Thank you, Madam Chair, and I thank my honourable colleague for mentioning me.
That was a good, timely reminder of past incidents, so I will just say two things: It is definitely within the purview of our committee to investigate ethical breaches within public office holders, but to my colleague's statement, it is also a very important obligation within our committee that we handle these matters in a manner that is respectful and that is not dragging other people in. When Mr. Andrews, a former Liberal, was going after Dean Del Mastro, I thought, every single day that he was here, that we had to have a proper process, and that is very important because we are not a kangaroo court here.
On the issue of the Trudeau family being involved, we have to be careful, because Madam Sophie Grégoire Trudeau has done a lot of really very impressive things. I have no interest in bringing her in any way into this story. Margaret Trudeau has inspired many people with her incredible work as a public spokesperson. I think it is a very terrible situation that we are even having to discuss Margaret Trudeau.
Why this issue matters is that it is about WE and the relationship to the Trudeau government. I was very surprised to learn that WE began to hire members of the Trudeau family after Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, and then we learned that other key people, for example, Jully Black, an incredible public figure, was not paid and Theo Fleury wasn't paid. It raises the question of whether or not there was an attempt to buy political influence. That, to me, is the issue before us.
If the Liberals are concerned about how we have documents on members of the Trudeau family, I share that concern. I don't know that we are here to go after Justin's brother, who is a filmmaker. If he is a spokesperson for WE and he got paid by them, he probably thought they were paying him because of his incredible skills as a filmmaker. That may be why he signed up. Our issue is whether or not there was an attempt to buy the influence of the government, because the financial interests of the Trudeau family and WE have become very convoluted and very connected. That's what we need to clarify.
We know that the Conflict of Interest Commissioner has launched this investigation because of those convoluted ties. As well as those convoluted ties, we learn more and more about Bill Morneau's ties with WE, so that is of interest. I have no interest in what Bill Morneau's children do at WE and whether they are paid or whatever. It is the issue of recusal and the issue of buying influence that are the focus we have to deal with. That is separate from the finance committee and it is separate from government operations. It is about the obligations of public office holders. It is about the obligations that we established when our committee first began to review the Conflict of Interest Act and when we are called upon to review it, and it is the same with the Lobbying Act. It is to make sure that it applies to everyone in a manner that is fair. That is the role of our committee.
When we had the first finding of guilt for the Prime Minister, we would have expected that measures would be put in place in the Prime Minister's Office to protect the Prime Minister and prevent conflict of interest from happening a second time. That didn't happen. The SNC-Lavalin case was very shocking because it cost the Prime Minister his chief of staff, Gerry Butts, and it cost the Clerk of the Privy Council, something that has never happened before. The Clerk of the Privy Council is someone we all look to as the independent, non-partisan voice of the civil service, advising the Prime Minister to make sure he follows the rules, and that didn't happen.
When we end up in a situation in the middle of a pandemic, in which $900 million is awarded to a group that has deep ties to the Trudeau family, the obvious question is why that did not raise flags in the Prime Minister's Office. Again, I will not support in any way bringing Trudeau family members before our committee, because that's not the issue, but we need to hear from Katie Telford, chief of staff, about why it is that there were no checks and balances. This is not difficult stuff to figure out about the obligation to recuse. Why did Bill Morneau not recuse himself? Not only does his family have direct financial ties; Bill Morneau has been very involved with WE as well.
Then we learned from finance—again, finance is a separate committee—that there was a proposal circulating before the Prime Minister made his announcement that set the stage for WE getting this contract, and that the proposal was within the Prime Minister's Office, apparently with PCO, and it was in the Department of Finance with Bill Morneau. Again, we go back to not just the refusal to recuse but to whether or not WE was given the inside track on a massive program that was supposed to be doled out in a pandemic to help university students. If that was the case, then that was severe interference in the workings of government. Major questions have to be asked.
We as a committee are looking at that. Our obligation as the ethics committee is to make sure we have the appropriate checks and balances, as my colleague says. Obviously, the appropriate checks and balances were not in place because this scandal should never have happened. It should never have happened in a pandemic, during extreme economic uncertainty, that a decision would be made to award money so easily to people who are so connected to the Prime Minister's family, where there were clear financial interests going back and forth.
That is an embarrassment to all of us. I think it is also an insult to the work that all of us did across party lines when we were asked at the beginning of the pandemic to reach out to every organization in our region to identify placements where we could hire young people through Canada summer jobs. So much work was done. Across party lines, we stepped up. The civil service stepped up. We identified them. In my region, we would have had hundreds of placements. We had all the medical students in northern Ontario. We were identifying placements for them. We were identifying farm organizations that wanted to hire the agriculture students coming home. We had law firms calling us because of what they were being told, with Liberal MPs saying it was going to come through Canada summer jobs. All of that got sidelined. Suddenly this proposal came through, this proposal that was announced by the Prime Minister just after WE began circulating their proposal, which was, I admit, different, but it was very similar in terms of what it was to be.
Our focus here is not what happened in terms of the other contracts. Our interest here is whether or not political influence was attempted to be bought through the hiring of people close to the Prime Minister and whether the Prime Minister's and finance minister's refusal to recuse themselves put them in a conflict of interest and put a decision at risk that has now been a huge embarrassment. I say this across party lines, that in the middle of a pandemic I've been very proud of the work we've done. I've been proud of being able to stand up for government programs that we'd worked on and helped change and improve. Whether it was small business or whether it was CERB, the emergency $2,000 a month, I could say to people in my riding that across party lines we were working together.
I cannot justify this $900-million deal that may not even be legal, paying students well below minimum wage. The more we learned about it, the more we learned that WE did not have the capacity to do it. I cannot stand idly by as a committee member when questions are being raised about the financial links with the family. If the Liberals want to put forward a motion about how we discuss this, so that we are not bringing in the Trudeau family and embarrassing them for the work they do on the sidelines....
The Prime Minister should have known that, because of those financial links, this would put him in a conflict. This is the Prime Minister's responsibility. I would like to see the Liberals say to us, “Okay, here's a deal. We will bring the Prime Minister to this committee and he will speak as to why he didn't think it was a problem that his family was being paid and that he was awarding this out.”
It's the Prime Minister's responsibility that I'm interested in. It's Bill Morneau's responsibility that I'm interested in. It's Katie Telford, as chief of staff, who should have been looking after our Prime Minister and putting some kind of big ethical mitts around him so that he didn't keep putting his finger in the conflict of interest socket. That's what I'm interested in. I'm not interested in our committee being used to go after the individual members of the Trudeau family. I agree that we can put in limits on how that's done, and we can talk about that, but I would like the Liberals to tell us that they are going to have the Prime Minister sit here and explain why he put his family in that position.