The House of Commons defeated a Conservative Party motion to exempt certain groups from the government’s Summer Jobs program attestation which requires employers to attest that they support so-called Charter rights like abortion and same-sex “marriage.” Only one Liberal and NDP, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and two Bloc Quebecois MPs joined the Tories for the motion that was defeated in a 207-93 vote.
Last year, the Trudeau government changed the criteria for the Canada Summer Jobs program, which provides more than $200 million in subsidies for charities, non-profits, and small business to hire approximately 69,000 summer students. Under the new policy, employers had to check a box affirming their support for abortion, same-sex “marriage,” and transgender ideology. Critics of the policy say it is an ideological litmus test that discriminates against faith-based organizations and individuals who hold certain moral beliefs.
The Canadian Press reported that under the new criteria, there has been a 12-fold increase in rejected requests. Last year, the government rejected 126 applications but so far in 2018, 1561 applications have been rejected. Not all rejections are due to the fact that many organizations refused to check the attestation box, but it is unlikely missing details or other criteria are responsible for the unprecedented jump in rejections.
Many companies and organizations refused to check the box, and many of them attached a letter explaining their position. The Liberal government explained that organizations and companies that oppose abortion or same-sex “marriage” are allowed to apply for subsidies as long as their “core mandate” is not tied to said opposition, but that these groups would still have to check the attestation.
Some groups and companies simply did not apply this year for student subsidies.
The Conservative motion, tabled by Karen Vecchio (CPC, Elgin-Middlesex-London), sought to allow some employers that oppose abortion to access the summer jobs subsidy program even if they did not sign the pro-abortion attestation. The motion read: “That, in the opinion of the House, organizations that engage in non-political non-activist work, such as feeding the homeless, helping refugees, and giving kids an opportunity to go to camp, should be able to access Canada Summer Jobs funding regardless of their private convictions and regardless of whether or not they choose to sign the application attestation.”
This motion was a response to the public outcry over faith-based charities that ran summer camps, homeless shelters, and other public services being disqualified from accessing the Summer Jobs program if they did not sign the attestation. The motion was supported by the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. The motion would not cover many pro-life groups that had received funding in the past, such as Campaign Life Coalition, the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform, and LifeSiteNews, which agitate for political and cultural change on life and family issues.
The government introduced the new criteria after complaints from pro-abortion groups that CCBR had subsidized summer students distribute images of aborted preborn babies.
Jeff Gunnarson, Campaign Life Coalition’s vice president, said his organization was unable to support the motion because it did “not seek to protect all Canadian employers from being coerced to pledge fealty to abortion and transgender ideology in exchange for government funding” such as those that do “political activist work.” Furthermore, the motion did not explicitly call for the removal of the attestation which gives “tacit approval for Justin Trudeau to continue his ideological discrimination against some employers.”
Gunnarson told The Interim that because the motion kept the “abortion loyalty oath” intact, CLC urged Conservative MPs to defeat the motion and “go back to the drawing board to craft a stronger motion that protects all Canadians from Justin Trudeau’s ideological authoritarianism.”
A Conservative source told The Interim that the motion was designed to undermine the principle of the attestation rather than remove it, saying it had a better chance to pass with some Liberal or NDP support if the motion did not call outright for the removal of the attestation. The Conservative said the motion would not have any chance of success if it sought the complete removal, but denied that “examples” of groups that could apply was exhaustive and therefore was not merely a list of exemptions.
The motion would have been non-binding and was expected to fail because of Liberal and NDP votes. The vote forced MPs to take a public stance.
Liberal MP Scott Simms, the NDP’s David Christopherson, and Bloc MPs Xavier Barsolou-Duval and Mario Beauleiu broke their party ranks to join Green Party leader Elizabeth May in voting for the motion.
Christopherson, May, and Simms all reiterated they supported abortion, but that the government was over-reaching with its attestation requirement. Christopherson explained his vote in an email to the press: “the vote … spoke directly to what our democracy means: you must obey the law but you still have the fundamental right to oppose the law.” He said as long as an organization was “following the law and respecting everyone’s Charter rights” it should qualify for student funding. Later that week, the NDP punished Christopherson for his vote by removing him as deputy chair of the procedure and House affairs committee.
May said that because MPs have discretion over how funding is distributed in their ridings, she trusted their judgment in divvying up funds: “if there are groups that are troubling hotspots, they are easy to recognize.” She said the attestation “is a slippery slope and bad precedent” in requiring groups to agree with the government in exchange for federal funding.
Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer said the motion was important “to send a message now that Canadians will not put up with this kind of attack on our Charter rights.” He said the attestation violated “people’s rights to hold different views or different beliefs,” from those of the government.