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WE volunteer debacle

Is it just me, or does government sometimes make things more difficult than it needs to be? As I watched the evening news the other night, I shook my head at the WE charity debacle going on in Ottawa.

Is it just me, or does government sometimes make things more difficult than it needs to be?

As I watched the evening news the other night, I shook my head at the WE charity debacle going on in Ottawa. The program's stated goal of helping post-secondary students meet their tuition needs is admirable. But the word "admirable" can't be applied to any further action or discussion from our federal leaders.

It seems our government not only failed to follow the criteria it expects lower levels of government to follow – such as sending the contract out to tender or recusing themselves from any decision when there was a blatant conflict of interest – but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's family has actually financially benefited from the WE organization. One of Finance Minister Bill Morneau's daughters works for the organization. How did they not see this as a potential PR problem?

That's not what got my blood boiling though. What raised my blood pressure is the guise in which they decided they would disperse more than $900 million. They wanted to funnel it through the WE organization as financial rewards for volunteering.

In all my years of volunteering for various causes, I’ve never once accepted payment. Like the Prime Minister’s mother, I have had the privilege of speaking at a WE Day event. I had no expectation of being compensated for my time. You can imagine my shock when I heard that the Prime Minister’s mother was paid more than $250,000. When did volunteering become a fast track to a six-figure income?

One pundit on the show I was watching remarked that it’s common for quality speakers to be compensated for their time and expertise. I agree. But when you ask others to donate to a cause, it shouldn’t be so that you can personally benefit from those donations, especially when the lion’s share of the charity’s budget appears to come from the taxpayer.

I don’t want to be a hypocrite, so I'll disclose I have accepted compensation for speaking engagements and moderating public forums. There is value offered and most organizations include compensation in their budgets.

The difference is I have never accepted a cheque in my own name for fulfilling these duties. Ask any organization I’ve spoken in front of, ask the organizers of any forum I’ve moderated or ask the organizers of any event I’ve spoken at and they’ll all tell you, I either have the cheque made out to the charity I’m present for, or another charity of my choosing. I don’t even receive a tax receipt. I do this because I believe volunteering means giving time and talent without any expectation of financial gain.

One more thought came to mind as I mulled over the whole fiasco. Every post-secondary institution I’m aware of has a student union. Surely, between the student unions and the administrations of those campuses, the funds could have been dispersed fairly. They have certainly dispersed scholarships and bursaries in the past. If the $900 million was truly meant to help post-secondary students, why wouldn’t they have involved post-secondary institutions?

For those that volunteer their time and give of themselves to better the world around them, I want to say thank y ou. Hopefully, through your generosity, younger generations will still recognize the importance of volunteering. Despite our government’s attempt to redefine what volunteering means, I hope people won’t expect to be compensated every time they act with compassion and give of their time.




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