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Canadian finance minister pays back NGO at heart of ethics probe

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L, pictured November 2019) and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the negotiations on the contract awarded to WE Charity (AFP Photo/Chris Wattie)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (L, pictured November 2019) and Finance Minister Bill Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the negotiations on the contract awarded to WE Charity (AFP Photo/Chris Wattie)

(AFP)

Canadian finance minister Bill Morneau announced Wednesday he had repaid more than CAN$41,000 ($30,500) in travel expenses to a charity at the heart of the country’s ethics commissioner’s investigation into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

While testifying in the afternoon before the House of Commons finance committee, Morneau said he had reimbursed the money to WE Charity Wednesday morning.

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The same day, the prime minister’s office announced that Trudeau would also testify before the committee, as requested by opposition Conservatives, although the date has yet to be set.

Ethics commissioner Mario Dion, an independent officer of parliament, opened an investigation into Trudeau and Morneau after the former’s Liberal government awarded a major contract to WE Charity to manage a student scholarship program worth nearly CAN$1 billion, despite ties between the organization and the two officials’ families.

The group has since said it is withdrawing from the federal program, but the controversy has continued to rage.

WE Charity has admitted to paying nearly CAN$300,000 to Trudeau’s mother, brother and wife for speaking engagements over the past few years.

Trudeau’s wife would have received CAN$1,500 for an event in 2012, before her husband had become the head of the Liberal Party.

Both Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the negotiations on the contract awarded to WE Charity.

Two of Morneau’s daughters were associated with the charity, one of them as an employee.

The check Morneau sent Wednesday was to reimburse the charity for expenses related to two humanitarian trips he and his family took in 2017.

He said it was an expense that he had been unaware of, as the NGO never gave him an invoice. Morneau acknowledged he should have checked on his own.

“I want to apologize for this mistake,” he told the members of parliament.

Unconvinced by his testimony and surprised that he had paid WE Charity back for the trips just hours before his appearance before the House of Commons, opposition Conservatives immediately called for his resignation.

Trudeau has run afoul of the ethics commissioner on two previous occasions since 2017 for conflict of interest violations.

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