April 28, 2018 10:00 am

COMMENTARY: Liberals have only themselves to blame for the summer jobs disaster

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the summer jobs grant to Dogwood on the basis of free speech. "If only that were true," says Rob Breakenridge.

The Canadian Press
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In the grand scheme of things, it’s unlikely that the 12-week employment of a $15-an-hour “organizing assistant” is going to tip the balance one way or another insofar as the Trans Mountain pipeline is concerned.

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However, it is rather awkward for the federal government to be helping to foot the bill for the activists who have devoted themselves to torpedoing a project deemed “in the national interest” by that same federal government. It also comes as various faith-based organizations across the country suddenly find themselves cut off from such funding for failing to kiss the proverbial ring of the Liberal Party’s official worldview. Those who would scuttle important national projects need not worry, it seems.

We learned this past week that a B.C. group, the Dogwood Initiative, had received a grant under the federal Canada Summer Jobs program and was using that funding to hire an organizing assistant “to help our organizing network stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

READ MORE: Summer jobs controversy reheats over posting calling to ‘stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline’

Not that Dogwood really needs that funding, anyway. For the 2016/2017 fiscal year, the group pulled in about $1.6 million in revenue. There will be organizing assistants helping organizers organize their organizing networks one way or another.

It is true that this group has previously received Canada Summer Jobs program grants, money that was doled out while the Harper Conservatives were in power. And yes, there were pipelines to be scuttled then, too. But to cite that previous funding as a defence of the Liberals’ current approach is to rather miss the point.

As we’ve seen in recent days, the Conservative Party is no fan of Dogwood or the idea of the group being on the receiving end of any federal dollars. Yet the Conservatives did nothing to block or deny those while they were in power. Why, it’s almost as though there was no political litmus test for the summer jobs program back then.

WATCH BELOW: Conservatives blast Liberals for funding summer job to ‘help stop Kinder Morgan pipeline’

 

The issue isn’t so much that Dogwood has once again secured federal funding. It’s that those same grants are now being denied to groups who have previously received it. The Liberals have set a political threshold for saying, “no.” So it’s fair to criticize them for not only that approach, but the fact that their net has ensnared charities and summer camps, yet not the avowed enemies of a multi-billion-dollar piece of needed energy infrastructure.

Yet in the House of Commons this week, the prime minister had the gall to defend the grant to Dogwood on the basis of free speech, proclaiming that “We will always support the right of Canadians to express themselves.”

If only that were true.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about the crackdown on anti-abortion groups

After reports surfaced last year that various anti-abortion groups had received funding under the Canada Summer Jobs program, the Liberals moved swiftly to try and prevent that from recurring. But rather than simply say “no funding for anti-abortion groups,” they crafted a bizarre attestation that groups must check off before their funding applications can be considered.

This forces groups either to declare that they are in support of “reproductive rights” (i.e. abortion rights) or not be eligible for funding. Not surprisingly, there are many organizations unwilling to compromise on their values.

So the Liberals can then claim that this is about a group’s activities, not its values, but clearly, that’s not the case.

Organizations, such as Calgary’s Mustard Seed Church or the Southern Alberta Bible Camp — which have previously made use of the Canada Summer Jobs program — are not involved in any sort of anti-abortion activism. And even if they were, it is not a crime in Canada to oppose abortion, nor does espousing such views in any way violate the Charter. Quite the opposite, in fact, since the Charter guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

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While many Canadians might strongly object to the federal government subsidizing anti-abortion groups, many Canadians clearly have similar feelings about subsidizing groups looking to wreak havoc on a crucial Canadian industry. The Liberals can’t have it both ways: they can’t justify the denial of funds to a cohort of groups on the basis that they’re undermining the government’s efforts and values while simultaneously defending the funding of other groups that also undermine the government’s efforts and values.

The Liberals needlessly politicized this program and have only themselves to blame for this untenable mess. They either need to scrap the attestation or scrap the program altogether.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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