Liberal MP says abortion clause in summer jobs program 'not right'

MP Scott Simms, who represents the central Newfoundland district of Coast of Bays — Central — Notre Dame, says groups are being asked to disavow "core beliefs."

Scott Simms says community groups shouldn't be asked to disavow fundamental beliefs

MP Scott Simms represents the central Newfoundland riding of Coast of Bays — Central — Notre Dame. (CBC)

Newfoundland MP Scott Simms says he is petitioning his own government to reverse a clause in a student summer jobs program that requires groups applying for grants to attest to abortion rights.

The Liberal MP said its unfair that churches and Christian groups are being asked to violate their fundamental beliefs in order to receive funding for jobs and programs that are non-political, or unrelated to reproductive rights.

He's planning to write Patty Hajdu, the federal employment minister, to petition for a change.

"The application is asking them to do something that they shouldn't be asked to do for the sake of a summer job for kids," Simms told CBC Radio's Central Morning Show on Monday.

Liberal MP Scott Simms says the new changes for federal funding for summer jobs infringes on the religious rights of constituents in his riding of Coast of Bays-Central-Notre Dame. 7:26

Simms said he hoped the clause in the application could be written to be more specific, to only limit funding for jobs or programs that are actively involved in campaigning for changes to Canadian law.

The 2018 Canada Summer Jobs application currently requires employers to declare that, "both the job and the organization's core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada … these include reproductive rights."

This application, as it stands right now, is not right.- Scott Simms

Simms said he has spoken and worked with many church-based groups who do "good work" in the community on issues unrelated to abortion.

"Just last week, I spoke with one of the churches about housing, affordable housing. The Salvation Army is constantly doing things for anti-poverty. So I have a close connection with these groups, and I represent them, even if we have a difference in belief." 

A spokesperson for Hajdu has told CBC News that there is a difference between the beliefs of applicants and their core mandates, and that religious groups are not necessarily ineligible for the program.

Simms is asking Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hajdu to change the rules surrounding grant applications for summer jobs. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Simms estimated that while 95 per cent of prospective applicants in his Coast of Bays — Central — Notre Dame riding won't have an issue with the clause, another five per cent will.

He said it's unfair to suggest to the groups that they sign a declaration just to get funding, even if they don't believe in it.

"To me that's a lack of respect. If I was to say to someone, 'Look, don't worry about it, just tick the box or whatever' — some people have a core fundamental belief that they don't believe in this."

The MP said he's not sure what will happen now that he's speaking publicly against his government's decision.

"All I can do is I can look to the minister, I can look to the leadership and say, this application, as it stands right now, is not right."

With files from Central Morning