Subsequent events have raised questions about how the decision was actually made. We ask why the federal public service was not directed to administer the student grant program in the first place. At one point, the Prime Minister claimed that WE Charity was the only organization capable of delivering the program on the scale that was needed, yet a significant portion of the grant program budget, $43.5 million, would have gone directly to WE to ensure that their organization could deliver the program. The size of the program, $912 million, is a very large amount for any organization to administer across all provinces and territories, and in all regions of the country.
The successful rollout of the much larger Canada emergency response benefit program, CERB, was done in very short order, and it proved the public service capable of adapting to meet new demands and moving quickly to do so. While the government has argued that the student grant program needed to be turned around quickly, it took almost two months to even announce who would receive the contract. Today, three months later, the program is still not in place. While the program was scheduled to run until October 31, students will have more difficulty accumulating the necessary hours to actually receive any grant money.
If the program had been turned over to the public service to organize a delivery system, it is likely that students would now be receiving some actual benefit. For example, the student loans program could have been adapted to expand eligibility and include grants equal to the funding allocated to the student service grant program. The infrastructure was in place, and this would have gone a long way to alleviating students' concerns about how to pay for tuition, materials, food and lodging while they study. It would have also supported students who may have to defer their continuing education for financial reasons due to the pandemic. I suspect that if the program is going ahead, it will be turned over to Employment and Social Development Canada, as it should have been from the start.
In addition to questioning why the government decided to contract out this program, we are concerned about the premise of the program, which would pay volunteers. We see this as just another example of young people being forced to accept precarious work at poverty-level wages. The payments are calculated using 100-hour thresholds for each $1,000 grant. That's a wage of $10 an hour, which isn't even minimum wage. Minimum wages are at least $11 an hour and higher across the country. For example, in Ontario, it's $14 an hour.