Mr. Speaker, I appreciate this opportunity to provide our government's perspective on an issue that is at the heart of our employment objectives for our young people, which is the issue of access to good-quality jobs.
Canada summer jobs has been a very successful Government of Canada program that has offered thousands of youth job opportunities since it was first created. The program has been reaching its objectives to give young people the opportunity to acquire work and life experience while supporting community-based initiatives. Fundamentally, this is about jobs for kids.
These are simple objectives. The spirit of the program is to open doors for young people and give them a good start to their working careers.
It has been my honour as a member of Parliament to approve this list for hundreds of young people in our community and to ensure that at every point in every year I was able to make those kinds of calls, no discrimination was taking place.
In this context, the organizations that provide quality employment to young people through the Canada summer jobs program are as varied as the economic sectors in the country. The CSJ program provides funding to not-for-profit organizations, public sector employers, and small businesses with 50 or fewer full-time employees. The range of activities is therefore almost unlimited.
There are, and have been, a number of eligibility criteria that employers must meet, but there is one key requirement that underpins eligibility, and that criterion is respect.
This program, which has certainly already proven itself, provides subsidies to employers so that they can create valuable summer jobs for students enrolled in secondary or post-secondary studies. This can include employers in the public sector, private companies with fewer than 50 employees, and non-profit organizations. Religious and faith-based organizations are of course eligible for program funding, as in past years, and we strongly encourage them to submit an application.
However, it is important to remember that one of the fundamental principles our government believes in is upholding the rights of Canadians, especially the rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is why, after we learned that funding through this program had been used to undermine the rights of some Canadians, we took the necessary steps to ensure that it never happens again. As the government, we had a duty to consider the fact that some organizations were not allowing young people from the LGBTQ2 community to attend their summer camps or they were distributing images of aborted fetuses. That is why we had to ask organizations to clarify their mandate and their primary activities before giving them funding under the Canada summer jobs program.
Our government and members of the government have been clear and vocal about our basic values over the course of our two-year time in government, values like inclusion, compassion, respect, and no discrimination. We have been trying to integrate those values into our policies and programs, like our progressive trade agenda and the inclusion of human factors in environmental assessments.
This year, the CSJ program includes an element whereby applicants are required to attest that both the job and the organization's core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. We know there were comments and conversations about this and that there were constructive conversations between reasonable people. The Prime Minister spoke with the cardinal of Montreal, and the cardinal encouraged all Catholic parishes to apply to the fund. That is a fantastic example of constructive dialogue between government and faith organizations.
There is an old line that my uncle would use when we would all get together at Christmastime. He would tell all sorts of hilarious jokes and wild stories. If anybody ever questioned him about the details of his jokes, he would say, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” I have to compliment the opposition members today for bringing me back to those Christmas dinners, because they obviously feel they have a great storyline but the truth has nothing to do with it.
The arguments of the Conservative Party have nothing whatsoever to do with the actual content of the attestation or our government's policy on the Canada summer jobs grant. The attestation makes it crystal clear that it has nothing to do with an individual's personal beliefs, but everything to do with the nature of the jobs that organization is hiring for and the nature of the organization's core mandate, the core mandate not their personal beliefs.
The motion talks about organizations whose mandate is to feed the homeless. There is nothing in the attestation talking about core mandates of feeding the homeless. I want to see an end to homelessness. I want to ensure that all homeless people are fed, and so does our government.
The motion talks about organizations that help refugees. There is nothing in the attestation about having a core mandate to help refugees.
The opposition is pulling its hair out over a problem that simply does not exist. I sympathize with pulling one's hair out because I do not have much left to pull out. However, the Conservative Party is looking for headlines. The Conservatives see an opportunity to scare Canadians into thinking the government is coming for them and their private beliefs. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with the freedom to worship in our country.
Let us talk about what is in the attestation. In particular, I want to talk about a key aspect of the attestation that has not received much attention in this discussion. It is the requirement to attest that the job and the organization will respect the right to be from discrimination on the grounds protected by the Canada Human Rights Act, including sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
Some 15 months ago, the House passed Bill C-16 to protect Canadians from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity or gender expression. It explicitly protects transgender and non-binary Canadians from being discriminated against in employment. Bill C-16, as members well know, is now law, and it passed the House with the support of members from all parties, including the mover of today's motion. Perhaps those members can explain why they voted for a law that protects gender-diverse Canadians from discrimination in employment, but are now angry that the Government of Canada will not fund organizations that want to discriminate in employment against these very gender-diverse Canadians.
Individuals are entitled to their personal beliefs. However, it is a reality that there are organizations that hold LGBTQ2 people like me with contempt and believe they are entitled to discriminate against me and others because of who we love or how we express our gender. That is why governments have passed laws to protect me and members of my community from that discrimination. Yet, it seems, from the arguments I hear today, that there is a belief that these organisations are not only entitled to discriminate, but they deserve a big government effort and government financing to help them fund that effort.
Our government has taken a stand that if an organization's mandate is to turn back the clock and take away the rights and human dignity of LGBTQ2 Canadians, or women, or indigenous people, or people with disabilities or people of visible minority background, it has the right to do so but it does not have the right to expect LGBTQ2 Canadians and other taxpayers to pay it to do it.
The other piece of this discussion is with respect to abortion. Once again, individuals are entitled to have different views on this issue. For 10 years, the previous government refused to fund international organizations that performed abortion services overseas. The Conservatives had said that if an organization was involved in abortion, it did not get Government of Canada funding. I remember those days. I do not remember a single member opposite speaking out about it. The members seemed perfectly fine to deny needed medical services to women based on a viewpoint on abortion. However, our government refuses to pay organizations to hire individuals to protest outside of an abortion clinic to scare or abuse women, or pay organizations to hand out grotesque pamphlets on the streets. We have a problem with that.
Again, people are absolutely entitled to their own points of view in our country. They are entitled to hold those views and apply for or receive a summer job grant. However, if they choose to discriminate in their employment or want to hire people for no other job than to turn back the clock on women's rights, on LGBTQ2 rights, on the rights of persons with disabilities, on indigenous rights, then this government will decline their requests for such a cheque.
Who is supporting us in this matter? Abortion Support Services Atlantic, Alberta Pro-Choice Coalition, Shelter House Thunder Bay, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, as well as the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.
Is it too much to ask that a Government of Canada program respect the individual rights and values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? That all seems reasonable to our government as well as to major stakeholders, including the National Association of Women and the Law. I hope all members in the House will come to the same conclusion.
We are forging ahead with our goal of strengthening the middle class and creating a level playing field where everyone has the chance to succeed. That is our vision. That is our commitment.