But does it go far enough…?

Lib­er­als re­vamp con­tentious anti-abor­tion test for sum­mer jobs fund­ing


Con­tentious word­ing in Ot­tawa’s sum­mer-jobs pro­gram that re­quired groups to de­clare them­selves sup­port­ive of abor­tion rights to get fund­ing has been dropped, and new rules put in place to ap­pease faith groups and pro-choice ad­vo­cates who each fu­elled a furor over the pol­icy last year.

In­stead, the fed­eral Lib­er­als have re-tooled the 2019 ver­sion of the Canada Sum­mer Jobs pro­gram to re­quire ap­pli­cants to de­clare they don’t work to in­fringe on any Cana­dian’s le­gal rights.

The pro­gram sub­si­dizes wages for sum­mer work­ers, to en­cour­age small busi­nesses and non­prof­its to bring on stu­dents and oth­ers look­ing for early ex­pe­ri­ence. Word­ing on the ap­pli­ca­tion for the 2018 ver­sion of the pro­gram re­quired groups to say nei­ther their core man­dates nor the jobs be­ing funded ac­tively worked to un­der- mine con­sti­tu­tional, hu­man and re­pro­duc­tive rights.

In­for­mal con­sul­ta­tions over the past few months led to the gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to change the word­ing for the 2019 ver­sion of the pro­gram.

“It still achieves the same aim of en­sur­ing that groups that are pri­mar­ily against hu­man rights, like anti-choice groups, are not go­ing to be el­i­gi­ble for fund­ing still, and it ap­pears to sat­isfy the con­cerns of re­li­gious groups and churches,” said Joyce Arthur, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Abor­tion Rights Coali­tion of Canada.

More changes have been made to the pro­gram’s el­i­gi­bil­ity cri­te­ria to dis­qual­ify any project or job that tries to re­strict a woman’s abil­ity to ac­cess sex­ual or re­pro­duc­tive health ser­vices, or that won’t hire peo­ple based on their sex, re­li­gion, race, eth­nic ori­gin, gen­der iden­tity or gen­der ex­pres­sion.

Ray Pen­nings, ex­ec­u­tive vi­cepres­i­dent of Car­dus – a non-par­ti­san, faith-based think-tank – said ques­tions will likely still be raised of the dec­la­ra­tion if it sim­ply says groups will fol­low the law, which all em­ploy­ers are re­quired to do al­ready.

“Any em­ployer is sub­ject to hu­man-rights codes,” Pen­nings said. “To have an em­ployer check a box seems a lit­tle silly.”

Af­ter the gov­ern­ment put the re­pro­duc­tive-rights lan­guage in the 2018 ap­pli­ca­tion, fund­ing re­jec­tions in­creased 12-fold. Only one of 63 groups flagged to the gov­ern­ment as prob­lem­atic by pro-choice groups re­ceived fund­ing. Many faith-based groups re­fused to the sign the dec­la­ra­tion, or sub­mit­ted al­ter­na­tive word­ings be­cause they felt that as­sert­ing that they sup­ported re­pro­duc­tive rights as cur­rently ex­pressed in Cana­dian law went against their re­li­gious be­liefs.

“They felt this was about their val­ues and be­liefs and not about the jobs and the per­for­mances of the stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar roles and we took that to heart,” Labour Min­is­ter Patty Ha­jdu said in an in­ter­view.

“We’ve been work­ing on mak­ing sure we do what we in­tended to do, which is to stand up for the rights of Cana­di­ans ... but that we also work closely with faith-based groups and oth­ers so that they can see how they them­selves would fit into this pro­gram.”

A trio of Con­ser­va­tive crit­ics - MPS John Bar­low, Ted Falk and Gar­nett Genuis - called on the Lib­er­als to apol­o­gize for the older ap­pli­ca­tion lan­guage that seemed to tar­get the be­liefs of faith-based groups.

“The with­drawal of the Lib­er­als’ at­tes­ta­tion is an ad­mis­sion they were wrong, and a des­per­ate at­tempt at dam­age con­trol for the prime min­is­ter head­ing into an elec­tion year,” they said in a shared state­ment. “Un­for­tu­nately, Justin Trudeau can­not be trusted to back away from bas­ing fund­ing de­ci­sions on whether or not you hold a cer­tain be­lief.”

The change is one of sev­eral made to the pop­u­lar pro­gram to be out­lined to MPS. Em­ploy­ers can be­gin to ap­ply later this month.

The Lib­er­als are open­ing the pro­gram to any young per­son aged 15 to 30, no longer re­quir­ing them to be stu­dents in or­der to have their po­si­tions qual­ify for fund­ing. A gov­ern­ment-struck ex­pert panel called for the change last year, not­ing non-stu­dents of­ten have a hard time find­ing jobs to build their work his­to­ries.

Avail­able po­si­tions will also be posted on a newly re­leased mo­bile app that lets users search the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s job bank.

At the end of the sum­mer, em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees will be re­quired to fill out a sur­vey so the gov­ern­ment can fine-tune the pro­gram. Ha­jdu said em­ploy­ers will also be re­quired to fol­low men­tor­ship plans for their work­ers as part of ef­forts to en­sure only “qual­ity” jobs are funded.

The data col­lected won’t be used to screen out em­ploy­ers in sub­se­quent fund­ing years, but to eval­u­ate the pro­gram over­all, Ha­jdu said.

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