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

Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mirror Alta, on Saturday May 8, 2021. The Whistle Stop was shut down by AHS for not complying with COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Police hand out tickets to dozens leaving anti-lockdown protest in Alberta

Hundreds gathered outside the Whistle Stop Café in the hamlet of Mirror, Alta.

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Alberta leads the Prairie provinces in being the first to take COVID-19 vaccine bookings for pre-teens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leads Prairie provinces in accepting COVID vaccine bookings for pre-teens

The province begins accepting appointments for kids as young as 12 starting today

FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

Alberta’s environment department has known for years that toxins from old coal mines are contaminating populations of the province’s official animal, the bighorn sheep. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Craig Bihrl
Alberta government knew bighorn sheep contaminated with coal mine selenium, scientist says

Jeff Kneteman says Alberta Environment has known about the problem in bighorn sheep for years

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives his COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccination in Ottawa, Friday, April 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
75% of Canadians need 1st vaccine dose to have more normal summer: Trudeau

The country is on track to hit a major milestone on the road to COVID-19 herd immunity Tuesday, with 40% vaccinated with a 1st dose

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Alberta to stop giving first doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot as supply dwindles

There aren’t any confirmed shipments of AstraZeneca coming, and the province only has 8,400 doses of it left

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

Most Read