Evidence of meeting #22 for Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics in the 43rd Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was charity.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sofia Marquez  Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual
Reed Cowan  Donor and Fundraiser, Wesley Smiles Coalition, Free The Children, As an Individual

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

It was, yes.

I want to go back to a question my colleague asked you about the $3-million grant from the Canadian government just before the 2019 election. Did you or any of your colleagues communicate with the office of former finance minister Bill Morneau with regard to that $3-million grant?

1:35 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

I can't recall specifics, but I wouldn't be surprised if that would have been the case at some point. We would have to check the records.

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

I would appreciate firm clarification on that, because at that time, Minister Morneau—I don't know if you were aware—still owed $41,366 in unreimbursed travel expenses for his 2017 trips to Kenya and Ecuador for WE Charity, which the organization had paid for. Is that something you would have been aware of at the time?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

As I mentioned in my opening statement, the scope of the job that I had did not include the stewardship of donations or the management of donor engagement directly for international projects or any of that. I had no knowledge of that happening.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Ms. Marquez, I hope you don't mind, but it just makes absolutely no sense to me that the director of government and stakeholder relations wouldn't be aware of the unreimbursed expenses before receiving a $3-million grant.

WE charity was clearly organized, so the only explanation I could have for that is that you weren't told because of incompetence within the organization or because of wilful ignorance, and the appearance of this is horrible.

Forty-one thousand dollars is a lot of money. I would say most Canadians would agree that it's a lot of money, and it could be perceived as an attempted bribe or one of those oversights that would affect his decisions.

What was it in your organization? Was it that somebody was incompetent in not informing you of this extremely important reimbursement that hadn't been done, or do you think it was wilful that they didn't tell you about this?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

What I can bring to this committee is the confirmation that I had no direct knowledge of any payments or outstanding payments that any minister or donor would or would not have made at any point in time.

The scope of my responsibility did not include that, and therefore—

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Well, somebody would have known.

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

—my due diligence did not include engaging with other departments to ensure whether or not that was the case.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Well, unfortunately, Madam Marquez, I think my time is up, but thank you for that.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Chris Warkentin

Thank you, Mr. Carrie.

We'll turn to Mr. Sorbara now for the next round of questions.

February 26th, 2021 / 1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Welcome, Ms. Marquez, and thank you for your testimony today. I'd like to just go over a few facts with you.

How long was your employment at WE Charity?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

In total I worked for WE Charity for about three years.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

When you began your career there, at what level or in what role as defined within the organization was it?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

When I first started at WE Charity in 2017, my role was associate director for strategy.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

It was associate director for strategy.

What were the two or three responsibilities that consumed your time in that role?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

In that role, I would be overseeing preparation of specialized proposals for governments, for non-profits and for donors, and I oversaw a team as well.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

How large was the team?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

It varied, depending on the point in time, but it was as small as four people and as big as nine people.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

How did your role evolve during your three-year period there?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

Given my academic background in social policy and my work for other non-profits prior to starting at WE Charity, it became evident that I was very helpful in crafting specialized proposals and in identifying good avenues for WE Charity to advance important youth programs across Canada. Therefore, eventually my role evolved to include a bit more forefront engagement with individuals instead of simply focusing on the creation of documentation and proposals as such.

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

You mentioned two words—social policy.

Can you tell the committee members what your background is? If you're interested in social policy, obviously social justice is very important to ensuring an inclusive society, but can you describe your background in terms of social policy, please?

1:40 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

Yes, of course.

I did a bachelor's in international relations and I also did a master's in public policy and international relations. Within that, I focused almost exclusively on youth education and equity in access to services so that society at large wouldn't be discriminated against.

To be completely frank, social policy programs are at the heart of what I do, and they are what has driven me to work for the not-profit sector.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Okay, and you do also understand why you're here at the committee today? You get why you've been called here. To be frank, obviously, I wish the scenario were that we didn't have to issue a summons and we could have heard this testimony at a different time, because I think what you're providing.... Even with one of my colleagues questioning you today, you weren't even in the emails that were mentioned. You were not in that loop at all in those discussions, if I'm correct.

I just want to make sure we're getting the facts. To your understanding, in your time there, the three years there, you weren't in the loop on a lot of the contacts that occurred.

1:45 p.m.

Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual

Sofia Marquez

If I can answer your question very directly, there were some initiatives and some engagements in which I wasn't part of the conversation. Sometimes the executives would lead those conversations and sometimes I would.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Francesco Sorbara Liberal Vaughan—Woodbridge, ON

Okay.

On the organizational structure at WE—because every organization has their own corporate structure, their own culture and brand—how would you describe their organizational structure? It seems that WE was headed by two very strong individuals, if I can use that term, two founders, and entrepreneurs tend to lead in that manner. How would you describe the organizational structure at WE?