By Hayley Tubrett—

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he “deeply regrets” his decision to grant WE Charity the contract to fund summer jobs.

“Because of a mistake I made—by not withdrawing from these conversations when the public service recommended we move forward with the WE organization—it has gotten a little slower for young people, who are facing a difficult time right now, to be able to get involved in their communities and make a difference,” said Trudeau, during his COVID-19 briefing.

WE announced last week that they were no longer going to be administering the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG), a program through the federal government that would provide payments to students and recent graduates under 30 working at non-profit organizations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also last week, the news podcast Canadaland broke that Trudeau’s mother and brother were paid around $300,000 to speak at WE events. As a result of Trudeau’s family ties to the WE organization, the federal ethics commissioner questioned Trudeau’s decision to grant WE the contract because it could be a conflict of interest.

CSSG was an opportunity for students and recent graduates under 30 to be paid to volunteer, at a time when jobs are difficult to come by. But because the funding fell through, many students are left working at non-profits for free.

But that hasn’t stopped young people from volunteering in London, Ont., said Michelle Baldwin, the executive director of Pillar Nonprofit Network, which supports over 610 non-profit organizations in the city. Baldwin said they’re lucky because they’ve had more summer students than usual this year.

“Our experience has been that students have really been engaged in COVID-19 and have been a group that really wants to step up and help out. I think because we have Western, Huron, King’s, Brescia, Fanshawe—London, compared to other communities, is a community with a lot of post-secondary connections,” she said.

The lack of CSSG funding hasn’t seemed to dampen the spirits of London students and young people, Baldwin said. However, she said she recognizes that there is a challenge for young people to find paid jobs during COVID-19. She hopes student voices and needs are heard as we go into COVID-19 recovery.

“I think that’s really important because students have their hearts set on this and have already started to complete their hours,” said Baldwin. We should try to make sure the people who are committed to the program aren’t negatively impacted by how it rolls out, she said.

Trudeau said his government is working to find another organization to administer the CSSG program, and may go directly through Service Canada instead of outsourcing as they did with WE.

“I think it is important to make sure that the program moves forward because it’s already moving—people have already signed up. Figuring out how to run it needs to happen quickly,” said Baldwin.  

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