Marc Kielburger quits Freshii Board of Directors

WE Charity co-founder Marc Kielburger has resigned from the Freshii board of directors according to a press release put out by the company yesterday.

Freshii is a fast casual dining chain of restaurants founded by Matthew Corrin. Freshii’s menu features wraps, bowl, burritos, salads and is targeted toward the health-conscious consumer who is concerned about nutrition and calories.

The company markets itself as a health and wellness brand. In 2014, Freshii partnered with WE Charity and donated meals to villages and a portion of proceeds from each entree to the charity founded by the Marc and his brother Craig.

The Kielburger brothers have been wrapped up in scandal as the two have tossed their network of charities, social enterprises, and real estate corporations into the mix of national politics.

The Trudeau government signed a single-source contract with the WE group to dispense close to $1 Billion earmarked for COVID19-relief to Canadian students via the Canada Summer Student Grant.

The scandal is that the WE group has paid members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family close to $500,000 since 2015 when he became Prime Minister.

It was also revealed that Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his family took two luxury vacations that were paid for by WE in 2017.

As the PM and his finance minister approved the WE contract at cabinet, the opposition members in Parliament have argued that this amounts to a significant conflict of interest.

The WE group also neglected to register to lobby the government of Canada at the time. They have done so recently and now appear in the lobbyist registrar – their registration dated retroactively – to describe multiple communications and points of contact.

The Kielburgers remarked during their testimony that they have a staffer responsible for government relations but that she had other duties. Opposition MPs argued that this hardly negated any obligation WE and its affiliates may have had to provide such disclosure.

In the Freshii release, the company notes that Marc Kielburger is leaving the Freshii board for “personal reasons”. The release also notes that Freshii’s financials took a hit last quarter due to the global pandemic and posted a net loss of $525,000 and closed 40 underperforming locations in Q2.

When did Justin Trudeau know about the WE partnership?

Something in the PM’s official itinerary may have put Justin Trudeau’s testimony on the WE scandal in question.

Justin Trudeau testified before the House Standing Committee on Finance yesterday. Trudeau and his Chief of Staff Katie Telford helped committee members contruct a timeline for the conception, execution, and shelving of the Canada Student Service Grant — the program the Trudeau government was set to deploy in partnership with the WE group and the Kielburgers.

I outlined key dates of timeline in my newsletter this morning (subscribe below!)

Here is a concise summary of those dates:

April 22nd – Government of Canada announces the Canada Summer Service Grant

May 4th – Sophie Gregoire Trudeau launches new podcast with the wife of Craig Kielburger, Leysa Cerswell Kielburger.

May 5th – The COVID cabinet committee considers and approves of the program and the partnership with the WE group. WE and its organization were able to start charging eligible expenses to the government of Canada on this date.

May 8th – Justin Trudeau says he found out about the WE affiliation with the CSSG and ‘pushed back’ given that his family had been closely involved with WE. (Trudeau told the committee he knew his family was receiving money from WE but didn’t know how much)

May 22nd – The cabinet approves the CSSG-WE group scheme.

June 23rd – The WE group and the Government of Canada sign the contribution agreement (sole-source contract). The contract covers expenses back to May 5th.

June 25th – Government makes the partnership public.

Let’s take a look at Justin Trudeau’s itinerary.

According to the Prime Minister’s own itinerary, on May 5th he was scheduled to attend the COVID committee. We know that the cabinet committee met on this date and approved the WE partnership according to the Trudeau/Telford testimony. Is this the cabinet committee or the general House of Commons committee? UPDATE: we’ve been informed that this refers to the House committee.

Bill Morneau sits on the COVID cabinet committee. WE paid for two of his trips to Africa and the Amazon. He should have been aware of the appearence of a conflict of interest before approving the WE partnership on May 5th.

Bill Morneau testifies before the Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)

The question remains, did Justin Trudeau know about the WE group partnership before May 8th when he said he pushed back? The cabinet committee approved the partnership on May 5th and presumably would not have if Trudeau was having doubts about the ‘appearence’ of conflict of interest as he testified. Did he have doubts on May 8th or sooner? When did he know about the proposed WE partnership?

Regardless, those doubts seem to be moot anyway as the whole of cabinet approved the Government of Canada/WE group partnership on June 23rd. Trudeau/Telford say that the decision was ‘binary’: help the students and get into bed with WE, or let students go without.

Will Justin Trudeau be recalled to committee? Will committee members be satisfied with Justin Trudeau’s testimony on the WE scandal?

Katie Telford testifies on the WE scandal before the Standing Committee on Finance (FINA)