Canada: Trudeau under political firestorm as parliamentary rivals seize on charity controversy

WION Web Team Montreal, Canada Jul 11, 2020, 04.07 PM(IST)

File photo: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau  Photograph:( AFP )

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For the third time in as many years, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday found himself at the center of a political firestorm this time over the awarding of a lucrative government contract to a charity that also paid hefty sums to his family members.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came under pressure on Friday from opposition parties he depends on for support in parliament amid heightening controversy over his family's ties to a charity at the heart of his conflict-of-interest probe.

For the third time in as many years, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday found himself at the center of a political firestorm this time over the awarding of a lucrative government contract to a charity that also paid hefty sums to his family members.

Also read: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faces third ethics probe over charity grant program

Canada's Conservative opposition has demanded a police investigation to uncover whether fraud was committed in the granting of the nearly billion-dollar contract to WE Charity.

The organization has admitted paying nearly CAN $300,000 to Trudeau's mother, brother and wife for speaking engagements.

And Trudeau himself admitted to taking part in negotiations with the charity over the contract.

Also read| Canada handled the coronavirus outbreak better than US: Trudeau

The charity backed out about a week after the contract was announced. Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, have regularly participated in WE Charity events, and Gregoire Trudeau hosts a podcast on the charity's website for which she is not paid.

But Trudeau's rivals went into attack mode on Thursday when WE Charity disclosed it paid honoraria to Trudeau's mother, Margaret, amounting to C$250,000 ($184,000) for speaking at some 28 events, while his brother, Alexandre, received about C$32,000 ($23,540). The payments were handed out between 2016-2020, during Trudeau's first mandate.

The Bloc Quebecois said he should temporarily yield his post to his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, until the investigation is over. The left-leaning New Democrats said the situation was "more than disturbing".

The Liberal leader lost his majority in parliament in October and depends on opposition parties for support, but none has said it wants to topple the government, and it would take a concerted effort by all of them to do so.

"For a few months, I think the prime minister must step aside and leave ... the responsibilities to the deputy prime minister," Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC).

"This is a pattern of behavior with Trudeau," New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement. "Canadians deserve to know the truth and need to know this won't happen again."

There was no immediate comment from Trudeau's office on Friday, but he has said he never accepted any payment from the charity.

The ethics commissioner has already released two reports concluding that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act: in 2017, for taking a vacation on the Aga Khan's private island, and last year for trying to influence legal proceedings in the SNC-Lavalin case, in which a subsidiary of the engineering company was accused of paying bribes to secure contracts in Libya.

Trudeau has proven to be resilient in the past, including after decades-old blackface images surfaced during last year's re-election campaign. Furthermore, the prime minister's approval rating doubled to about 70% on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ekos Research polling.