WE not chosen to run volunteer program because of Liberal ties, founders say

WE not chosen to run volunteer program because of Liberal ties, founders say

The Kielburgers say they haven’t spoken with Trudeau or the Prime Minister’s Office about the program

The co-founders of WE Charity say their organization was selected to run a student-volunteer program because of their history, not because of any close ties to Liberal cabinet ministers.

Appearing before the House of Commons finance committee today, brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger say they regret not realizing how the deal to have WE run the Canada Student Service Grant would be perceived.

In their opening statement, the brothers say they would have never agreed to take part in a federal student-volunteer program had they known it could jeopardize the work the WE organization has done over 25 years.

The duo are scheduled to speak for four hours at the committee today as part of a parliamentary probe into a $912-million that federal officials believed would cost $543 million — and that WE believed would actually cost even less.

WE Charity backed out of administering the program in early July amid a controversy over the Liberal government’s decision to award the organization a sole-sourced contract despite its close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Trudeau and his top aide, chief of staff Katie Telford, are to testify Thursday about the program and the deal with WE.

The Kielburgers say they haven’t spoken with Trudeau or the Prime Minister’s Office about the program.

READ MORE: PM Trudeau agrees to appear at House of Commons finance committee over WE deal

The federal ethics commissioner has launched probes of Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau over their involvement in cabinet decisions despite WE’s having paid Trudeau’s family members speaking fees, and Morneau’s familial ties to the group.

Further compounding problems for the finance minister was his admission last week that he had just repaid the organization more than $41,000 in travel expenses for WE-sponsored trips he and his family took three years ago.

Opposition MPs have raised multiple questions about the due diligence conducted on the organization, arguing that testimony to date suggests the group had the inside track on the contract to run the program.

The program is supposed to provide grants of $1,000 for every 100 hours of volunteering, up to a maximum of $5,000 as part of a government aid program to help defray the cost of school in the fall.

WE was to administer the program and connect young people with service opportunities through an online platform that would have also paid WE a fee worth $43.5 million if the program reached its maximum potential.

The Kielburgers say there was no financial benefit for the charity.

A copy of the agreement filed with the committee this week noted that the federal government only planned to spend $500 million in grants, even though the Liberals touted the program as having a $912-million budget.

A spokesperson for Employment and Social Development Canada, the federal department overseeing the program, says the $543 million was what officials estimated it would cost to administer and pay grants to up to 100,000 eligible students or recent graduates — “the expected uptake of the program.”

“If demand exceeded the number of grants funded in original (agreement), additional funding would have still been available for the program,” spokesman Michael O’Shaughnessy said.

During testimony, Marc Kielburger said WE expected few students to actually reach the maximum grant level, with the majority volunteering between 100 and 300 hours.

He said WE estimated the true cost of the program to be between $200 million and $300 million — or roughly one-third of what the government said when Trudeau announced the program.

WE was paid its first fees of $19.5 million on June 30 — seven days after one of its arms, WE Charity Foundation, signed the federal deal on June 23.

Former board chair Michelle Douglas said the foundation didn’t appear to have a purpose outside of holding real estate, nor did the board receive a satisfactory explanation for its existence. She added that she wasn’t aware of it operating during her time on the board.

Three days later, the organization backed out of the agreement. It has promised to repay every dollar it received, about $30 million, but was still sorting that out details.

At the time, WE said a structure was largely in place for the federal public service to manage. In their opening statement, the brothers say there had been 35,000 applications and 24,000 placements. They say WE handed everything to the public service “hoping to save the program.”

However, problems have emerged with what WE put in place and the government has yet to announce a timeline to let students access the program.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusLiberals

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
110 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Provincial health officers announced 1,005 new cases throughout B.C.

File
TNRD to test emergency alert app

The Voyent Alert! emergency notification will be sent April 23.

Interior Health nurses administer Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
69 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

The total number of cases in the region is now at 9,840 since the pandemic began

Kelowna General Hospital (File photo)
Interior Health hospitals not strained by rising COVID case counts

While provincial hospitalizations rise, health care systems in the B.C. Interior remain robust, say officials

An Interior Health nurse administers Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines to seniors and care aids in Kelowna on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Phil McLachlan/Kelowna Capital News)
105 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

Just over 8,000 new vaccine doses administered in the region for a total of 158,000 to date

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. health minister says delay in Moderna vaccine ‘disappointing’

‘The sooner we get vaccines in people’s arms the better, and inconsistency in delivery is a consistent problem. This is simply a reality and not an issue of blame,’ Adrian Dix said Friday

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Island woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

Becomes first person in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Most Read