Evidence of meeting #51 for Finance in the 43rd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was youth.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Dalal Al-Waheidi  Executive Director, WE Charity
Scott Baker  Chief Operations Officer, WE Charity
Sofia Marquez  Former Staff Member, Government and Stakeholder Relations, WE Charity, As an Individual
John-Frederick Cameron  Chief Executive Officer, Katimavik

3:15 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

We had conversations with various members of ESDC whereby we had to implement the program design. It was implemented in such a short period of time—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Just give me the name, just the person. Who told you?

3:15 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

We had different conversations with different people who were part of the negotiation process for the contract—

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

Okay, so you're either—

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

This is your last question. The last couple...Pierre.

3:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Conservative Carleton, ON

When you come back for your next testimony you'll have to answer this question. You would not, as an organization, have begun spending large sums of money on this program if someone in the government had not told you, before May 5, that you could start doing so on that date.

I'm asking you again—this will be the fourth time. Somebody would have to have told you. Who was it?

3:15 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

Nobody told us we could spend money before. I wish to remind the committee that these were eligible expenditures that were allowed to be reimbursed. I am trying to answer the question, with all due respect, if you can give me the courtesy to answer the question.

Nobody told us from ESDC, or any other parties, before May 5 that we could spend the money. They were only eligible expenditures as per the process of our contribution agreement. We were asked by the government to work on this project in view of COVID-19, and with short timelines we had to be ready.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

We will have to move on to Madame Koutrakis, followed by Mr. Fortin.

3:15 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My question is for Mrs. Al-Waheidi.

Mrs. Al-Waheidi, it has been insinuated by the opposition and reported in the media that WE Charity wasn't able to provide services in both official languages in Quebec. I understand that you have an office in Montreal and that you work with many schools in the province.

Could you tell us about that?

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

WE Charity is a national organization. You are correct. We do have an office and staff in Montreal. We have worked with over 400 schools across the province of Quebec. We have also worked in various provinces with high speaking French communities. We have implemented 11 WE Days, and we engage hundreds and thousands of students as part of this process. We have bilingual activities and partnerships. We have formulated partnerships with school boards, and with other local organizations to help us in the process.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

There also appear to be misleading statements in the media primarily perpetuated by the opposition. Maybe you can clear the record for us. What was National's role? How and why was National chosen?

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

National PR was hired to assist us in the process to reach out to francophone and Quebec organizations especially in the area of engagement of not-for-profit organizations. We were really excited about the opportunity that CSSG would provide in helping us to support communities in Quebec and francophone areas. That was the role for which it was hired.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Also, part of your role involved overseeing organizational governance at WE Charity. How involved were you with the decision-making process with regard to the CSSG program? Were you aware of all the decisions that were being made?

3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

As the executive director for the organization, part of my role is to manage team members to operationalize the program. My role was to bring this program to life in such a short period of time from an operational level.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

How often did you work directly or indirectly with Ms. Marquez? Were you aware that there were no registrations by Ms. Marquez or anyone representing WE Charity in the federal lobbying registry?

August 13th, 2020 / 3:20 p.m.

Executive Director, WE Charity

Dalal Al-Waheidi

We have registered as lobbyists, but I want to provide context, which I think is really important.

For the past years, our engagement with the government was about 1% to 3% of our overall budget, and we found that it was minimal. If I thought that registration was required, we would have done it, and we would have had an accord. That's something I would like to share from a context perspective.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

My next question is for Mr. Scott Baker.

Has WE Charity's board of directors ever voiced any concern over the organization's decision not to register and report lobbying activities?

3:20 p.m.

Chief Operations Officer, WE Charity

Scott Baker

We do have a very active board of directors that is engaged in the organization, and we meet on a regular basis. At no point, over our history, has the board of directors raised any concerns about the registration as lobbyists.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

My next question is for Ms. Sofia Marquez.

How much of your time, each month, would you say you spent lobbying the federal government? Does this include time spent preparing for communications with public officer holders?

3:20 p.m.

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

Sofia Marquez

As director of government and stakeholder relations at WE, I helped the organization achieve its goals through identifying funding, pools of funding and opportunities privately or publicly available. As part of that, indeed, I would engage the federal government as part of my portfolio, but I also had other responsibilities, including the oversight and project implementation of contribution agreements.

Within that context, I would like to clarify that the tracking of hours and how my position actually evolved did not allow to have very detailed track records. Also, that varied as well quite significantly depending on the period of time where that happened.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

You can have a very quick question, Annie.

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Annie Koutrakis Liberal Vimy, QC

Okay.

This is my final question, Ms. Marquez. Why did you leave WE Charity in July?

3:20 p.m.

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

Sofia Marquez

I actually was laid off at the end of March of 2020. After that I was engaged by WE in the same role as an independent contractor, and that contract ended on July 31. I felt that it was the right time for me to move on to better and brighter opportunities, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities and the growth that I have had throughout my time at WE.

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Wayne Easter

Thanks, both of you.

We're a little ahead of time there, with just 10 seconds, Annie. We will go to Mr. Fortin, who will be followed by Mr. Julian.

Rhéal.

3:25 p.m.

Bloc

Rhéal Fortin Bloc Rivière-du-Nord, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Mrs. Marquez, I'm going to address you first. Excuse me, I'm going to start with Mrs. Al-Waheidi instead. I'm sorry, there are too many witnesses at the same time.

You told us that there were staff and offices in Montreal. How long has that been the case, Mrs. Al-Waheidi? I'm sorry, but I may have mispronounced your name.