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Trudeau government has announced at least $5.5M in funding to WE Charity since 2015

Scheer says Trudeau avoiding questions on WE Charity scandal by not appearing in Parliament
WATCH: Scheer says Trudeau avoiding questions on WE Charity scandal by not appearing in Parliament

WE Charity has received millions of taxpayer dollars from the federal government, dating back to the Stephen Harper years, but the amount of money the charity secured from Ottawa more than doubled after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were first elected in 2015, according to federal spending reports.

A review of public accounts by Global News has found the federal government transferred about $1.1 million to WE Charity — formerly known as Free The Children — between 2006 and 2015, mostly through Foreign Affairs and the Canadian International Development Agency, which was merged with Foreign Affairs in 2013.

For a four-year period starting in 2008, there was no federal funding for the charity, according to the public accounts. But this resumed in 2012-2013, when Indian Affairs and Northern Development paid the charity $292,824 as part of an “Urban Aboriginal Strategy.” Canadian Heritage also started paying the charity $100,00 annually that year under a “Youth Take Charge Program.”

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Starting in 2015, the amount of money flowing to the charity increased sharply under the Trudeau government. WE Charity was paid or was the recipient of at least $5.5 million in funding from 2015 to 2019.

READ MORE: A timeline of key events in the WE Charity, Trudeau controversy

Canadian Heritage transferred nearly $1.8 million to the charity from 2015 to 2018, while the Department of Families, Children and Social Development transferred $679,000 in 2018-2019. In August 2019, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced $3 million in funding for the WE Social Entrepreneurs initiative, which provides skills-building, mentorship and financial support to social enterprises led by young people. Morneau’s daughter Grace Acan works for the charity and another daughter, Clare Morneau, has previously spoken at WE Day events.

Canadian Heritage confirmed that it paid WE Charity $1.5 million as part of projects related to Canada 150 events in 2017, including $1 million to organize a WE Day on July 2, at which the prime minister and his mother, Margaret Trudeau, spoke. The ministry also said that payments made between April 2014 to March 2017 were part of a three-year contribution agreement for a total of $300,000 to WE Charity, which was part of the $145-million budget for the Youth Take Charge program.

“(Canadian Heritage) asked WE Charity to organize a WE Day on July 2 for thousands of youth, educators and parents as part of the Canada Day weekend festivities in Ottawa,” spokesperson Caroline Czajkowski said in an email. “In total, $1,000,000 was allocated to that project, to cover direct event delivery costs and to cover the costs of third-party contractors to maintain key infrastructure on the Hill for an additional day.”

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The National Post first reported last week on the payments for the Canada Day 150 event, which included details of a memo from We co-founder Marc Kielburger that said he had received the invitation from Trudeau as well as the Heritage ministry.

The Prime Minister’s Office told Global News on Monday night that it was working on a response to questions about whether it played a role in decisions about federal funding for WE Charity and why the total amount of funding has increased since 2015.

WE Charity has confirmed that Margaret Trudeau had been paid a total of $312,000 in speaking fees for attending 28 WE events between 2016 and 2020, where she spoke mostly on the topic of mental health, which was also a topic of the 2017 Canada Day event. The charity also said that Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, the prime minister’s wife, was paid WE $1,400 for a 2012 event, while Alexandre Trudeau, the prime minister’s younger brother, was paid $32,000 for events in 2017-18.

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READ MORE:Committee probing WE Charity deal delays decision on Trudeau family’s speaking contracts

WE Charity declined to answer a list of detailed questions from Global News about the payments from the Trudeau government.

“As representatives of WE Charity, Marc and Craig Kielburger are scheduled to appear before the Finance Committee hearing on July 28,” the charity said in an email. “As co-founders, they are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to set the record straight and clarify a number of matters, including those referenced in your questions.

“We will be withholding comment on those questions until after the committee meeting.”

Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and an adjunct professor of law and politics at the University of Ottawa, said there is a “disturbing pattern” related to the over 400 per cent increase in funding to WE Charity under the Trudeau government.

