The co-founders of WE Charity are to testify before a House of Commons committee today as part of a parliamentary probe into a $912-million student-volunteer program that federal officials believed would cost $543 million.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger, who helped found the organization two decades ago, are scheduled to speak this afternoon with MPs on the finance committee about the Canada Student Service Grant program.
In a statement last week, the brothers said they agreed to testify to set the record straight about their involvement.
WE Charity backed out of administering the program in early July amid a controversy over the Liberals’ awarding the organization a sole-sourced contract despite its close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The controversy for the government has only deepened since, as the federal ethics watchdog 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.
Trudeau and his top aide, chief of staff Katie Telford, are scheduled to testify Thursday about the program and deal with WE.
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.
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.
WE was paid its first fees of $19.5 million on June 30 – seven days after it signed the federal deal on June 23. Three days later, on July 3, the organization backed out of the agreement. It has promised to repay every dollar it received.
At the time, WE said things were largely in place for the federal public service to manage.
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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.