Evidence of meeting #43 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st 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

Paulette Senior  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Women's Foundation
Rahul O. Singh  Executive Director, GlobalMedic
Vivian Krause  Researcher and Writer, As an Individual
Jesse Brown  Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual
Michelle Kovacevic  Assistant Deputy Minister, Federal-Provincial Relations and Social Policy Branch, Department of Finance
Clerk of the Committee  Ms. Evelyn Lukyniuk

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Oh no, feel free to speak, my friend.

1:40 p.m.

Executive Director, GlobalMedic

Rahul O. Singh

I think there's some inefficiency in process. I was talking about programming too much big money through big partners and offloading liability from government by saying, “Listen, simply re-program the money in April,” because people like you can come back and ask, “How come that money is still not out? How come it's not out to charities?” This is the case in that $350-million grant. One of them is woefully under-subscribed.

One of the partners has come back to us and even said they had received approval on the Red Cross grant; however, they hadn't received the money as of last week, but they're telling them to reapply. If a fund is woefully under-subscribed, it tells you that there's a problem in program design. I think the program design of that was inefficient and improper and hopefully will be changed for the next rollout.

The program design of this bursary program is poorly designed. You have the issue of this $10 an hour bursary thing that concerned us, and we raised our concerns on it. When we wrote to the government, we suggested they try pilots with us. We could put in a few hundred kids across the GTA and get them doing the things that they want, which is packing these food aid kits and getting them out to communities that need them and really provide good value for money.

Respectfully, Charlie, I can make a bag of Saskatchewan-grown green peas for 48¢. You can't buy that in Walmart for less than two dollars, which means every dollar that comes in through us is literally four times the amount in aid going out, and that's really good value for money. If we started small and we put these students in, which is the offering we gave them initially, and certainly the offering that we had with WE, we would at least have these students benefiting and helping us to help other folks. It frustrates me to no end, because I have some young people we've recruited who ask us every day if they're going to get the bursary, and I don't know. I hope the government will honour its commitment.

Sorry, Charlie, I'll just finish up quickly.

I'm still hopeful that you as a committee will help us get this thing kick-started, because I don't want the kids to be the losers. I'm very hopeful that, as a government, we're going to work together to do better and more efficient programming so that we don't waste taxpayer dollars and we get more aid to people who need it.

1:40 p.m.

NDP

Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON

Thank you for that. That's—

1:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I'm sorry, Charlie, we're out of time.

We'll have to go tight on five minutes for the next three, Mr. Cumming, Mr. Bittle and Ms. May.

Mr. Cumming.

1:40 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Brown, in your research that you're doing for your reporting, were you able to find out...? The Kielburgers are obviously very involved with the raft of companies they have. In fact, they've submitted at least two proposals to the government on programs that they thought the government should be involved with. I find it curious that the Kielburgers are listed as founders and not as directors of the charity. Have you done any research on that, or is there any reporting on that?

1:40 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

I'm aware that expert analysts have cited that the classification of the Kielburgers within the charity in effect relieves them of certain responsibilities and accountability. They are founders but not directors, and there are certain benefits to that.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

On the financials for 2019, they changed their year-end to August 2018, and then, 2019, the financials are available, but I had trouble finding them. They're not listed on their website, so they haven't released those results on their website.

Do you have any idea why they aren't more public? Normally, within six months of your year-end, you're supposed to list, which I think they did with CRA, but there's no public disclosure, particularly on their site.

1:45 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

I can't explain their motives, but I will say that, on getting information from the WE organization and specifically getting the information that you are asking for, we at Canadaland did receive copious information throughout our investigations from the WE organization, much of it completely irrelevant to the questions we were asking and much of it redundant, sometimes not even grazing on the questions that we were asking.

I know that Charity Intelligence had trouble getting certain disclosures from the WE organization, and I know that they felt that the changing of how they were reporting the fiscal year made the job of auditing difficult.

Another thing that we reported is that the firm that the WE Charity hires and has hired for years to audit their financials does not audit any other charity, which is something that Charity Intelligence found very strange and surprising, especially for a charity of this size.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Thank you for that.

