It was just a week ago that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau testified before the House of Commons Finance Committee and in something that seems normal for 2020, it’s felt like it’s been longer. Since then we’ve seen polling come out showing the damage the WE Scandal has done to the Liberals across the country, basically eliminating any bump in the polls their previous work in response to COVID-19 gave them.
With the Ethics Commissioner still investigating both the Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill Morneau (an investigation that has since widened) there has always been the expectation that more bad news would be coming for the Liberals. But while we wait for that to come, the “drip, drip, drip” of news about this story continues with details that continues to poke holes in the governments story. This morning that dripping brought us a story from Joël-Denis Bellavance of La Presse with revelations that blow a big hole in the Liberals explanations:
I’ve been saying from the start of this whole story that the idea that the public service recommended WE Charity to run this program and said that they were “the only organization that could run this program” never smelled right to me. Not only did it completely contradiction my lived experience working on funding programs in the federal civil service, it also didn’t add up that the civil service would create a program that was so narrow in its administration that would lead to only one org being able to run it. It just wasn’t credible and didn’t pass the smell test.
But even with all those red flags and questions about WE’s ability to run this program, even I assumed that the ability to operate the program in both official languages wouldn’t be an issue. This isn’t the 1950’s and there’s no way in Hell that the public service would recommend that an organization run a national program that wasn’t capable of running it in both official languages, right? Well according to La Presse’s reporting, that’s exactly what they did, and my jaw just hit the floor. Seriously, how in the Hell was that allowed to happen, especially when we have a professional and bilingual civil service with presence in every corner of the country who could have run this program?
The other layer of the reported sub-contracting out of the administration of this program in Quebec and francophone communities is that it also blows a hole in the line that we’ve been fed that WE Charity had this vast network of connections and community partners everywhere that no one else could match. If that were the case, you’d think that would extend to the francophone community, right? But again, it appears not to be the case. WE might have been the juggernaut described above in some parts of the country, but that would appear to be only in the anglophone community. The idea that the civil service didn’t know this or assumed it to be the case is also beyond belief.
During the response to COVID-19 we have extoled the virtues of moving fast to respond, even if that involves making some mistakes. That’s been generally accepted because it’s what the situation demanded. But sole sourcing the administration of a $900 million federal government program and not verifying that they can run the bloody thing in both official languages? That’s not the kind of mistake that qualifies as an acceptable “whoops”. For a program like this, the ability to run the service in both official languages is not a “nice to have” or a distant qualification; it’s about as core a qualification as one gets. It’s the very definition of a “requirement” because you can’t properly run a program that isn’t being offered in both official languages. That isn’t the case in 2020, that wasn’t the case in 1990 either. This isn’t a new concept and is a very basic expectation of federal government programs. So the idea that WE couldn’t deliver on this very simple, basic first step on their own just raises more questions about how they got this contract to begin with.
Finally, I don’t know how you get a contract like that approved, with such a major oversight included, that doesn’t involve in someone in cabinet losing their jobs. I’m not usually the one calling for a minister to be fired or to resign, but politically this is a serious oversight that never should have happened and adds even more stink to this story. This is a fireable offence and I can guarantee you 35 MPs in the government caucus from Quebec who are quite unhappy with this, the Prime Minister included in them. Add to that the other dozen or so Liberal MPs who represent ridings with very large francophone communities in the rest of the country, there should be more than a few voices calling for serious consequences for such a mistake.
It’s amazing how the scale of this scandal has continued to grow beyond the point where you can chalk it up to a rushed process or simple oversights. We’re a country that is officially bilingual and that’s non-negotiable when it comes to offering government services. Forgetting that is not an oversight, it’s a serious mark against this recipient, adding another serious problem to a situation that already had many red flags. As the pile of stories like these grow, it becomes harder and harder to see how the government gets out of this without some serious consequences. If they don’t come from accountability measures at the cabinet table, they will come from the electorate the next time we vote. The only thing left for the Liberals to choose is who they let make that decision. And if they don’t choose soon enough, that decision might get made for them.