The Plague-Ground – Let Me Count The Ways

You’re a wealthy donor to a great cause. You are deeply committed to it and have given money persistently over the years to support it. You are asked to go on a Donor Tour to Africa or Central America where you get to see first-hand how your generosity is being put to work.

You don’t think twice about paying your own expenses, because everyone pays their costs on Donor Tours. Always. Your cause may organize meetings, events and meals while you’re there which they happily pay for because they know they’ll likely get much more back when you land back home, newly enthused with your cause and its work.

This is pretty much what happened with Bill Morneau. His family’s donated $100,000 to WE since 2018, and over the years have donated more than a million dollars to help refugee students from Kenya come to Canada for their education.

Mr. Morneau is wealthy and committed to the international development projects managed by WE. He is also smart, hard-working, and blessed with good luck. He studied at INSEAD and the London School of Economics and married Nancy McCain. He’s also served as chair of the board of St. Michael’s Hospital and Covenant House. He made many millions in business as CEO of the human resources company, Morneau Shepell, which he left in 2015 to pursue a career in federal politics.

All together, Bill Morneau represents many of the best qualities of being a Canadian and of public service.

But like all of us, he has a character flaw.

Given his confession yesterday about forgetting to reimburse $41,366 in travel expenses to WE for his family’s Donor Tours to Kenya and Nicaragua, it could be a fatal flaw.

His flaw is that he forgets things. Then he remembers them later. When a gun is at his head.

This is not a good quality in any Cabinet Minister, and in the Finance Minister in charge of the world’s 10th largest economy, it’s a dreadful quality.

His hasty repayment to WE is not the first time he’s forgotten and paid the price in embarrassment. It’s the third time.

In 2017 he failed to disclose to Canada’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner the existence of a private real estate holding company in France owned by him and his wife. The company owns the family villa in Avignon. Morneau said, and let me quote Wikipedia here: “This was the result of administrative confusion which led to only the property, and not the legal structure, being disclosed.”

So, forgetfulness and administrative confusion.

Later that Fall, it was revealed that he didn’t place his assets in a blind trust when he was appointed Minister of Finance, which included his more than 2 million shares in Morneau Shepell. When news of this became public, he sold those shares and put the rest of his assets in a blind trust.

More forgetfulness and administrative confusion.

I’d be more prepared to forgive these peccadilloes were it not for the fact that each of these lapses work in his favour – until they are made public and …kaboom!

So Bill Morneau may be guilty of both bad management and its much more dangerous cousin in politics, bad luck.

But my real anger is directed to the organization he hastily wrote that cheque to yesterday.

WE must have known that their Donor Tour guest had paid $52,000 of his family’s trip expenses, but hadn’t paid the remaining $41,366. WE must have had to pay those expenses instead.

Did they just forget to remind him? Did they not record it as an unpaid receivable on their books? Or did they leave it in a kind of limbo of “don’t ask, don’t tell”? After all, Bill Morneau isn’t just any wealthy committed donor. He is the Minister of Finance, a gatekeeper to federal contracts, a celebrity in the corridors of wealth and power.

Whose daughter works in the travel department of WE.

Now that is bad luck.

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16 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – Let Me Count The Ways”

  1. I think ‘forgetful’ Bill Morneau is a dead man walking … and still apologizing. I’m sure the PM is taking notes.

  2. And, most importantly, did not recuse himself from a Cabinet discussion which resulted in a big contract to WE.

  3. Bob: You should be writing these for the Globe or the Star. Best piece I’ve seen yet from al media on the WE scandal. Chapeau!

  4. Let the soiled keep getting exposed however every once in a while I yearn for something positive. For a while I was sleeping better. That is gone now.

  5. Michael Gundy

    Well Bob, are we seeing an example of undisclosed Lobbying? Lobbying as in influencing a public figure with inducements? In any case, the Office of the Commissioner of Lobbying ( does not show a Lobbying entity called “WE Charity”, Free the Children” or “Kielburger”. Bill Morneau seems to have forgotten that basic HR fact, “Read the fine print of your job description”.

    1. Michael — Yes, what makes it so odd is “These are smart people!” I guess it’s the fallacy of thinking that if they;’re smart on the nuances,
      they must be smart on the basics. I guess not.

  6. Peter Heywood

    Bob, it’s another example of the hubris that plagues so many of those that rise to positions of power. Are they so blind that they simply can’t comprehend the impact of decisions like these? I can’t imagine they consciously think they can get away with such obvious conflicts in this day and age, so it must be that they simply don’t see it, and are surrounded by those who fear to bring it up. Whether it’s SNC or WE, a “stink-o-meter” would be a very useful device for them to acquire, except that the arrogance that accompanies their blindness means they’d never turn it on.

    1. Peter — Let’s call it “systemic entitlement” which, like systemic racism, is not understood by the racist.


    very well written Bob…it’s so sad. However, not to excuse Bill Morneau or Nancy McCain…but…folks in this snack bracket generally don’t sit down and review the monthly bills and write cheques or do online banking. They have personal assistants who take care of those details. What I find has been pointed out by an earlier writer…why didn’t WE or ME TO WE…or whoever send the Morneau/McCain’s an invoice for the outstanding balance? Surely then their executive assistant would have taken care of this some time ago….

    1. Anita – I agree on both your points. Why didn’t WE send an invoice? And why didn’t the EA flag this expense?
      I fear it’s goping to get murkier and darker with each passing day.

      1. It is always so much easier to blame it on the help. The more this scandal is excavated,the more it resembles the Sponsorship debacle. Calling John Gomery!

  8. Had this “forgetfulness’ and” administrative confusion ” happened to another Canadian not as powerfully connected, I doubt ANY tolerance would be shown. Also distressing to read that staff is being blamed for repeated “lapses”.

    1. I agree. Someone in great power can’t afford to consgtantly blame their staff.
      You saw today’s blog on vaccines?

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