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Read by Martin Luther King III, the What WE Lost podcast goes behind the scenes of the so-called ‘WE Charity Scandal’ to share the real story that Canadians never got to hear. It’s a story of a manufactured scandal designed for partisan gain and of a media landscape defined more by clicks and likes than facts and truth.
As a past member of WE Charity’s board of directors, Tawfiq Rangwala had a front row seat to the CSSG controversy as it unfolded. He resigned from the board and decided to write a book about what he witnessed first hand, Read by Martin Luther King III, this podcast showcases Tawfiq's decision to write What WE Lost and about what really happened in what became known as the "WE Charity scandal". Martin Luther King III reads the What WE Lost podcast.
At the start of 2020, just months before the Canada Student Services Grant controversy dominated headlines, WE was riding high, gearing up to celebrate its' 25th anniversary and planning for the next 25 years. But with a global pandemic declared in March, the organization had to make some quick and difficult decisions. Read by Martin Luther King III, this is the What WE Lost podcast episode 2. Lets look at the truth behind those decisions and how they set up the organization for long term stability.
“Whatever the criticism, one thing is clear: the attack on WE was really, in many ways, an attack on the character and credibility of its co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger.” Martin Luther King III reads The What WE Lost podcast. Listen as Tawfiq Rangwala takes a look back at the Kielburger brothers while also demystifying some of the bigger criticisms of the organization – from ME to WE to its culture to real estate policy – to dispel some of the myths at the centre of the CSSG controversy.
Martin Luther King III goes further into the controversy in this episode of the What WE Lost Podcast. The CSSG program was not a 'government bail out' for the organization as politicians like Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre would have you believe. Instead, it started with government bureaucrats looking for a solution and believing WE Charity, with its 25-year track record, was the solution. Listen to Martin Luther King III narrate the What WE Lost podcast, starting with the call from Rachel Wernick that changed everything.
It was supposed to be a $40-million program supporting 20,000 students, but at the urging of government bureaucrats, the CSSG ballooned in size to support 100,000 students with a maximum price tag of $543 million. How did it balloon in size in a matter of weeks? Why did WE Charity Foundation really sign the contribution agreement? What government misstep almost made WE Charity pull out of the program before it even launched? Martin Luther King III goes further into what really happened in the What WE Lost podcast. This is the insider’s story you won’t hear from politicians like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre.
In this episode, Martin Luther King III narrates how conservative Pierre Poilievre and the NDP’s Charlie Angus appear to have very little in common at first glance. But that did not stop them from playing an outsized role in fuelling misperceptions about the charity and its operations. Instead of celebrating the success of the CCSG launch – with 35,000 youth applicants – media were immediately critical of the CSSG program from the onset. Martin Luther King III continues to narrate the What WE Lost podcast. This is the real story behind some of the most critical headlines.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre and NDP MP Charlie Angus were two of the loudest voices to leverage WE Charity in attempt to take down the Trudeau government. But inside the echo chamber, they had some help from pundits like Charity Intelligence’s Kate Bahen, lawyer Mark Blumberg and Canadaland publisher Jesse Brown. Martin Luther King III continues narrating the What WE Lost podcast. The true story of their possible motives and the ripple effect of their attacks on a children’s charity.
At the height of the CSSG controversy, media eagerly fed on the opinions of politicians like Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre or pundits like Kate Bahen and Jesse Brown, while at the same time failing to seek out the perspectives of those with firsthand experience of the organization, like students and teachers. In this episode, we get to the truth about WE’s corporate partnerships and WE Day, and how both benefited millions of youth and educators around the world.
COVID was not the only force causing global upheaval across the spring and summer of 2020. In May 2020, George Floyd was murdered by a white police officer, and ignited Black Lives Matter protests around the world. Like many other organizations around the world, WE Charity was forced to re-examine its own conduct and policies. Tawfiq Rangwala takes you inside the process he helped lead as a former board member.
By mid-July, during testimony before a parliamentary committee, politicians and bureaucrats all confirmed what WE Charity had been saying from the beginning – the CSSG was not initiated by the charity but by the government. There was no scheme to bail out the organization. But what should have been a dignified and sober-minded pursuit of the truth on behalf of the Canadian people quickly devolved into a partisan circus, with politicians like Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre taking the lead.
Michelle Douglas had resigned as chair WE Charity’s board of directors in March 2020, a month before the organization was recruited to help deliver the CSSG. She had no knowledge of the program or the details of how it came to be. But her untimely resignation and public statements made her a star witness for partisan politicians, like Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre, who were not really interested in hearing the truth. But what is the true story behind her resignation? And how did the charity’s board really operate?
Marc and Craig Kielburger’s lives had become a nightmare. The organization they had built from nothing was clinging to survival, they were working 18-hour days to keep their heads above water, and their families were receiving almost daily death threats. In the midst of all this, they were called to testify before the parliamentary committee looking into the CSSG controversy. Instead of answering lingering questions about the program, they faced four hours of relentless attacks from MPs looking for nothing more than to score political points.
Bill Morneau resigned his role as Finance Minister, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament, leaving WE Charity to twist in the wind. As a result of the partisan politics and often inaccurate media reporting, WE Charity faced a difficult and devastating decision – closing its doors in Canada. Politicians and pundits like Pierre Poilievre and Jesse Brown claimed it was nothing more than a publicity stunt. But what was really behind the board’s decision to close the charity in Canada?
WE Charity started to wind down in Canada, but that didn’t mean that politicians and the media were done with trying to tear down its reputation. Politicians like Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre were again taking every opportunity to score political points, and they cared little about the collateral damage. Conservatives called on their army of supporters to harass owners of a speaker’s bureau, and Angus bullied a man suffering from a brain aneurysm. And of course, the Kielburgers were called to testify for another unprecedented three hours. Was anything really accomplished from this?
It wasn’t just politicians and pundits looking to benefit from the CSSG controversy. Reed Cowan, a journalist and former WE Charity donor decided to step into the fray for his 15 seconds of fame. Cowan soon sought to extort the charity for more than $40 million, for his silence. WE Charity was proud of its work in developing countries and had nothing to hide. Beneficiaries of their work and forensic auditors concurred. But those voices were ignored by the media for more salacious headlines. What was the real story before the headlines?
No media organization was more enthusiastic in its unwarranted crusade against WE Charity than the CBC, specifically Fifth Estate journalists Harvey Cashore and Mark Kelley. Their reporting escalated from recycling well-trodden issues around the CSSG to them soon breaking laws in Kenya, and they ignored any evidence that would prove their hypothesis wrong. They had a story in mind, and they were going to tell it no matter how many donors pointed out the flaws in their research, or youth and employees spoke about their positive experiences or forensic audits were produced.
Justin Trudeau won another election, albeit with another minority government, and Charlie Angus and Pierre Poilievre held onto their seats, with the latter making a bid the Conservative leadership. Jesse Brown was named one of Toronto Life’s Top 50 most influential Torontonians, and a dozen journalists earned accolades for their coverage of the CSSG controversy. Everyone seemed to benefit from the controversy except the millions of youth in Canada who benefited from WE Charity. What does this mean for them? And what’s next for the organization? What does this say about the future of Canada?
Andy Stillman and other WE Charity supporters and donors conceptualized and funded the Friends of WE campaign and website to set the record straight. WE Charity, among others, has contributed to this site with materials and information. We welcome anyone else who would like to contribute relevant and accurate information.This site seeks to inform Canadians on what really happened and what was lost.