OTTAWA—When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were my favourite: my dad would come downstairs, put on his LP of choice and make breakfast. It was from this beginning that my musical tastes began to form. Quincy Jones, Sam Cooke, The Drifters, a lot of Otis Redding (my dad always preferred the soulful and grittier Memphis sound over the poppy Motown sound), Bob Marley, Roberta Flack, Bobby Darin (yeah I don’t know how this fits in my dad’s pantheon of greats, but that’s my dad) and Stevie Wonder. Revolutionary music was the order of the day, especially Black revolutionary music. One of my favourite songs from Stevie Wonder, You Haven’t Done Nothin’, features the Jackson 5 and perfectly encapsulates our dear leader and his government. Note that this song was written to describe the Nixon administration (the single was released in 1974, two days before Nixon resigned the presidency. Needless to say, the song went to No. 1).
We are amazed but not amused
By all the things you say that you’ll do
Though much concerned but not involved
With decisions that are made by you
Ain’t that the truth. These lyrics describe this government perfectly: backroom deal-making that results in decisions that favour their friends and the most prominent lobbyists. This was true of SNC-Lavalin and it’s certainly true of the WE Charity scandal. And what can one say about this travelling clown car of grifters? This country’s government and official opposition party seem to have a cozy relationship with the Kielburgers, so much so they all seem to have ponied up to the trough to participate in a public bathing ritual of Kielburger largesse.
The decision-making process that has unfolded throughout this—yet another—ethics scandal of this government has been awe-inspiring. What is clear from Kieran Leavitt’s article in The Toronto Star, which outlines the entire timeline of this prime ministerial own goal, is that the decision to have WE administer a student program for COVID-19 was made before the program was formed. I wonder how many other organizations had that level of access before the program was developed; stakeholder consultations are part of the process, however to be the architect of the program and then become the organization in first place to getting the contract is the foxes guarding the henhouse. It’s corrupt.
It’s not too cool to be ridiculed
But you brought this upon yourself
The world is tired of pacifiers
We want the truth and nothing else, yeah
We do want the truth, not some perfectly curated speaking points that answer different questions with the same answer. And to anyone who thinks this is a political hit job, in other words Trudeau sycophants, this is politics. It’s not up to the opposition to stay mum on financial malfeasance or to excuse a PMO that couldn’t see this blowing up in the PM’s and finance minister’s faces—one that obviously has learned nothing from SNC-Lavalin last year. You know, the scandal that reduced a healthy Liberal majority to a minority (coupled with blackface, of course. I haven’t forgotten and neither should you).
We would not care to wake up to the nightmare
That’s becoming real life
But when misled who knows a person’s mind
Can turn as cold as ice, mmm-hmm
Imagine once proclaiming yourself the minister of youth and producing this highly exploitative student program with your friends in high places, taking advantage in youth of low places (of power).
The Canada Student Service Grant doesn’t even pay minimum wage: for every 100 hours worked (“volunteered”), students get paid $1,000 in the form of a grant. Ten bucks an hour? Making it rain. Even in Prince Edward Island, minimum wage (as of April 2020) is $12.85. Imagine saving for university with that paltry sum, especially when the average tuition is $6,463 per year. Something doesn’t add up.
Exploitation of youth labour is quite common. Unpaid internships are an example of free labour, given to employers that help keep their operating costs down, which (ceteris paribus) raises profits. Unfortunately for the student, it costs money to give your work away for free because you still have to support yourself with a paying gig. Students become overworked, stressed, and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Much like in college sports in the United States, students are often the workhorses that everyone else makes a profit off of. The Kielburgers are no different. A Canadaland investigation found that many of the corporate sponsors of WE are heavily involved in using child labour to produce their goods.
This exploitation is very gendered. According to the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s report on the gender and racialized division of labour in the non-profit space, “The non-profit sector in Ontario is women-majority as 75 per cent to 80 per cent of the workforce is women.” So basically, the Trudeau government is exacerbating the gender pay gap by creating and funding a program that promotes the gendered underfunding of Canada’s youth. This is how systemic gender discrimination is formed.
And it’s not just women, it’s particular women. The Ontario Nonprofit Network goes on to highlight, “Qualitative studies on immigrant and racialized women have found that they may experience lengthy periods of unemployment between precarious jobs and as a response do extensive volunteer work and informal income generating work.” These women perform unpaid labour—and not volunteerism—because supporting their communities and support systems is not a choice. And now women of colour have become caught in the prime minister’s exploitation scheme. As usual.
Why do you keep on making us hear your song
Telling us how you are changing right from wrong
‘Cause if you really want to hear our views
“You haven’t done nothin’”
Not a damn thing: not for womxn, not for Black people, not for Indigenous people, not for people with disabilities. The only people the prime minister succeeds in “helping” are those from his own exalted circles—the status quo cadre of rich and privileged white men.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.