Mr. Speaker, before I begin I want to indicate that I will be sharing my time with the member for St. Albert—Edmonton.
I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak to my colleagues this afternoon about the motion. I want to thank the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London for bringing this very important matter forward in the way of a motion and as something we can discuss here in the House.
We are talking today about the change that the Liberals have made to the application process for the Canada summer jobs program. We know that the Canada summer jobs program is a valuable program for numerous organizations all across the country. It provides funding to assist employers, including not-for-profits, that create summer job opportunities for full-time students. There certainly does not need to be anything controversial about a summer jobs program. It is a win-win situation. Students benefit by getting valuable employment and work experience. Communities benefit from the important services provided by these organizations, but with the Liberal government, nothing is sacred.
In the dying days of 2017, the Liberals quietly introduced their new values test requirement for the Canada summer jobs program. When I first learned of this new requirement, I could not believe that the government, even a Liberal government, would demand that the people who serve our communities agree with its Liberal values in order to receive funding. There was no consultation process. There was no public feedback requested. Instead, the Liberals unilaterally decided that only the individuals and organizations who agreed with their prescribed set of values would be worthy of receiving the Canada summer jobs funding. This is just wrong.
Canadians know it. My office has been inundated with emails, letters, and phone calls from concerned Canadians. Many of the calls came from organizations in my riding that have taken advantage of the Canada summer jobs program to hire students for the summer to work in their various organizations. Impacted organizations include day cares, summer camps, small businesses, and municipalities. Each of these organizations read the attestation and felt that to sign it, to agree with the Liberal Party's dogma on certain issues, was an affront to the Charter of Rights. They felt that they would be compromising their beliefs if they signed it.
I know Liberal members have indicated confusion on this point. Why will Canadians not just sign the attestations? They have told these Canadians to hold their noses and sign it. After all, the supplementary information that was provided by the Liberal government after the swift negative response from Canadians was supposedly meant to clarify what was meant by the wording of the attestation, but the Liberals just do not get it. The Liberals' understanding of tolerance is so narrow that they cannot wrap their heads around the thought that there are Canadians who actually might have different beliefs and values than those of the Liberal Party. The Liberals can only tolerate those opinions, those beliefs, those values that agree with theirs. If people do not agree with them, they are no longer eligible to receive funding for a summer student.
Speaking of Canada's success, the Prime Minister stated the following:
But what’s made it work so well in Canada is the understanding that our diversity isn’t a challenge to be overcome or a difficulty to be tolerated.
Rather, it’s a tremendous source of strength.
However, here we are. The man himself contradicting his famous quote. Why? Because in the Prime Minister's world he thinks he holds the monopoly on what constitutes acceptable diversity. While he may talk a lot about respecting diversity, his actions tell another story. That is the real problem going forward.
It is important to understand that this change represents a marked departure from past practices in this country. Requiring Canadians to agree with a political party's values as a condition of eligibility for grant monies is not how government funding decisions are made. Despite the good work so many organizations do in our communities, caring for the disabled, refugees, providing day camps for children in need, assisting vulnerable youth at risk, providing shelter for abused women and children, providing food for those who are hungry, and also providing shelter for those who are homeless, their applications may be rejected simply for holding beliefs different from those of the people in power.
I received an email from a constituent, Sharon, who said that the fact that employers will now be required to attest that both the job and the organization's core mandate respect certain values, as determined by the federal government, struck her as seriously violating our guaranteed freedoms of religion, thought, belief, opinion, and association offered by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially the provisions under section 2. She said that this affected her and upset her. She thought she lived in a democracy where diversity and a mosaic culture were encouraged. She said she did not think she was part of a government-dictated cookie-cutter world. She said that she does not always agree with everyone else's point of view, but she understands that they have a right to their opinions, just as she thought she did.
It is not just people like Sharon who have voiced their concerns. Community organizations from right across the country have been facing a loss of funding that they have relied on for years through the Canada summer jobs program. This is a direct result of the Liberal government's ideological bullying.
Take for example Bridgepark Manor, a not-for-profit organization that offers seniors' and retirement housing in my riding. Bridgepark applied for Canada summer jobs funding, approximately $16,000, in order to hire two students to work full time over the summer holidays. The students would have been working in the food services area, gaining valuable skills, serving meals to the seniors at the residence.
As a result of the Liberals values test, the CEO and the board faced an impossible choice: either compromise their values or be denied funding. As a result of the organization making alterations on the application to the attestation, the reply that it received back from the government was that its claim would be rejected. There are now two more students in my riding who will not have an opportunity that would have otherwise been presented.
Here is another example. A community organization responsible for the annual agriculture fair in one of the communities in my riding has used the Canada summer jobs program in the past to hire a summer student. The job requirements include preparing and maintaining the fairgrounds, tasks like painting, lawn mowing, and weed trimming, but it too cannot agree with the Liberals values test. This is yet another job lost.
There are more examples. Catherine, a summer camp director wrote that she rejects this statement on the grounds of her rights to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and association guaranteed in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She says that as a Christian organization that deeply values human rights, they will not betray their beliefs or conscience.
Josie, a recreation director with a municipal organization, wrote that without the help of the Canada summer jobs program, her organization's ability to offer programs and services will be severely diminished. She said she believed they were being denied equal access to a government benefit because of their organizational and personal beliefs, and that this violates the charter, which guarantees freedom of religion, thought, belief, and opinion.
I have another one. An arts organization in my riding, of all things, wrote that while they continued to affirm their intention as an association to support rights and freedoms, they protested the attestation requirement of the funding application that divided us along political lines.
The truth of the matter is that this policy is not about the activities or services an organization is engaged in. It is about targeting the personal beliefs of the individuals who run those organizations. That is shameful.
I have heard some Liberals in the House today say that they have taken a brave or bold step by introducing this values test. There is nothing brave about the Liberal Party using the powers of government to suppress views that are different from their own. The real heroes of this story are the many individuals and organizations who, when faced with this kind of discrimination by their own government, chose to stay true to their values. Even though they had nothing to gain and everything to lose, they were willing to take a stand for what they believed in.
I am reminded of the words of former Conservative prime minister John G. Diefenbaker, delivered in a speech in 1960:
I am a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship God in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to choose those who govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.
Diefenbaker was in the midst of pursuing landmark legislation, the Canadian Bill of Rights, a bill introduced to guarantee civil rights for all Canadians, a bold vision for a Canada that respected the rights of individuals, and it was the reason his Conservative government extended the vote to indigenous Canadians, nominated the first indigenous senator, and appointed Canada's first female cabinet minister.
As a pluralistic society, Canada allows for diverse opinions and protects those who may think and believe differently. It was the strong foundation laid by that original bill of rights that paved the way for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, and freedom of opinion and expression for all Canadians.
In fact, the charter was designed to protect citizens from the government, not the government from them. The Liberals have acted in defiance of that heritage, arrogantly deeming the party's political values above the rights of Canadians outlined in these documents.
I call on the Prime Minister to rescind this shameful attestation requirement for the Canada summer jobs program. I call on the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour to rescind this shameful application. I call on the members of the Liberal Party to do the right thing, to respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and to vote to rescind this awful attestation.