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WE has since withdrawn from running the program.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

Executive Director and Co-Founder of Rock Soup Craig Haavalsen is sleeping in a tent outside Rock Soup’s location until the Go Fund Me for Rock Soup raises $10,000. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Putting normalcy into asking for help: New non-profit sets up in Wetaskiwin

Rock Soup non-profit is a new non-secular Food Bank putting down roots in Wetaskiwin.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed eight additional virus-deaths Monday afternoon including one in central zone. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
New record: Red Deer at 236 active COVID cases

One more death in central zone reported

file photo
County of Wetaskiwin Land Use Bylaw amendments approved

Ammendments approved by Wetaskiwin County Council at Nov. 24, 2020 Council meeting.

City of Wetaskiwin kicks off “Light Up Wetaskiwin” with light display at Wetaskiwin City Hall. Shaela Dansereau/ Pipestone Flyer.
Making spirits ‘bright’: Light Up Wetaskiwin contest kicks off

Up to $3000 in cash prizes available to the top 11 decorated homes and businesses.

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland listens to a question from a reporter on the phone during a news conference in Ottawa, Monday, Nov. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Spending too little worse than spending too much, Freeland says as Canada’s deficit tops $381B

‘The risk of providing too little support now outweighs that of providing too much’

Lawyer Devon Page, Ecojustice Canada’s executive director, pauses during a news conference in Vancouver on Wed., Sept. 26, 2012. The environmental law group has lost its bid to pause Alberta’s inquiry into where critics of its oil and gas industry get their funding. Ecojustice sought an injunction this summer to suspend the inquiry, headed by forensic accountant Steve Allan, until there is a decision on whether it’s legal. nbsp;THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Judge tosses application to pause Alberta inquiry into funding of oil and gas foes

Ecojustice sought an injunction in the summer to suspend the inquiry

Janelle Robinson owns and operates Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. The Ranch, just north of Stettler, is an animal therapy ranch that helps those with special needs and conditions ranging from PTSD to anxiety. Mark Weber/Stettler Independent
Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler provides support through animal interaction

‘I also come from a family of doers - if something that is needed isn’t there, you just figure it out’

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

Most Read