Liberals add caveat to summer jobs program funding as applications open

OTTAWA — A federal jobs program targeted at youth met the government’s goal for placements for this past summer after falling short in the first year of the Liberals’ mandate.

The government says almost 69,000 spaces and counting were created in 2017, double the number in 2015 and a target the Liberals had vowed to reach in every year of their mandate.

The Liberals have put an extra $113 million annually into the summer jobs program to double the number of placements each year to 70,000 from 35,000 for students working at not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

The annual program is one promoted by all parties as a way to help local businesses fill positions and give students on-the-job experience.

The government is releasing the 2017 numbers today as it opens applications for the 2018 edition of the program.

The program has been the target of controversy from religious groups who fear they’ll be blocked from funding due to the government’s new requirement that all applicants prove they don’t violate charter rights — specifically with respect to reproductive rights, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The decision stems from a controversy last year when officials approved tens of thousands of dollars for anti-abortion groups in at least two ridings.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu ordered a review of the program, including funding criteria, before setting the rules for this year. The new rules are not designed to ban faith-based groups from landing federal cash, she said.

“Applicants will be required to attest that both the job and the employer’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada,” she said.

“We’re focused on meaningful work experience for young people that will help grow the economy and strengthen the middle class.”

Federal officials reviewing applications will have to determine if a group violates the new rules. Ultimately, Hajdu as the minister in charge of the program signs off on all funding.

The head of Campaign Life Coalition, a group that opposes abortion, called the decision discriminatory because groups that advocate for abortion rights will still be able to receive money.

Conservative MP Brad Trost, in an online video, said anyone who wants government funding has to agree with the Liberals on abortion, gay marriage and transgendered rights.

“That’s discrimination. Canadians are allowed to have different political views than the government of the day and they shouldn’t have their funding cut off because they disagree with the government,” said Trost.