Canada finance minister apologizes over expenses paid by charity for foreign travel

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau said on Wednesday he had repaid C$41,366 in travel expenses covered for him by a charity at the heart of an ethics probe and apologized for not doing so earlier, prompting new pressure from opposition legislators.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of Finance Bill Morneau answers a question in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle/File Photo

Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau face possible conflict-of-interest penalties over their ties with the WE Charity, which won a contract to run a C$900 million ($671 million) program to help students find work during the coronavirus outbreak.

Trudeau’s brother and mother had both already received speaking fees from WE, which also employs one of Morneau’s daughters. The affair is hurting the popularity of the ruling Liberals.

Trudeau has accepted an invitation to appear before the House of Commons finance committee, which is probing government ties with WE, his office said. No date has yet been set.

Morneau said he had written a check earlier on Wednesday to cover the costs of expenses WE paid during private trips he and his family took to Kenya and Ecuador.

Morneau said the matter was an oversight, insisting he had always intended to pay the full cost.

“Not doing so, even unknowingly, is not appropriate. I want to apologize for this error,” he told the committee.

The main opposition Conservative Party expressed disbelief and called on Morneau to resign.

“Do you expect us to believe that it is a mere coincidence that you repaid over C$41,000 ... on the same day you were expected to testify under oath about it?” asked Conservative legislator Pierre Poilievre.

Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE. The charity later walked away from the contract.

Morneau, 57, is a multimillionaire who has been finance minister since November 2015. He was fined by the ethics commissioner in 2017 for not declaring a French villa he owns.

($1=1.3411 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis