Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the WE Charity is the only organization capable of administering more than $900 million in grants for students this summer.
Speaking to reporters during a COVID-19 briefing, Trudeau said federal public servants identified WE as the organization with the best nationwide network for connecting young people to paid volunteer positions this summer.
WE will administer the Canada Student Service Grant, which will provide eligible students with up to $5,000 to support the costs of post-secondary education in the fall. The amount of each grant will depend on the amount of time the recipient devotes to volunteer work.
The federal Liberal government has been criticized for allocating such a large sum of money to a third party that has ties to Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau. Grégoire Trudeau hosts a podcast for WE and has appeared at a number of their youth-oriented events.
The federal Conservatives are calling for an investigation of the government’s decision to have WE administer the program.
In a letter to Auditor General Karen Hogan, the Tories argue that “outsourcing” the Canada Student Service Grant to WE Charity undermines Parliament’s ability to monitor the aid program.
“The proper channels for Opposition scrutiny, the very bedrock of our parliamentary democracy, have been circumvented,” reads the letter signed by Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre, Dan Albas and Raquel Dancho.
“Indeed, it is your office that will provide the most legitimate and transparent examination of this program.”
Trudeau said the federal government has worked with a number of charities during the pandemic — it has given money to the United Way to fund grassroots organizations, he said, and also to Food Banks Canada — and there is nothing wrong with this new partnership with WE.
He said thousands of young people want to “step up and engage in their communities” and the grants will help them to do that.
Trudeau said it was the Department of Employment and Social Development that recommended tasking WE with doling out the grants. The international charity, formerly known as Free the Children, was started by human rights advocates Marc and Craig Kielburger in 1995.
“When our public servants looked at the potential partners, only the WE organization had the capacity to deliver the ambitious program that young people need for for the summer,” Trudeau said.
“WE organization is the largest national youth service organization in the country. They have networks in every corner of the country and organizations that they work with.”