view him as spoiled, arrogant and out of touch.

Since COVID erupted in March, Trudeau’s standing with Canadians has jumped as he competently responded with timely communication and announcements aimed at supporting individuals, corporations and governments. His efforts were applauded by Canadians, reassured we would not follow the United States into the virus abyss.

Then news of an almost $900 million sole sourced government contract to the WE Charity broke. As the trickle of information turned into a national feeding frenzy it became clear the prime minister’s lack of an ethical radar had once again, unnecessarily, derailed the work of his administration.

The prime minister first tried to explain the scandal away by suggesting WE is the ‘best and only’ organization capable of delivering a national, youth focussed program. Many question that assertion, especially given the close ties both Trudeau and his Finance Minister Bill Morneau and their families have to WE, the rock star of Canadian charities.

Neither politician recused themselves from the cabinet discussion where approval was granted. Skepticism turned to outrage when it was learned the PM’s mother collected speaking fees of almost a quarter million dollars from WE and both his brother and wife (an ambassador for the charity) were paid to appear at WE events. Morneau’s daughter works for WE, and the finance minister ‘forgot’ the charity had paid for his family to attend a WE event to the tune of $42,000, which has since been repaid. You’ve got to have a hefty bank balance to forget $42,000 in travel.

And like his free trip to a private island owned by Aga Khan and his attempt to influence former Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin trial, the prime minister was contrite, apologetic and promised to learn from his mistakes.

But he hasn’t. Justin Trudeau continues to show an alarming blind spot to personal ethical questions, except in his case it’s a blind spot more akin to a solar eclipse. He just doesn’t get it.

Trudeau contends that while the optics are awful, no political pressure was exerted and the public service moved forward based on WE’s capacity to deliver. That may or may not be true. There is evidence adequate due diligence of the charity was not conducted. But it’s also true that outsourcing some of the federal COVID response is a sound idea.

Trudeau’s daily press conferences were focussed on announcing financial support of one type or another. With the notable exception of CERB, Ottawa has lagged on actually delivering on those promises. Given the strain on the federal public service, the logic in outsourcing is evident.

Where the idea goes wildly off the tracks is in Trudeau and Morneau’s direct connection to WE.

Their political stupidity could do long-term damage to both the government and the charity, which has seen major sponsors either quit or pause their partnerships. It will put a spring in the step of opposition parties languishing outside of the COVID spotlight.

Most importantly, Canadians are once again shaking their heads at a prime minister seemingly incapable of policing his own ethical challenges, raising doubt about his capacity to lead. Because of it we are experiencing a political storm in the middle of a public health crisis.

It’s a double whammy that should never have happened and it could very well shorten either Trudeau or Morneau’s career. Or both.

Paul MacNeill is Publisher of Island Press Limited. He can be contacted at

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