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by Elyette Levy September 15, 2020
Poli Savvy

WE are never ever ever getting back together

To Justin Trudeau’s relief, we haven’t heard about the WE Charity scandal in a minute. To his dismay, here’s a reminder of it, and why it’s important we don’t forget.

So what exactly happened?

In mid-April, as the Federal Government was still scrambling to make sure all those financially affected by COVID-19 were given proper support, Prime Minister Trudeau announced additional funding for students, whose income relied on job availability during the summer.

Introduced alongside the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) was the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), a program where the government would compensate university students and recent graduates under 30 years old who signed up to do volunteer work. With a budget of $912 million, this program would be administered by the WE Charity, a Toronto-based international human rights organization focusing on youth empowerment, who would be allocated $43 million in management costs.

When Conservative Party members asked to verify how the charity was chosen, Trudeau stated that they were the “best and only organization able to deliver on the scale that we need.” Of course, this isn’t true: not only is the government itself well-equipped to handle this project, but 20 other organizations were considered for the management of the CSSG starting in April.

Why is it a problem?

Justin Trudeau and his family have been closely affiliated with WE for years. He, his wife, his brother, and his mother have attended and been invited as keynote speakers at WE’s annual WE Day event as far back as 2007, the year of the event’s first edition.

Over the years, the Trudeau family was paid an estimated $283,400 for speaking at these events.

This begs the question: how was the WE Charity chosen as the “best and only” organization? And why did no member of Trudeau’s Cabinet, whose role is to oversee his decisions, speak up on the conflict of interest at play?

Why does it matter now?

The PM’s recent decision to prorogue Parliament is going to be a big setback for the ethics committee currently investigating this deal. Because all Parliamentary activity is being put to rest, the investigation will only continue after Sept. 23, when MPs are due to reconvene.

For now, WE Charity has cancelled its WE Day events indefinitely, cancelled the deal made with the government, and repaid the $30 million it had been handed for the administration of the project.

To many, though, prorogation is simply Trudeau’s way of further delaying this investigation, as well as the one currently looking into the country’s relations with China. Considering this isn’t the PM’s first rodeo when it comes to corruption charges — what with the SNC-Lavalin case and his trip to the Aga Khan’s island four years ago — only time will tell what and whether he will be facing any consequences once Parliament returns.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair.

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