The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected the daily lives of all Canadians and disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable. Canada's youth are no exception.
Mr. Chair, Canadians are hurting.
As a member of Parliament for Waterloo, I have three post-secondary institutions in my riding that I was elected to represent. I know first-hand that students are facing a unique set of challenges during this pandemic, be they their studies, disruptions to work opportunities, internships and co-op placements, or, like most Canadians, uncertainty about what comes next.
When the pandemic hit, our government acted by immediately placing a moratorium on Canada student loan repayments, including interest relief. Then in April, the Prime Minister announced a $9-billion investment in students and youth, including the Canada emergency student benefit.
We also doubled Canada student grants and increased the Canada student loans program so that students facing financial challenges could access and afford post-secondary education. We increased employment opportunities and supports for youth across the country through the youth employment and skills strategy. We increased our investment in the student work placement program to help create 20,000 job placements for post-secondary students in their fields of study.
As part of this suite of supports for students and youth, the Government of Canada created the Canada student service grant. At the time the grant was developed, the pandemic had reshaped our reality, creating a number of overarching challenges.
First, the country was in lockdown. Post-secondary students and recent graduates, like all Canadians, were facing unprecedented challenges. There was economic uncertainty, and it became apparent that there would be difficulties for students to find employment over the summer months, employment that would be crucial to helping them pay for school in the fall, pay down student debt, or pay for related expenses such as housing and utilities.
Second, we heard from many not-for-profits that they were struggling to provide services in their communities. Almost half of not-for-profits were having trouble finding volunteers at the same time that they were seeing an increased demand for their services. With public health guidelines requiring physical distancing, many not-for-profits needed to find new ways to engage volunteers while continuing to support their local communities within the context of COVID-19.
Third, we also heard very clearly from students that they want to work, yet they also want to serve their communities.
Mr. Chair, we've seen young Canadians roll up their sleeves to assist their vulnerable neighbours, drop off groceries and help people around them connect using technology. They have stepped up to help in this time of need.
As a result of this reality, our policy objectives in creating this grant during the crisis were all-encompassing. We endeavoured to provide a way for students to both serve their communities and develop skills, while also rewarding their contribution and supporting their post-secondary education. It was important to me that the design of the program reflect the diversity of our country and be inclusive to students, regardless of their ability, region or socio-economic status. I pushed to ensure that a diverse range of students and a wide range of not-for-profits could participate in this new initiative.
Given the scope and scale of the program, it was recommended by the public service that entering into a contribution agreement with a third party was the best approach to ensure that both students and not-for-profits could receive the necessary support to deliver this program successfully, and as quickly as possible. The contribution agreement that was negotiated by the public service and signed by the Government of Canada and WE Charity allocated funding to different cohorts.
The first announcement we made was for 20,000 placements, and $19.5 million was allocated. Of this $19.5 million, $5 million was for not-for-profits for the creation and support they needed, and $300,000 was for accessibility supports, so that every student, regardless of their ability, could participate.
There were two other categories of funding envisioned in the contribution agreement. There was $10.5 million to be provided to WE Charity to administer the program for smaller, local not-for-profits that would want to participate. This money was provided to WE in anticipation of a desire by these groups to participate in the program.
Additionally, as we've always stated, our intent was for this program to scale up. Had that occurred, there could have been another $13.53 million provided to WE for an additional 20,000 placements. Going ahead with this would only have been authorized if the demand was there and the program was proceeding as planned. There were checks and balances put in place, and they would have had to approve it for it to move forward. We had not moved to the second cohort.
The maximum amount that WE Charity could have received was $43.53 million out of the total budget of $912 million. The vast majority of the monies were for grants that would have been issued as one-time payments for students to pay for their post-secondary education costs.
Mr. Chair, I would like it noted for the record that our public service entered into a contribution agreement with WE Charity, and not a contract, as the opposition continues to imply.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to make something clear once and for all: our public service entered into a contribution agreement with WE Charity, not a contract, as the opposition continues to imply.
A contribution agreement allowed the department to leverage the network and digital capacity of a national organization to swiftly implement the CSSG program. The non-partisan and professional public service made a clear recommendation that WE Charity was the organization that was able to deliver this program in the timeline that was needed.
Mr. Chair, as you know, WE Charity is no longer delivering the CSSG. There are tens of thousands of students and hundreds of not-for-profit—