How the WE Charity scandal led to the cancellation of the Canadian Student Service Grant program
By Sara Wong, Peak Partner
On June 25, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled a new initiative — the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) program — that would provide paid volunteer jobs for post-secondary students and recent graduates. However, before the $900 million scheme could officially launch, the WE Charity scandal came to light. Here is a timeline of events that highlight the depth of this political controversy:
July 3: The WE Charity backed out of its $19.5 million contract with the Liberal government to run the CSSG, as criticism continued to grow over the organization’s founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, and their connection with the Trudeau family. Following WE Charity’s announcement, World News reports that Canada’s Ethics Commissioner, Mario Dion, has said “he would begin a review [into the federal government’s handling of the WE Charity grant] and that he had informed Trudeau” on the same day.
July 9: Financial ties between WE Charity and members of the Trudeau family are revealed. According CTV News“Trudeau’s mother, Margaret Trudeau, spoke at approximately 28 events and was paid [a total of] $250,000 in speaker fees between 2016 and 2020. His brother, Alexandre Trudeau, also spoke at eight events from 2017 to 2018 and received a total of approximately $32,000. Radio-Canada News would later add to this report, writing in an Instagram caption that “the Prime Minister’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, attended seven WE events and was reimbursed a total of $25,326”.
July 16: The Ethics Commissioner launches a separate investigation into then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau. Like Justin Trudeau, Morneau had family ties to the WE Charity. His two daughters, Grace Acan and Clare Morneau, worked for WE; the former was a contract employee, while the latter spoke at several WE Day events. Similar to Trudeau again, Morneau did not recuse himself from government decision-making on which organization would lead the CSSG program.
22nd of July : World News finds out that the contract the Trudeau government gave WE was for their foundation, not their charity, which Trudeau announced the money was going to. Apparently, the WE Charity Foundation “was described by WE as inactive in August 2018 and did not become a federally registered charity until April 2019. Its stated purpose was to hold tens of millions of WE real estate. charity”. Also that day, Bill Morneau reimbursed $41,000 in expenses incurred on his family’s WE Charity trips to Kenya and Ecuador.
July 28: Craig and Marc Kielburger testify (virtually) before the finance committee. The meeting lasted just under four hours. In a clip posted by @cbcnews on InstagramCraig Kielburger is recorded saying the following: “I have never seen the Prime Minister or Sophie Grégoire Trudeau in a social setting [ . . . ] the McCain-Morneau family are very generous philanthropists and we’ve hosted them on humanitarian trips, and, you know, it’s all about advancing the cause [ . . . ] what we are doing here is fulfilling the purpose of our charity and that is a difference from a personal relationship.
July 29: Radio-Canada News releases an investigative report revealing that in 2018, WE Charity employees in Toronto were coerced into attending a holiday party hosted by Bill Morneau. A former employee, who remained anonymous in Radio Canada article, explains that they were instructed “to go after work to ‘fill the room’ and that [the celebration was described] as if it were a “WE event or a Craig Kielburger event”. The reason the employees didn’t speak up sooner was because of their NDAs (non-disclosure agreements), which Radio Canada learned “prohibits staff from disclosing ‘business and/or personal information about Craig Kielburger, Marc Kielburger’ and ‘any person or company’ with whom WE ‘enters into a strategic alliance or other partnership agreement’.”
July 30: Justin Trudeau testifies before the finance committee, also done virtually. He asserted, as quoted from World News, “that he knew nothing about the decision to give the WE Charity the deal until the matter came before his cabinet in early May.” You can watch the entire meeting on Youtube.
August 17: Bill Morneau resigns as finance minister and MP. During his press conferenceMorneau said he wished “that in hindsight, [the government, including himself] had done different things around the We Charity.
September 9: Craig and Marc Kielburger announce that they will be leaving the WE organization and that WE Charity will cease operations in Canada. The Globe and Mail points out that “the charity’s statement did not specify the future of its operations in the United States or Great Britain and did not address the future of ME to WE”.
October 8: At the Ethics Committee meeting held on this date, the Conservative Party introduced a motion to “revive the request for documents from the speaking organization WE Charity used to pay out hundreds of thousands of dollars to members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family. ”, CTV News” writes Rachel Gilmore. These documents had been requested at the end of July, but “when Trudeau prorogued Parliament, the request evaporated alongside all the other investigations of the committee into the WE controversy”. In addition, the meeting was adjourned before the motion can be put to a vote The next meeting of the ethics committee has not been scheduled.
With the ongoing WE Charity scandal, the CSSG program was completely scrapped. “I asked some friends to sign up. There were a lot of remote opportunities, but other than taking apps, nothing ever happened,” one user noted on an SFU Discord when I asked about the effect of the WE Charity scandal on students.
On the scandal itself, the user added: “We increased student loans instead [now that the CSSG is not running]which should have been done from the start, but instead we spent all that money to start something that logistically would never fit into a summer schedule anyway.
Prior to its cancellation, approximately 35,000 students had applied to participate.
“Personally: I was looking for a summer job to fund my studies, but due to COVID-19, the job market was (and still is) tough, with many places closing or freezing hiring. When the student service program was announced, I was hoping to join it because it would at least make me some money and allow me to put some experience on my resume, as well as get a reference,” I said. shared an SFU student via Instagram.
When asked how the canceled program has affected them, the student replied, “I’m currently using CESB money to pay for tuition and supplies, but I’m not sure what my prospects are. longer-term financials.
The CESB program has now ended, leaving many students without any financial support from the government. Since the close of applications for the CESB, the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been asking Justin Trudeau to grant more financial assistance to post-secondary students and recent graduates.
As reported in GatewayNDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona — Heather McPherson — “wants all the money [that was] allocated to [the CSSG] program to spend to extend the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB).
Similar to CASA and CFS, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) has published a statement calling on the federal government to increase financial aid for students. Notably, the SFSS released its statement while the CESB was still in effect and before the CSSG program was announced.