Kielburger backtracks after saying PM’s office contacted WE about $900M program

Kielburger backtracks after saying PM’s office contacted WE about $900M program

OTTAWA — One of the co-founders of WE Charity says he “misspoke” when he told youth leaders that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s staff reached out in April to see if the organization would administer what became a $900-million federal student-aid program.

The Canadian Press has obtained video of Marc Kielburger telling youth leaders during a conference call earlier this month that Trudeau’s office contacted the charity one day after the prime minister announced plans for the Canada Student Service Grant on April 22.

Trudeau has been on the defensive since the government revealed last week that WE had been chosen to administer the grant program, which will provide students with up to $5,000 toward their education costs for volunteering for causes related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The attacks against the prime minister have included allegations of cronyism and questions about a conflict of interest as Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, both have longstanding connections with the Toronto-based organization.

Trudeau has said WE will be paid only to cover its costs and that the non-partisan public service concluded that the WE organization was the only group in Canada with the capacity to run the volunteering program and reach the many thousands of young people who might sign up for it.

In the video, Kielburger describes Trudeau’s April announcement that the government planned to provide more money for summer jobs and volunteer positions as “substantive” given the challenges many young people are expected to face paying for their schooling during COVID-19.

“Then the next day the Prime Minister’s Office kindly called us and said: ‘You know that announcement we just made, would you be interested in helping us actually implement?’” Kielburger says in the recording.

“After much consideration, we put up our hand and said: ‘Of course, we’re happy to be of assistance.’”

The 43-year-old, who founded the WE Movement and associated youth charities with his brother Craig more than two decades ago and has since guided its growth into an international organization, backtracked on those assertions on Tuesday.

“I misspoke,” Kielburger said in a statement. “Speaking loosely and enthusiastically, I incorrectly referred to the Prime Minister’s Office. In fact, the outreach came from unelected officials at Employment and Social Development Canada.”

Kielburger went on to say that “contact came to WE Charity” from a senior assistant deputy minister the week of April 26 — the week after Trudeau’s announcement.

WE did not immediately respond to follow-up questions about whether there was contact between it and Trudeau or his staff during the week of April 20, when the actual announcement was made.

Asked Tuesday whether there was contact between the Prime Minister’s Office and WE the week of April 20, Trudeau spokesman Alex Wellstead said: “No, not to our knowledge,” adding: “No one from the Prime Minister’s Office asked WE Charity to administer the Canada Student Service Grant.”

The official Opposition Conservatives nonetheless referred to Trudeau’s connections to WE in a letter to auditor general Karen Hogan on Sunday, asking her to investigate the decision to have the charity administer the student grant program.

The Tories say contracting an outside organization to administer the program circumvents Parliament’s ability to hold the Liberal government to account over the program as well as ensure value for money.

In his statement, Kielburger said that ”all discussions came at the instigation of departmental officials and they led discussions with respect to contract and program parameters.”

In a separate statement Tuesday, a senior public servant defended the decision to award the work to WE while asserting “there was no pressure either from the Prime Minister’s Office or from (Youth) Minister (Bardish) Chagger’s office to formalize an agreement with WE Charity.”

“To ensure we could maximize the award money available to students during this difficult time, we needed to move quickly to set up the program,” said Gina Wilson, Canadian Heritage’s senior associate deputy minister of diversity, inclusion and youth, in a statement relayed through the Department of Employment and Social Development.

“Officials determined that utilizing WE Charity with its extensive reach and capacity would be the most effective approach to quickly deliver this program.”

More than 26,000 applications for the grant have been received so far from interested students, Wilson added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

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

Just Posted

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020. nbsp;Alberta is reporting it's highest daily number of COVID-19 cases, with 364 new infections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta confirmed 323 COVID-19 cases Tuesday

Central zone active cases at 145

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Maskwacis reporting 37 active cases

Numbers current as of Oct. 19

Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, receive flu shot. Photo via Government of Alberta
COVID-19: One more death in central zone

Ponoka County on province’s watchlist

Photo submitted/ Millet In Bloom
Town of Millet declared Best Blooming Community

The Town of Millet is being recognized for their efforts to meet the challenges of 2020.

Many rural municipalities were concerned about a proposed reduction to their industrial revenues, but Alberta’s Municipal Affairs minister has come up with an alternative solution. (Photo contributed)
Province and rural municipalities agree on a plan to support Alberta’s energy industry

Creating new wells or pipelines would result in a three year ‘tax holiday’

Conservative member of Parliament Pierre Poilievre speaks during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on October 19, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Liberals say Tory effort to set up COVID-19 committee will be a confidence matter

The Tories were originally proposing an ‘anticorruption’ committee

(The Canadian Press)
Alberta-raised Cree actor lands role in Disney’s live-action ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’

Tiger Lily is featured in Disney’s 1953 animated “Peter Pan” film

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday February 4, 2020 in Ottawa. The Alberta government is welcoming news that Ottawa has approved an expansion of the Nova Gas Transmission Ltd. gathering system in Alberta — while condemning federal delays that it says cost this summer’s construction season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta welcomes federal approval of gas pipeline expansion while criticizing delay

Pipeline division owned by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. will now be required to restore 3,840 hectares of caribou habitat,

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

Alberta Premier Jason Kenny and government house leader Jason Nixon chat before the speech from the throne delivered in Edmonton, Alta., on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Alberta politicians are to return to the legislature Tuesday with a plan to discuss up to 20 new bills — many of which are focused on the province’s economic recovery. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta legislature to resume Tuesday; focus to be on economic recovery

Opposition house leader Heather Sweet said the NDP will focus on holding Premier Jason Kenney

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

robbery
UPDATE: Suspect identified in early morning shooting

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Big boost for Alberta college agriculture research

The $2-million agreement to benefit Lethbridge College’s applied research team

Grant and Barbara Howse, in quarantine in Invermere. Mike Turner photo
Denied entry into U.S., Canadian couple still forced to quarantine for 2 weeks

The rules around crossing the U.S. border led to a bizarre situation for an Invermere couple

Most Read