Many people are struggling to understand the CSSG and WE Charity story. Partly it does not help that information is coming out daily that could have all been released weeks or months ago. In addition, there are really three interrelated stories and some people are more interested in some of the stories than others.
My view is that to understand the story there are essentially three components to the story and here is a very short summary of them:
The first component is the actual $912 million Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) program itself and whether it is a good idea to pay “volunteers” an amount that equals $10 per hour or less, which is below the minimum wage in all provinces, and whether this program was a good idea instead of using the Federal government’s existing summer jobs programs or another method of delivering the concept.
The second component is the decision-making process used by the government of Canada in determining to proceed with the Program on a sole-source basis, with some potential conflicts of interest, and then to cancel the Program. It also includes issues around payments to family members of cabinet ministers and a cabinet minister receiving free travel.
The third component is the organization chosen, initially identified by the Federal government as WE Charity, and various concerns that have been expressed over the last ten or more years about that charity and its affiliated organizations. It does not help that there are perhaps 15 or 20 different entities and it is often not clear where one organization begins and the other ends. It also does not help that when journalists have asked questions of WE Charity the responses sometimes did not answer the question or were emphatic in their answer only to acknowledge later that the answer they gave was incorrect.
Different people are interested in different parts of the story. The easiest group to isolate is opposition politicians. They are very focussed on the second story as it makes the Trudeau government look bad. Their interest in components 1 and 3 is typically only if it makes the Federal government look bad. The charity sector, on the other hand, is more interested in parts 1 and 3 in general. The charity sector is also concerned with how this very unusual situation relating to a unique charity could undercut public confidence in the charity sector.
I try to stay out of partisan politics and try to assist any political party or media outlet that wishes to understand the charity sector. Unsolicited I will give some advice to some hyper-partisan Liberals. Remember that Prime Minister Trudeau canceled the program, apologized for not recusing himself – etc. so enough with ‘there is no story here’ or everything was done perfectly. If you want to get beyond this story and not have it take up precious bandwidth over the next month or two or three as we are dealing with COVID the Liberal government should be more transparent about what happened and take some steps to improve transparency in both government and in the charity sector. Or they can release details day by day to keep the story going! The good news is that better transparency in the charity sector will actually save you money and grief. If we had better charity transparency perhaps this $912 million mistake would have never happened. I definitely feel for people who think that a lot of the good was done by the Federal government during COVID is not getting attention at the moment – but remember that this is at best a stupid self-inflicted wound that could have been so easily avoided.
By Mark Blumberg, Blumbergs