On this contribution agreement, which we found out was signed with a real estate holding company that was just put together, my understanding is that all three directors are non-arm's-length and they're all employees of WE Charity. It strikes me as a bit unusual that there wouldn't be governance in place other than insiders.

1:45 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

I can speak to that because Canadaland reported questions about the chief financial officer both of ME to WE and of WE Charity. Victor Li is also the CFO involved at the high level of other affiliated organizations. That's strange. A CFO of a charity answers to different masters than the CFO of a private company.

In addition to that, when Victor Li was asked on the WE website about what qualifies him for the role that he has there, he said he's a certified accountant in four different countries. Canadaland could find no record of his credentials in the United Kingdom, in the United States or in China. We asked the WE organization if it could provide those credentials for Victor Li and it did not.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Did you find anything in your reporting or in your investigation that would indicate that WE Charity or any of these WE groups would have the capacity to execute a program of this size?

If you take the upper level of $40 million, give or take, that is over two-thirds of what their annual expenditures would be. I can't for the life of me find anywhere that would indicate that this charity would have the capacity to deliver a $900-million program, other than that they have a large Facebook following.

1:45 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

Mr. Cumming, I'm not an expert on charities' capacities. The facts are what they are. This is an organization that had just laid off hundreds of its workers. This was an organization that had the entirety—save one individual—of its Canadian and American boards either resign or replaced. This is an organization that was in breach of its bank covenants. This is an organization that was divesting from some of its international development projects. It was an organization that, at the best of times, was used to running in the range of $60 million in programming. This would be more than 10 times that.

Those were the facts.

1:45 p.m.

Conservative

James Cumming Conservative Edmonton Centre, AB

Wayne, I take it you're cutting me off.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I was cutting you off, James.

Thank you both.

We will turn to Mr. Bittle and then Ms. May, to wrap it up.

1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

My first question is for Mr. Brown.

I wasn't expecting to be here until the last minute, but I found it unusual when I saw that a reporter was agreeing to testify at a committee. I've only seen it once in my five years. It was Paul Wells, who had first-hand experience leading a debate, and we were looking into a debates commission.

What expertise are you providing? Journalists tell stories based on other people's information and sources, and I respect that they can't be released. What expertise are you actually bringing to the table on what you've reported based on other people's stories?

July 22nd, 2020 / 1:50 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

Mr. Bittle, I'm here at the invitation of the committee of which you are a part today. I have agreed to come here and share the reporting that I and my colleagues have done, which others did not, over the past five years. I am constraining myself to facts we have verified and reported because the people who fund our journalism, Canadians who want these things to be reported and known, also want these facts to be known by other Canadians.

We're not a news organization where people buy exclusive access to information. We're a news organization where the people who fund us want our legislators to know what we have verified so they can make informed decisions. They want their fellow Canadians to know.

As I said at the beginning, I'm here in that spirit.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

While it's clear that people do want to know, and you've brought forward information that has led to this committee, what you're telling me is that you're bringing no additional expertise and that this is hearsay based on your reporting—

1:50 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

Excuse me—

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

No, it's my time. We don't interrupt each other here, Mr. Brown.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

I'll give you time, Mr. Brown.

Go ahead, Chris.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Based on sources, you're providing information. It's not to say it's inaccurate. Hearsay isn't necessarily inaccurate. I'm using it as a legal term. You're providing us no first-hand expertise based on what you're reporting. That's based on other people's information that has been provided to you.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Mr. Brown.

1:50 p.m.

Publisher, CANADALAND, As an Individual

Jesse Brown

As I have stated, I am here presenting journalism that is the result of five years of investigation. It is absolutely based on the accounts of over two dozen people who have worked for the WE organization. It's based on copious documentation. It's based on the statements of the WE organization itself, which itself alleges there was fraud and embezzlement in their Kenya operation.

When I've been asked by other legislators here to provide opinions or expert commentary, I have made it explicitly clear that I'm a journalist. I'm a member of the independent press. I am not here as an expert on charities. I'm here representing facts that we have reported.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

Chris Bittle Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Thank you so much.

1:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We'll come back to you, Chris.

Ms. Krause, you're not muted, and your sound is coming through sometimes.