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Results: 1 - 60 of 6035
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
I call the meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number 51, panel one of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. We are meeting on government spending, WE Charity and the Canada student service grant. Today's meeting is taking place by video conference, and the proceedings will be made available on the House of Commons website.
Mr. Poilievre, I believe you have a point of order.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Yes, one hour will be insufficient time for the witnesses. I don't want to waste any of that hour debating the amount of time. This is just to give you notice that Conservatives will be moving to invite these witnesses back for an additional three hours after this hearing is over, unless, of course, this meeting can be extended.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
We'll say it's a point of information. I knew there would be a bit of controversy around the one hour, because we had talked about it previously.
We did initially invite the witnesses for one hour. They agreed to come as of Tuesday. A schedule of the committee went out, I believe it was last Friday, which indicated there would be one hour with these witnesses.
The clerk did talk to them this morning to see if it was possible for two hours, but they had one hour available, so we will stick with that. Maybe we'll get all the answers in half an hour, you never know. People in the private sector have businesses to run, so their time is very valuable as well.
With that, we will start with the witnesses. I want to welcome the witnesses, and thank them for coming. We have, from WE Charity, Mrs. Al-Waheidi, executive director; and Mr. Baker, chief operations officer. As an individual, we have Ms. Marquez, former staff member, government and stakeholder relations, WE Charity.
Mrs. Al-Waheidi, the floor is yours.
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:03
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the committee.
Good afternoon. My name is Dalal Al-Waheidi, and I serve as the executive director for WE Charity.
I've spent 18 years in various roles at WE Charity, and I work alongside an exceptional team. I'm proud of the impact we make in helping young people at home by engaging them in service, and around the world helping children and families lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Our work is so important to me.
I'm a Palestinian Canadian and a refugee by birth. Growing up, I was affected by war twice: First, my family was in Kuwait during the 1990 Gulf War, and second, while living in the Gaza Strip. As a child and a teenager, I experienced first-hand the terrible impact of war, political instability, violence and systematic racism of young children because of identity, nationality and religion. However, I held on to a faint hope that my education would unlock doors for my future.
These experiences of political and cultural divisiveness have come to define my life and my professional career at WE Charity, from advocating for young people, advancing education, working on diversity and inclusion, and championing the rights of girls and women.
In 1998, I arrived in Canada on my own to study international development, on a full scholarship, at Trent University. After graduation, I was proud to join a Canadian-founded not-for-profit, then called Free the Children and now known as WE Charity.
I have been lucky to build an entrepreneurial career with WE Charity, progressing from a youth coordinator to a program builder, overseeing our international development programs, leading WE Day, and now as its executive director. My story is only one of the many stories of people who have helped build this organization with staff and volunteers, many of whom have worked for 25 years to build WE Charity into what it is today.
I was directly involved in shaping and growing it, alongside passionate and dedicated team members for WE Days across Canada. It was our dream to make it cool for kids to care and to contribute. WE Day is a celebration of their service to their communities. Imagine the young person who volunteers for the first time in life, who cares about poverty or homelessness or racial injustice, who takes a stand on an issue, raises their voice for our cause or organizes a campaign, and then gets to celebrate with other youth who want to change the world too.
Through WE Day, more than one million Canadians have been inspired to give back and volunteer for the first time. We have worked with 7,000 schools. Students have volunteered 70 million hours for more than 3,000 causes, creating compassionate people who know they can make a difference. Studies have shown that our alumni are more likely to join, volunteer and look for careers in the social sector.
In addition to our local work, we also do international development, which makes us different. Through our development projects, we have built 1,500 schools and classrooms where more than 200,000 children have been educated and 30,000 women have been supported by our alternative income projects. I have had the honour to meet hundreds and hundreds of children in developing countries who attend schools built by WE Charity, many of whom are girls.
WE Charity is different from most groups, and that can be a source of confusion. As we grew beyond the small charity, it required a better model to sustain itself and its good work. ME to WE social enterprise creates jobs overseas, especially for women entrepreneurs, and it chose volunteers and donors at all of our global development sites so that they can transparently see the impact of our development projects.
Since the ME to WE social enterprise was founded in 2008, 100% of its profit—every penny—has been annually donated to WE Charity or reinvested to grow the social mission. At a time when charitable donations in Canada are at a 30-year low, the support of the social enterprise means that we do not have to plead for money from an ever-dwindling group of donors.
WE Charity is not perfect, especially when pulling apart every choice over the past 25 years, but I hope Canadians are willing to give us a second look. Under additional lights, outside of the political controversy we find ourselves in, our programs should be seen as innovative and entrepreneurial and delivering meaningful impact, benefiting children across Canada and around the world.
