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WE Charity spent hundreds of thousands on U.S. political consultants, IRS filings show – The Globe and Mail

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Marc Kielburger, screen left, and Craig Kielburger, screen right, appear as witnesses via videoconference during a House of Commons finance committee in the Wellington Building in Ottawa on on July 28, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

WE Charity spent more than US$600,000 on political consultants in Washington last year, including a firm co-founded by a trio of long-time Republican Party strategists.

The U.S. arm of the Toronto-based charity paid three consultancies a total of US$605,853 in the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2019, according to filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

The payments included US$130,000 to Firehouse Strategies, which was co-founded by three veterans of Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign: Terry Sullivan, the campaign manager; Alex Conant, the communications director; and Will Holley, the chief adviser on delegate strategy.

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The Firehouse website says it is a “full-service public affairs firm that focuses on delivering targeted persuasion campaigns.” It has become a regular pollster for the Republican Party, and the partners are frequent commentators on the upcoming presidential contest. It says its team “curates authentic content from media sources and influencers.”

Matt Terrill, a Firehouse partner who served as chief of staff on the Rubio campaign, said the firm’s work for WE mainly involved the annual gatherings the charity describes as “a powerful celebration of individuals who are making an impact.”

“Our efforts were focused on supporting WE Charity’s WE Day events, specifically in key regions in the United States, including Washington, D.C.,” Mr. Terrill said in an e-mail. “We represent several Fortune 100 companies, major trade associations and non-profits.”

WE Day events have been held in 19 cities across Canada, the U.S., Britain and the Caribbean. In the U.S., the arena-sized affairs have taken place in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle. There has yet to be a WE Day in Washington, D.C.

WE officials did not respond to questions about why the charity hired the consultants.

Republican operatives, including two with links to Mr. Rubio’s campaign, wrote a series of articles in 2018 and 2019 that sought to discredit Canadaland, a news outlet that has published investigative stories over the past two years raising questions about WE and its initiatives focusing on child labour and overseas development.

WE has denied any wrongdoing and has been critical of the coverage. Lawyers for the charity issued notices of libel but did not file a lawsuit, Canadaland has said. One of the charity’s lawyers hired a private investigation firm to conduct background checks on two of its journalists, according to Canadaland publisher Jesse Brown, who posted what he described as an excerpt from one of the background checks on his Twitter account this month.

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Read Craig Kielburger’s opening remarks to the federal finance committee

In testimony before the House of Commons finance committee this week, MP Pierre Poilievre repeatedly asked whether WE’s lawyers had hired a private investigator to look into the Canadaland journalists, but WE founders Craig and Marc Kielburger declined to answer the question.

Last year, before the Firehouse contract came to light, Canadaland questioned why a number of U.S. Republican consultants had written articles attacking the news outlet and whether it was part of an organized campaign.

Among the Republican operatives who attacked Canadaland is Ben Proler, who worked on Mr. Rubio’s presidential campaign and is currently on the board of the U.S. political action committee Maverick PAC, which “provides a platform to engage the next generation of young, conservative professionals in business and politics.”

In an article in a Texas newspaper last year, Mr. Proler criticized Canadaland and complained that the news outlet was “adding to Canada’s growing fake news fears.” The newspaper, The Southeast Texas Record, is a trade publication that primarily covers the state’s legal system.

Mr. Proler was unavailable for comment.

Another U.S. Republican who has tried to discredit Canadaland is Zachary Almond, a former chair of the North Carolina Federation of College Republicans and a former political consultant to Representative Robert Pittenger, one of the leaders of Mr. Rubio’s presidential campaign in North Carolina. In November, 2018, Mr. Almond wrote an article for Red State, a U.S. conservative blog, criticizing Canadaland for “false content.”

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Reached by phone Tuesday, he declined to comment.

Mr. Proler’s and Mr. Almond’s Twitter accounts both show connections to Firehouse Strategies. Of the 244 accounts that Mr. Almond follows on Twitter, three of them are Firehouse, Mr. Conant and Mr. Terrill. Of the 118 accounts Mr. Proler follows, three are Mr. Conant, Mr. Sullivan and Firehouse vice-president Brooke Sours. Of the 175 accounts Mr. Terrill followed, one was Mr. Almond – until he unfollowed him Monday.

Mr. Sullivan, in an April, 2019, podcast, said a possible communications strategy is to “figure out who the opponent is … and let’s just go get 18 bad stories about them.” He added: “Our belief is in modern communications you either throw spears or you catch spears. Catching them is no fun.”

Mr. Brown, contacted by The Globe and Mail, said he wants to know whether Firehouse used those tactics against Canadaland. “Firehouse Strategies is known for exactly the kind of covert attack campaigns that Canadaland was targeted by,” he said. “Why did WE use charitable funds to hire such a firm? WE Charity needs to provide transparency.”

WE Charity has been the focus of controversy lately over a federal government contract it was awarded to administer the Canada Student Service Grant. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the program on April 22, and the government revealed in June that WE would run it. The contract was cancelled on July 3 after conflict-of-interest accusations involving Mr. Trudeau and members of his family, who have a long history with the organization.

Read former WE Charity board chair Michelle Douglas’s opening remarks to the federal finance committee

In her testimony before the House of Commons finance committee Tuesday, Michelle Douglas, the former board chair of WE Charity in Canada, cited the complexity and lack of transparency of WE’s operations as some of the reasons she resigned from the board in March.

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The IRS filing shows that WE also paid consultancy 202 Strategies US$297,570 during the last fiscal year. The Washington-based firm is headed by Stephan Miller, an Israeli-American pollster and political consultant. “The hallmark of our work is the development of political, media and communications strategies, based on deep insights into your voters, consumers or target audiences gathered through polling and focus groups,” the company says on its website.

Officials at 202 did not respond to questions about their work with WE. On its IRS filing, the charity said all the payments were for “consulting services.”

WE also paid David Baum and Associates US$178,283 in consulting fees in the last fiscal year. Mr. Baum, an organizational psychologist, has been a long-time consultant to WE and highlights the charity on his website. “I partner with exceptional organizations and people and make them better. Jane Goodall, Condé Nast, WE, the Philadelphia Flyers, and Life is Good have all counted on me,” his website says. The site also includes an endorsement from Craig Kielburger: “An invaluable mentor over many years. We couldn’t have done it without him.”

IRS filings show that WE paid Mr. Baum’s firm $644,029 from 2016 to 2019. He has been an adviser to the Kielburgers for more than 15 years. “I stand behind them as people, and WE as an organization, because I have spent thousands of hours with Marc, Craig and their remarkable people,” Mr. Baum writes on his website.

With a report from Jon Horler, special to The Globe and Mail

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Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down

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Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.

A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.

“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.

Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.

Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.

The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.

While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.

The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government

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Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER

“We’ll be back, soon.”

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”

NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS

“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER

“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to

@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”

TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER

“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”

FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN

“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”

BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER

“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”

CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER

“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA

“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”

MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT

“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”

DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”

EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM

“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”

SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER

“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.

Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.

But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.

“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.

“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”

The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.

“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.

Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.

The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.

NORTHERN IRELAND

Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.

Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.

Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.

“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.

Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.

“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”

The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.

Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.

Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)

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