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WE Need to Talk About Exploitation of Youth Labour | Op-Ed

WE Charity Canada has been making headlines for reasons that are not particularly charitable or positive. WE’s planned program for student labour has been equally concerning to some.

  • WE Charity was asked by the government to connect students with volunteer opportunities, then pay them for their volunteer work.
  • Students could earn a maximum of $5,000 dollars, being paid $10 per hour.
  • The main controversy over this program has been focused on financial ties between Justin Trudeau and his family and the WE Charity. Political opponents have accused Trudeau of acting unethically. 

In Short: Although much has been written about how Trudeau’s relationship with WE is problematic, in my view, the most shocking problem with the charity is the program that WE would deliver to students. 


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Less than a Living Wage: Ten dollars per hour is lower than every provincial minimum wage across Canada.

  • In Ontario, for instance, the minimum wage is $14 an hour.
  • WE wanted to pay Ontario students almost 30% less than minimum wage while the cost of housing, food, or tuition for Ontario students would not be reduced by 30%.
  • All these costs – especially tuition – are becoming more and more expensive.
  • Students, just like all other Canadians, are going to find the economic recovery after COVID-19 very difficult. 

Why are students being given less even after they work hard for their money?

When the pandemic began, many Canadians started receiving the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

  • While some Canadians were receiving $2000 per month through CERB, students were given nothing for the first part of the pandemic.
  • The rules of CERB required that an individual had made at least $5,000 in the previous year.
  • For recent graduates and students who wanted to work over the summer, no aid was forthcoming.
  • After much fighting on the part of students, the Federal Government finally implemented the Canadian Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), to help students and recent graduates.
  • However, the CESB provided only $1,250 to students – almost 40% less than what CERB recipients got.

Adding Insult to Injury

As we can see from the outcome of the CESB, Trudeau and his cabinet seemed to decide that students should not be given any more money without working for it. However, instead of offering them fair wages, they decided to outsource the program to a charity that would pay poverty wages to already struggling students.

Outsourcing by allowing a non-governmental organization to run the program and net a tidy $19.5 million administrative fee.

  • As someone who works for $14.00 an hour, I know that our current minimum wage is already too low. How could anyone make ends meet earning almost a third less than that?
  • The volunteer pay is also capped at $5,000.
  • The CERB, which has so far been extended to October, will pay out around $8,000 dollars between now and then.
  • Students, who would have been forced to subsist on $5,000 (assuming they were able to work the maximum number of hours), would have been paid $3,000 less despite being forced to work for their money.
  • This $5000 dollars is simply not enough for students to live off of. It would likely barely cover the cost of rent, food, and other necessities – to say nothing of the rising cost of tuition that students are forced to deal with. 

Bottom Line: The Liberal rallying cry during this scandal has been to make the issue about students (just as they made the SNC Lavalin Scandal about protecting jobs). But if there’s one thing we can learn from this whole affair, it is that the Government has obvious disdain for students.

  • By forcing students to work for poverty wages while providing greater benefits to everyone else, it is clear that the Liberal Party does not care about students. Furthermore, we can only realize that this Government does not care about us. 

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