Conflict of interest revelations surrounding the selection of WE Charity to administer the Canada Student Service Grant have dominated recent media coverage and led to investigations by parliamentary committees and the federal ethics commissioner.
While getting answers on how WE was selected is essential, there’s been scant focus on the more fundamental question: why was this program – which the federal government has said has a budget of up to $912 million, of which WE was to be paid $43.53 million to distribute $500 million in grants – conceived in the first place?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated it was needed so students would have summer jobs. But students aren’t taking jobs that already exist.
A prime example is agriculture. Because of COVID-19, farmers have faced delays in getting temporary foreign workers, leaving crops spoiling in their fields. Students who beleaguered farmers managed to attract either failed to show up or quit after deciding the work was too hard. It’s a phenomenon that reflects our coddled generation Z’s aversion to physical labour.
Examination of the support already available to post-secondary students makes it even more clear why students opted out of available jobs. Here’s a condensed list, all of which have been increased in size due to COVID-19:
- The Canada Student Grant, a non-repayable program for lower income students, has been doubled from $3,000 to $6,000.
- The Canada Student Loans weekly maximum limit has been raised from $210 to $350 and the requirement for students to contribute any portion of their educational costs has been waived.
- The Canada Emergency Student Benefit provides up to $1,250 every four weeks from May through August for students who claim they’ve looked for work but haven’t been successful.
- Colleges and universities are increasing the normal size of bursaries for students in financial need. Additionally, scholarships are available for high-performing students.
- And the newly-created Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) pays $2,000 every four weeks to students who have earned at least $5,000 over the past 12 months.
Clearly, the need to create summer jobs isn’t a credible answer to the why question.
Trudeau’s other attempt at justifying the Canada Student Service Grant is to provide charities with “paid volunteers” (a term that perfectly meets the definition of an oxymoron) to help charities deliver their programs.
There’s no doubt that the non-profit sector has been devastated by COVID-19. Imagine Canada, an organization that works with charities, estimates the pandemic’s financial impact is between $9.5 billion and $15.7 billion due to a reduction in donations and revenue from the sale of goods and services. That’s made worse by the inability to hold fundraising events.
Many groups are facing existential crises and one in five Imagine Canada members have suspended or ceased operations. The sector, which employs 2.4 million people, provides services that form a vital element of every community’s social support fabric.
The non-profit sector desperately needs help. But after being forced to lay off thousands of employees, the last thing needed is volunteers to carry out programs they don’t have money to fund.
Giving that $913 million directly to the non-profit organizations would have a been a great help. But sadly, the federal government has decided not to do that.
Despite Trudeau’s previous statement that WE Charity is the only organization capable of administering the Canada Student Service Grant, the job of wasting that $913 billion has now been handed to the Public Service.
It’s obvious that Trudeau’s justifications for the Canada Student Service Grant program are completely bogus. So what could possibly have motivated him to implement the program in the first place?
Answering that leads to a much more diabolical reason than just handing a huge plum job to his financially-strapped friends Craig and Marc Kielburger.
At the end of June, after handing out $170 billion in COVID-19 support programs, Trudeau ended his daily Rideau Cottage press briefings. That largesse, together with his “We’ll get through this together” and “We’re here to help” mantras, had lifted the Liberals well above the Conservative Opposition in the polls.
Prospects for a fall election were reinforced when his daily media shows shifted from Rideau Cottage to campaign-style events at the workplaces of what he called “Canadian business champions.”
The Liberals won the 2019 election despite losing the popular vote, largely due to the advantageously distributed support of the traditionally left-of-centre youth demographic.
Exceptional intelligence is not considered one of Trudeau’s strong points, but his populist acumen together with a dramatic and, ostensibly, sincere communication style brought him to power. What better way to reinforce chances of regaining his coveted Liberal majority than to engage those many hundreds of thousands of hyped-up youth voters who have attended WE events?
But if this form of vote buying was Trudeau’s real objective, how did he possibly expect to get away with it?
The answer is captured in the ancient Greek word hubris. To the Greeks, hubris referred to “pride and overconfidence so great that it offends the gods by overstepping the boundaries of human limitations in an attempt to assume god-like status.” Hubris was a character flaw seen in the heroes of classical Greek tragedy, including Oedipus and Achilles. The old adage “Pride goeth before a fall” came to describe the result of hubris.
Those months of appearing daily in front of Rideau Cottage playing the sincere, empathetic, cash-gushing saviour freed from the tedious boundaries of parliamentary democracy must have led to fantasizing the achievement of god-like status.
It will be up to us mere humans to judge his ethical worthiness to attain such a status.
Gwyn Morgan is a retired Canadian business leader who has been a director of five global corporations.