OTTAWA — Federal officials have rejected requests from more than 1,500 organizations for funding through the government's premier summer jobs program, a 12-fold increase since the Liberals added new funding criteria that have drawn the ire of faith-based groups.
The government says rejections are up year-over-year to 1,561 this year compared with 126 in 2017.
The rejections could be for multiple reasons, such as not meeting funding requirements, missing details on forms or objecting to the wording of a new declaration that the jobs to be funded, as well as the main activities of groups themselves, respect reproductive rights.
Overall, figures provided by the government show officials are combing through 41,031 eligible applications, a small decline from the 41,716 last year that funded about 69,000 jobs — which the government used during debate Monday as a sign that all was fine with the program, despite concerns from the Opposition Conservatives.
The additional wording on this year's application was in response to concerns Labour Minister Patty Hajdu heard last year that funding through the popular jobs program had gone towards paying for students to protest outside abortion clinics or create and distribute graphic anti-abortion pamphlets, or to groups that refused to hire LGBTQ staff.
Mandates must be 'consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms'
Hajdu has said the declaration was the result of a review of how money was handed out in previous year and documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the access to information law shed some light on the process.
The briefing note to Hajdu, which was focused on revised timelines for the summer jobs program, noted that the stipulation was to ensure money went to "projects and organizations with mandates that are consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and court decisions." She had to approve the final wording before MPs received annual packages to help promote the politically popular jobs program in which local MPs decide who gets funding.
The wording of the declaration, officials wrote, "is intended to assist employers in deciding whether to apply for funding." The department planned to "rely on applicants to validate their eligibility" for funding under the new criteria by checking off a box on the application form.
Officials, however, have had to look closer at thousands of groups to ensure that they have been honest on their forms.
Hajdu's department also found 10 pages of documents related to a legal review of the addition to the declaration, but officials said none of it can be made public because it is subject to solicitor-client privilege.
Faith groups voice their disagreement
Many faith-based groups have crossed out the wording on the form they found problematic, didn't check the box confirming their agreement to the stipulations, or have attached a letter objecting to the requirements and asking for a change in language.
Program officials have deemed these applications as incomplete, because they do not agree to the eligibility requirements.
The Tories pressed the Liberals to back down on the declaration. Conservative critic Karen Vecchio said about 15 groups in her riding didn't apply for funding because the wording conflicted with their personal beliefs. She said the Liberals were helping for-profit businesses at the expense of faith-based groups that "provide housing and child care."
Hajdu tried to paint the Tories as being anti-abortion, arguing the previous Conservative government funded anti-abortion groups and groups that discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
"Young people are counting on us to stand up for their rights to deliver this program in a way that is fair and equitable and respects all Canadians and that's exactly what we'll do," Hajdu said.
Previously On HuffPost: