Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to play any role to adopt a relationship with his family to manage a major government program.
Testifying to the House of Commons, he dismissed any involvement by him or his staff at the event, which has caused a major political controversy in Canada.
Mr Trudeau is investigating for failing to distance himself from decisions surrounding the program.
He is being investigated by a federal ethics watchdog for failing to do so.
On Thursday, Mr. Trudeau told the Finance Committee in Ottawa that the decision to tap on the WE charity for the student volunteer program was made independently by the federal public service.
He says he only learned that the charity was recommended by the public service for the program in early May.
The WE Charity had previously paid the Prime Minister’s mother and brother to speak on events between 2017-18 and Mr Trudeau and his wife were involved with the organization.
The Prime Minister says he was aware that there would be an inquiry into the agreement due to those ties, so he told bureaucrats that he would “have to do due diligence” when he first learned of the plan to manage the program.
He said he came back two weeks later and told him that WE Charity was the only organization that could run the program.
“We the charity received no preferential treatment and not from anyone else,” he told MPs.
Opposition lawmakers on Thursday accused Mr Trudeau of throwing public service “under the bus”.
What is the background
Matters surrounding the decision to organize Canada’s new Student Service Grant Program to WE Charity
The program, which had an initial budget of C $ 912m ($ 680m, £ 534m), was meant to fund students for volunteer roles, helping to meet summer jobs shortages caused by the epidemic.
The WE Charity previously paid a total of more than $ 280,000 to the Prime Minister’s mother and brother to speak on events between 2017-18.
Both Mr. Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau regularly appeared at charity events.
Trudeau’s family members were also reimbursed for some expenses associated with these incidents.
We withdrew from the Charity Agreement over the dispute on 2 July. Mr. Trudeau has apologized for not distancing himself from related discussions.
The family of Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau also has a connection to the WE charity.
What is our charity?
The WE charity was founded 25 years ago by brothers Craig and Mark Kilberger at their parents’ home in Thornhill, Ontario, when Craig was just 12 years old.
Formerly known as Free the Children, the charity focused on ending child abuse and quickly gained international recognition.
The charity’s WE Day motivational speaking conventions have become a rite of passage for many young Canadians, ready for its message that they can change the world. The roster of celebrity speakers and artists has also appealed to many contestants.
It is now a comprehensive organization with operations in the UK, Canada and the US.
Its founders told MPs on July 28 that they did not receive a contribution agreement due to any political ties and did not benefit financially.
How will this affect Trudeau?
This is the third ethical inquiry in five years in Mr. Trudeau’s office.
In 2017, a government ethics watchdog ruled that the prime minister violated the rules of interest when he and his family celebrated a holiday with billionaire spiritual leader Aga Khan.
The billionaire foundation is a registered lobbyist and has received hundreds of crores from both the Liberal and Conservative sides of the federal government over the past several decades.
Last August, federal ethics tsar found that Mr. Trudeau broke the federal conflict of interests by trying to influence a former minister in the SNC-Lavalin corruption investigation.
In the wake of this latest controversy, Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal Party has taken a hit in the elections, although his government had previously been doing well on its response to the epidemic.
The Abacus data poll left the Liberals with a four-digit lead over conservatives on Thursday.
A survey by Nanos Research found that Trudeau was the preferred prime minister for 34% of Canadians, down from 40% last month. The Angus Reid Institute found that its approval ratings had fallen by 11 points since May – and the losses came mainly from Liberal voters.