Much ink and airtime has been consumed by the controversy surrounding the federal government’s abandoned plan to contract WE Charity to deliver the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG). The $900-million program would have provided students with scholarship funds in return for community service during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Virtually all of the media coverage has focused on the allegations of conflict of interest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and finance minister Bill Morneau and the resultant backlash against the charity that ended in WE founders Marc and Craig Kielburger taking steps to wind down the organization’s Canadian operation.
This week the North Wellington Community News delves into a less explored angle in a story that offers the insight of two dedicated local volunteers and advocates for the Me to We movement. Donna McFarlene and Barb Cowen organized local students and teachers into an arm of the charity and led two volunteer missions to Kenya to help the people there. Their story, which begins on page one, helps us understand what Canadians and the international community have lost as a result of the debacle.
Anyone whose own children were excited and inspired by participation in WE Days and associated events can no doubt relate to the local volunteers’ sense of loss and frustration that it was a charity that helped thousands of young people domestically, while doing critical humanitarian work globally, that seems to have taken the biggest hit from all of this.
While the CSSG was abandoned last spring, the controversy has continued almost unabated to this day, as opposition politicians seek to squeeze the last possible drop of political advantage out of the affair.
As deadline approaches for this publication, the CBC is reporting the federal Conservatives want MPs to create an anti-corruption committee to investigate the WE Charity matter. Tory ethics critic Michael Barrett stated the forum would press for “answers to lingering questions” about the controversy.
One has to wonder what questions truly “linger” at this point, aside from whether or not there is still any political upside to pursing the matter.
Will the government still have to find ways to help students financially in light of the pandemic’s impact on their summer and part-time employment prospects? Obviously.
Should Trudeau and Morneau have declared a conflict on decisions related to the program? Clearly. They have both conceded as much.
Did Trudeau’s mother and brother receive fees relating to their speaking and fundraising activities for WE Charity? Was his wife compensated for expenses? Definitely, just as many celebrities and motivators are compensated for their efforts on behalf of businesses or non-profit enterprises.
To continue to flog this particular carcass is unlikely to provide anyone, including students, with needed assistance though the ongoing pandemic.
The NDP’s suggestion that the unspent funds from the CSSG be diverted to other student aid programs would at least be a productive approach, as opposed to the Conservative plan to simply push for more punitive publicity for a minority government attempting to improvise ways through the greatest public health crisis in a century.
It could be time to move on from the politicking on this one. If anything merits further investigation, perhaps it’s how best to unravel the damage to the charitable sector and fill the gaping hole left by the loss of WE Charity’s innovative presence on the landscape.