Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, is seen with WE co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger.

WE group to stop running federal volunteer program, return funds already paid

OTTAWA — The WE organization won’t manage the federal government’s $900-million program to pay students and fresh graduates for volunteer work this summer, Youth Minister Bardish Chagger announced Friday.

In a statement this morning, Chagger said it’s a “mutually agreed upon decision.”

Since the charity founded by brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger was announced as the manager of the program last week, the sole-sourced deal has been criticized because of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s close relationship with the group.

Trudeau and Chagger have said repeatedly that the recommendation to use WE for the work came from the public service, not politicians.

Speaking Friday morning, Trudeau said the public service will now deliver the program, and said the choice was WE’s.

He called WE’s decision unfortunate, but said the government supported it.

The volunteer program is to pay up to $5,000 for schooling costs for participants who volunteer the maximum 500 hours, and is aimed at students who can’t find work this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chagger’s statement says volunteers who have already signed up shouldn’t be adversely affected, and WE Charity will pay back money it’s already received from the federal government. WE was to be paid only to cover its costs, Trudeau had promised.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much money has been transferred or how much will come back. The Liberals had set aside $19 million for the first 20,000 positions the charity was to set up.

In a statement Friday morning, the charity said the ongoing controversy about its involvement was the source of its decision, even though “the government has provided explanations” to questions.

The statement, signed by the organization as a whole, said WE was concerned that an ongoing affiliation would mean “the program itself will begin to suffer — and as a consequence, opportunities for students might be negatively affected.”

“Not only would that be unwelcome, it is unnecessary,” the statement says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2020.

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