Liberals drop contentious anti-abortion test for summer jobs funding

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu says the change — made after informal consultations over the past few months — should clear up concerns

Contentious wording in Ottawa’s summer jobs program that tied pro-abortion beliefs to funding eligibility is being dropped after a backlash to what was styled last year as a values test.

Instead, the federal Liberals have re-tooled the 2019 version of the Canada Summer Jobs program to require applicants to declare they don’t work to infringe on any Canadian’s legal rights.

Wording on the application for the 2018 version of the program required groups to say neither their core mandate nor the jobs being funded actively worked to undermine constitutional, human and reproductive rights.

Labour Minister Patty Hajdu says the change — made after informal consultations over the past few months — should clear up concerns from faith-based groups who expressed outrage over this past year’s requirements.

“They felt this was about their values and beliefs and not about the jobs and the performances of the students in particular roles and we took that to heart,” Hajdu said in an interview.

“We’ve been working on making sure we do what we intended to do, which is to stand up for the rights of Canadians…but that we also work closely with faith-based groups and others so that they can see how they themselves would fit into this program.”

Additional changes have been made to the program’s eligibility criteria to disqualify any project or summer job that tries to restrict access a woman’s ability to access sexual or reproductive health services. Other disqualifying traits include jobs that restrict the exercise of human rights or that discriminate based on sex, religion, race or ethnic origin.

READ MORE: B.C. woman’s anti-abortion beliefs a roadblock for summer jobs grant

“This is a program about quality jobs for kids, so we shouldn’t be asking kids in any circumstance to do work that would put them into a position to have to undermine or restrict the rights of others,” Hajdu said.

“That’s not the kind of job experience we would want young people to have, especially for, often times, their first (job).”

The change is one of several made to the popular program to be outlined today to MPs. Employers can begin to apply later this month.

The Liberals are opening the program to any young person age 15 to 30, no longer requiring them to be students in order to have their position qualify for funding.

Widening eligibility is a step towards a revamp of the summer jobs program that a government-struck expert panel called for last year.

The panel’s final report recommended the Liberals expand eligibility for the Canada Summer Jobs program to include those who are not in post-secondary studies and make funding accessible throughout the year and not just during the summer months.

Available positions will also be posted on a newly released mobile app that lets users search through the federal government’s job bank.

At the end of the summer, employers and employees will be required to fill out a survey so the government can get better feedback about their experiences to help fine-tune the program going forward. Hajdu said employers will also be required to follow mentorship plans for their workers as part of efforts to ensure only “quality” jobs are funded.

The data collected won’t be used to screen out employers in subsequent funding years, but to evaluate the program overall, Hajdu said.

“This is a really great jobs program for kids, they make some money, they get that experience, but we want to make sure it is actually resulting in quality experience,” she said.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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