Manitoba premier says annual funding for WE Charity under review

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is reviewing its funding for WE organization activities because of questions about the group's finances, Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday.

"We're re-examining because some ethical questions have been raised about WE in the nature of its connections to its profit versus its non-profit organization that have to be addressed _ money going from one to the other, how that's been handled,'' Pallister said.

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"There's no disputing that the WE Charity organization has done some tremendous, good work, but that being said, there are some questions that have to be answered about where the money has gone ... and how it has been handled.''

The Manitoba government normally gives about $150,000 a year to WE projects in schools, the premier said. Shortly after winning the 2016 election, the Progressive Conservative government also announced $250,000 for a learning program aimed at engaging students in local and global issues. It directed people to the WE website for more information.

WE issued a written statement Wednesday that said the Manitoba money stayed within its charity arm.

"All funding as part of the partnership with the Government of Manitoba was for WE Charity's WE Schools program, which provides access to free service-learning in hundreds of schools across the province. All funds were solely for WE Charity to execute the WE Schools program in Manitoba," the statement read.

The group Charity Intelligence Canada, an independent watchdog on the non-profit sector, has said WE has blurred the lines between its charity and for-profit arms.

The WE Charity arm has purchased goods and travel services from the for-profit arm, known as Me To We, while the for-profit arm has donated cash, time and services to WE Charity, says a report posted on the watchdog's website.

WE Charity announced earlier this month that it is restructuring its operations. It said its current form is too complicated and needs to be more transparent.

On Tuesday, WE co-founders Craig and Marc Kielburger told the House of Commons finance committee that Pallister was a great supporter of the organization.

Pallister spoke at WE Day events — large gatherings for students held each year across the country - in Winnipeg in 2016 and 2018. He said Wednesday he was not paid for the appearances.

WE has faced questions before the committee about speaking fees paid to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family totalling about $300,000.

Trudeau is to testify before the committee Thursday about events that led to his cabinet asking WE Charity to oversee a program to provide grants to students and graduates for volunteering if they couldn't find summer work in an economic slowdown from the COVID-19 pandemic.

WE Charity withdrew from administering the program amid the controversy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2020

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