Good afternoon. My name is Sofia Marquez. Thank you so much for the opportunity to provide some opening remarks before addressing your questions.
As members of the committee know, I am appearing before you today after being issued a summons on Monday, February 22. Before the summons was issued, I respectfully declined two invitations by written correspondence through counsel.
My refusal may have left the committee members or other Canadians with the impression that I am a reluctant witness or that I represent WE Charity in an attempt to refuse the committee's questions about the organization's activities. Let me correct that misconception at this time. I'm happily appearing before you as a private citizen to answer your questions honestly and to the best of my ability. I'm very proud of the way I've conducted myself throughout my professional career and I have nothing to hide.
I would like to share for the record some background about my role at WE Charity and the limitations on my ability to assist this committee in its study.
Prior to working for WE Charity, I obtained a master's in public and international affairs in 2014 from the University of Ottawa. After graduation, I worked in policy analysis, project management, and proposal development roles in both the non-profit and private sectors. I have never been a consultant lobbyist or worked in a role in which lobbying formed the core of my responsibilities within an organization.
I began my employment with WE Charity in July 2017 as an associate director of strategy. In this role, I managed a team that supported the efforts of other departments and the executives in the development of specialized proposals across all sectors. This included the private, public and non-profit sectors.
I wasn't initially hired to be a liaison for government or other stakeholders. In July of 2018, WE Charity recognized that my work had gradually and naturally evolved to focus more on external engagement, and I took on the newly created title of director of government and stakeholder relations, along with a shift in my duties. In this role, I was responsible for engagement with all levels of government, as well as with strategic stakeholders across the non-profit sector and private sector in relation to domestic programs run by WE Charity in Canada. This included securing funding, project management to support the successful implementation of funded programs, and fulfilling reporting requirements on existing initiatives.
All of this work was focused on helping to advance opportunities for Canadian youth to engage in service and education, a goal I cared passionately about then and still do today.
The scope of my responsibilities did not include, however, the stewardship of donations or the management of specific donor relationships, the securing and management of talent for WE Day or ancillary events around it, or any involvement in WE Charity's international projects. I also don't have information on WE Charity's corporate or financial operational structure.
To be clear, if you're imagining me as a full-time in-house lobbyist, that would be a mischaracterization of my role. I wore many hats, and lobbying was occasionally one of them. My government engagement at all levels included all kinds of activities and communications, including overseeing project management, reporting on existing government-funded programs, or even understanding—broadly speaking—youth policies that were in place. I was not by any stretch a full-time lobbyist or even a regular lobbyist for the federal government.
I am aware of the Lobbying Act and code and I was aware of them while working for WE Charity. As members of the committee will know, the responsibility for registration for in-house lobbyists under the Lobbying Act lies with the executive director of an organization. However, in support of WE Charity's response to the lobbying commissioner's inquiries and other requests from the federal government, I provided all my calendar and records to my former employer to facilitate an estimate of my actual time spent engaging with the federal government in any capacity.
I am aware that WE Charity has completed a registration under the act, dated back to January 2019, which includes my name as an in-house lobbyist during my employment with the organization. I was not involved in that process, which took place after my departure from WE Charity, and I cannot offer the committee any information about it.
I can, of course, tell you what I remember about my role in developing the proposal of the Canada student service grant in April and May 2020, as I already did for the finance committee back in August. I can only do this from memory, since my records belong to my former employer.
I can tell you that before the Canada student service grant was conceived, WE Charity made an unsolicited proposal to government for a student entrepreneurship program, which we hoped would be a way to support Canadian youth during and after the first wave of the pandemic. This proposal was shared with Minister Ng and Minister Chagger in the first half of April 2020. This proposal was in no way related to what eventually would become the Canada student service grant, and focused on a different type of youth engagement, from a scale perspective and a model perspective.
I can also tell you that I was aware that Rachel Wernick contacted Craig Kielburger and identified the government's interest in developing a student service program on a much wider scale on April 19. In response to that information, I was deeply engaged, and dedicated most of my time to mobilizing my colleagues at WE Charity to draft a proposal to ESDC, which was ultimately provided to government as a formal proposal on April 22.
The service proposal was shared widely within government after April 22, as I understand it, though I would have no knowledge of internal communications within government. To confirm, I did participate in a briefing call with Craig Kielburger, Michelle Kovacevic and Rachel Wernick on April 24 as well, as the record has shown.
After this point, I received and responded to many requests from ESDC for further information between May 8 and May 22 as part of the proposal development process. As of May 22, however, I was no longer involved in any activity regarding the Canada student service grant. All responsibility for dealing with the proposal or agreement negotiations were led by the executive level within WE Charity, and I had no further involvement in or knowledge of engagement with government at that point.
My role as director of government and stakeholder relations at WE Charity ended on July 31 of last year, as you all know, and I have moved on in my own career from that work. I remain committed to promoting youth education and engagement in Canada, and I'm very proud of our team's hard work to advance these issues at WE Charity, particularly during a pandemic. It has been truly disappointing for me to watch those efforts being undermined and ultimately undone over the past several months.
I welcome the opportunity to answer any questions the committee may have for me at this time.