July 31, 2020

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been binging on the TV series “Billions”.

And given what’s going on in Ottawa these days, my timing’s been perfect.

If you haven’t seen it yet – I’m halfway through season four of five -  “Billions” evolves around an American hedge fund manager named Bobby Axelrod (played by Damien Lewis) who makes, invests, spends and shuffles around billions of dollars all the while trying to avoid the clutches of the law, represented by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giametti).

The word “billions”, then, is one I’ve heard a lot this month. Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades causally throw schemes and ideas involving “billions” of dollars around as we watch on TV in our home every night. And every morning for several weeks starting in April I’ve seen the Prime Minister and Finance Minister announce “billions” of federal government money go out the door in COVID-19 economic relief.

Bobby Axelrod and Chuck Rhoades Justin Trudeau and Bill Morneau Craig and Marc Kielburger
"Bobby Axelrod" & "Chuck Rhoades" Justin Trudeau & Bill Morneau Craig and Marc Kielburger

But it’s only been in the past few weeks, as the WE scandal has hit, that I’ve taken a moment to really think how much $1 billion really is.

Because that’s the amount of money that our federal government was going to give to Craig and Marc Kielburger and their far-flung network of charity and for-profit organizations.

There’s no hint at this point of Trudeau and Morneau engaging in Axelrod-Rhoades type of criminal behavior, but our top two Liberals were indeed on the cusp of throwing a BILLION of our tax dollars into what looks like a hot mess.

Looking back at what we’ve learned, it’s absolutely incredulous to think that our government has handled this so sloppily. Here’s what we’ve seen:

  • WE appears to have poor corporate governance, no internal controls, has violated their bank covenants, were not registered as lobbyists, fired their Chair when she asked tough questions about expenses, were paying volunteers “grants”, and likely hired investigators to stalk journalists.

  • The Prime Minister and Finance Minister were clearly in conflict of interest in this issue, as any normal, sane business person or corporate governance advisor could clearly see. Somehow the top two members of the Liberal government either didn’t see it (yikes) or chose to ignore it. They got caught, apologized and the Prime Minister is facing his third ethics violation while the Finance Minister is facing his first while showing truly his “elitist” status by admitting he overlooked paying WE back $41K in travel expenses.

It gets worse. Want to see what WE is all about, what the leadership messaging looks like, and what platform YOUR tax dollars was about to support?

Watch this very cringeworthy video and you’ll get the idea:

Are you nauseous after watching that? Me too. To think, this group was about to get $1 billion in federal taxpayer funds until the whole can of worms opened up and the hot, slithering, slimy mess was exposed.

Ok – so let’s again look at HOW MUCH IS $1 BILLION? How can we relate to that amount of money?

Let’s look at it this way from the perspective of any individual or any family in Edmonton Strathcona:

  • Each of the 106,000 residents of Edmonton Strathcona could write a cheque for $9,430 and that would total $1 billion.
  • Median annual income in the riding is just below $40,000, or $3,333 per month.
  • So, if the average Edmonton Strathcona would write a monthly cheque for $785 for one year to WE, the $1 billion would be covered.


  • Each household in Edmonton Strathcona could donate about $13,000 to cover $1 billion.
  • With median annual household income of $77,000 in the riding, that means that median monthly income per household is about $6,400.
  • So, if every family in Strathcona wrote a monthly cheque for $1,085 for a year to WE, the $1 billion would be covered.


So there you go. If every resident of Edmonton Strathcona wrote a cheque for $785 each month for a year, or if each Edmonton Strathcona family wrote a cheque for $1,085 every month for a year, then we’d have $1 billion for WE. Trips to Kenya, celebrity cocktails, adoring crowds of youths and their parents, etc. etc.

You up for that? I didn’t think so. Me neither.

I’m pretty sure that Bobby Axelrod would pass on that as well.


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