Feds considered 20 groups to deliver student grant before deeming WE the only charity capable
|CTVnews 27 Jul 2020 at 15:03|
OTTAWA -- New documents indicate the public service considered at least 20 organizations to work on the Canada Student Service Grant program, including the United Way and the Canadian Red Cross, before concluding that WE Charity was the best fit.
The new documents, which were given to the House of Commons finance committee on Monday, explain that public servants with Employment and Social Development Canada made calls to multiple organizations in mid-April, including the Boys and Girls Club of Canada, the YMCA and 4-H Canada.
Other organizations, including the Canadian Red Cross, United Way, and Volunteer Canada, were "assessed" to administer the program, though the documents do not indicate what that assessment entailed or how a decision was made.
The question of whether other organizations were capable of administering the program is a key one in the WE Charity controversy. After granting WE Charity the now-cancelled sole-source contract, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said that the public service "determined that the WE organization was the only one that could deliver that program as ambitious as it was this summer."
However, that assertion came under scrutiny as Trudeau s ties to WE Charity were revealed. His mother, brother and wife had all been paid to speak at WE Charity events, while Finance Minister Bill Morneaus daughter Clare has spoken at WE events, and his daughter Grace is currently employed by WE Charity.
The ethics commissioner is now investigating whether either Trudeau or Morneau breached the Conflict of Interest Act in relation to the decision to award WE Charity the contract. Both have issued apologies for not removing themselves from conversations about the now-cancelled decision to grant WE Charity the student volunteer program, given their personal connections to the organization.
On the same day Trudeau apologized for not recusing himself from the discussions, he continued to emphasize WE s unique ability to administer the program.
"The amount in the contract to WE was about $20 million for delivery of thousands tens of thousands of youth placements across the country. They are the ones that have the network that was able to do that quickly," Trudeau said during a press conference on July 13.
"That was the recommendation by the professional public service."
Rachel Wernick, an assistant deputy minister with Employment and Social Development Canada, said she was the one behind the recommendation that WE Charity be the one to administer the program. Speaking to the finance committee on July 16, she noted that while other organizations were indeed considered, WE Charity emerged as the front-runner.
"In our assessment [of other organizations], we were unable to identify a single organization that adequately met the need for broad geographic reach, technological capacity and experience working with youth, particularly youth from underserved communities," Wernick told the committee.
She also noted that while WE had sent her a proposal regarding a program to help students, no other organization had done so though no call for proposals was put out.
When asked about whether WE Charity was uniquely suited to administer the program, she said "there are many organizations in the sector that have some of the experience and expertise that could be required for that type of program."
While she did not outright say whether her organization could have administer the program on its own, she did say they had "been involved in a number of large-scale projects" carried out in collaboration with others.
Speevak also testified that WE Charity, after having won the contract, approached Volunteer Canada to ask them for help with program. She said that after raising concerns about the nature of the program particularly with the fact that it would pay volunteers less than minimum wage, they informed WE Charity they would "not be working with them on the program."
While Wernick testified that Volunteer Canada was considered for the administration of the program, Speevak said that her organization was never specifically approached about the program and learned about its existence when the prime minister publicly announced the grant on April 22 the same day WE Charity co-founder Craig Kielburger sent Wernick a detailed, unsolicited pitch for the program.
Speaking at the committee, Speevak was asked if she knew what Wernick could have meant by this consideration if the Volunteer Canada had never actually been approached prior to the program s announcement.