TORONTO - Distraction. Diversion. Two of three words that ran across my mind as I sat through the parliamentary Committee’s hearing into the WE affair yesterday, July 28. The other was Deceit. I had the same sensation later as I sat through a staged debate on the role of the Integrity Commissioner at the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
Two brothers, the Kielburgers, at the center of the WE controversy, must have thought they could outsmart “local yokels” who double as MPs. They were to have been the beneficiaries of federal government largesse designed to reward students for “volunteer work” so that they could salt away funds for their education. $912 million had been “liberated” from government vaults by Covid-19 for this purpose.
The “scheme” (not to be confused with a well-thought-out plan) – withered and died almost the moment it saw the light of day. The exposure laid bare traces of some questionable conduct by several Ministers, including the Prime Minister and his senior staff. Some “heads will roll”.
Both the Ethics Commissioner and the Finance Committee are investigating. Yesterday’s exchanges before the Committee were merely a portent of things expected tomorrow, when the Prime Minister (followed then by his chief of staff) will appear. The Opposition Parties will surely have sharpened their tools by then.
For the Kielburgers, their WE octopus, and the reputation of Charitable organizations in general, the future does not look very auspicious. It is difficult to see these “charities” (there are some 86,000 of them in the country) as little more than agencies for recycling money. The Kielburgers’ performance did not help the cause.
The extent of the fallout prompted a Trustee at the TCDSB (Markus de Domenico), himself currently embroiled in code of conduct recriminations and complaints with other trustees and electors, to introduce a Motion asking that his Board sever ties with WE until the air is cleared. The TCDSB has a special relationship with and attachment to the brothers and the WE chameleon.
“I think we have to show our families, our children and our parents, that if we’re going to in any way participate, partner, or endorse something, that we’re certain that it meets the standards of our Catholic board,” Mr. de Domenico told the Toronto Star, coincidently, July 28 (even though the notice of motion had been presented the week prior).
Those “standards” – whatever they may be - change with the wind, or the whim of what are now euphemistically called “the four horsemen of the apocalypse of Catholic education” and their enablers/accomplices. The TCDSB had hired an (interim) Integrity Commissioner to provide guidance for appropriate behaviour, to investigate code of conduct transgressions, to evaluate conflict of interest violations and to recommend sanctions, if any.
Tuesday evening, the TCDSB convened yet another meeting to outline, in public session, the parameters within which that Integrity Commissioner would operate. Suffice it to say that the “foursome” (now, plus one) not only do not want someone looking over their shoulder, so to speak, they do not want any guidance.
Trustee Daniel Di Giorgio attempted to secure approval for an amendment restricting the Integrity Commissioner to questions and issues raised after August 1 – a technique often termed “covering your tracks”. For good measure, they caused their favourite “outside legal counsel” to present a supporting opinion that the Integrity Commissioner’s role is “purely advisory”.
The amendment failed but the reputational damage continues. Trustees can do whatever they want. The Director, Rory McGuckin, must be relieved that he will be gone in short order. Pity his replacement and any supporter of Catholic schools in Toronto. Trustee Markus de Domenico and his minions will be the sole determinants of those Catholic standards.