Canada finance minister faces ethics probe over charity program, alongside Trudeau


By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA, July 16 (Reuters) - Canada's independent ethics commissioner on Thursday launched a conflict-of-interest investigation into Finance Minister Bill Morneau for his part in selecting a charity his daughter works for to run a multibillion dollar student grant program.

Morneau, who has been leading the government's economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic, joined a cabinet vote picking WE Charity Canada to administer a C$900 million ($665.1 million) program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the grants on June 25, but the charity backed out about a week later.

Earlier this month, Trudeau was put under his third ethics probe for taking part in the same cabinet vote even though his family members have been paid to speak at some of the charity's events in recent years.

Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion is looking into whether Morneau broke rules that prohibit politicians from making, or participating in, decisions that further their personal interests, Dion's office said a statement.

Trudeau apologized in a nationally televised news conference on Monday for taking part in the decision even though his mother, Margaret, has received C$250,000 in speaking fees from the charity, while his brother, Alexandre, has taken in about C$32,000.

Morneau's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the minister said last week that he had not recused himself from the vote.

"I now realize I should have in order to avoid any perception of conflict," he said. "I apologize for not doing so, and moving forward, I will recuse myself from any future discussions related to WE (Charity)."

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.

It takes on average about seven months to complete an investigation, Dion's office said on Twitter.

($1 = 1.3531 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Richard Chang)

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