Timeline: Trudeau’s ties to WE are as old as his political career
(Reprinted without permission. This is too good. It needs to be saved)
At the core of the political controversy surrounding the awarding of a sole-source contract to WE Charity to administer the $912-million Canada Student Service Grant is the Trudeau family’s close relationship with the WE movement and its co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger.
READ MORE: WE Charity withdraws from managing Canada Student Service Grant
Critics have accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of playing favourites with the WE Charity, one of Canada’s signature charities that has developed in recent years into an organization with international influence.
On Friday, the controversy led the organization to announce its departure from managing the program and sparked a probe from Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion.
Whether the allegations of preferential treatment are true, the public record shows Trudeau’s ties with the WE organization and the Kielburgers are deep, and have stretched for as long as his political career.
(iPolitics assembled a list of WE-related appearances from media sources, social media, photo sharing sites and government releases, although it may not be comprehensive)
From un-elected to Liberal leader
2007—Trudeau, then the Liberal nominee for Papineau, appears at the first-ever WE Day event in October 2007. He spoke to a crowd of 7,500 youth at Ricoh Coliseum by pre-recorded video message. His son, Xavier, had been born the day before. “We don’t need you to be leaders of tomorrow. The only way to make a difference tomorrow is to start today,” he said. He would echo this message in future speeches on WE Days and on the campaign trail.
2008—Three days after Trudeau is elected MP in October, he speaks at the second annual WE Day event in Toronto, this time in person, urging the crowd to participate in politics. As an MP, Trudeau is appointed assistant critic for youth.
2009—In February, Trudeau introduces Craig Kielburger as keynote speaker to the Youth Humanitarian Summit, a non-WE event, in Montreal.
2010—Trudeau is appointed party critic for youth. Prior to politics, Trudeau chaired the Katimavik youth program that started under his father. As an MP, he introduces a private member’s motion calling for a “national voluntary service policy for young people.” WE Day celebrations expand to multiple Canadian cities.
2012—Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, a former television host, hosts WE Day in Montreal in February, where Justin also speaks. Trudeau also speaks in front of 20,000 youth at WE Day in Toronto in late September. He spoke to the Globe and Mail that month: “My own involvement started in 2008,” he said. “But I’ve been enthusiastic about what Craig and Marc Kielburger [founders of Free the Children] have been doing from the beginning.” Just days later, Trudeau officially announces his bid for Liberal leadership. Elections Canada figures show Craig Kielburger was among those who were quick to donate the maximum $1,200 amount to Trudeau. Trudeau wins the Liberal Party leadership race in April 2013.
As prime minister
2015—Trudeau addresses a 16,000-person WE Day audience alongside Sophie in Ottawa in November, his first public speech after becoming prime minister and the minister for youth. In a 2015 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Craig Kielburger calls Trudeau a friend and someone he has known for more than a decade. Kielburger says he looks forward to seeing what Trudeau will do with the youth portfolio: “I can’t think of another G7 leader who would say one of the top issues worthy of their attention is the future of young people.”
2016—Trudeau speaks to a WE Day audience in Ottawa, just days after Donald Trump wins the U.S. presidential election. Trudeau’s mother, Margaret, also speaks at three WE Day events that year, opening up about her experience with bipolar disorder.
2017—WE Day in Ottawa is held on July 2 on Parliament Hill. The Globe reports that the federal government provided WE $500,000 initially for the event and then an additional $1 million, all as part of contributions for 38 “signature projects” to mark the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Trudeau speaks at the event, with Craig and Marc Kielburger on stage. Two days earlier, it was announced that Roxanne Joyal, CEO of Me to We and the wife of Marc, would be appointed a member of the Order of Canada. Marc was named a member in 2010 while Craig was named in 2007.
That year also saw Margaret speak to WE Day audiences in Saskatoon and in London, U.K. Trudeau’s brother, Alexandre, an author and filmmaker, also speaks at multiple WE Day events across the country, becoming the fourth member of the Trudeau family to be involved in WE activities. Trudeau and Sophie also address a WE Day audience in New York during a busy day of meetings in September. In November, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Craig Kielburger host a special youth-oriented pre-budget consultation in Toronto. This year also sees the WE Charity receive its first sole-source contract from the federal government.
2018—Sophie increases her role with the WE organization. In November, Sophie appears at WE Day in Vancouver and announces she is now an ambassador and ally for WE Well-being Initiative to promote positive mental health. She has used the platform to speak about her past experience with bulimia, an eating disorder. Sophie also attends a WE Day event in Brooklyn, N.Y. in September with Marc Kielburger. Meanwhile, Margaret continues to speak at WE Day events, including in Toronto and London.
2019—In March, Craig Kielburger is announced as a member of the advisory board of the Leaders’ Debate Commission. In July, Margaret joins former prime minister Kim Campbell and Craig Kielburger for the opening of the first-ever WE College in Kenya. In August, just weeks before the federal election campaign, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announces alongside Craig in Toronto that his government will provide $3 million to the WE Charity’s WE Social Entrepreneurs initiative, meant to help create 200 “youth-led enterprises” that address social issues at a community level.
2020—Sophie attends a WE Day event in London in March. While on the overseas trip, Sophie contracts COVID-19 but recovers. She begins hosting a WE podcast in May. In April, the Liberal government announces the creation of the Canada Student Service Grant worth $912 million. In late June, it is announced WE Charity will administer the program, only for the charity to pull out amid controversy on July 3.
Asked to comment on the relationship between Trudeau and the WE organization, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office directed iPolitics to comments he made during a news conference Friday. His office previously told the Toronto Star that Sophie works with WE on a volunteer basis. WE Charity told CBC News that members of the Trudeau family do not receive any appearance fees or honoraria when they appear at WE events, although travel expenses are reimbursed.
Trudeau said Friday he will continue to work with a range of organizations to empower young people, something he has been doing for much of his political career.
“I will always be there to support young people, as I’m sure will be my family,” he said.
WE Charity did not respond to a request for comment prior to deadline Friday evening.
OPINION: When it comes to Canada’s procurement, WE Charity is the exception, not the rule
With files from Kirsten Smith
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Trudeau’s office has previously said he or any family member has never been paid by WE Charity for work. Instead, the PMO told the Toronto Star that Sophie works with WE on a volunteer basis. WE Charity has said it has not paid members of the Trudeau family to appear at WE events.