I apologize. As I said earlier, I participated in the deliberations on the Canada student service grant. I do not believe I was in a conflict of interest, although I fully recognize that there are legitimate questions about the perception of a conflict of interest.
I think, in hindsight, I should have withdrawn from the discussions on the WE organization, and I will do so in the future. Most of all, I regret that I did not recuse myself and that this has delayed this important support for young Canadians.
Once again, I want to apologize for the mistakes I made in this situation. I am sorry that they have occurred.
Earlier today, I formally asked the Ethics Commissioner to review this information as part of his examination. To provide this committee with an understanding of my role in the development and administration of the Canada student service grant, I'd like to provide you with a timeline of events.
Since early March our government has been working to roll out Canada's largest peacetime investment, doing so at a speed and a scale to meet the rapidly evolving nature of this crisis. We've worked to deliver a comprehensive set of over 70 different measures, which are delivering targeted support to meet the needs of millions of Canadians.
The Canada student service grant was part of a wider support program for youth. It included 10 different support programs totalling $9 billion. This included the Canada student emergency benefit, the extension of the Canada summer jobs program and our initiative to double the Canada student grants.
These are just a few of the hundreds of funding decisions that I have made since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis to fulfill my responsibility to provide timely support to workers, families, seniors, small businesses, indigenous communities, people with disabilities, and the list goes on.
I would like to take the committee through, in detail, how this particular decision was approached by me, my office and officials, to the best of my knowledge.
In early April, shortly after we'd finished rolling out a broad range of supports, including the Canada emergency response benefit, the CERB, our government began to think about the next set of challenges that lay ahead for Canadians. Our government recognized that post-secondary students, who were about to complete their school year, would be needing opportunities over the course of the summer, not only opportunities that would help them pay for tuition and living expenses during the school year, but also opportunities for invaluable skill-building experiences.
This pandemic hit just while they were beginning their lives. My colleagues and I knew that we had to do something to make sure their dreams weren't derailed and they could continue to pursue their education. Most of all, as Canada is in the midst of a national crisis, our government recognized that students could play an important role in supporting Canada's extraordinary response to this pandemic.
On the evening of April 5, I had a call with the Prime Minister to discuss these and other issues. We identified the need to consider measures to support students and discussed how the Canada service corps and the Canada summer jobs program were areas of possible policy work to address this need.
I spent that night thinking in detail about this issue. The next morning I tasked my officials and my ministerial team to begin engaging across government and to brainstorm different options to support students. My office and Department of Finance officials began working with other government departments to develop these ideas and reach out to youth organizations to get a better sense of the challenges that the young people they serve were facing.
On April 7, the WE organization was one of at least a dozen organizations that were contacted as part of this engagement effort. In the days following my office's initial conversation with WE, the organization shared a proposal on social entrepreneurship, which they had been discussing with other offices. The WE organization had sent this proposal to me, but I didn't review or respond to the proposal at that time.
On April 8 and 9, I had my initial briefing on the potential streams of support for young people, including a potential grant program for students looking to gain experience over the summer.
As we continue to develop these new supports, Youth Service Canada has been identified as a possible model for encouraging national service. This work has been taking place in parallel with implementing the other youth support components. In reviewing this concept, officials identified several major obstacles to quickly implementing an expanded Youth Service Canada program in time for the summer, which was then only a few weeks away.
The government did not have the capacity to urgently develop a system to track hours of service, make large-scale allocations, and disburse specific amounts based on hours completed.
As part of a briefing on April 18, officials raised that a partnership with the private sector or not-for-profit sector may be necessary in order to successfully administer such a program. Officials raised WE Charity, among other organizations, as an example of groups that were already doing similar work. This was the first time that I'd been involved in any discussion related to WE Charity and what would become the Canada student service grant.
As a part of my briefing materials, my officials appended a copy of WE's social entrepreneurship proposal, indicating that other departments had begun engaging on the file. I understand that in the following days WE reached out to my office regarding their initial discussions with Employment and Social Development Canada and shared a second proposal. My office continued discussions with WE Charity about how different types of student programming could be administered.
On April 21, I verbally approved my department's recommendations on the broad parameters of the Canada student service grant, including the potential involvement of a third party. To be clear, no third party such as WE was chosen or directed within this approval. From that point onwards, Employment and Social Development Canada took the lead, including the public service announcement that WE Charity be brought on as an administrator.
With that said, as Minister of Finance, I'm responsible for all funding provided under the Public Health Events of National Concern Payments Act. As such, it's important that Finance officials track every dollar authorized to ensure that they're allocated appropriately. I would expect that the department and my office would remain engaged in the design of the program, in collaboration with Employment and Social Development Canada, the Privy Council and the Prime Minister's Office.
For complete transparency, I note than on Sunday, April 26, I spoke with Craig Kielburger. I know that we would have broadly discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. He did not raise the Canada student service grant, nor did I.
On May 5, Minister Chagger presented her initial proposal for a Canada student service grant, including WE Charity as the preferred administrator, at the COVID-19 cabinet committee. I was not in attendance and did not discuss the proposal with officials or cabinet colleagues prior to it being presented. I was briefed on the outcome of that meeting two days later, on May 7, noting that the proposal would then be moving to be discussed at full cabinet. The final decision on the Canada student service grant was presented to full cabinet on May 22.
As I've said, I should not have participated in that discussion, and I regret that I did not recuse myself at that time. I provided approval on the final revised funding decision for the program on June 3. It was my last direct engagement with the program's development.
I regret that my not recusing myself has been a reason that students have not been able to get the support on a timely basis.
I know that Canadians are counting on us, and there's still much more to do.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I welcome the questions from you and the committee.