“It should be investigated by the Auditor General first because they are there to investigate whether there’s been value for money or whether contracts were handed to people based on political influence,” Conacher said.

Democracy Watch and the Conservatives have both written to the RCMP to undertake a separate review into whether Trudeau broke any laws. The Conservatives have also written to the Auditor General requesting an investigation into any “breach of trust” issues.

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“If the prime minister or anyone on behalf of the prime minister intervened in any of those grants or contributions or contract processes over the years with WE charity, during the entire time Liberals have been in power, then that would amount to enough, I think, for breach of trust charges,” Conacher said.

 

Testimony reveals WE Charity would have received $43.5 million
Testimony reveals WE Charity would have received $43.5 million

The WE organization and the Trudeau government have been embroiled in controversy over the federal government’s decision to sole-source a contract worth up to $43.5 million for the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) to WE Charity, with which the prime minister, his family and Morneau have close ties. The volunteer grant program was designed to help students impacted by the pandemic.

“There’s lots of organizations, including lots of charities, running these types of education programs, running youth engagement programs.,” he said, referring to the CSSG grant.

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“It’s a big thing in the NGO field. You can’t favour one charity over any other.

The nearly $44-million figure, revealed in testimony last week by Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Minister Bardish Chagger during a parliamentary committee hearing, is more than double the original amount disclosed by the federal govern​ment.

A spokesperson for Chagger confirmed that the minister met with WE Charity almost a week before the $912-million COVID-19 student volunteering program was announced.

“Minister Chagger regularly meets with hundreds of organizations, in person or by telephone,” spokesperson Dani Keenan said in an email. “A phone call did take place on April 17 to talk about the [WE social entrepreneurship] proposal, however there was no further action taken.”

The explosive testimony last week heard that hours after Trudeau announced the $912-million student volunteer program on April 22, Kielburger sent an unsolicited pitch to run the program to a senior civil servant at Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).

Rachel Wernick, senior assistant deputy minister at ESDC, told MPs last week that WE was the only organization that could launch a massive new program within a short time period.

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“{WE Charity] had already provided to several officials and ministers a proposal related to social entrepreneurship for youth and indicated it could be adapted as needed,” Wernick said. “On April 22, WE Charity sent me a detailed proposal to quickly develop tens of thousands of volunteer placements for youth within a few weeks.

“Given the need for speed and scale, I determined with my team and colleagues that their draft proposal was the best available option in the time we had to work with.”

READ MORE: Minister Chagger says she wasn’t directed by Trudeau’s office on WE Charity contract

Wernick said the new pitch e-mailed by Kielburger on April 22 was an updated version of WE’s earlier proposal that changed to meet “the new parameters set out by the government.”

In a statement sent late Thursday, WE said Wernick’s testimony was incorrect and that its first submission — which it said was sent on April 9 — was different from the one sent for the student volunteer program.

“Like many charities, WE regularly submits proposals for consideration by the government. In the month of April, WE had been working on a proposal for a youth entrepreneurship program,” the statement said. It described its initial proposal as digital programs to provide youth with “entrepreneurship expertise.”

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Ex-ethics commissioner talks Trudeau, WE Charity controversy
Ex-ethics commissioner talks Trudeau, WE Charity controversy

The controversy has led to two Ethics Commissioner investigations over the now-cancelled arrangement, and both Trudeau and Morneau have apologized for failing to recuse themselves from discussions on decisions related to WE.

“I’m sincerely sorry for not having done that,” Trudeau said last week.

“Not only has it created unnecessary controversy and issues, it also means that young people who are facing a difficult time right now getting summer jobs, contributing to their communities, are going to have to wait a little longer before getting those opportunities to serve.

The contract with WE Charity was cancelled on July 3, which was followed by an announcement from the WE organization that it has laid off hundreds of people it had hired for the partnership and announced it will cancel WE Day events for the “foreseeable future” and scale back its North American programming to focus more on its international schools and other projects.

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