WE Charity Program Could Have Undermined Volunteerism, Groups Warned

August 25, 2020 Updated: August 25, 2020

The student grant program at the center of an ongoing ethics investigation involving We Charity would have undermined the very nature of volunteering, warned two groups in documents obtained by a reporter-owned news outfit in Ottawa.

“This is a misinformed attempt at encouraging volunteerism in Canada,” wrote unidentified executives with Volunteer Alberta and the Alberta Non-Profit Network, in an internal Department of Employment document obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.

Four days after the program was announced the groups warned the program was misguided and badly drafted. They said it set up the expectation that volunteer work should be paid, potentially undermining how students who participated in the program would view volunteerism in the future.

The Canada Student Service Grant offered volunteers a one-time payment between $1,000 and $5,000 based on the number of hours they served.

“This move sets the expectation of this generation of volunteers and those that follow to be recognized by a monetary exchange rather than the meaningful human experience that volunteers rely upon,” read a Volunteer Alberta email obtained by Blacklock’s.

At $10 per hour, less than the minimum wage in all provinces, this could also be construed as violating labour laws, wrote the group.

The structure of the program also made it difficult for smaller charities to participate because of fees and requirements involved.

One organization refused a $100,000 fee from We Charity in protest over the program’s design. Organizations that lacked the funding to pay the fees would not have been able to participate. Meanwhile, WE Charity would have been paid $43 million to manage the program.

The WE Charity program was cancelled on July 3.  Subsequently, Bill Morneau resigned as Finance Minister in early August and Trudeau prorogued Parliament until September, essentially suspending all investigations. Both had personal and political ties to the charity.

The now nullified contract is, however, at the centre of an investigation by federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion.

The ongoing inquiry is seeking to determine whether the federal government engaged in a conflict of interest by awarding WE Charity the single-source contract.