Redirect funds from botched volunteer grant program to student aid, NDP says

NDP MP Charlie Angus said today the government must redirect the $912 million earmarked for a student volunteer grant program to help cash-strapped students pay for tuition.

During a news conference in Ottawa, Angus said that since the government never spent the money on the controversial program, the promised funds should be delivered to students struggling to pay off debt or tuition.

“We have a number of students who are having to consider whether they’re going back to school or not,” he said.

“And with this crisis, I think the prime minister could send a very clear message and say they money that was supposed to be in this bizarre volunteer scheme that they came up with, we could use that to deal with student tuition and I think that would take a lot of pressure off students.”

Watch: NDP MP Charlie Angus on pandemic aid for students

Ontario NDP MP Charlie Angus calls on the government to use the $900-million to help relieve the burden of debt on Canadian students. 0:31

The Canada Student Services Grant, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on June 25, was supposed to offer students the means to fund their post-secondary education by volunteering for charities and non-profit groups fighting the pandemic.

But the government’s choice of WE Charity to run the program immediately crashed into allegations of a conflict of interest, due to Trudeau’s own ties to the charity and those of his then-finance minister, Bill Morneau.

Citing the controversy, WE eventually exited the project, which has since been abandoned by the federal government. The ethics commissioner is now investigating both Trudeau and Morneau.

The Canadian Federation of Students is calling for the $912 million to be spent on extending an emergency response benefit for students to December, or on boosting the number and amount of grants available to students.

“Most students had their summer job plans affected by the pandemic and the $1,250 a month has not been enough to make up the shortfalls,” said Nicole Brayiannis, the organization’s national deputy chairperson. 

Payments from the program ended on Aug. 29.

CBC News asked government officials whether there will be additional funding for students but has not yet received a response.

Parliament prorogued, committees suspended

Prime Minister Trudeau sought and obtained prorogation of Parliament until Sept. 23, which had the effect of shutting down the committees that were probing the WE Charity matter. At that time, the government released thousands of heavily redacted documents that included email, notes and memoranda related to the issue.

Angus today pointed to an exchange at the House of Commons finance committee on July 16, where Conservative MP Michael Barrett asked Youth Minister Bardish Chagger if she had met with WE officials prior to the recommendation to cabinet that the organization be tasked with running the program.

At the time, Chagger said she had not spoken with WE about the student volunteer program. Days later, she said that she had met with WE officials, but the subject of the discussion was another unsolicited social entrepreneurship program for youth — not the student volunteer program.

Angus said Chagger should resign because she misled the committee.

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Johny Watshon

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