One of the greatest privileges of my life has been helping to bring service opportunities to young people. It was with great optimism that I worked alongside a talented team to make the Canada service grant a reality. A lot has been lost with its cancellation. This summer tens of thousands of students, over 65% from the visible minority population, lost their service opportunities. I could never have imagined that the combination of COVID-19 and the political fallout of agreeing to partner on the CSSG could be so devastating for WE Charity, our staff and the communities we serve.
A lot has happened. This week we had to release staff in Canada and say good-bye to talented and passionate members who came to WE because of their commitment to service. This is incredibly difficult and emotional. We have proactively suspended many of our philanthropic partnerships and school board partnerships in Canada. The organization is examining every aspect of what it does, including streamlining its organizational structure, conducting a governance review, simplifying its brand and closing certain programs.
It is easy to tear things down, but I can tell you from personal experience that it's not easy to build. Twenty-five years were invested by thousands of current and former staff, board members, teachers, schools, donors, students and advisers to create a unique platform for youth engagement and international development. I want to take a moment to share my gratitude and thanks for each one of them for believing in our mission. Regardless of the firestorm we are facing, nothing can erase the pride I feel for the impact of WE Charity and the dedication of our team. I know what has been achieved. I've seen it. I've seen its magical impact. It is worth saving.
As a child who fled war twice, Canada has given me everything. I've tried and worked very hard to give something back. I hope my two daughters, Zeina and Leila, first-generation Canadians, will one day participate in service programs, give back to this country and be celebrated for their service. I want to do my part to always ensure that Canada continues to be a good country with good people who have good hearts.
Thank you. Meegwetch. Merci. Shukran.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
WE Charity Foundation received $30 million from the Government of Canada. Unfortunately, you've only repaid $22 million. Where is the rest?
Scott Baker
View Scott Baker Profile
Scott Baker
2020-08-13 15:12
Yes, on June 30 we did receive $30 million. We have returned $22 million of those funds. We are in the process of working with the government—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Sorry, the question was where is the rest? Where is it? In what account is it being held?
Scott Baker
View Scott Baker Profile
Scott Baker
2020-08-13 15:12
We're in the process right now of working as quickly as we can with the government to return it. They're driving the process.
The funds are currently in bank accounts, not earning any interest and not accessed in any way.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Scott Baker
View Scott Baker Profile
Scott Baker
2020-08-13 15:13
The agreement was with the WE Charity Foundation. As a result, the transfer was to the WE Charity Foundation.
Scott Baker
View Scott Baker Profile
Scott Baker
2020-08-13 15:13
Since receiving the money on June 30, it has not been touched.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Thank you.
My next question is for you, Ms. Marquez. You do government relations work for WE. Since March 1 have you been in contact with anyone in the Prime Minister's Office?
Sofia Marquez
View Sofia Marquez Profile
Sofia Marquez
2020-08-13 15:13
They are Amit Singh, a political staffer, as well as...she's been a witness, Michelle Kovacevic. I think that's her last name.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
She's a public servant.
Again, just to make sure, have you communicated with anybody in the Prime Minister's Office since March 1?
Sofia Marquez
View Sofia Marquez Profile
Sofia Marquez
2020-08-13 15:14
Since March 1, I was only in communication with two people at the Prime Minister's Office. Allow me to make sure that I'm very clear. It was on May 5, with a staffer, a director of policy. His name is Rick Theis. I emailed as well another person. Her name is Laura Lebel.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Come back to it later in the meeting. We don't have time.
How long was your conversation with the PMO policy director on May 5?
Sofia Marquez
View Sofia Marquez Profile
Sofia Marquez
2020-08-13 15:15
It was very brief. It was a very high-level conversation of about half an hour. It was a debrief of the current state of the proposal that had already been in the works with ESDC. We provided context as to the latest development on the proposal.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
How did WE think it was authorized to start implementing a government program if no one in the government had authorized you to do so on the 5th?
Sofia Marquez
View Sofia Marquez Profile
Sofia Marquez
2020-08-13 15:15
That's a question that I cannot respond to. I was not involved in the contribution agreement negotiation process.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Okay, but there was no contribution agreement for another month and a half, so somebody told you over at WE that you could go and start spending money, hiring people and implementing the program. Who told you that?
Sofia Marquez
View Sofia Marquez Profile
Sofia Marquez
2020-08-13 15:16
Again, I was not involved in those conversations. It would have been the executives at WE Charity who would have had.... I have no idea.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Was it Mrs. Al-Waheidi who told you that you could start implementing the program? Just the name, please.
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:16
We have worked with a few individuals within ESDC on the contribution agreement—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
No, that's not my question. I'm sorry, I do have to cut you off. I'm not asking about the contribution agreement.
Ms. Dalal Al-Waheidi: [Technical difficulty—Editor]
Hon. Pierre Poilievre: I have a point of order, Mr. Chair.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
We are limited in time because the witnesses are planning to skedaddle out the door early. My question is not about the contribution agreement. It would not be concluded for another six weeks. My question is about who authorized them to start on the 5th.
