A $900-million government aid program is funding volunteer positions for students hoping to earn money for their educations, in a July 8, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

A $900-million government aid program is funding volunteer positions for students hoping to earn money for their educations, in a July 8, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Federal website advertising hundreds of non-existent student-volunteer positions

Conservative employment critic wants answers

OTTAWA — The federal website advertising volunteer positions for students hoping to earn money for their educations through a $900-million government aid program contains hundreds of positions that do not actually exist.

Among the student-volunteer positions advertised as available on the I Want to Help website are 1,500 spots with YMCA Canada to help create online exercise regimes for kids and seniors in their communities.

Yet the YMCA says those positions were actually the brainchild of WE Charity, the organization originally tapped by the Liberal government to administer the Canada Student Services Grant, and that the YMCA never agreed to them.

Both the YMCA and WE blame a miscommunication as WE scrambled to get the grant program — through which students can get up to $5,000 toward their schooling if they volunteer the maximum 500 hours — up and running as quickly as possible.

WE has since withdrawn from running the program.

In an interview, YMCA Canada president Peter Dinsdale said his organization proposed hosting 391 volunteers through dozens of YMCA locations. They would focus on three areas: helping local branches with marketing and website design; data analysis; and assisting seniors with tech questions.

The YMCA arrived at the number after reaching out to branches across the country, Dinsdale said, after which the national office drew up a draft memorandum of understanding with WE to formalize the arrangement.

“We sent a draft in and they sent a draft back and that’s when we saw these other positions and we asked to separate them,” he said of the 1,500 positions for online exercise regimes. ”And they said great. And we haven’t heard from them since all this has gone down.”

“These discussions (with the YMCA) took place quickly, given our short timeline for delivery, and some confusion arose around the two separate agreements,” WE said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“That confusion contributed to a misunderstanding on our part which led to one group of service positions being posted, rather than the other group of service positions.”

It nonetheless means those advertised positions are not actually available.

The status of thousands of other positions apparently created by WE to meet the requirements of the volunteer program remains uncertain.

Youth Minister Bardish Chagger’s spokeswoman Danielle Keenan stood by the Canada Student Services Grant program on Wednesday, saying that while there will be delays in its rollout following WE’s departure, the government remains committed to it.

“The Canada Student Service Grants program provides opportunities for students who want to help with their communities COVID-19 response,” Keenan said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“Although the delivery of the program will change, our objective has not changed which is to ensure students, not-for-profits, and communities are supported throughout the pandemic.”

WE and the Liberal government announced last week that they were ending a sole-sourced contract to have the charity manage the grant program after questions were raised about a potential conflict of interest between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the organization.

Dinsdale said the YMCA did not know the 1,500 positions had been posted, noting the agreement with WE was never signed. At the same time, the 391 positions that the YMCA does want to fill have yet to be advertised. Dinsdale said the YMCA is waiting to hear from the government on those.

“The 391 that we’re actually putting forward, our Ys are ready and willing to engage in it and there are some really interesting opportunities that could exist for youth and our YMCAs and communities,” he said. “So we’re certainly hopeful those go ahead.”

Thousands of other positions posted on the federal website involve the creation of online content or the mentoring of other students on such topics as COVID-19’s impact on the environment, nutrition and cyberbullying.

Some of those are posted in huge batches, such as a call for 1,000 volunteers to be trained to hold one-to-one sessions with people on “the impact of COVID-19 on food security in your community.”

Another seeks 1,250 volunteers to devise “social-media assets” such as captions, memes and videos, for local and regional awareness campaigns to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

None of those postings includes the name of a hosting organization: they’re listed as “supporting local non-profits in your community” rather than with a specific agency.

WE did indicate that it was behind many of them as it sought to meet the government’s requirement that in order to be eligible for the student grant, positions must be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The purpose of the CSSG was to engage tens of thousands of post-secondary students in service programs to assist with the impact of COVID-19,” WE said in its statement.

“COVID-19 has been in Canada for a relatively short period of time and there are limited new service opportunities related to addressing (it). This is partly why WE was brought in (to) develop and co-ordinate service roles that fulfil the program guidelines and deliver a meaningful impact.”

Employment and Social Development Canada, which will now administer the grant program instead of WE, did not respond to repeated questions about the positions, including whether they would move ahead or not.

Conservative employment critic Dan Albas said the questions about the federal website underscore the need for answers when it comes to the student grant program, including how positions have been chosen or created and what benefit they are expected to have.

“To find out that perhaps hundreds of positions have been put forward and in good faith maybe people have applied for those positions without having a correction from the government?” he said.

“This is public money. They need to come clean and clean up this program so that any dollar that is spent gets the maximum opportunities for young people and value for money for taxpayer dollars.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 8, 2020.

Federal GovernmentVolunteer

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

file photo
County Council discusses new tax incentives for non-residential properties

County of Wetaskiwin Council discussed new tax incentives for non-residential properties at… Continue reading

Screen grab/ Government of Alberta COVID-19 aggregate data map
City of Wetaskiwin down to just five active cases

Active COVID-19 cases in the City of Wetaskiwin continue to decline.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says Albertans need to keep making safe choices to start bending the curve back down. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, 257 additional cases province-wide

Red Deer sits at 459 active cases of the virus

File photo
Norris Beach Road Tender Approved

County of Wetaskiwin Council awarded the tender for Range Road 11 to Crow Enterprises Ltd.

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

Maskwacis virtual job fair
MEC goes virtual with job fair and services during pandemic

By Chevi Rabbit For Ponoka News Maskwacis Employment Center’s (MEC’s) semi-annual job… Continue reading

hands
The call is out in Rimbey to sign on with a group that is all about building connections

‘Already, we are building a network where we can rely on each other and help each other out’

FILE - Dolly Parton arrives at the 61st annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10, 2019, in Los Angeles. The Grammy-winning singer, actor and humanitarian posted a video on Tuesday, March 2, 2021, of her singing just before getting her COVID-19 vaccine shot. Parton donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee for coronavirus research. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
‘Vaccine, vaccine’: Dolly sings ‘Jolene’ rewrite before shot

The Grammy-winning legend turned 75 this year

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland speaks about the Fiscal update during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday November 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
COVID-19: Wage and rent subsidies, lockdown support to be extended until June

Chrystia Freeland says now is not time to lower levels of support

Many rural seniors are having to travel a long way to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Stettler residents are being told to go to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose. (Black Press file photo).
Rural central Alberta seniors have to travel far to get vaccines

Stettler residents are being directed to Red Deer, Drumheller or Camrose clinics

Samantha Sharpe, 25, was stabbed to death at Sunchild First Nation on Dec. 12, 2018. Chelsey Lagrelle was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison for manslaughter in a Red Deer courtroom on Tuesday. Photo contributed
Central Alberta woman sentenced to 4 1/2 years for stabbing friend to death in 2018

Chelsey Lagrelle earlier pleaded guilty to stabbing Samantha Sharpe during argument

Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. (Pixabay)
‘Racism is a real problem:’ Muslim women fearful following attacks in Edmonton

So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women

Most Read