New Canada Summer Jobs rules are discriminatory, Manitoba MP says

A Conservative Manitoba member of Parliament says new rules for organizations seeking government funding to hire summer students are discriminatory and will result in fewer jobs for students.

Christian summer programs scrambling to find a new source of funding after years of participating

Conservative MP Ted Falk says the requirement to check off a box in support of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as reproductive rights, is a 'values test.' (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

New rules for organizations seeking government funding to hire summer students are discriminatory and will result in fewer jobs for students, says a Manitoba member of Parliament.

"I think every Canadian should be concerned about the implications that these changes represent," Ted Falk, the Conservative MP for the southeast Manitoba riding of Provencher, said Monday in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Up to Speed.

"When a government imposes upon its citizens that they must meet a values test in order to be eligible for any government benefits, I think that's very troubling."

Falk was referring to a new element in the application to receive funding from the Canada Summer Jobs program, which subsidizes summer wages for high school and post-secondary students, requiring applicants to express respect for "individual human rights in Canada," including reproductive rights.

Applicants are required to attest that both the job and the organization's core mandate respect those rights, according to the Canada Summer Jobs website. The website states the goal of the change is to prevent government money from flowing to an "organization whose mandates or projects may not respect individual human rights, the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and associated case law."

"This helps 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," the site reads.

Falk said the change means many Manitoba organizations hoping to access the funding will be out of the running because organizers feel they can't check off that box.

​"I find that just extremely hypocritical, for them on the one hand to say, 'Well, you know, it's because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that we're doing this,'" he said.

"What, because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms you're discriminating against people? I don't think that's appropriate."

Faith-based? Still eligible, feds say

On Friday, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu defended the approach. She told reporters Ottawa will work with faith-based organizations "to make sure that they understand that this is not an automatic invalidation of their ability to apply for Canada Summer Jobs funding."

This is simply something we cannot ascribe to, we cannot sign on to- Kevin Prada

"Our ministry is saying that we believe in the Canadian … Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that … a fundamental expectation of Canadians is that we stand up for those rights," Hajdu said. "And that we ensure that the money we disperse on behalf of Canadians is not used in a way that violates those hard-won rights."

But Falk said he's heard from organizations that say they feel they can't apply because of the change and haven't been able to submit the online application without filling out that requirement. In a post on his website, he encourages people in that position to print out a hard copy and fill it out by hand, then mail it to Ottawa with a note.

"The employment for summer students will be affected if people are unable to complete the application," he said.

'This can't be true'

One faith-based organization in Falk's riding that typically receives Canada Summer Jobs funding is the Catholic School of Evangelization in St. Malo, its associate director Kevin Prada said. The summer camp serves about 250 kids and usually requires about 15 full-time staff. The program usually gets enough federal funds to hire one to three summer students, he said.

When he first learned of the new requirement, Prada said he felt shell-shocked.

"I almost had the doubt in my mind, well, this can't be true," he said. "But then sure enough, a few days later, I logged on to the government of Canada website and there it was, this new policy that said if we didn't subscribe to the government's pro-choice policies, that we would no longer be eligible to receive funding through Canada Summer Jobs."

Our government should neither favour nor diminish the rights of groups based on its personal party policies.- John Neufeld

As a Catholic organization, Prada said the school believes profoundly in all Catholic moral, social and ethical teachings.

"This is simply something we cannot ascribe to, we cannot sign on to," he said of the new requirement.

Prada said his organization will have to absorb the added cost this year and has already heard from donors and community members about fundraising. But in future years he's worried more costs will be passed on to families.

"Now, we're really proud to be one of the most affordable summer camps in the province," he said. "That's very important to us so that we can remain accessible to all sorts of different families with all sorts of different financial means."

'Un-Canadian'

Prada said the rule should concern everybody.

"I see it as something that's undemocratic. I see it as un-Canadian," he said. "For me, this is something that should transcend the pro-life, pro-choice debate."

John Neufeld, lead pastor at The Meeting Place church in Winnipeg, said the new rule creates a hierarchy of rights in Canada, favouring reproductive rights over the right to freedom of conscience and religion.

"This is problematic for me, because it clearly seems to elevate one set of rights and denigrate another set of rights," he said.

His church has received funding to hire a summer student to work in children's programming almost every year for the past decade, he said. If the church doesn't get that funding, organizers will have to take a look at the budget to figure out how to replace it, he said.

He hasn't ruled out applying for the grant this year, but he said his organization won't lie about where it stands on abortion and reproductive rights.

"We're a large congregation with hundreds of taxpaying members who feel that their voice is not being valued," he said.

Neufeld says Ottawa has a duty to celebrate diversity.

"That's true both in terms of individual rights but also in terms of religious rights," he said. "Our government should neither favour nor diminish the rights of groups based on its personal party policies."

Falk has written a letter to Hajdu and said he wants to see the federal government roll back the requirement altogether.

"I think that would be the right thing to do, to make sure that all Canadians feel comfortable completing the application asking for the funding so that they employ the summer students."

With files from Julie Dupre and Sylvaine Lanthier