Federal program funds summer job to help 'stop Kinder Morgan pipeline'

The federal government's summer job program is providing funding for a position with a B.C. activist group that aims to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. The group says such positions have been funded under both Liberal and Conservative governments.

B.C. citizen activist group hiring student to help scuttle the project

Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline project protest outside a Liberal Party fundraising event in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, April 5, 2018. One of the groups opposing the project has received funding from the federal government's summer jobs program - despite the government's support for the pipeline. (Ben Nelms/Reuters)

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to vow that the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion "will be built," his government's summer jobs program is funding a position with an activist group working to stop the project.

A call for applications for an "organizing assistant," posted online by the non-profit group Dogwood B.C., says the job involves working to help the group's network "stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project." It notes the position is funded by the federal Canada Summer Jobs Program.

The temporary full-time job is open to students. It pays $15 per hour for 9 to 12 weeks of work and is based in Vancouver.

But according to the organization receiving the funding, this kind of political push-and-pull is nothing new.

Group got funding from Harper government as well

Dogwood B.C. said it has received funding for such positions since 2010, under both the Trudeau and Stephen Harper governments. The organization even got the funding when it was fighting the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, which Harper supported.

Kai Nagata, Dogwood's communications director, said the group isn't certain yet how many students it will hire with the help of federal funding this year. He said that in past years, students have worked on other projects as well, including one to prevent U.S. thermal coal exports from moving through Vancouver.

"The federal government has never thought to impose its political agenda on kids canvassing in B.C. on environmental issues," said Nagata, who previously worked as a reporter for both CBC and CTV.

In social media postings, Dogwood refers to Kinder Morgan as a "greedy, dangerous corporation." The group has organized a campaign to pressure Trudeau to not put public money behind the pipeline expansion.

Liberals cite 'free speech'

The Conservatives spent much of Wednesday's question period quizzing the government about the move.

"Does the prime minister not realize that paying groups to protest against these projects is exactly part of the problem?" asked Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.

Trudeau pointed out that the group had received funding under the previous Conservative government before contrasting his party with theirs.

"Unlike — apparently — the leader of the Official Opposition, we believe in free speech. We believe in advocacy on this side of the House," said Trudeau.

In a statement, Labour Minister Patty Hajdu's office said the federal program funds nearly 70,000 summer positions with about 29,000 employers.

"These workplaces will represent an enormous variety of industries, causes, and types of work, none of which are taken into account in the application process, so long as the employer can confirm that the core mandate does not undermine human rights," said spokesperson Emily Harris.

MPs prioritize funding recipients

While employers apply to the program through Service Canada, individual MPs do play a role in deciding where the funding goes in their ridings .

Every MP receives a list of employers that have been recommended for funding and then gets to decide which employers should receive priority.

Nagata said this year his group applied for funding through three MPs offices and was approved by all three. 

Those MPs are:

  • New Democrat Murray Rankin (Victoria).
  • New Democrat Don Davies (Vancouver Kingsway).
  • Liberal Terry Beech (Burnaby North-Seymour).

"I approved funding for the Dogwood Initiative," Beech said in an e-mailed statement, "as they provide valuable work experience for students in our community. Being an MP is not a partisan job, it is about supporting everyone in our community, especially those who don't share the views of the government or any individual position."

Beech's riding has been described as "ground zero" for the pipeline project. The expansion would pass through the riding and include both a temporary storage facility and a marine terminal in Burnaby.

In March, protesters gathered outside Beech's office asking him to take "meaningful action" to oppose the pipeline.

'Discriminatory and fascist'

The Canada Summer Jobs Program has been the subject of considerable controversy this year. The government required applicants to check a box saying they support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including women's reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights.

Some religious leaders called the requirement an "ideology test" that is both "discriminatory and fascist."

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has also questioned whether the requirement is constitutional.

Asked Tuesday about objections raised by some faith-based groups and other employers to the charter attestations, Hajdu said that "hundreds and hundreds" of faith-based groups still applied.

Her office issued updated numbers Wednesday in an email to CBC News, showing that out of a total of 42,708 eligible applications received, 134 were applications were withdrawn and 1,683 applications were rejected — an increase of more than 1,400 over the previous year.

Hajdu's office did not break out how many of those rejections happened because the applicant refused to attest support for reproductive or LGBTQ rights specifically, saying only that they were deemed ineligible "for reasons such as incomplete business number, late application, size of business and modified or unsigned attestations."


Catherine Cullen

Senior reporter

Catherine Cullen is host of CBC Radio's The House and a senior reporter on Parliament Hill.