The WE Scandal: An Odour Allowed to Linger Unnecessarily

di Joe Volpe del July 13, 2020

TORONTO - One Toronto MP, Davenport’s Julie Dzerowicz, describes the WE issue as a “hullabaloo”. For those whose operating vocabulary is unfamiliar with the term, here’s what it means according to the Urban Dictionary: “a big to-do over nothing; a big fuss made over something trivial”.

Some of the mainstream Press and Media have been ranting in virtual rage about the $900+ million sole- source contract to the charity WE. Ostensibly WE is/was best equipped to ensure delivery of program funds to sustain both the volunteer sector and to provide students with job opportunities that might otherwise not be available to them.

What type of infrastructure is required to “consume” that amount of money? A comparison to the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TDCSB), often a subject of observation by the Corriere Canadese, will help appreciate whether it is a big deal or just a “hullabaloo”.

This is what the TCDSB Board does with an annual budget slightly larger than the $912 million allocated for WE: it hires “14,000 employees (full time) responsible for [delivering educational programs to] some 92,000 students in 201 schools”. These do not seem like trivial amounts.

Nor do we make the comparison to belittle the capacity of WE to deliver similar results on an annual basis. The TCDSB, like other School Boards, submits to a “third party” process to justify allocations and to measure value for dollar.

At the heart of the WE issue is the question of process followed in choosing WE and the underlying assumption that existing Government bureaucracies would not be equipped to handle the task. Also, at issue is the relationship between the families and friends of the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, and the Chief of Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office with the both the charity and its principals.

Prof. Richard Leblanc, professor of Law, Governance and Ethics at York University, in an interview with the CBC on Saturday disagreed with the MP’s characterization that it might be a “big to-do over nothing”; although, in fairness, he may not have been aware of it.

Professor Leblanc is a “straight shooter” who calls it as it is. He has more than 25,000 followers on his newsletter that comments on corporate governance in North America and beyond. Furthermore, over the last eight years he has established rock-hard credentials respected by the Corporate Governance sector and any Media wanting a professional, non-partisan assessment of decisions consistent with basic democratic/ethical principles and rules.

In that interview, he all but shredded any vestiges of ethical propriety anyone might wish to associate to the decision by the Federal Cabinet in making the award. At the very least, he argued, both Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance should have recused themselves when the proposal was put before Cabinet. How that could be “objective” is another matter, since it was they who had proposed it.

The controversy is not just a “fuss” over little, even more so because WE has, in the context of the controversy, already withdrawn its interest in managing the project. Prof. Leblanc did not allege any “criminality”, perceived or real, associated with the non-recusal. He did lay out parameters that would have to be satisfied before one might hazard such allegations.

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and the Ethics Commissioner would do themselves and the Canadian public a great service if they consulted with Professor Leblanc – assuming they have an interest in “clearing the air”.

The Corriere reached out to Toronto MPs for comment in the preparation of this article, but at time of printing none had responded.


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