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Liberals’ changes to summer jobs program caused confusion, documents show

Applications for this year's version of the program close Feb. 24


January 30, 2020
By Jord

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Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Photo: daoleduc/Getty Images

A massive spike in incomplete applications for the federal government’s signature summer-jobs program last year has officials revising the forms and guides that explain how to get the money.

A briefing note provided to the federal labour minister last year noted officials had to ask more than 12,000 applicants to the 2019 Canada Summer Jobs program for more information, or to clarify parts of their applications, before they could figure out whether they were eligible for funding.

The year before, there were only 2,000 such requests for clarifications — at a time when the Liberals found themselves in controversy over changes related to promises about abortion and LGBTQ rights that prompted protest from many faith-based groups.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the briefing note under the access-to-information law.

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New forms provide ‘more clarity’

Employment and Social Development Canada attributed the increase in errors and omissions to changes it made to program eligibility criteria that required more details on the jobs, as well as mentoring plans, workplace conditions and policies on harassment and discrimination.

The department said it has updated the forms and application guides to “provide more clarity to employers,” so applicants don’t leave out necessary details this year.

The program, which last year had a budget of $263 million, provides wage subsidies for anyone aged 15 to 30 working at eligible non-profit, public-sector or small- or medium-sized businesses.

Applications for this year’s version of the program opened Thursday and close Feb. 24.

“Programs like Canada Summer Jobs give youth across Canada a chance to develop their skills and gain valuable work experience through quality job opportunities. This benefits youth, employers and communities everywhere in the country,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, who is now responsible for the program, said in a release.

The popular program usually sees demand for funding outstrip available spending, and MPs from all parties have a hand in approvals and related announcements that adds to the program’s cross-party appeal.

But in 2018, the Liberals added wording to the declaration each applicant must sign that required groups to say neither their core mandates nor the jobs being funded actively worked to undermine constitutional, human or reproductive rights.

Faith-based groups felt the wording went against their religious beliefs, so the Liberals reworked the declaration and eligibility rules for 2019 to make applicants say they don’t work to infringe any Canadian’s legal rights.

The May 2 briefing note said officials created a “review committee” to “support consistent national decision-making” to ensure approved applicants adhered to the rules.

40,000 applications ineligible in 2019

ESDC told The Canadian Press last April that 26 of the nearly 40,000 applications for 2019 were deemed ineligible because they were from organizations seeking to undermine or restrict women’s access to sexual or reproductive health services.

Overall, 438 applications were deemed ineligible for funding by the end of April 2019. Most were because applicants didn’t show they had harassment- and discrimination-free workplaces, or proper health and safety practices.

Statistics in the briefing note show that 45 applications were deemed ineligible because they “restrict access to programs, services, or employment, or otherwise discriminate, contrary to applicable laws, on the basis of prohibited grounds.”