"Young people are counting on us to stand up for their rights, to deliver this program in a way that is equitable and respects all Canadians," Employment Minister Patty Hajdu said at the House of Commons Mar. 19, 2018. Screen capture from CPAC Repeater/Youtube

Motion to remove value attestation in Canada Summer Jobs application fails

  • March 20, 2018

OTTAWA – Liberal MP Scott Simms defied his party and voted against the government as a Conservative motion to drop the Canada Summer Jobs attestation requirement was defeated March 19 in a packed House of Commons.

“I thought the attestation was an insensitive measure to those who felt strongly about this, whether they were pro-life or pro-choice,” Simms said after the vote. “I thought it could have been handled better.”

The motion put forward by Conservative MP Karen Vecchio failed by a count of 93 to 207. The vote was held as news reports based on figures from Employment Minister Patty Hadju’s department suggested more than 1,400 summer jobs grant applications had been rejected following implementation of the attestation, compared with only 126 last year. 

Hundreds of applicants have refused to sign the attestation on principle and the government has refused to back down from its insistence that every applicant support the government’s abortion ideology in order to qualify for grants which fund student summer employment.

Simms said “it remains to be seen” if he will face any consequences for his vote. 

The Newfoundland MP said he acted on principle. Describing himself believing in “reproductive rights,” Simms said he represented people, both pro-life and pro-choice, who were “very uncomfortable with this attestation.”

Before the vote, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said it was important “to send a message now that Canadians will not put up with this kind of attack on our Charter rights.”

“I am very concerned this could be taking us down a very dark path of violating peoples’ rights to hold different views or different beliefs,” he said. “It’s a logical concern to think charitable status in general may be next."

The Opposition leader also warned that new public service employees could be required to “sign an attestation they have the same beliefs as the Liberal Party, eliminating anyone who holds different views from working in the public service.”

“It’s the fundamental principle the State has no place in the conscience of the nation,” he said. It’s the principle the State has no right “to peer into your mind and make you believe what they believe or force you to violate your conscience.”

“I think anyone that believes in the proper limits of government should be alarmed by this,” he said.

Conservative MP Garnett Genuis noted at least one MP from every party voted for the motion, including one NDP member (David Christopherson), two Bloc Quebecois and Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

“Don’t let anybody tell you they didn’t have a choice,” said Genuis. “They had a choice. Every member of Parliament always has a choice, and they chose to vote in favour of the values test, against this motion.”

One charity that refused to check the box and is waiting for its final reply from the government is Waupoos Farm, which offers inexpensive vacations for low income families in the Ottawa area. Waupoos board treasurer Patrick Brown said his organization sent a two-page explanation to Service Canada stating why it could not sign the attestation.

“Chief among these was our inability to attest to a statement that violates our moral and religious beliefs and identity,” said Brown in an e-mail. “This document also respectfully requested accommodation of Waupoos' rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act.”

Canadian Federal Government House of Commons Question period, March 19, 2018. 

Barry Bussey, director of legal affairs for the Canadian Council of Christian Charities, watched the vote from the gallery of the House of Commons. “I couldn’t help but be disappointed,” Bussey said. He described the vote as surprisingly “nonchalant.”

“Don’t they really see the seriousness of this issue?” he asked.

The Canada Summer Jobs program provides $223 million in grants to help pay students for jobs at charities, non-profits and small businesses. Though the number of applications has risen to 42,647 this year from 41,961 in 2017, last year the government rejected only 126 files while 199 were later withdrawn by the employer. This year, the government has rejected 1,561 applications while 55 were withdrawn, leading to the estimate of more than 1,400 being rejected for failing to tick the attestation box.

These figures do not take into account charities and parishes such as those in the Vancouver and London dioceses that did not apply this year because of the attestation.

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