A key piece of a much-scrutinized $900-million program to get youth working in the community will also pay teachers $12,000 each to recruit and mentor students over the summer.
The Canada Student Service Grant program, which pays students and recent graduates to work with community organizations across the country, has come under new scrutiny after it was revealed the WE Charity was selected by the federal government as the only group able to administer the program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family have appeared multiple times at WE events.
The decision to pay teachers to recruit and manage their own students — even for an opportunity that would financially benefit the students — has surprised some.
“We don’t have all of the details, but certainly this is not common practice,” said Ilona Dougherty, managing director of the Youth & Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo, who has co-founded several public service organizations.
According to the posting for the “Volunteer Manager” position on the WE website, educators will be expected to recruit and manage different numbers of students, depending on whether they’re based in rural or urban areas.
“[W]e need engaged educators like you to recruit, lead and mentor a group of 75-100 eligible students in your community through this program. As a group leader, you will receive $12,000 in compensation,” says the posting.
Cash for recruitment
Educators from rural regions need to recruit and oversee at least 55 students to receive the same compensation.
Responsibilities include being available to “actively recruit” students, and helping to oversee volunteer participation in the program during July and August.
The students themselves have the opportunity to make between $1,000 and $5,000, depending on how many hours they complete with a not-for-profit organization.
The WE Charity referred all questions about the program to the federal government.
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve heard of teachers being paid for any kind of compensation or bonus for recruiting their own students to an activity,” said Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, who has criticized how the grant program is being run.
The money being paid to teachers amounts to administrative costs, said Poilievre, arguing it would be better spent on the charities and students themselves.
He also questioned the impact of paying teachers “bonuses or commissions” to recruit students for any kind of activity.
“If that becomes widespread, how will that influence the student-teacher relationship and the professionalism of our school system?” he asked.
A very popular program
In this case, the students and recent graduates stand to earn both money and work experience at a time when jobs are hard to come by. The program has proved popular. Applications opened last Thursday and by Tuesday evening, the government said it had received 28,500 applications.
That surpasses the 20,000 opportunities the government said would be available initially — though in a news release the prime minister pledged “tens of thousands more” placements would become available over the course of the summer.
That’s good news for the WE Charity, which will be paid “commensurate with the number of students who get involved,” said a spokesperson for Minister of Youth Bardish Chagger. The federal government has “currently allocated” $19.5 million to WE to run the program, including $5 million that would be passed on to the other not-for-profits involved.
Trudeau has said WE will not be making any profit from its work with the Canada Student Service Grant (CSSG) program.
The program is still an infusion of funding for WE at time when many not-profits have had to cut staff or even consider closing down because of the economic downturn triggered by the pandemic.
Dougherty questions whether paying teachers $12,000 is the best way to spend that money. She said she’d like to see the emphasis placed on the charities themselves and the students work there, rather than on recruiting.
“I think a concern is that money isn’t being focused on ensuring that young people have real meaningful opportunities to engage with non-profit organizations,” she said.
Asked about the move to employ teachers to recruit students, a spokesperson for the Minister of Youth said WE “is using a variety of methods to maximize the number of applicants who may not have otherwise known about this program.”
“We understand that WE Charity is proactively engaging post-secondary education institutions, national and regional not-for-profit organizations, as well as other partners, including teachers, to engage students and recent grads in CSSG opportunities,” said spokesperson Danielle Keenan.
WE has active programs in over 7,000 schools, she said.
The prime minister has defended the program and WE Charity’s involvement in it.
“They have networks in every corner of the country and organizations that they work with,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday.
Describing WE as “the largest national youth service organization in the country,” he said the charity has worked for years to connect young people with service opportunities.
He also said public servants identified WE as the only organization capable of delivering the Canada Student Service Grant program.
Trudeau has attended several WE Day events run by the charity over the years. His wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, hosts the “WE Well-being” podcast focused on mental health. The prime minister’s mother also has done work with group.
WE has confirmed that none of the three has ever been paid an honorarium for their work, although travel costs for Sophie Grégoire Trudeau have been covered for her participation at WE events. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office also has said Grégoire Trudeau’s involvement with WE was cleared by the ethics commissioner.
On Friday, Trudeau said he works with the organization because he believes strongly in promoting opportunities for young people.
“I will continue to do so, as will my family.”