Let's talk about Canada Summer Jobs Funding
It’s always far simpler to win a game when you’re playing by your own set of rules. As a person with fairly short legs in elementary school, hide-and-go-seek tag was always a challenge for me, particularly if “home base” was located a short distance away from my hiding spot. If I could set the location of the base farther away, I had a better chance of outrunning the long-legged gazelles that were my three school friends and “seekers”. However, after catching on to my schemes, they began to set subsequent games within smaller and smaller perimeters. When I protested, they simply said “3 against 1. Majority wins. That’s the rules of the game.”
I was vividly reminded of this statement when I read Minister of Employment Patty Hajdu’s comments stating that the Liberals were “very comfortable” with the new attestation language of the application forms for summer job funding. Beginning this year, groups hoping for money from the federal purse must confirm that their “core mandate” respects the Liberal’s interpretation of charter rights, particularly “women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights.”
This new ‘affirmation of abortion’ requirement poses a dilemma for numerous religious organizations who, believing that human life starts at conception, advocate for the rights of the unborn child and view this new attestation as requiring them to betray their values and conscience. By rendering such groups incapable of checking the box, the Liberal government has ensured that funding (which is paid for by taxpayer dollars!) is allocated only to those groups that conform to Liberal values. So of course the government is “comfortable” with the new attestation; they are choosing to play politics by their own set of rules.
The Liberal justification for withholding grant money to pro-life organizations is that such groups seek to undermine other Canadian’s charter rights. But there are a number of fundamental flaws in this proposition. The Charter has explicit protections for freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. The government cannot dictate religious or moral beliefs to Canadians, and the government cannot silence speech without demonstrating immediate and serious harm because of that speech. Both of these Charter rights are threatened by the Government’s new requirement for summer jobs funding.
Ironically, the Charter rights to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience are actually much more prominent in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms than the topic of abortion. Abortion has been legal in Canada since the 1988 Morgentaler decision by the Supreme Court, but this does not mean that it is a charter right. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the law as it existed then was too broad, and gave Parliament the task of crafting new legislation which, adhering to charter rights, would balance the interests of women and protection of the fetus. Although no Parliament since then has been able to agree to such a law, this does not change the fact that the Supreme Court found the federal government could restrict abortion through a law. Now, the Liberal government is willfully ignoring the Supreme Court verdict and has created an ideological test for funding that suits their own ideals, when in fact no such right is enshrined in the Charter. A dangerous precedent is set here, and Canadians are beginning to question the government’s interference in the legal system. If they can pretend that a law, or a Charter Right, exists when one clearly does not, who is to stop them from using other made up legal arguments to ban a variety of organizations they disagree with from public funding?
It is deeply troubling to realize that a party fond of calling themselves the “party of the Charter” is developing policies which call into question whether they have read the document. By subjecting religious organizations to such a litmus test, the Liberal government shows a disturbing willingness to risk violating Section 2 of the Charter which guarantees not only freedom of conscience and religion, but also freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression. The pro-life positions that Christians and those of other faiths hold are free to be voiced openly in the public sphere without breaking any law. Whether the motives of the Liberals are to promote themselves as liberators of women or to discriminate against Canadians who don’t play by their rules, this new policy is a clear sign of the anti-democratic tendencies that the Liberals have increasingly shown since their election in 2015.
StFX University is a campus that promotes the diversity and inclusion at the heart of the Charter and which the Liberals supposedly embrace. In his 2017 X-Ring address, President Dr. Kent MacDonald attributed Rick Mercer’s selection of StFX for the “Get out the Vote” movement to the visible and active involvement of our students in shaping the world around them. That involvement should not stop at the ballot box.
As the deadline for employers to file grant funding applications for the Canada Summer Jobs program creeps closer, the elimination of several student opportunities is an impending possibility. StFX students, particularly those out-of-province and international students who rely on the program to provide employment for the summer months, but also those who may wish to work with an organization that shares their personal values and beliefs (without forcing those beliefs on others), are directly in danger of unemployment.
It is time that our students turned a critical eye to recent Liberal decisions which demonstrate that the government’s definition of “equal opportunity” extends only as far as Liberal beliefs and values. As part of the population which helped vote the government into power, we are now called to monitor its actions and decide for ourselves what is at stake for our democracy.
It should not matter whether you are Liberal or Conservative, pro-life or pro-choice, a student or a graduate. Regardless of the position you hold or support, just ask yourself; would you be comfortable with another party in power using social values tests to determine who qualifies for government funding? We need to consider whether we think that the players of the political game we are all affected by should play by our democratic rules, or be allowed to continue to play by the ones they’ve instituted in order to win.