Students frustrated over delay to aid
OTTAWA • Anxious students and non-profit groups say they’re frustrated over a lack of answers from the federal government as they wait to hear what will happen to the $900-million volunteering program previously administered by the WE Charity.
The government says it is working on what to do with the Canada Student Services Grant program after its agreement with WE was cancelled last week amid controversy over Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s connections to the Toronto-based charity and its for-profit arm, ME to WE Social Enterprise.
The WE organization said Thursday that it had paid Trudeau’s mother Margaret about $250,000 for 28 speaking appearances at WE-related events between 2016 and 2020. His brother Alexandre has been paid $32,000 for eight events, according to WE. The organization that represents them as speakers was paid additional commissions, WE said. And Trudeau’s wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau received $1,400 in 2012 for a single appearance.
“Justin Trudeau has never been paid by WE Charity or ME to WE Social Enterprise for any speeches or any other matters,” WE Charity said.
Trudeau is under investigation by the ethics commissioner over allegations of a potential conflict of interest when the government awarded the contract to WE. Trudeau has acknowledged he didn’t recuse himself when cabinet approved the deal.
Trudeau has maintained the non-partisan public service recommended WE to administer the deal, while his spokesman Alex Wellstead on Thursday said “the prime minister’s relatives engage with a variety of organizations and support many personal causes on their own accord.”
“What is important to remember here is that this is about a charity supporting students.”
WE’s sudden departure from the volunteering program has created confusion as the days tick past for young people to put in hours for which the government promises to pay them up to $5,000 toward schooling.
Several non-profits say they and their volunteers are anxiously waiting for answers from the government, including whether the program is going to go ahead and the students they have already taken on will be compensated for their work.
The grant program promises to pay students up to $5,000 for their post-secondary educations if they volunteer the maximum 500 hours. WE said last week that around 35,000 applications had been received.
Youth Minister Bardish Chagger’s spokeswoman Danielle Keenan said officials were “working right now to determine the next steps” and acknowledged the likelihood of a delay.
Canadian Federation of Students deputy chair Nicole Brayiannis urged Ottawa to pull the plug on further positions and invest instead in direct aid to students, noting summer is already underway.