CON­FU­SION OVER GRANT PRO­GRAM.

‘UN­CON­SCIONABLE’ No one started place­ments, Lib­er­als in­sist

Ottawa Citizen - - Np - LEE BERTHIAUME

OT­TAWA • A Hal­i­fax-based char­ity is ex­press­ing con­fu­sion and frus­tra­tion as it looks likely to have to foot the bill for nine stu­dents that it says were hired through the fed­eral vol­un­teer pro­gram at the centre of the WE af­fair.

That is be­cause the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment con­tends no stu­dents ac­tu­ally started their place­ments be­fore WE Char­ity backed out of run­ning the Canada Stu­dent Ser­vices Grant amid con­tro­versy about its ties to Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his fam­ily.

Souls Har­bour Res­cue Mis­sion CEO Michelle Porter says that isn’t true and her or­ga­ni­za­tion brought the stu­dents in dur­ing the brief pe­riod, about a week at the end of June, when WE Char­ity was run­ning the Canada Stu­dent Ser­vice Grant for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ing in the grant pro­gram had been promised they would re­ceive up to $5,000 to­ward the cost of their post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tions de­pend­ing on how many hours they vol­un­teered.

“There was a for­mal process and we fol­lowed it,” Porter said Tues­day. “And we have con­fir­ma­tions in our email say­ing you’re ap­proved for 15 po­si­tions . ... The stu­dents then ap­plied on their own. They picked us and they con­tacted us.”

The nine stu­dents have been work­ing in the Souls Har­bour thrift store, which helps fund a meal pro­gram for local fam­i­lies in need. Porter said they have been crit­i­cal to the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which has seen about 60 fewer vol­un­teers due to the pan­demic.

Souls Har­bour isn’t alone in its con­fu­sion as a num­ber of stu­dents have taken to online fo­rums such as Red­dit in re­cent days won­der­ing whether they will re­ceive any grant money for vol­un­teer hours that they have al­ready worked.

Many of the ques­tions were prompted by Trudeau’s ap­pear­ance be­fore the House of Com­mons fi­nance com­mit­tee last week, in which he sug­gested the grant pro­gram was not go­ing to be part of the gov­ern­ment’s COVID-19 sup­port for stu­dents.

Asked what that meant for char­i­ties such as Souls Har­bour as well as stu­dents who had al­ready started place­ments, Youth Min­is­ter Bardish Chag­ger’s spokes­woman Danielle Keenan told The Cana­dian Press that those peo­ple didn’t ex­ist.

“The way that the pro­gram un­folded is un­for­tu­nate, es­pe­cially as no stu­dents had started their place­ments through the CSSG at the time the de­ci­sion was made that WE would no longer ad­min­is­ter the pro­gram,” Keenan said in an email.

Keenan re­peated the as­ser­tion when asked specif­i­cally about Souls Har­bour, say­ing only that when it comes to supporting stu­dents and char­i­ties, “we’re look­ing at op­tions on how best to pro­ceed.”

“Ob­vi­ously I’m frus­trated,” Porter said in re­sponse to Keenan’s state­ment. “Up to now I’ve just been as­sum­ing they’ll come up with some­thing. Are they re­ally just leav­ing char­i­ties out in the lurch?”

While Porter said she in­tends to press the gov­ern­ment to change its mind, the Souls Har­bour board has agreed to pay the stu­dents if the pro­gram is can­celled, at an es­ti­mated cost of around $15,000 — money that would nor­mally go to­ward feed­ing local fam­i­lies.

Op­po­si­tion crit­ics blasted the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment for mis­man­ag­ing the roll­out of the pro­gram and for leav­ing char­i­ties and stu­dents in the dark about what will hap­pen to them.

“The two things can­not be true: they can­not be say­ing they’re not proceeding to these groups, and the groups say­ing they were ap­proved,” said Con­ser­va­tive eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment critic Dan Al­bas.

“It’s al­most been a month now since they stopped the pro­gram and they have yet to ac­tu­ally tell Cana­di­ans clearly what they’re go­ing to do about the dif­fer­ent groups that did ap­ply and if this pro­gram will be de­liv­ered.”

NDP ethics critic Char­lie Angus said stu­dents took the prime min­is­ter at his word that they would be com­pen­sated for vol­un­teer­ing through the pro­gram.

“It is un­con­scionable that Justin Trudeau is now telling stu­dents that signed up for the pro­gram that they aren’t get­ting paid,” he said.

“The sum­mer is tick­ing down and not a dime has flown to stu­dents who badly needed help.”

SEAN KIL­PATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Rev­e­la­tions of the prime min­is­ter’s links to WE Char­ity have stalled the de­liv­ery of fed­eral grants for stu­dents.

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