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Trudeau’s student program was never about helping students

By Justin Gotta, August 27 2020—

When I first saw the headlines that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an additional $900 million for students, I was confused. We as students just received $5.2 billion in the form of the Canada Emergency Student Benefit Program (CESB), why would we be receiving another $900 million?

As Trudeau’s approval rating climbed throughout the pandemic, rumors of him calling an election in the fall to secure a majority government were swirling — what better way to garner youth support and mobilize young people to vote than by giving them another near-billion dollars? I mean, it looks great on the campaign trail when you can show how much support you gave to potentially your largest voter base.

I became more perplexed at why you would put $900 million into awarding volunteerism. I know it sounds blunt, but paying someone to volunteer defeats the purpose of volunteering. 

This program is not honoraria. If it were, they would award those who have already put in hours helping others throughout this pandemic. This is not a program to support students. If it was, they wouldn’t have launched the program halfway through the summer and have students try to meet ridiculous 100-hour targets to receive $1,000 each time. This program is not an incentive to get people to volunteer. Ten dollars per hour is not an incentive. Why work for $10 an hour if you could work minimum wage or collect CERB or CESB?

Yes, jobs are extremely scarce right now, but that is why we have the Canada Summer Jobs Program. Why test a new program when we already have a well-tested existing program that subsidizes 100 per cent of a student’s wage? This money was better suited to be funneled into the Canada Summer Jobs program to get students back to work and put money in their pockets. What amounts to $5 less than minimum wage in the province of Alberta does not cut it for us to pay our tuition. 

The program continued to fall apart when Trudeau announced only the WE Charity would administer the $900 million program, in which the government corruption bells began to ring. Members of Justin Trudeau’s family have received more than $500,000 from the WE Charity.  Finance minister Bill Morneau’s daughter works for WE and Morneau accepted $41,000 in travel expenses from the WE Charity for two trips in 2017. Its hard to deny the existence of some sort of relationship between the Kielburger Brothers — founders of the WE Charity — and Trudeau. Just look at the two $1,200 political donations Craig Kielburger gave to Justin Trudeau during his Liberal Party of Canada Leadership Campaign in 2012. 

Trudeau prioritized awarding an organization that he and various other Liberal ministers have a relationship with, rather than providing proper support to students. Trudeau’s timeline during his testimony explained that even before being approved to administer this program, the WE charity was told they could start charging expenses. If he truly had intentions of helping students, you would evaluate other organizations to administer the program, not tell WE they would be receiving the program two weeks before approval. Students were never accounted for and Mr. Trudeau’s timeline shows just that. 

It doesn’t make sense for the government to give $900 million just because of family connections, but rather because WE is part of the Liberal Party election machine to help them with their re-election efforts. Just look at a 2017 election-style ad featuring Justin Trudeau to promote WE Charity where he promises to “invest” in youth.

As we dive deeper down the rabbit hole, I still think there is a much bigger picture to be painted here, along the lines of allowing a powerful organization he has connections with to help with his re-election efforts. What drives me up the wall with this controversy is every time ethics are brought up, the PMO goes right to the punchline, “this is about supporting students.” It’s not, and the Canadian Alliance of Students Associations has called on the government to scrap the program entirely and put the money in other supports instead. Instead of giving students the proper help we need, our Prime Minister and our Finance Minister put personal relationships above all else. Now Morneau has resigned and our Prime Minister is still under an ethics investigation. This time because of $900 million, an amount that could pay for every undergraduate student at the University of Calgary’s yearly tuition six times over.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board. The author holds a position with the University of Calgary Campus Conservatives.

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