On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended choosing WE Charity as the organization in charge of the federal student aid program after receiving backlash due to conflict-of-interest.
Trudeau defended the choice for a second time, saying that the government has “extensive practice” in cooperating with charities and third parties, according to Global News.
The conflict-of-interest concerns arose because the group has connections with Trudeau and his wife, Sofie.
The $900 million from the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) program will be administered by WE charity. Up to $5,000 will be given to eligible students who do volunteer work for non-profit organizations working to soften the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
An investigation into the choice has been called for by the federal Conservatives who believe that “outsourcing” the program will make it harder for Parliament to monitor it.
Trudeau says that because the organization is a non-profit and his family is not being paid by the group, there isn’t any conflict-of-interest.
“When we wanted to move forward to help various food banks across the country, we worked with the charity Food Banks Canada in order to deliver the program. When we wanted to help grassroots community organizations, we worked with the United Way in order to deliver that program,” he said.
Trudeau noted that the program needed an organization that has the ability to reach a large number of students. He added that since the program opened on June 25—about 25,000 applications have been sent into the government.
“The WE Charities are evaluated by our public service as being the best and only organization able to deliver on the scale that we need to make sure that young people have service opportunities this summer,” he said. “We know that this is something that is going to be extremely important in the coming months.”
The program intends to provide volunteer positions to as many as 20,000 students from now to October. Student grants will be anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on volunteer hours. A student can receive $1,000 for every 100 hours.
After critics said the program appears to be somewhere between paid labour and volunteerism, Trudeau said young people “want to step up.”
“They want to engage in their communities, serve in their communities, help their country and fellow citizens through this difficulty, while at the same time developing important work experience,” he added.
“The idea of giving bonus grants to young people who serve has long existed, and we know it’s something that’s really important to recognize the value of service, but these young people will be volunteering in ways that will make a huge difference right across the country.”
The program falls under the government’s student support package which includes $9 billion in funding for internships and summer job placements. CSSG will receive $912 million from the funding. The amount that will be put towards WE is still unknown.
NDP and Conservative MPs have asked for the Liberals to share the terms of the contract. Trudeau noted that the charity will be paid to run the program but won’t make a profit.