Mr. Speaker, I have a unique relationship with the Canada summer jobs program. In fact, it is probably a relationship that most other MPs have. I have a great attachment to it.
When I first started to work at the Dairy Queen in Sidney, Nova Scotia, it was because of the fact that the company received a grant, as we used to call it. That allowed for some of the pay of the employee to be covered by the government. That got me started in the workforce. Ironically, 10 years later, when I went back to Sidney, after doing my first year of law in Osgoode University, I ended up, again, having my first law job come from the fact that it was a Canada summer job grant.
I have always been appreciative of it, because I know how important it is for those who are looking for jobs in the summer, especially in areas like Cape Breton, which is severely unemployed. As a result, I have a great affection for the program and I am always very concerned about it.
I also know these jobs and this program are incredibly important from the point of view as an employer. Employers get to have students come in and they have the ability to train new workers. They get to expand their business during the time they are having that little help with respect to what they pay somebody. Of course, it is incredibly important for not-for-profits to ensure they can cover off their duties and responsibilities.
As an MP, I got to see just how important the program is to our communities.
I reflected upon a number of the places that had received Canada summer jobs help and aid in the past, such is the Royal City Soccer Club, the Milton Youth Soccer Club, the YMCA, the John Howard Society of Peel, Halton and Dufferin, the Community Foundation of Halton North, Conservation Halton, the United Way Milton, and the Milton Chamber of Commerce. The list continues of companies and not-for-profits that are made up of good people, good work, and solid community builders.
Therefore, I have been watching this issue of an attestation associated with the summer jobs program with great interest. I have read much about the issue. From what I can understand, in November 2017 the government was obliged to settle a lawsuit with three groups that were turned down summer job programs in the summer of 2017. They applied to the court saying that they did not know that one of the criteria upon which they were denied was the criterion they would have to attain. In fact, the court found that the criterion on which the denial was given was not listed in the application guide. We can assume it was this decision and this payout that caused the government to decide the attestation would be attached to the Canada summer jobs program.
This is where I have great concern. It seems to me that this attestation was very arbitrary, incredibly unprecedented, and also quite odd. Therefore, I thought there must be something else in government legislation that could explain or maybe have something to do with the attestation.
I went back and looked at my list. I decided to look at the places where I thought the individuals in charge would have a very difficult time ticking off the attestation box. As I went through the list and looked at these, I realized that a lot of them were churches and registered charitable organizations, like St. George and St. Abanoub Coptic Orthodox Church, True North Church, the Milton Bible Church, Tansley United Church, and the Milton Christian School.
Then I got to thinking a little about charitable organizations in general, and I did a bit of digging. What I found extremely interesting was that there were general requirements for charitable registration. In fact, it is an incredibly complex and very difficult process for an entity to go through. There are many hoops. The application form is at least 15 pages long. The information that is gathered is deep and goes to the very core of what the organization is. All of this is reviewed by the Canada Revenue Agency, and a decision is given.
If a decision is given that an entity will not receive charitable registration status, it then has the ability to appeal this decision. It is treated in such a way that it knows how important it is.
As I went through the requirements, I found it very interesting that the CRA officials would look at the charitable purposes and activities, at the public benefit for charities, at political activities of charities, at business activities, at operating through intermediaries, and also wanted to ensure that purposes and activities that were illegal in Canada or contrary to Canadian public policy were prohibited. They are very specific on that. They say that entities are not eligible for charitable status if they are taking activities that are contrary to Canadian public policy.
I went back to the list and looked again to see what kinds of entities there were. They have gone through many different iterations, obviously, of ensuring they would receive charitable status. I began to wonder why this attestation would be baffling to me and I came up with two reasons.
One, if the reason that the attestation is attached to the Canada summer jobs program, because officials want to ensure companies are adhering to Canadian public policy, why not have a more robust system rather than self-regulating tick off a box? They already do that with the CRA. It has been deemed already that in order to ensure an entity is onside with public policy to receive breaks from the Canadian government, it would have to go through an in-depth review of its activities and have a third party determine whether it was in adherence of Canadian public policy.
The second thing that crossed my mind was this. If these entities have already passed this incredibly in-depth process and after writing everything they do as a charity and talking about public policy, and it has been determined that they are to be charitable organizations, why is that not enough for the Government of Canada to determine that they are in compliance with Canadian public policy? If a charity is registered, it has passed stringent tests and should be deemed to not be contrary to Canadian public policy. It is a very simple tick it can put on the Canada summer jobs program that accomplishes what the officials are seeking and at the same time alleviates the concerns that had been read into the House record today.
Then I thought, maybe this attestation was not really about Canadian public policy. Maybe this is about creating a new definition of Canadian public policy and a new determination of what it represents, which has been ripped from the Liberal platform. I wondered whether this now would be determinative for charitable status.
There is a registry on the Canada Revenue Agency. If we type in the search term “church”, there are 15,210 churches alone in Canada. That is just churches. Many others on the list that would not willingly want to sign or tick off the attestation that would also be on that list.
The hon. member across the way just laughed when I indicated my concern was that the CRA would approach applying a more stringent public policy test to charitable organizations. He would be remiss to not remember that the CRA, in past experience, did make decisions without consulting ministers on the disability tax credit and also on the decision to ensure that taxes were taken from those who received any kind of compensation through breaks or discounts while they were on the job.
We can absolutely have the problem where officials of the CRA take it upon themselves to determine that the new definition of Canadian public policy for the purposes of charitable organizations is the one that the government has slammed into the Canada summer jobs attestation. That is not good public policy. That is not the way this public policy should happen in our country. As a result, I am more than happy to stand here today and say that the attestation is ridiculous and offensive. If the Liberals want to change Canadian public policy, do it in an honourable way.