Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defends his government’s decision to contract out the administration of its new Canada Student Services Grant (CSSG) program to a charity with close personal ties to his family. Trudeau said the public service considers the WE charity – founded by Craig and Mark Kielburger in 1995 – to be the “best and only” organization to administer the $ 912 million program, which he says has already received 25,000 requests since its official launch last Thursday.
The Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, is the organization’s ambassador and hosts a mental health podcast under her name. Trudeau has also spoken at several WE events worldwide.
“The Government of Canada is used to working with third-party charities to deliver programs. When we wanted to go ahead to help various food banks across the country, we worked with the charity Food Banks Canada to run the program, “he said. to reporters outside Rideau Cottage Monday morning.
When the government made the announcement last week, Minister of Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger said that the Department of Employment and Social Development had concluded that it would be better managed by the charity because of its scope and expertise.
“It is important that we can work with an organization that can ensure it has the capacity to carry out a program,” said Chagger on June 25.
Trudeau echoed this sentiment on Monday.
“They have networks across the country and the organizations they work with. They have already worked in recent years to provide service opportunities to young people, ”said the Prime Minister.
The Conservative Party has been concerned about the charity’s involvement and its ties to the Liberals.
MPs Pierre Poilievre, Dan Albas and Raquel Dancho wrote Sunday to Auditor General Karen Hogan asking her to include the decision to outsource the CSSG to WE in her audit of COVID-19 Liberal spending.
“By outsourcing this program to a third party, the appropriate channels for controlling the opposition, the very foundation of our parliamentary democracy, have been circumvented. Indeed, it is your office that will provide the most legitimate and transparent review of this program, “he reads. the letter.
To encourage volunteerism linked to a pandemic, the CSSG offers students and new graduates a one-time cash grant of $ 1,000 to $ 5,000 depending on the hours they serve.
The goal of the program is “to support post-secondary education costs for students in the fall” while helping charities and non-profit organizations working on the front lines of COVID-19.
To be eligible to participate in this program, participants must be 30 years of age or younger and be a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or student with refugee status. Applicants must also be:
- Enrolled in and attending college or university during the spring, summer or fall 2020 semesters;
A post-secondary graduate no earlier than December 2019; or
Study abroad but currently residing in Canada.
The Trudeau government has also criticized blurring the lines between volunteering and paid work.
“We know that thousands and thousands of young people want to mobilize and engage in their communities, serve in their communities, help their country and their fellow citizens through these difficult times,” said Trudeau.
“The idea of giving bonuses to young people who serve has been around for a long time and we know that is something really important. ”
In a CTV News interview, Volunteer Canada CEO Paula Speevak said that the reimbursement component of the program is one of the main reasons her organization decided not to participate in its national rollout when ‘she was approached by WE.
“The question that comes to everyone’s mind is: is it volunteering or is it a job and setting an hourly rate in this program will create an expectation among people that it is reasonable to expect to be paid for volunteering? ” she says.
“It really challenges the whole spirit of volunteering. ”
She said the initiative is becoming problematic even if it is considered paid work, since the pay structure of $ 1,000 per 100 hours equals $ 10 an hour, which is less than the minimum wage.
Volunteer Canada also raised concerns about the need for the request for volunteers at WE and the Chagger office.
“People are registering on various platforms that have been set up for COVID-19 and in many jurisdictions the experience is, there are thousands and thousands of people who have registered and still need to be deployed and this is because there is a capacity problem in the sector at the moment to be able to mobilize and get involved. ”
Speevak said that after a number of conversations with WE, deliberating over the organization’s involvement, it became clear that their jurisdiction was limited by the government’s mandate.
“There was no flexibility for WE as an organization to be able to address these specific concerns and, therefore, we had to withdraw. ”
Speevak clarified that she had no problem with WE administering the program and that she neither expected nor intended Volunteer Canada to do this.
Bell Media, owner of CTV News, is a media partner of WE Charity.
With files by Kevin Gallagher and Rachel Aiello from CTV