Such logic can be helpful for understanding the widening snare of Justin Trudeau’s WE scandal, which is increasingly enveloping politicians beyond the prime minister himself.
Initially, the decision of Trudeau’s Liberal administration to award a sole-sourced, nearly $1 billion government contract to the charity group WE was deemed problematic because members of the prime minister’s celebrity family had performed paid labor for the group in the past. Trudeau was conceivably using tax dollars to subsidize future work for his relatives, in other words.
It’s since been revealed that this may have already happened. On Wednesday, the National Post reported that in 2017, WE received $1.18 million from Ottawa to host a Canada Day party featuring Trudeau’s mother as a speaker, who may or may not have been paid (the group didn’t answer multiple inquiries, says the Post).
Similarly, we now know that two children of Trudeau’s finance minister, Bill Morneau, were also involved in WE activities and that the minister, like Trudeau himself, will be formally investigated for failing to recuse himself from discussions over the recent contract (and presumably, past contracts as well). The prime minister’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, and natural resource minister, Seamus O’Regan, have been similarly outed as past fundraisers for WE, while at least six additional cabinet ministers claim to have “spoken at or attended a WE event.” One assumes the full web is yet to be unwound.
Trudeau’s sizable base of supporters will be unfazed knowing his party contains many with links to a famous children’s rights charity, regardless of how improperly those links were disclosed during government contracting. To Trudeau’s critics, however, the scandal offers unprecedented opportunity to expose and litigate one of the least flattering qualities of his government: its disproportionate composition of Canada’s wealthy and well-connected.
For instance, Morneau, the finance minister, is a multimillionaire who inherited the leadership of his father’s human resources and pension management firm at 35 and is married to the heiress of McCain Foods, “the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products.” His tenure has been plagued by perennial conflict of interest allegations, including a particularly infamous one involving a failure to disclose ownership of a French villa. O’Regan, meanwhile, is the child of a judge of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and was an anchor on CTV News — “the Canadian Anderson Cooper,” as IMDb claims some call him.
The WE Charity now looks to be the hub that has united numerous elite Canadians such as these — a sort of 21st century version of the role Paul Desmarais’s Power Corp. played for an earlier generation of Canadian leaders.
When I went to one of the “WE Day” rallies in Vancouver two years ago, I found the speakers’ lineup almost explicitly designed to aggravate anyone not aligned with the “natural governing party.” Among a gaggle of actors and musicians, I heard from the city’s progressive mayor, longtime Canadian Broadcasting Corp. anchor Peter Mansbridge and the prime minister’s wife and mother. Geared toward grade-school children, the afternoon bore the prerequisite veneer of youthful populism yet felt more like a venue for allies of the government to push their vision of the proper order of things on the next generation. Debatable liberal doctrines on everything from immigration to gun control, indigenous rights and the environment were casually presented as self-evidently correct; the kids cheered supportively.
A bizarre pro-Trudeau commercial made by WE that’s been recently unearthed exposes this technique at its most unapologetic. The election-style ad, produced to promote WE’s 2017 government-backed pledge drive, frames Canada’s divisive prime minister as an unobjectionable symbol of national pride, his iconically saccharine rhetoric the generic language of Canadian leadership.
The WE scandal is a monument to Trudeau’s obliviousness, but also the arrogance of a progressive Canadian establishment that has long assumed its politics are non-partisan. We now know WE never even bothered to register as a lobbyist before pitching policy ideas to the government. Through its connection to a bumbling prime minister, WE’s vast charity-industrial complex — what Brian Lilley calls “Kielburger Inc.” — has been exposed as just one more tool through which a haughty network of Canadian politicians, activists and media personalities collect state subsidies and push their worldview while imagining it’s neutral community service.
Buckling to bad press, WE promises to cancel its propagandistic “WE Days” and undergo a restructuring, presumably in a less elitist direction. Opposition parliamentarians should continue to investigate just how many senior Liberals were vested in WE’s success, while conceding the true problem is more ideological than legal.