The government is changing the rules around which employers can qualify for funding to hire students through the Canada Summer Jobs program to try and ensure that groups advocating against abortion rights or the equality of LGBTQ2 Canadians will not be able to get funding.
At the same time, the changes will seek to boost support for groups offering services and supports to the LGBTQ2 community as well as those offering opportunities to women in engineering and mathematics, Indigenous Canadians, immigrants and minority official language communities.
The change comes after a series of articles about Liberal and Conservative MPs approving tens of thousands of dollars in summer job grants to anti-abortion groups in their ridings during the 2016 program, despite the money being made available by a government that prominently branded itself as pro-choice.
Now the changes the government is making to the program will require groups applying for funding through the Canada Summer Jobs program to sign an attestation stating that their organizational mandate as well as the duties of the job they are seeking funding for respect human rights in Canada.
“To be eligible, applicants will have to attest that: both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights,” reads a PowerPoint presentation created to brief MPs on the new changes and shared with Global News.
“These include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression.”
An April 2017 report found that anti-abortion groups in the Mississauga-Erin Mills riding of Liberal MP Iqra Khalid had received $56,000 in federal summer job grants in 2016.
In August 2017, a similar report found that anti-abortion groups in the riding of Rachael Harder, the Conservatives’ then-newly appointed status of women critic and Lethbridge MP, had received close to $12,000 in the same grants in 2016.
Government officials had said on background in April that Employment Minister Patty Hajdu was looking at options for how to change the program to prevent that from happening again and that anti-abortion groups in Liberal-held ridings would not be allowed to receive summer job grants through the 2017 program.
This change, eight months in the making, will go into effect for the 2018 program and apply to groups in ridings held by all MPs, regardless of party.
“The objective of the change is to prevent Government of Canada funding from flowing to organizations whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights, the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law,” the briefing material states.
“Additionally, these changes help prevent youth (as young as 15 years of age) from being exposed to employment within organizations that may promote positions that are contrary to the values enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law. This change helps to ensure that youth job opportunities funded by the Government of Canada take place in an environment that respects the rights of all Canadians.”
In a statement to Global News, Hajdu said the change ensures that federal money will be used to create jobs that are meaningful and that will do a better job of giving youth relevant work experience that can translate into the real-world.
“Canada’s future prosperity depends on young Canadians getting the education and experience they’ll need to succeed in their careers, keeping our economy growing and our middle class thriving. That’s why, since our government was elected, we’ve doubled the number of Canada Summer Jobs per year compared to the previous government,” she said.
“Last spring I instructed my department officials to do a thorough review of the program, including funding criteria, in advance of this year’s call for proposals. As a result of the review, this year, CSJ applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the employer’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We’re focused on meaningful work experience for young people that will help grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.”
Advocate praises move but questions efficiency
It remains to be seen exactly how that attestation will be measured: for example, if an anti-abortion group signs the attestation, who is ultimately responsible for making sure that application is not approved and that funding is allocated to hire a student to hand out anti-abortion fliers?
Darrah Teitel, public affairs officer at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, praised the decision to bring in the attestation but said there are questions over what more can be done and how effective the use of an attestation will be in weeding out groups that might just sign the attestation and hope they slip through the cracks.
“Action Canada believes that this is obviously a move in a positive direction. It’s something that abortion rights advocates have been asking for for an extremely long time so it’s gratifying to see the federal government finally take action on it,” she said, and also called for the government to go further and revoke the charitable status of groups that advocate against abortion or that are anti-gay.
“These organizations often disseminate false and intentionally misleading health information which means people are impacted when they try to seek reproductive and sexual health services.”
Some of the anti-abortion groups funded last year in Harder’s riding billed themselves as pregnancy care centres but refused to provide information on or referrals to clients seeking abortion, and were linked in to larger networks of religious organizations that actively advocate against access to abortion in Canada.
In the presentation made to MPs, the government notes that the changes will not make churches or religious and faith-based organizations themselves ineligible for the program, saying “that an organization is affiliated with a religion does not itself constitute ineligibility.”
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LGBT, women among new program priorities
In addition, the government is setting out five core priority areas for the Canada Summer Jobs program this year to target specific types of work across the country.
Those priorities are to fund employers who intend to hire youth from underrepresented groups such as new immigrant youth and refugees, Indigenous youth, youth with disabilities and visible minorities, as well as to fund jobs through small businesses and organizations that support opportunities in official language minority communities.
Organizations that provide services and supports for the LGBTQ2 community will also be a priority under the 2018 program, as will organizations that provide jobs in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as information and communications technology, and particularly those opportunities that go to women.
Women are consistently underrepresented in STEM fields: only one in four university graduates in computer science and math are women, while in engineering that number is one in five.
How does the program work?
Groups looking to secure funding can apply as of Tuesday until Feb. 2, 2018, and applications will be assessed by Service Canada officials between February and March.
In March, tentative lists of groups recommended to receive funding will be drawn up and sent to MPs for validation, at which point the MP can recommend funding for more or fewer jobs through the group, as well as whether to fund them at all.
Service Canada will then make the final approval, and any changes recommended by MPs will be made available to Canadians under access to information laws.
Groups will receive notification of whether they are approved to get funding in April 2018.
The Canada Summer Jobs program is a federal program that allows not-for-profit organizations to get funding to cover up to 100 per cent of the cost of hiring Canadians between the ages of 15 and 30 for temporary, full-time summer work.
Public-sector and private-sector employers can get funding to cover up to 50 per cent of those costs through the program.
MPs play a large role in determining local priorities and validating the lists of recommended projects drawn up and sent to them for validation by Service Canada.
Those lists have historically been based on what was funded the year before.
Each year, the program has $107.5 million to disperse but in 2016, the government announced it would provide an extra $113 million per year for three years to effectively double the size of the program and the number of jobs it can fund for young Canadians.
That additional funding expires in 2018 unless it is renewed in the next budget.