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

Last Updated Jul 3, 2020 at 12:30 pm CDT

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WE organization won't manage federal $900M program to pay students, graduates for volunteer work this summer

Youth Minister Bardish Chagger says decision was 'mutually agreed upon'

The deal has been criticized because of the prime minister's close relationship with the group

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 says.

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

The grant is expected to instead be distributed by the government, unless another body can be found to take on that responsibility.

“Certain, there are certain things that we will not be able to do as government delivers this program directly,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says. “Reaching out to actively search and pull in volunteers was something that the WE organization could do because of its extensive network and practice, as well as support in training and onboarding volunteers so that smaller organizations, for example, could ensure that we’re giving the best possible experience to Canadians.”

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 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.

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.

“Obviously the way this situation has unfolded has been unfortunate. We will continue to work hard to make sure that young people get the opportunities to serve their country, but it will no longer be with the organization WE,” Trudeau says.