As Justin Trudeau prepares to testify about his role in his government’s controversial deal with WE Charity, those close to him say the Prime Minister and his party can weather the scandal.
In the Prime Minister’s Office, senior officials say they have the truth on their side – that the program was designed by the public service and no political staff or minister has put their thumbs up to help us. They say Canadians will understand what the government was trying to do
But overcoming the scandal will not be easy.
Last month, we regularly released information about how WE was selected to manage the government’s $ 912 million student volunteer grant program, part of the Liberals’ $ 9 billion aid program for students. students and young Canadians during COVID-19. Each new revelation makes headlines and screams of cronyism and corruption from opposition MPs.
Meanwhile, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion continues to investigate Trudeau and his Finance Minister Bill Morneau for their role in the deal.
The strategy ahead, according to two senior Liberals with first-hand knowledge of the matter, is to divulge as much information as possible – in some cases, as they become aware of it – and hope that Canadians are informed. agree with their version of events.
“The point of view (within government) is that the recommendation came from the civil service, that really the choice was to launch the program as planned in time for the summer or to go back to the drawing board and to be months away from this part of the ongoing program, ”said a source, who requested anonymity to discuss internal government discussions.
“It’s not like it’s a political staff member’s idea. It was thoroughly analyzed and due diligence performed both at the Department of Finance and at (Employment and Social Development Canada), and it was the recommendation that appeared to be a very binary choice.
While Trudeau’s small circle can be convinced that Canadians will return to their point of view, there is no doubt that the WE test has diverted attention from the Liberal government’s comprehensive response to the pandemic to pressing questions. on ethics and responsibility.
This week, Morneau admitted to the House of Commons Finance Committee that his family had accepted two trips paid for by WE and that his family had donated $ 100,000 to the charity over the past two years. Just hours before appearing before the committee, Morneau personally cut a check for $ 41,366 to reimburse WE for the travel expenses and implied that he mistakenly thought he had paid for the travel.
A Liberal MP told the Star that they almost fell off their seats when they heard Morneau’s confession.
Morneau apologized for what he called a ‘mistake’, his second apology this month for his dealings with WE, but the new information only deepened the scandal that has raged for weeks among the Liberals. Trudeau, like Morneau, apologized for not recusing himself from discussions on the WE deal.
Yet as opposition and public pressure mounted on Morneau, his cabinet colleagues – and the Prime Minister – rallied behind him. The Star reported on Thursday that at the Liberal caucus meeting on Wednesday we were barely mentioned.
Zain Velji, former Liberal campaign strategist and former campaign manager for Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, criticized the way the PMO has handled the issue.
From a political strategy standpoint, there is a simple process for dealing with situations like this, Velji explained: drain everything at the same time, don’t let it drip down over time.
“You take your licks at the same time,” he says.
“Rather than having a drip campaign that extends the media cycle to week four, where we are now, and potentially weeks five and six, with Trudeau appearing at the finance committee.
Velji said he suspected Trudeau’s testimony to the finance committee, due next week, will be “20% of them explaining part of the process at a very, very high level” and “80% of points. discussion”.
“If he looks genuine, then I think it could be a clear win,” Velji said. “I see, however, that the risk is much higher, because for his political enemies, they will not see anything other than what they want to see.”
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Conservative members of the finance committee have called on Morneau to resign as finance minister. Outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer went further on Friday, calling on Morneau and Trudeau to step down.
“This whole scandal smacks of corruption at the highest levels of government,” Scheer said at a press conference.
But according to EKOS pollster Frank Graves, the Liberals may have already paid the political price for the scandal – and are bouncing back. On Twitter, Graves said that while the Liberals “have seen their lead diminished by the We scandal,” based on his latest poll, not yet released, “it appears that effect is already diminishing and the LPC is back in. a clearly majority territory.
With WE Charity, it’s a different story.
Facing intense media scrutiny – both over the deal with the Liberal government and their operations more generally – charity co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger have announced significant changes to their operations, including a third party review and refocusing of their efforts on international development.
But corporate sponsors – a significant portion of WE’s funding – appear to be distancing themselves from the organization. Virgin Atlantic Airways has suspended its sponsorship of the charity, while the Royal Bank of Canada examines its ties to WE.
“At the core of all of our relationships, RBC expects its partners to conduct their business in accordance with our values, policies and practices,” a spokesperson told The Canadian Press.
As for Trudeau, he is expected to appear before the finance committee next week. When asked what the Prime Minister’s Office expects to gain from the Prime Minister and his Chief of Staff Katie Telford, who testified before the committee, a source close to Trudeau said the Prime Minister Minister felt personally responsible for explaining himself to Canadians.
“(The opposition) has more questions for him. And he will respond to them, ”said another source.
During the remainder of July and August, Velji said the political strategy should be to “double down” the current message and continue to “apologize”.
If more controversial testimony comes out in other committee hearings, it may be time to find a back-up plan, he said.
“The Trudeau government – I wouldn’t be surprised if they do a math and say, ‘You know, if it’s not Morneau falling on his sword, if it’s not Trudeau, can we get away with it? with a senior executive maybe who should go? “