Skip to main content
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track on the Olympic Games
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week for 24 weeks
Complete Olympic Games coverage at your fingertips
Your inside track onthe Olympics Games
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

You might have thought that everything about the WE Charity agreement would become clear once we heard from the civil servant who recommended that the organization handle a student grant program.

But she testified before a Commons committee on Thursday, and yet it still wasn’t really clear what was the genesis of the whole business. Or even if WE Charity’s involvement really started with her.

Rachel Wernick, an assistant deputy minister with Employment and Social Development Canada, said she is the person who recommended that the student service grants be administered by a third party, and that it be WE. And that’s what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been saying: that the public service came up with the idea.

Story continues below advertisement

But somehow, it wasn’t the straightforward answer that cleared things up.

WE Charity could have received up to $43.5-million for administering student volunteer program, Minister tells MPs

We learned, for example, that before Ms. Wernick sounded out WE about potential pandemic programs for youth, the charity had already circulated a proposal for a different project to cabinet ministers – a proposal that was rapidly tweaked to fit the student service grant idea.

And we heard the minister that brought the project to cabinet, Bardish Chagger, dodge questions about whether her aides were discussing it with the Prime Minister’s Office before it went to cabinet, giving answers in lawyerly language. “I did not personally have those conversations,” she said.

As a side note, it is a remarkable coincidence that Ms. Wernick, a senior official who has risen up the ranks in a long career, is the civil servant in the middle of this controversy involving Mr. Trudeau.

Only last year, it was her brother, Michael Wernick, then clerk of the privy council and head of the civil service, was a key witness in hearings about the SNC-Lavalin affair, and at the end of it, he resigned. After that, you’d expect Ms. Wernick to be nervous at these hearings. She looked it.

The question is about a $900-million program in which student volunteers would receive grants that were handed to WE Charity to manage, even though the organization has ties to Mr. Trudeau’s family, and paid his mother and brother for speaking at events. WE was to have been paid $19.5-million, or so we thought – on Thursday, Ms. Chagger revealed that WE might have received up to $43.5-million, depending on the number of grants.

Ms. Wernick’s testimony should be critical: It backs up Mr. Trudeau‘s assertion that the civil service recommended that WE deliver the program. But it seemed to raise questions about how it all happened, too.

Story continues below advertisement

Some of it was clear. It was a “mad rush.” The program wasn’t her idea, but with three weeks to figure out how to deliver it, and a civil service stretched by the pandemic, she felt WE had a network, a connection to youth, and was good with tech, and she recommended they handle it. But the programs origins were unexplained.

Ms. Wernick said that a few days before Mr. Trudeau announced the program in April, she was told there would be some kind of student service component in a package of pandemic programs for students. The civil service was up to its eyeballs in getting out pandemic aid, so officials started considering handing it over to a third party.

In discussions with officials, someone – perhaps Michelle Kovacevic, an assistant deputy minister at the Department of Finance – mentioned WE. Ms. Wernick had worked with WE on other programs, and knew co-founder Craig Kielburger, so she volunteered to call.

But she also noted WE already had a proposal for a pandemic program that it had circulated to cabinet ministers. And when the Prime Minister announced the student grant program a few days later, on April 22, WE quickly sent Ms. Wernick a new proposal to fit it.

It sounds oddly like other people in the government were working with WE even before Ms. Wernick got involved.

Ms. Chagger, the minister responsible, said she took the recommendation from her department, and didn’t talk to the Prime Minister or Finance Minister Bill Morneau – both of whom now face investigations by Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion. But she dodged questions about whether her aides were discussing it with aides to Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Morneau.

Story continues below advertisement

So now, after we have found the civil servant who recommended WE, there are still questions about the origins. Was Ms. Wernick’s recommendation really what drove this program, and WE’s part in it?

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies