WE Charity contract to be studied by House finance committee

Globe and Mail (Ontario)

News | A3, Words: 646

by: Marieke Walsh

Opposition MPs have forced the Liberal government to release documents related to WE Charity's now-cancelled contract to administer a $912-million student volunteer program.

A motion NDP MP Peter Julian introduced at a meeting of the House of Commons finance committee on Tuesday got the support of all six opposition MPs and three of four Liberal MPs.

Toronto-area Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz abstained, but spoke against the motion in the discussion before the vote.

The government has not answered questions about the process used to award the contract to an organization with close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family.

Mr. Trudeau and his wife participate at WE events, and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau is an ambassador for the charity, which focuses on international development projects and youth education programs.

Mr. Trudeau announced on June 25 that WE Charity would administer the program. A week later, the contract was cancelled amid mounting questions and the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner announced he would investigate whether Mr. Trudeau broke ethics laws in connection with the contract to WE.

In addition to requesting the documents, the finance committee will study the process that led to WE winning the contract. As well, the government operations and estimates committee will consider studying the matter, and the federal Auditor-General and procurement ombudsman are looking at requests from Conservatives to investigate.

The new program will compensate students for volunteer work at a rate that is less than any province's minimum wage.

It was announced in April, but WE's role was only revealed when the program launched last month. The program offers students $1,000 for every 100 hours of volunteer work completed between June 25 and Oct. 31, 2020, to a maximum of $5,000.

The Globe and Mail is a media partner of WE Charity.

The government has until Aug. 8 to produce the documents. Diversity and Inclusion and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger is responsible for the student volunteer grant program. Her office said it "will work with the finance committee to ensure that any request is answered."

Mr. Julian's motion called for the release of any contracts concluded with WE Charity and ME to WE, and all briefing notes, memos and e-mails regarding the design and creation of the Canada Student Service Grant, as well as any written correspondence and records of other correspondence with WE Charity and ME to WE from March, 2020. ME to WE is a forprofit part of the WE organization that sells products and services.

In her comments to the committee, Ms. Dzerowicz questioned the point of the motion and the one-month timeline to produce the documents. "My understanding is that there's been no money spent, so I'm not quite sure what financial accountability we're actually looking at by asking for all these documents," she said. "It's a huge amount of data gathering in a short period of time and to what end?" Since the Ethics Commissioner is already investigating the issue, she said, the motion is redundant, but maintained she believes the need for transparency is paramount and "extraordinarily important."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said he thought the timeframe was too generous.

"These documents should be ready now," he said.

Ms. Dzerowicz was also the only MP to vote against Mr. Poilievre's motion for the committee to study the WE Charity contract. The motion passed and the committee will hold four meetings in July to delve into the matter.

Canada's most senior civil servant, Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart; an unnamed senior assistant deputy minister who spoke with a WE Charity co-founder about the contract; and Ms. Chagger are listed as witnesses on Mr. Poilievre's motion.

The government has not yet answered questions from The Globe, first sent on Friday, asking it to explain the "transparent and open" process that Mr. Trudeau said was used to award the contract to WE Charity.

With reports from Bill Curry

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