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

Emergency crews were called to an ATV rollover on Harrison East Forest Service Road on Saturday, Jan. 16, 2021. (Google Maps)
Two people involved in ATV rollover 100 feet down ravine in Harrison, at least one injured

Incident happened shortly before 5 p.m. on Harrison East Forest Service Road

sdf
Another Mission student arrested for assault, in 2nd case of in-school violence this week

RCMP notified of local Instagram page with videos (now deleted) showing student assaults, bullying

Two people on a paddleboard take advantage of a calm Cultus Lake on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
WEATHER: Forecast calls for lots of sun in Fraser Valley this coming week

Most of next seven days will be sunny for eastern Fraser Valley, according to Environment Canada

Katie Smith and Richard Coombs are teh couple behind Agassiz Delivered, a new delivery company that has taken off during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Agassiz Delivered/Facebook)
Local couple keeps Agassiz delivered

What started out as takeout delivery has turned into a pandemic business boom

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Agassiz long term care homes receive first COVID-19 shot

Fraser Health says all 151 care homes in the region will have had vaccination clinics by Jan. 15

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targeted shooting Saturday morning

(Photo by Kevin Hill)
40 cases linked to Surrey Memorial Hospital COVID-19 outbreak

Fraser Health says two death are associated with the outbreak

JaHyung Lee, “Canada’s oldest senior” at 110 years old, received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. He lives at Amenida Seniors Community in Newton. (Submitted photo: Amenida Seniors Community)
A unique-looking deer has been visiting a Nanoose Bay property with its mother. (Frieda Van der Ree photo)
A deer with 3 ears? Unique animal routinely visits B.C. property

Experts say interesting look may be result of an injury rather than an odd birth defect

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. teachers say COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: B.C. man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Most Read