(Ottawa) Justin Trudeau has been hammering for three weeks that there has been a wall between him and the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation for 10 years, since he became leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. However, La Presse has learned that a joint activity of his ministry and the Foundation was held in 2016 in a room almost next to his office, on Parliament Hill.
“It’s been a decade since I’ve had any involvement directly or indirectly with this foundation and the decisions that are made there,” Mr. Trudeau said several times in the House of Commons last week in response to questions from the Bloc Québécois.
But documents obtained by La Presse under the Access to Information Act indicate that a close relationship was maintained between the Prime Minister’s Office and the foundation after Justin Trudeau came to power.
Indeed, these documents show that the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation organized, in April 2016, six months after the Liberals’ victory, a round table on the links between pluralism, diversity and economic prosperity with the assistance of the Bureau du Conseil private sector, the Prime Minister’s Department, on the fourth floor of the Langevin Building. This building is located on Wellington Street in Ottawa, just in front of Parliament Hill, and it also houses the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
This round table brought together, in addition to the President and CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, Morris Rosenberg, the deputy ministers of five different departments – the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Heritage, the Department of Innovation , Science and Industry, the Department of Employment and Social Development and the Department of Immigration – say the documents obtained by La Presse.
Two Federal Undersecretaries from the Privy Council Office also attended the 90-minute meeting, which began at 3 p.m. on Monday, April 11, 2016 in room 415 on the fourth floor – a room that is sometimes used by the Prime Minister’s office.
One of the deputy ministers present, Ian Shugart (Employment and Social Development), became three years later, in 2019, the Clerk of the Privy Council – the big boss of the public service who provides the link between the Prime Minister’s office minister and his cabinet and the various ministries. Mr. Shugart held this critical post until he was appointed to the Senate by Justin Trudeau last October.
The Prime Minister’s Office occupies the first two floors of the Langevin Building, which in 2017 was renamed the Prime Minister and Privy Council Office due to Hector Langevin’s role in establishing the residential school system for Indigenous people , at the end of the 19th century. The third floor of the building is reserved for the Deputy Prime Minister while the fourth floor is occupied by employees of the Privy Council Office.
“For the vast majority of people, entering the Langevin Building is like entering the Vatican. It doesn’t happen every day,” said Dimitri Soudas, a former close associate of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper and now a political analyst on RDI’s Mordus de politique program.
“I wish I had another example of a foundation that had such access. Seems like preferential treatment for a foundation that had the name of the current prime minister’s father,” he added.
What did Justin Trudeau know about this roundtable? Nothing, argues the Prime Minister’s Office. “Neither the Prime Minister nor the Prime Minister’s staff participated in this meeting. The Prime Minister was unaware of this meeting,” said Alison Murphy, a spokesperson for Mr. Trudeau.
The prime minister’s April 11, 2016 schedule contained no reference to the roundtable, according to a check of his schedule for the day.
The one who headed the Foundation at the time, Morris Rosenberg, formerly Deputy Minister for Global Affairs, also assures that Justin Trudeau was not at the table. “The prime minister was not there, absolutely not,” he said over the phone, describing the meeting’s objectives as spelled out in the documents.
The leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet, believes that this case raises many questions. Especially since this is in addition to revelations that a key employee in Justin Trudeau’s office, Zita Astravas, in November 2016 demanded details from the Trudeau Foundation about a “Chinese donation” that had been made to the Foundation. five months earlier. The daily newspaper The Globe and Mail then investigated the source of this donation.
“It is possible that the Prime Minister was unaware. But he used up all his capital in the benefit of the doubt account he had. He emptied his account. He consumed it in the first year of his term. For this meeting to take place, it would have taken an excellent lobby to make it happen without the intervention of the Prime Minister’s Office. In short, it’s hard to believe,” Mr. Blanchet told La Presse.
Mr. Blanchet, who asked Auditor General Karen Hogan to investigate the management of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation following revelations about the donation of two wealthy Chinese businessmen close to Beijing in 2016, believes that it would be useful to obtain the minutes of this famous meeting which took place in the Langevin building.
The deputy leader of the NDP, Alexandre Boulerice, abounds. “It’s troubling, and it’s fishy, and I would say it challenges the Prime Minister’s story. The contact starts to get a lot closer when we talk about the Privy Council Office. If we were 15 feet earlier, now we’re starting to be a foot and a half away, ”he worries. Because such privileged access to the Prime Minister’s ministry and such a roster of high-level officials is rare. “There are not many organizations in Canada that are able to have a meeting with PCO and so many deputy ministers. My FRAPRU friends, they never had that,” he illustrates.
Furthermore, the NDP is also asking the Auditor General to look into the Foundation. “We continue to review the matter,” Ms. Hogan’s office said Friday.
The bloodletting continues at the Trudeau Foundation: according to our information, 12 other people associated with the foundation, mentors, fellows or committee members, have resigned in the last few days.
La Presse was able to confirm the resignations of five people, namely the former Deputy Premier of New Brunswick Aldéa Landry, the philosopher and novelist Emmanuel Kattan, the Vice-Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa Sophie Thériault, Stanford law professor Richard Thomson Ford and Senator Patti Laboucane-Benson.
Mr. Kattan, Mr. Ford and Ms. Landry were mentors for the foundation. Ms. Thériault, a former scholar, was a member of the alumni committee. Ms. Laboucane-Benson was a member of its Diversity Committee and an Indigenous Committee.
“I was very uncomfortable with the explanations we were given about the recent resignations from the board and general management. We were never properly explained the situation. What we were told was that we wanted to start the foundation from scratch, because of the politicization around the Chinese donation, “explains one of these people who resigned, who requested anonymity because she does not is not authorized to speak to the media.
“But why, if that’s the case, are the people who stay on the board only those who were already involved with the foundation at the time of the donation?” Why did everyone else who wasn’t there choose to leave? It’s a funny way to reboot. Their explanations made no sense. I could see that there was something wrong with their explanations, ”continues this person.
Reliable sources tell us that eight other people also slammed the door of the foundation. Still others are seriously considering jumping ship, feeling like she’s not as apolitical as she makes out to be.
This same person points out that another aspect raises her eyebrows: the resignations of the former C.A. are mostly women as well as people from ethnic minorities. “I find it strange that those three [Edward Johnson, Bruce McNiven, Peter Sahlas] are staying. It doesn’t smell good,” she says.
In total, since April 10, 30 people, members of the board of directors, general management or associate experts, have left the Trudeau Foundation, because of ethical questions raised by the controversial “donation Chinese” of 2016. Eight members of the Board and four people from the general management, including the one who held the position of CEO, Pascale Fournier, are among the resigners in recent weeks.
In an email sent to mentors and fellows, which La Presse obtained, the chairman of the board of directors acknowledges that the activities of the Foundation have been greatly disrupted by the last weeks of controversy.
“Looking forward, although most of our programs are maintained, in the short term, some events may be postponed or canceled. Please know that the Foundation is committed to implementing its program as fully as possible, Johnson writes. We hope you will continue to want to take on this position to support our scholars. of the year 2023.”
For their part, the current scholarship holders must receive a new payment in May. Some of them are worried about the payment of these sums, tell us sources who have left the foundation, given the fact that there would be very few staff working at the organization. The annual scholarship is between $40,000 and $60,000, and is paid to recipients for three years.
“Scholarship holders are worried,” confirms one of the recent resigners. It was a big shock for them. They rely on this money to pay their rent! But they were assured that they would continue to receive their scholarships. We tried to contact several scholarship recipients, but none of them responded to our interview request.