Ah, the summer job. Lifeguarding, camp counseling, ice cream scooping, lawn mowing — none of it funded by the taxpayer.
That was before the era of interventionist government, of course, and before the creation of federal summer job programs. Such programs have been around for decades in various incarnations, from the COSEP (Career Oriented Summer Employment Program) of the 1980s and 1990s to the Canada Summer Jobs Program today. And the goal was pretty consistent: to create jobs by providing a wage subsidy to employers willing to give a young person a temporary foot in the door.
That’s how it was until this year, when the Liberals decided to require an attestation from employers that they will abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The job and the employer’s core mandate must respect individual human rights, including reproductive rights and freedom from discrimination for, among others, gender-diverse and transgender Canadians.
The jobs program now supports “five national priorities”: hiring members of “underrepresented” groups, such as new immigrants or refugees, Indigenous youth, young people with disabilities or visible minorities; small businesses; and organizations that offer opportunities for official language minorities, the LGBTQ2 community, STEM and ICT careers — the latter in particular for women.
This is a far cry from the old program, which committed mainly to providing work experiences for students and supporting organizations that provide “important community services.” So why the change?
According to the government, the idea 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.”
“Last year,” said Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, “we heard a whole bunch of complaints from citizens across Canada and organizations about some of the organizations receiving funds that said some of the organizations receiving funds were actually working actively to undermine Canadians’ rights.
“For example, organizations that are anti-abortion distributing very graphic pictures of aborted fetuses or organizations that won’t hire LGBTQ members or young people. We know that these are a fundamental violation of the rights that Canadians expect, so we’re asking organizations this year to attest that the activities they conduct as an organization and the job description will respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
WATCH BELOW: Employment Minister Patty Hajdu defends requiring groups to affirm respect for rights to get funds
A whole bunch of complaints? How many? From whom? It’s hard to imagine that thousands of employers running pro-life campaigns received federal summer job grants. So because of the actions of a few, the government now requires every employer to sign a piece of paper saying that they will do what the law requires them to do anyway — respect the Charter of Rights.
But the requirement goes further than that. Hajdu can claim that this is not about the beliefs or values of the organization — only about the “primary activities” it engages in, but the activities and the values are impossible to separate, particularly for faith-based groups.
This isn’t just a religious freedom issue. It’s a freedom of belief issue. What if a First Nations band wants to hire a young law student to question whether the Charter applies to Indigenous Canadians? What if a theatre company refuses to hire trans women to do a play about the experience of young women because the play is about the experiences of young girls who were born female? Who decides who crosses the line, and why?
That’s why Hajdu’s words ring hollow. This isn’t about activities. It’s about mandates, which are founded on belief. In law, of course, employers are already bound to respect Charter rights; if they don’t, they can be hauled in front of the courts or human rights commissions.
So why demand a separate attestation? To send two political messages. The first message: Look how the Liberals are standing up for minority rights! Second message: If you fear you’ll run afoul of the Liberal thought police, don’t bother applying for the grant. It’s a way of weeding out applicants at the front end — and clearing the way for groups that align with the Liberals’ priorities.
The summer job program is not a program to increase youth employment in general, but to improve it in the constituencies the Liberals courted in the 2015 federal general election, and to whom they will appeal to again in the 2019 vote. That is a blatant misuse of public funds.
And those funds are considerable. The Liberals have put $113 million into the summer jobs program to double the number of placements from 35,000 to 70,000 for students working at not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers and small businesses with fewer than 50 employees. And the Liberals did not simply double the budget for each riding — they divided it up based on student unemployment data and riding-specific data from the 2011 census.
As a result, 13 ridings had million-dollar budgets in 2016: four in Newfoundland and Labrador, others in Halifax, Montreal, and London Ontario.
Instead of cherry-picking who gets this money, the Liberals should either scrap the politics, or scrap the program altogether. Give a tax credit for any employer who hires a student during the summer. Rebate part of the skyrocketing minimum wage in provinces like Ontario for summer positions.
No bureaucracy, no favourites — and no ideological purity tests.