Sunday, January 14, 2018

For Religious Groups, Change to Summer Jobs Program Shows a Changed Canada

"Era when churches and religious leaders held sway over public policy in Canada has come to an end.

In a previous post, I wrote about a major change to the way non-profits, businesses and public sector groups will get money from the Federal Government’s Canada Summer Jobs program.

Starting this year, groups that want funding to hire students will have to attest they respect a woman’s right to an abortion, and LGBTQ rights.

For some religious groups, singing this attestation won’t be a problem. 

But for many others, it’s a huge obstacle, and may mean they don’t get funds to support their programs. 

Looking at 138 religious groups in Manitoba that received funding from the program in 2016, my guess is most of them will find it difficult to agree with the new rule.

Some may wonder: Why would the government make such a radical change? Why would it impose this value on groups wanting funding?

Before answering that question, let’s remember this isn’t the first time a government has made funding decisions based on values—not on whether a group did good work or not.

In 2010, the Conservative government famously denied funding to the church-based group Kairos because it believed it was anti-Israel.

That government also made life difficult for environmental groups that opposed Alberta’s tar sands.

In those cases, it could be argued that government was out of step with many Canadians in making those decisions. That’s not the case today.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, a CROP poll earlier this year found that 74% of Canadians support it, up from 41% in 1997.

On the issue of abortion, an Ipsos poll, also from earlier this year, found that 77% support a woman’s right to get one, up from 36% in 1998. 

According to Alain Giguère of CROP, changes like these show that Canada has changed.

Canada, he states, is going through a “unique, historical process of social change. As individuals, we no longer accept the imposition of life choices by our society and its institutions, be it on our relationships as a couple, our sexuality or on any aspect of our lifestyle. These choices now belong to the individual.”

The government knows this; their own polling would certainly reinforce these findings. It’s why the Liberal Party could require all its candidates to be pro-choice in the last election, and not suffer for it in the voting booth.

In other words, it’s a different Canada today than just 20 years ago. 

This was emphasized to me by Angus Reid, a committed Catholic and head of the polling firm that bears his name.

“It’s a new era we are into,” he says.

From his perspective, the big fights about abortion and sexual identity, which defined and consumed religious groups for so many years, “are largely behind us.”

Canadian society, he adds, “has decided what it believes in these areas.”

There are, he says “important pockets of religious opposition to abortion, assisted dying and gender neutralization, but in the final analysis secularism seems to have won the day . . . in a little more than a generation, the religious beliefs that were once the central tenets of Canadian society have been swept aside.”

For religious groups, which once found their views and the views of society at large to be very similar on these issues, this is new terrain.

As Reid noted to me, there was a time when religious leaders could be expected to be part of discussions about policy.

But now, he says, “the era when churches and religious leaders held sway over public policy in Canada has come to an end.

As for the summer jobs program, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised religious groups for the work they do at a town hall meeting in Hamilton earlier this month.

They are welcome to apply for the funds, he reiterated, before going on to clarify that the goal of the new policy is to prevent groups that oppose abortion from getting funding.

That, he said, “is not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society." Applause followed his remarks.

For many religious groups, a difficult decision will need to be made.

Do they sign up to take the money to run their programs? Or do they refuse to sign, and let the programs end? And what happens if the government extends this policy to other programs, like support for international relief and development?

It’s going to be an interesting time ahead.

From the Jan. 12, 2018 Winnipeg Free Press.


  1. All I can say is yes, its about time! Hoping this will be expanded beyond summer jobs programs.

  2. For those who are in agreement of the news regarding the attestation to be signed,let's be clear. It is about how we think and feel. It it's telling us Canadians that is if we have a different view we will loose priveldges that other will not. It will classify us as an unworthy people group based on our covictions not our actions. We hire summer students, not to uphold ideals but to job and that job is to do what it takes to love people and serve them no matter what their ideals are. It is wrong to assume that because we have different values we will not treat others as equals. This is one of our core values. We make no money off it. It all goes to students. We dont get rich amd we do pay taxes too. We run the programs to give kids job experience. Now that choice is being taken away from them too. We feed all, we serve every person no no matter if they agree with us or not. We take care of human needs equally. In fact, we serve more people with different beliefs than ours than those with the same. We do not make people we serve sign anything that which the government wants us to sign. The churches do not have that kind of mandate. We give out of love and acceptance of all people, no matter what their values are. We care for them as fellow Canadians. Why does the government feel it can discriminate against us because of values we hold? And having a different value that the government is not illigal. Thisbis a Canadian right. What if they this this to you? What if you had to hire people that hold different values than your company held as valuable? Couldn't get EI or welfare unless you believed the same way. It's a dangerous move away from our charter of rights.