Politicizing summer jobs program a step down slippery slope

The current federal government came into power in 2015 amid messaging about a more inclusive, tolerant brand of politics. Some of the decisions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his crew have made leave one wondering whether that was a declaration for all or simply those who share his views.

The recent “kerfuffle” — as Trudeau describes it — over the Canada Summer Jobs Program is one such example. This year, the government mandated that groups attest their belief in “reproductive rights,” which left many church groups and others wondering if they have to sign off on their constitutionally entrenched freedom of religious belief in order to receive funding they’ve traditionally received.

The decision effectively politicizes an economic stimulus program and starts the country on a slippery slope when one considers that while a woman’s ability to have an abortion is not restricted by law, it is also not protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Perhaps, Trudeau would have the great support he believes he has if the debate to do so were to take place, but thus far, it hasn’t. It’s also hard to quantify absolutes when some supporters of abortion have concern about late-term abortion of sex-selection abortion, while some opponents look more leniently in cases where the woman’s health is in jeopardy or in cases of rape or incest.

Some members of the Liberal government have suggested groups that may disagree with the attestation could still be funded for summer jobs, many of those groups are still concerned with implications of signing that document. That chill could leave many valuable community services faith groups provide for youth, for refugees, for the impoverished and for other vulnerable people underfunded or possibly discontinued. That seems like a hefty price to pay to uphold an ideological position, but it appears its a chance this government is fully prepared to take.

And what of those groups that exist to oppose abortion? They aren’t going away — their Charter challenges in the wake of this decision are proof of that — and like the prime minister, they too have a position they’ve formed and defended based on information available to them. They often provide alternatives to abortion that may work for some women. It’s never a bad thing to share contrary opinions, so long as individuals share that information in way that wouldn’t be considered harassment under established law.

It all comes back full circle to Trudeau’s fear that someone will make a move to restrict abortion some time in the future. If he’s as in touch with Canadian values as he claims, that effort would be rebuffed, so it’s a non-issue. Having earlier silenced those members of his own party who may disagree with his absolutist views in this area, however, he’s put himself danger of creating an echo chamber and losing touch — and that serves no one.

Trudeau’s father once famously quipped about keeping the state out of the bedrooms of the nation and, perhaps the prime minister would be wise to listen. The Canadian mantra of providing peace, order, and good government is best achieved when all parties feel welcome at the table. Rather than stoking divisive issues, government should strive for cohesive policies and allow its citizens the freedom to make their own choices.

-Adam Bramburger