OTTAWA – The destruction of WE’s Canadian activities won’t ease the pressure off Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over his administration’s choice to enlist the cause to run a now-dead understudy volunteer program.
NDP MP Charlie Angus says WE’s declaration Wednesday that it is covering its Canadian tasks just underscores the absence of due determination done by the legislature before giving organization of the program over to an association that was obviously in budgetary pain.
Two months before the legislature gave the agreement to WE in late June, Angus noticed that the association had laid off much staff and supplanted nearly its whole governing body, which had been denied admittance to the foundation’s monetary reports.
Angus says WE were “desperate” and cashed in on its connections to Trudeau, his family and his former finance minister, Bill Morneau, in order to persuade them to pay the organization to run the student service grant program.
Trudeau himself has been a featured speaker at half a dozen WE events and his wife, mother and brother have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years in expenses and speaking fees.
Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for not recusing themselves from the decision to pay WE up to $43.5 million to administer the program and are both under investigation by the federal ethics watchdog for possible breaches of the Conflict of Interest Act.
“WE shutting down doesn’t make the Liberals’ scandal go away,” said Angus.
The government insists it was bureaucrats who recommended that WE were the only organization capable of administering the massive national program. However, thousands of documents released by the government suggest public servants may have been nudged to look at WE by their political masters.
Two House of Commons committees were in the midst of investigating the deal and another two committees were preparing to launch separate investigations when Trudeau prorogued Parliament last month, putting an end to the committees’ work.
However, the WE affair is likely to continue dogging the government when Parliament reopens on Sept. 23 with the demise of the organization’s Canadian operations only adding fuel to the fire.
The program was supposed to cover up to $5,000 in education costs for students who volunteered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The government initially pegged the cost of the program at $912 million but the sole-source deal with WE put the cost at $543 million.
The deal stipulated that WE were not to make money on the program. The charity has repaid the full $30 million the government gave it to launch the program and has said it will not seek reimbursement for some $5 million in expenses incurred before WE withdrew from the deal in early July amid political controversy.
The organization had already been struggling due to the pandemic-related shutdown but the questions about the student volunteer program prompted many of its corporate sponsors to cut their ties with the charity.
WE said Wednesday it plans to lay off 115 Canadian staff and sell all its property in Canada in the coming months, including its landmark $15-million Global Learning Centre in downtown Toronto, which opened in 2017.
It follows news last month that WE would be laying off dozens of employees in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The net profits will be put in an endowment fund that will be overseen by a new board of governors and used to complete several projects in communities in Latin America, Asia and Africa that were started by WE but remain unfinished.
The fund will also cover the operating costs of several large-scale infrastructure projects, such as a hospital and college in Kenya and an agricultural centre in Ecuador. However, no new projects or programs will be launched.
All future WE Day events are also being cancelled. The organization says it will no longer have a staff to work with teachers, though existing resources will be digitized and available online. WE say it was active in 7,000 schools across Canada.
Shutting down its Canadian operations “shows just how much trouble WE were in and how badly they needed this bailout from their Liberal friends,” Angus said.
Photo credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
News source: The Canadian Press