After WE Charity fallout, students, non-profits await fate of $900M grant program
TORONTO -- Nathaniel Black was hoping to benefit from a government grant program this summer aimed at providing pandemic income and helping struggling students earn money through volunteering. But now he’s worried that opportunity will fall through.
"In a tough economy, we can’t find jobs at cafes, jobs at bookstores, so we’re going to be turning to volunteer jobs more and more increasingly," said Black.
The uncertain fate of the Canada Student Services Grant, a $900-million student volunteering program tangled in controversy, has left students and non-profit groups who use or hope to use the program hanging and frustrated.
Announced back in April, the grant pays students aged 30 and under $1,000 for every 100 hours volunteered up to $5,000. It was supposed to be administered by WE Charity, but that agreement was cancelled last week following conflict of interest allegations involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ties to the organization.
The controversy escalated on Thursday after it was revealed that Trudeau’s family were paid a total of nearly $300,000 over the last four years to speak at events hosted by WE Charity, previously known as Free the Children, and founded by Marc and Craig Kielburger.
The government says it is working on a solution and Trudeau indicated that public servants would administer the grants. As postponements continue to plague the roll-out, more than 35,000 applicants are left waiting, along with non-profit organizations who were looking forward to bringing on summer students during a challenging time. Unsure when those positions will be filled, some are now scrambling to find alternatives to fill those vacancies.
"The individuals who are hurt are the students looking for opportunities and organizations like myself," said Christopher Sutton, chief executive of Wavefront Centre, a charity aimed at reducing hearing-related communication barriers.
With the summer already in full swing, however, some student organizations are in favour of cancelling the program altogether.
"Money should be given to the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit instead of this program," said Nicole Brayiannis, the national deputy chairperson at the Canadian Federation of Students.
"It’s so late in the summer that students wouldn’t be able to access the benefits of the program."
Trudeau had previously said that WE Charity was the only organization capable of running a program of this size and said that the charity was not making any profits off the administration of the grant program. But charity experts have questioned whether WE was equipped to manage such a large government program.
"This entire debacle really shows students that the promises are half-empty," said Black.
With files from The Canadian Press