Using student job funding to silence critics

The Liberals’ latest decision means summer employment is now a testing ground for ideological adhesion, obedience and purity

It’s tough work to imagine two groups more radically different than the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and the gays rights network LGBTory.

So when both join the rising chorus opposing changes to what should be among Ottawa’s most innocuous programs, it’s a signal something significant is going on.

The Four Cs, as the council is known, is Canada’s largest group of Christian charities. It’s firmly evangelical. Its mission is advancing gospel ministry.

LGBTory is an affiliation of gay Canadians advocating for individual liberty and free markets: libertarians rather than social conservatives. The group started in 2015 to ensure gay small-c conservatives could march in Toronto’s Pride Parade.

What I’ve heard from both groups justifies alarm over recent changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program.

“We’re seriously evaluating a legal challenge,” says the Four Cs’ legal affairs director, Barry Bussey. “It confirms the group think in government halls (against) religious groups (with) opinions the government doesn’t like.”

“Funding should not be used as a tool to silence critics,” says Eric Lorenzen, vice-president of communications for LGBTory. “In a nutshell, it’s a free-speech, free-thought issue for us.”

Group think? Silencing critics? Legal action? Student summer jobs? One of these things doesn’t belong with the others. Well, until a few weeks ago it didn’t. 

Then in late December, under the obscuring fog of Christmas, the federal Liberal government announced a new application process for the funding used to help small business, non-profits, charities and faith groups employ students for summer projects.

I initially suspected the reporting about it originated in right-wing conspiracy fantasies. Wrong. A government media release confirmed it. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now vigorously defended it.

Applicants must now endorse a covenant to uphold “charter values” that, in the not-so-fine print, require accepting current government positions on abortion, sexual minority advocacy and various progressive causes. Those who can’t, in good faith, toe the Liberal line are advised to avoid wasting ink applying. Summer employment is now a testing ground for ideological adhesion, obedience and purity.

So, churches that teach marriage is a heterosexual institution? No sale. Charities that believe in further public debate before giving teenagers life-changing surgery to advance transgender rights? Out of luck. Pro-life groups? No.

Nor is the shift mere skullduggery by faceless bureaucrats or a rogue cabinet minister’s fever dream. The prime minister says it fully reflects his view of democratic politics.

“We need to know there is a difference between freedom of expression and acting on those expressions and beliefs,” the PM told university students in Hamilton, expressing the belief  his government acted upon.

The implications for democracy roil both the libertarian in Lorenzen and the social conservative in Bussey.

“We can’t have cabinet ministers deciding what Canadians can and cannot believe,” Lorenzen said in an interview even before the PM’s remarks.

Bussey goes further. He sees the changes denying summer job help to those the government dislikes but, much worse, also covertly undermining Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms with nebulous, politically charged “charter values.”

Such “values,” Bussey says, turn language cherry-picked from charter case law into pretexts to pander to political preference.

An invented ‘right’ existing nowhere in the charter becomes a “charter value,” miraculously distilled. The “value” becomes justification to deny public funds to groups the government wants suppressed. The feedback loop swaps out law for ideology.

Lorenzen says Canada’s sexual minorities, in particular, must see the threat. What if, he wonders, future governments hostile to LGBT rights adopt the Liberals’ tactic of punishing politically those seeking to turn belief in democratic action?

“Within my lifetime, you couldn’t work for certain branches of the federal civil service if you were gay,” he says. “We know the shoe could easily be on the other foot (again).”

No wonder unimaginably different groups of Canadians are raising their voices to oppose the changes. What’s at work, they agree, affects Canada’s future even more than students having summer jobs.

Peter Stockland is senior writer with think-tank Cardus and publisher of Convivium.ca.


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