WE Charity retained the public relations company National to help handle part of the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) of the federal government in Quebec and French-speaking areas of the world until the contract broke down in the wake of uproar about the ties between the charity and Liberal Party leaders.
In a tweet, the Quebec-based company said it had been recruited by WE Charity to assist with “outreach to not-for-profit and student organizations, French content development, media monitoring and social media content.”
News that WE Organization has charged another company for assistance with its federal contract, first published by the French internet news agency La Presse, brings into doubt previous federal government claims.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other federal officials have repeatedly said WE Charity is the “only organization” capable of delivering the $543.5-million CSSG that would pay students for volunteer work.
“(National) was mandated by WE Charity to support the organization for the implementation of the Canada Student Services Grant in Quebec and in Canadian francophone communities,” spokesperson Chantal Benoit said in a statement. “The mandate started on May 29 and ended on July 3, 2020, when the program was transferred to the federal government.”
Benoit said National had in the past done work for WE Charity, for WE Day and other smaller events, but was unable to reveal details of how much the company was paid citing “confidentiality” agreements.
WE Charity confirmed it hired National specifically to assist with “Quebec and Francophone communications about the program.”
“(This included) assisting with media inquiries, and stakeholder engagement, including assisting in outreach to the hundreds of not-for-profits across Quebec and Francophone communities to ensure wide awareness about the benefits to not-for-profits of participating in the program,” the charity said.
Last week Trudeau testified that only WE Charity was able to carry out the programme, the public service said.
“They said if we wanted this program to happen, it could only be with WE Charity,” Trudeau told a House of Commons committee. “The choice was not between providers. It was between going ahead with WE Charity to deliver the program or not going ahead with the program at all.”
It was not immediately clear how federal officials determined that the government had previously considered WE Charity, which enlisted another firm to help implement the program in French-speaking communities, as the only one able to handle the contract.
Global News asked the Office of the Prime Minister for information, and was referred to Youth Minister Bardish Chagger ‘s desk.
“WE Charity offers French-language service learning programming and has a long-standing presence in Quebec, including work with over 450 French-language schools, educational institutions, and groups in Quebec,” Chagger’s spokesperson Danielle Keenan said in a statement.
“WE Charity worked with a team of advisors and not-for-profits organizations from across Quebec to ensure the program was responsive to unique needs within the province”
Quebec Conservative MP Alain Rayes asked whether the service was provided to the WE organisation since it partnered with another corporation to help run portions of the French-speaking Canada volunteer network.
“The WE organization did not know a thing about Quebec nor francophone communities across Canada, so they contracted a public relations firm (National) to deliver the Canada Student Service Grant,” Rayes said in a statement.
Rayes has reported that National approached his office seeking a list of civic groups in his district, details already available to the federal government via the Canada Summer Employment system.
“Justin Trudeau stated that WE Charity was the only organization capable of delivering the program. This is such a lack of respect for Francophones. It’s also further proof that this deal was aimed at bailing out the Prime Minister’s friends.”
Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin reported that National contacted Yves-François Blanchet, his party leader ‘s office to address the project. He also said Chagger ‘s office had sent emails to MPs asking for suggestions from non-profit local organizations that might help with the program.
“It’s like looking at the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “Every day we see more and more and we are wondering what is under the water.”
He reiterated calls for the resignation of Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau over the controversy.
Charity lawyer Mark Blumberg has said reports regarding the National Contract offer further proof that WE Charity was not the only agency worthy of implementing the scheme, and that the government may have pursued other avenues.
“From the beginning it was clear to many in the charitable sector that the notion that WE Charity was the only charity in Canada that could implement such a program made little sense,” Blumberg said in an email. “Far more information is needed to be known.”
After it was revealed in June that the charity, founded by Marc and Craig Kielburger, would administer the massive volunteer program and could receive as much as $43.53 million, WE Charity and Trudeau’s Liberal Government were embroiled in controversy.
The deal was cancelled on July 3 after Trudeau ‘s family was reported to have earned more than $300,000 in speaking fees from WE associated groups, and that Morneau ‘s daughter worked for the group.
It was subsequently disclosed in evidence to a congressional committee that WE had charged more than $500,000 to Trudeau ‘s wife Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, his mother Margaret Trudeau and his brother Alexandre Trudeau for speaking fees and repayment expenses.
On July 22, Morneau testified that he had previously paid $41,366 to repay the company for travel expenditures on a 2017 journey to Ecuador and Kenya.
A congressional inquiry was later revealed in testimony that WE had paid more than $500,000 to Trudeau ‘s aunt, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, his mother, Margaret Trudeau, and his nephew, Alexandre Trudeau, for speaking fees and reimbursement costs.
On July 22, Morneau revealed that on a 2017 trip to Ecuador and Kenya, he had already paid $41,366 to compensate the corporation for travel expenses.