Integrity to values won the day. In a David and Goliath battle, David (summer camps, churches and social agencies) beat Goliath (the federal government) over the coercive “attestation” it required groups applying for Canada Summer Jobs funding to accept.
Now, after one year of refusing to budge, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who whipped his MPs’ votes on this issue in the House of Commons in March — has finally done the right thing and based funding eligibility on an organization’s actions and activities, rather than its beliefs.
The controversy first arose about one year ago as social service agencies started applying for Canada Summer Jobs grants to hire students for the summer.
What these groups started to discover was that if they didn’t click a box online attesting to the fact that its “core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights” — including “reproductive rights” — its application couldn’t even be filed, let alone considered.
As a result, many organizations were denied funding from the federal program for essentially refusing to agree to the federal Liberal party platform on abortion. We should all feel proud of these faith-based organizations — that do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to helping the poorest of the poor in Canada — for refusing to sell their souls for a few pieces of silver.
In 2019, however, rather than asking groups to declare what its beliefs are on certain topics, it lists what activities or actions it is involved with. Jobs that “actively work to undermine or restrict a woman’s access to sexual and reproductive health services” or that “advocate intolerance, discrimination and/or prejudice,” need not apply.
That is exactly what most of the agencies were asking for to begin with, but Trudeau and his Labour Minister Patty Hajdu remained adamant. The 2019 fall election is a fast approaching train, however, so it’s really no surprise the federal Liberal government saw the light racing down the tunnel.
“This is a big win for the little guy,” said Steve Wile, CEO of Calgary-based Mustard Seed Street Ministry.
“I’m glad that the federal government recognized that what they were asking us to do was not appropriate and they made the change that will enable us to hire more young people this summer,” said Wile. “So people in need will get help and we will also begin to help expand the minds and hearts of young people toward those who have much less than we do.”
Ordinarily, the Seed seeks funding to hire about 20 young people each summer. However, because of the attestation, Wile says the agency didn’t even apply. The publicity it received, however, for refusing to be coerced by the government saw generous donors step forward, making it possible for the Seed to hire 10 students this summer.
Other charitable organizations weren’t as lucky. A small Nova Scotia museum was “closed indefinitely” after it was denied federal funding for refusing to tick off the attestation.
Gerald Comeau, a volunteer with the Bangor Sawmill Museum in Meteghan River, N.S., said the museum does not have a mandate to take an ideological position on abortion, and should not be compelled to do so in order to be eligible for funding.
“We’re a museum. We’re not involved in the business of ideological questions of abortion and so on,” Comeau told Postmedia in June. “So we came to the decision that we could not support that clause.”
Will it be able to reopen? Comeau was not reachable Thursday, so time will tell.
It’s impossible to know how many other organizations doing good work also suffered irreparable harm as a result of the attestation.
Federal officials said rejections spiked 12-fold to 1,561 this year, compared with 126 in 2017.
It would have been lovely to just be able to congratulate the Liberals for doing the right thing, but their ungraciousness in their reversal makes that difficult.
Hajdu told Maclean’s that “unfortunately, we heard that there was confusion about the wording of the attestation last year, and it was heightened by the Harper Conservative misinformation machine, which sort of seized it and amplified the confusion.”
Stephen Harper has been gone since 2015. Her sophistry is breathtaking.
Wile chuckles at that and other ungracious partisan comments made by Hajdu, and is adamant that he and his staff decided not to sign the attestation on their own, without the help of Harper or anyone else, despite assurances by Hajdu and Trudeau that the attestation didn’t really mean what it said.
“We tried last year to be very clear,” Hajdu told Maclean’s, “that this wasn’t about values and beliefs, it was about jobs and job activities.”
But that’s not what the attestation said, and the good folk, like Wile and thousands of others, either didn’t even fill in an application or were rejected because they refused to sign the attestation.
As Wile said Thursday, “I’m happy to see that the church isn’t for sale.”
Amen to that.
Integrity won the war. Cynical, identity politics and virtue signalling lost. It’s a great present just in time for Christmas.