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ROSEMARY GODIN: Fallout from PM’s mistake is not pretty

Co-founders Craig, left, and Marc Kielburger introduce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau at a WE Charity event in Ottawa in 2015. POSTMEDIA
Co-founders Craig, left, and Marc Kielburger introduce Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau at a WE Charity event in Ottawa in 2015. POSTMEDIA

Twenty-five years ago, a 12-year-old Canadian boy began a charity called Free the Children.

He saw the poverty in the world and how it affected other young people and he wanted to do something about it. That’s the wonderful thing about a whole lot of kids — they care so much.

Craig Kielburger and his then-teenage brother Marc have been celebrated around the world ever since. All eyes have been on Canada and the amazing work children can do on an international level.

It was an amazing accomplishment 25 years ago and it continues to be one.

Rosemary Godin
Rosemary Godin

And now, I ask: What are we turning into as Canadians? I’ve been asking myself that for a while now. But this latest kerfuffle about the WE Charity has me even more worried about our country.

Who are we and how did we get here?

Are we turning into knee-jerk reactive, judgmental, mean-spirited curmudgeons, or what? Do we really want to tear down our own major international charities to garner political points with voters?

And if so, what happens to the disenfranchised and marginalized youth all around the world who have benefited in the past — and more importantly — can benefit in the future? What happens to the kids?

Shouldn’t we care? Let’s get our priorities straight. Is this an organization that we really want to run out of town? Or can we take a breath and weigh its positive elements against any negatives that come to light through what has turned into a public auditing of the WE Charity for political gain.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has long held an interest in support of Canada’s youth. He’s a teacher for heaven’s sake. Don’t go into teaching unless you not only love children — but you really like them.

In his enthusiasm to provide a much-needed program for young people, he made a mistake and sat in his seat at a meeting. He has admitted it was wrong.

Opposition politicians have swooped in to make political hay out of this and it has caused great damage to a major Canadian charity that serves our youth. Get a grip!

OK … so maybe the WE Charity has “successed” itself to the point that it has outgrown its business models along the way. Maybe the Kielburger brothers, Marc and Craig, are real-life Peter Pans.

They’ve tried not to grow up over 25 years. But that doesn’t happen and so they have outgrown the organization they created.

Maybe it should be led by younger people — you know, those who are too young to have friendships or acquaintanceships with actual grownups.

When you’re 12 years old, it’s cute to have your photo taken with world leaders. Twenty-five years later, you do so at your own peril.

Maybe it’s us who didn’t let the Kielburger kids grow up. And now, all of a sudden, we see them as adults running international charities.

They are a verifiable Canadian success story — and what do Canadians do with our shining stars? That’s right — we’ll find ways to humble them. And this particular example is vicious.

Charities are always out there hustling. We know that. They are in huge competition for the Canadian dollar each and every single hour of every day. Be careful not to judge them by the same standards of a Canadian business. They are a charity.

The Kielburgers built this organization from the ground up. In its own words, this is what it says on its Home Page on the Internet: “WE Charity is an international charity that partners with communities through a holistic, sustainable development model that equips families with the tools and skills they need to lift themselves out of poverty.”

Are we turning into knee-jerk reactive, judgmental, mean-spirited curmudgeons, or what? Do we really want to tear down our own major international charities to garner political points with voters?

And now, some people want us to turn a blind eye on its goals and accomplishments and see the brothers not as successful, contributing, citizens of the world, but just friends of the Trudeaus.

And why should Margaret Trudeau be reduced to “just” the mother of the PM? Can she not be an accomplished woman in her own right with something to offer charities that will benefit from her life experiences? She has a right to earn a living.

Those of us old enough to remember those crazy days of her marriage to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau will remember her frustration at being the wife of a PM.

How far have women come when we have to watch her being told to stay behind the scenes, to behave. Now she is reduced to the single thing of being the mother of the prime minister. It smacks of paternalism.

And the same accusation of accomplishments within their own right can be said for Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau and Alexandre Trudeau. Each of them is successful in their fields and have something to offer the rest of us. They were asked to show up for a charity that makes youth a priority, and they did.

And to top it all off, in the middle of a major pandemic, opposition politicians want the PM to resign — in a pandemic!

I don’t care who the PM is in 2020 and going into 2021, now is not the time to destabilize the country by removing the prime minister.

Twenty-five years ago, a 12-year-old kid saw abject poverty in far-away countries and wanted to do something about it. And he and his brother did! Big time! And this is the way they are treated? Shame on us!

It’s not Canada at its best.

Rosemary Godin is a retired clergy and print journalist. She lives with hubby and Chuck (the dog) in Westmount where she learns a new word every day – and some are repeatable.

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