View Wayne Easter Profile
Lib. (PE)
That's not a point of order. It's a matter of debate. I don't think it's fair to say that the witnesses are skedaddling out the door. I'll not take the time away from you. They agreed to be here for an hour, and it's unfair to imply that.
Mrs. Al-Waheidi, complete your response, and we'll move on to Mr. Poilievre.
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:17
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
We started a conversation with ESDC about the contribution agreement and on the program design as of May 5. During that time it is not uncommon for contribution agreement negotiations for organizations to claim—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
Who told you that you could start implementing the program and spending money on May 5?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:17
We were in negotiation about the program at that time.
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
I know that, but you began implementing the program on May 5. Somebody ought to have told you that you could do that. Who was it?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:17
We had conversations with various members of ESDC whereby we had to implement the program design. It was implemented in such a short period of time—
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:18
We had different conversations with different people who were part of the negotiation process for the contract—
View Pierre Poilievre Profile
CPC (ON)
When you come back for your next testimony you'll have to answer this question. You would not, as an organization, have begun spending large sums of money on this program if someone in the government had not told you, before May 5, that you could start doing so on that date.
I'm asking you again—this will be the fourth time. Somebody would have to have told you. Who was it?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:18
Nobody told us we could spend money before. I wish to remind the committee that these were eligible expenditures that were allowed to be reimbursed. I am trying to answer the question, with all due respect, if you can give me the courtesy to answer the question.
Nobody told us from ESDC, or any other parties, before May 5 that we could spend the money. They were only eligible expenditures as per the process of our contribution agreement. We were asked by the government to work on this project in view of COVID-19, and with short timelines we had to be ready.
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
2020-08-13 15:19
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Mrs. Al-Waheidi.
Mrs. Al-Waheidi, it has been insinuated by the opposition and reported in the media that WE Charity wasn't able to provide services in both official languages in Quebec. I understand that you have an office in Montreal and that you work with many schools in the province.
Could you tell us about that?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:20
WE Charity is a national organization. You are correct. We do have an office and staff in Montreal. We have worked with over 400 schools across the province of Quebec. We have also worked in various provinces with high speaking French communities. We have implemented 11 WE Days, and we engage hundreds and thousands of students as part of this process. We have bilingual activities and partnerships. We have formulated partnerships with school boards, and with other local organizations to help us in the process.
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
2020-08-13 15:20
There also appear to be misleading statements in the media primarily perpetuated by the opposition. Maybe you can clear the record for us. What was National's role? How and why was National chosen?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:21
National PR was hired to assist us in the process to reach out to francophone and Quebec organizations especially in the area of engagement of not-for-profit organizations. We were really excited about the opportunity that CSSG would provide in helping us to support communities in Quebec and francophone areas. That was the role for which it was hired.
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
2020-08-13 15:21
Also, part of your role involved overseeing organizational governance at WE Charity. How involved were you with the decision-making process with regard to the CSSG program? Were you aware of all the decisions that were being made?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:21
As the executive director for the organization, part of my role is to manage team members to operationalize the program. My role was to bring this program to life in such a short period of time from an operational level.
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
2020-08-13 15:22
How often did you work directly or indirectly with Ms. Marquez? Were you aware that there were no registrations by Ms. Marquez or anyone representing WE Charity in the federal lobbying registry?
Dalal Al-Waheidi
View Dalal Al-Waheidi Profile
Dalal Al-Waheidi
2020-08-13 15:22
We have registered as lobbyists, but I want to provide context, which I think is really important.
For the past years, our engagement with the government was about 1% to 3% of our overall budget, and we found that it was minimal. If I thought that registration was required, we would have done it, and we would have had an accord. That's something I would like to share from a context perspective.
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
2020-08-13 15:22
My next question is for Mr. Scott Baker.
Has WE Charity's board of directors ever voiced any concern over the organization's decision not to register and report lobbying activities?
Scott Baker
View Scott Baker Profile
Scott Baker
2020-08-13 15:23
We do have a very active board of directors that is engaged in the organization, and we meet on a regular basis. At no point, over our history, has the board of directors raised any concerns about the registration as lobbyists.
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
Lib. (QC)
View Annie Koutrakis Profile
2020-08-13 15:23
My next question is for Ms. Sofia Marquez.
How much of your time, each month, would you say you spent lobbying the federal government? Does this include time spent preparing for communications with public officer holders?
Sofia Marquez
View Sofia Marquez Profile
Sofia Marquez
2020-08-13 15:23
As director of government and stakeholder relations at WE, I helped the organization achieve its goals through identifying funding, pools of funding and opportunities privately or publicly available. As part of that, indeed, I would engage the federal government as part of my portfolio, but I also had other responsibilities, including the oversight and project implementation of contribution agreements.
Within that context, I would like to clarify that the tracking of hours and how my position actually evolved did not allow to have very detailed track records. Also, that varied as well quite significantly depending on the period of time where that happened.
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