WE Charity board told speakers at WE days not paid, former chair says

WE Charity board told speakers at WE days not paid, former chair says

WE Charity board told speakers at WE days not paid, former chair says

OTTAWA — Payments made to members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family for appearing at WE events came under scrutiny Tuesday after the former chair of WE Charity’s board of directors testified that the board was explicitly told speakers were not paid.

Michelle Douglas, who resigned in March from the board of WE Charity, told the House of Commons finance committee Tuesday WE’s board made direct inquiries about whether speakers at the organization’s popular youth events known as “WE Days” were compensated.

WE’s executive director assured the board they were not paid, Douglas said.

“The WE Charity board always understood that speakers were not paid by the charity or the related organization to speak at WE Days. The board made direct inquiries on this issue,” Douglas told the committee.

Earlier this month, the WE organization confirmed it has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to members of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s family.

Trudeau’s mother Margaret Trudeau was paid about $250,000 for 28 speaking appearances at WE-related events between 2016 and 2020 and his brother Alexandre has been paid $32,000 for eight events, according to WE.

“I don’t know the precise nature of what they were paid for, but if it was exclusively to speak on the WE Day stage, that would have surprised me,” Douglas told the committee.

After Douglas’s appearance, Craig and Marc Kielburger told the committee Trudeau’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau has participated in seven WE Days and received an average of $3,618 for each event, to cover her expenses. That works out to $25,326 in total.

Margaret Trudeau’s expenses totalled $167,944, they said, citing an average of $5,988 for each of her 28 events. Alexandre Trudeau’s expenses averaged $2,447 each for his eight events, or $19,576.

The WE organization had previously said that it covered Trudeau family members’ travel costs but had not divulged these more detailed figures.

The Kielburgers explained that these speakers were not paid directly for speaking at WE Days, but to compensate them for their time for participating in “auxiliary events” such as receptions, cocktail parties, breakfasts and book-signings that took place in and around WE Days.

They acknowledged that not all speakers were offered this compensation, but said a small number of speakers, including members of the Trudeau family, were paid for these auxiliary events. They cited privacy for refusing to name other speakers paid for these appearances but said they would seek permission to reveal some soon.

Opposition MPs raised a number of questions about why members of Trudeau’s family in particular were asked to take part in paid WE events and whether other speakers had received similar remuneration.

Margaret Trudeau was asked to share her work on mental health and Alexandre Trudeau was engaged to speak about his environmental activism and was a last-minute replacement for Margaret, the Kielburgers explained.

“By bringing in these types of educational speakers to events, it allows us to bring partners and sponsors to the table. This is part of our model, and it works really well,” Craig Kielburger said.

He also noted many other prominent politicians have attended WE events, including Laureen Harper, the wife of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who hosted a post-WE Day reception at 24 Sussex Drive.

The WE co-founders disputed the suggestion they had close personal ties with the Trudeau family.

“I’ve never seen the prime minister or Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in a social setting. Neither of us have. We’ve never had a meal with them. We’ve never socialized with them,” Craig Kielburger said.

Meanwhile, the Kielburgers were also asked to address concerns voiced by Douglas about the status of WE Charity prior to entering into the now-aborted agreement with the federal government to administer the Canada Student Service Grant.

Douglas says she resigned from the board of WE Charity in March after the organization began a series of mass layoffs but refused to provide financial justification to the board for them.

“I did not resign as a routine member or as part of a planned board transition. I resigned because I could not do my job, I could not discharge my governance duties,” she said.

After the COVID-19 health crisis hit in March, the WE Charity’s executive team was “scrambling” to deal with the financial impacts of the pandemic, Douglas said, and began to lay off large numbers of staff.

As the days went by, the numbers of job losses grew quickly into the hundreds, she said (the Kielburgers would later testify that WE Charity laid off about half its 390 employees).

The board of directors convened an ad hoc committee to hold daily calls with the executive team for briefings and updates, and this committee was told the executive was running daily financial reports to inform its decision-making regarding its employees.

“Those reports were not shared with the board, despite our requests,” Douglas said.

“It was our view that you cannot fire hundreds of people without very strong, demonstrable evidence, and even then should explore mitigation measures to save jobs. Instead, the executive team were dismissing employees with great speed and in large numbers.”

After the board made a final demand for the reports to be produced immediately, Douglas said, Craig Kielburger called her up and asked her to resign.

The Kielburgers acknowledged that they were forced to let go a number of their employees, but said the board was briefed a number of times on the status of the charity.

The charity had decided to restructure its board in fall of 2019, but COVID-19 disrupted those plans, Craig Kielburger said.

He says Douglas was offered a “transition time” of three months in March, but she chose to leave the company immediately.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 28, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

charity

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

File photo
Alberta’s central zone has 670 active cases

301 new cases identified Sunday

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Alberta Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths in Red Deer Friday. (Image courtesy CDC)
Two more deaths linked to Olymel outbreak in Red Deer

Province reported 356 additional COVID-19 cases Friday

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta’s budget promises more help for COVID-19 with a hard deficit

Annual spending on debt interest is closing in on $3 billion

Alberta reported an additional 399 cases of COVID-19 Thursday, on 9,217 tests, for a test positivity rate of 4.3 per cent. (Image courtesy CDC)
Red Deer down to 562 active COVID-19 cases

8 new COVID-19 deaths, 399 additional COVID-19 cases

Bookings for COVID-19 vaccines for people age 75 or older start Wednesday. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Updated: Delays for seniors booking for vaccine appointments

By 9:20 a.m. Wednesday, 4,500 seniors had booked their appointments

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

Weather Network is forecasting a slower than average start to spring in British Columbia

AstraZeneca’s vaccines are ready for use at the vaccination center in Apolda, Germany, Sunday, Feb.28, 2021. (Michael Reichel/dpa via AP)
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

The first of those doses could start to arrive in Canada as early as Wednesday

People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton Alta, on Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Health Services head sorry for glitches in vaccine booking system for seniors

AHS president said technical issues have been fixed and a virtual waiting room is in place

Vandalism is shown on Alberta NDP MLA Janis Irwin’s constituency office in Edmonton in this handout photo on Saturday, February 27, 2021. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney quickly condemned vandalism at an Opposition legislature member Janis Irwin’s Edmonton office after the MLA posted pictures showing her front window spray-painted with the words “Antifa Liar.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Janis Irwin *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

Edmonton MLA Janis Irwin posted pictures showing the front window spray-painted with the words ‘Antifa Liar’

A helicopter flies past a mountain near McBride, B.C., on Saturday January 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Avalanche warning for backcountry users in North and South Rockies

Avalanche Canada is urging backcountry users to always check their regional avalanche forecasts

Supporters pray outside court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021, as a trial date was set for Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church. He is charged with holding Sunday services in violation of Alberta’s COVID-19 rules and with breaking conditions of his bail release. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Trial date for jailed Alberta pastor charged with breaking COVID-19 health orders

The court says it will reconvene with lawyers on March 5 for a case management plan by teleconference

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Most Read