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Docs Suggest Bureaucrats Were Nudged to Look to WE Charity for Student Program

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OTTAWA—Thousands of pages of newly released documents back up the Trudeau governments contention that it was federal public servants who recommended a student service grant program be administered by WE Charity.

But they also suggest bureaucrats may have been nudged to look in that direction by their political masters.

The documents were released late Tuesday afternoon to members of the House of Commons finance committee, on the orders of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he announced he was proroguing Parliament until Sept. 23.

Prorogation puts a temporary end to the four committees that have spent the summer probing how a charity with close connections to Trudeaus family was chosen to administer a multimillion-dollar program to encourage students to volunteer in pandemic-related community service.

The controversy over the now-abandoned program has spawned investigations by the federal ethics watchdog into possible conflict of interest on the part of Trudeau and his former finance minister, Bill Morneau, who also has close family ties to WE Charity.

The 5,000-plus pages of government documents were tabled with the finance committee almost two weeks ago but had not been released to committee members because legal counsel was still vetting them to ensure there were no breaches of cabinet confidences or personal privacy.

In deciding to hand them over directly to committee members Tuesday, Trudeau may have hoped to get any controversy associated with them out of the way well before Parliament reopens on what he hopes will be a more positive note—with a throne speech designed to launch the country on the road to economic recovery after the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The documents include memorandums to cabinet, ministers and Trudeau, as well as emails, text messages and even hand-written notes about meetings at which WEs involvement in the Canada Student Service Grant program was discussed by bureaucrats or political staff. The context, the timing of the communications and the person speaking is not always clear.

Trudeau announced the broad outlines of the grant program on April 22 as part of a $9-billion package of measures to support young people during the pandemic.

He has testified that he only learned on May 8 that Employment and Social Development Canada was proposing that WE Charity oversee delivery of the program. He has said he removed the proposal from the cabinet agenda that day and asked that more due diligence be done to determine if there was not some other group that could administer the grants, such as the Canada Service Corps.

After the department reported back that WE Charity was the only group with the capacity to deliver the massive program in such a short timeframe, cabinet approved the proposal on May 22. Trudeau and Morneau have both apologized for not recusing themselves from that decision but have insisted that they were acting strictly on the recommendation of public servants.

Many of the documents support Trudeaus version of events.

But they also suggest that Youth Minister Bardish Chagger helped get WE Charity on her bureaucrats radar and political staff in Morneaus office helped keep it there.

Chagger spoke with WE co-founder Craig Kielburger on April 17 to discuss an unsolicited proposal by the group to create a youth social entrepreneurship program. In an email to her on April 22, Kielburger thanks her for listening to the proposal, which was ultimately rejected by the government.

He then adds: “We appreciate your thoughtful offer to connect us with relevant members of your ministry. Our weekend team has also been hard at work to adapt your suggestion of a second stream focused on a summer service opportunity.”

Two days after Chaggers chat with Kielburger, the documents show that bureaucrats were talking about WEs possible involvement.

Rachel Wernick, a senior assistant deputy minister at Employment and Social Development Canada, which encompasses Chaggers ministry, asked in an email on April 19 to speak to Kielburger about “something we are working on that might be of interest to WE.”

Michelle Kovacevic, an assistant deputy minister at Finance, wrote the same day that “ESDC thinks that WE might be able to be the volunteer matching third party … The mission of WE is congruent with national service and they have a massive following on social media.”

The following day, in an email to PCO officials, Kovacevic wrote that the Prime Ministers Office had been “weighing in” on the latest student grant proposal, which had become “bit of a shit show.” She said there had been “positive communication with WE” and that “discussions are encouraging on that front.”

Amitpal Singh, a policy adviser in Morneaus office, emailed Kovacevic the same day to say he had spoken “with the team at WE this morning.”

“We should be receiving an updated paper soon from them, and as soon as we get policy approvals I think we should reach out and bring them into the fold,” he wrote.

Kovacevic thanked Singh for “keeping the relationship with WE strong.”

“I think this is the right organization for a call to action for national service.”

On April 21, WEs director of government and stakeholder relations, Sofia Marquez, sent Singh the organizations revised proposal for a national, bilingual service program that would allow 20,000 young Canadians to take part in summer service placements and projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She signed off by saying, “Huge THANK YOU—youve been most helpful!”

The following day, Singh messaged Kovacevic to connect her with Marquez, adding he hoped she could find time “before the end of the week to quickly touch base” with the WE representative.

Kovacevic and Marquez exchanged messages the next day to arrange a call.

The reason is not entirely clear, but at one point in mid-April, Justin To, Morneaus deputy chief of staff, joked that Kovacevic was “a heartless meany proposing indentured servitude for maybe a cookie at the end.”

Some have criticized the service grant program as a way for not-for-profit groups to effectively hire workers whod have been paid less than minimum wage

If bureaucrats were unaware of Trudeaus connection to WE, the charitys eventual revised proposal for administering the grant program made it clear. It included photos of the organizations “celebrity ambassadors”—among them, the prime ministers mother, Margaret Trudeau, and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.

Trudeau has been a featured speaker at six WE Day events and his wife hosts a podcast for the group, for which they have not been paid. However, the charity has confirmed it covered expenses for Gregoire Trudeau and paid hundreds of thousands in speaking fees and expenses to Trudeaus mother and brother for speaking at numerous WE events over the years.

Nevertheless, the documents make it plain that public serRead More – Source