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John Ivison: Trudeau’s stubbornness over summer jobs application defies common sense

John Ivison: Trudeau’s stubbornness over summer jobs application defies common sense
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OTTAWA — Some unkind critics have questioned Justin Trudeau’s book smarts, but there can be few doubts about his practical intelligence – the ability to know what to say, when to say it and how to say it for maximum effect.

As such, it’s mystifying why his government has not softened its position on the summer jobs funding program that subsidizes around 70,000 student jobs every year.

It’s apparent the Liberals are quite happy to be seen standing up for what Trudeau calls a woman’s right to abortion (even if no such right exists in the Charter).

But requiring applicants to attest they agree with the Liberal Party’s position on abortion in the funding application form has aggravated church and faith groups far beyond the targeted anti-abortion activists. Even the pro-choice group that originally urged the government to cut off those groups from funding — the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada — now says the government should back down and remove the attestation requirement on the funding application, so that religious groups can access the program.

In Mississauga this week, representatives from the Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, Hindu and Christian communities met to discuss whether the government is violating their religious freedom.

It is apparent that the one Charter right that is being infringed is that of freedom of expression.

Yet Trudeau is in denial.

“We are not limiting freedom of expression or freedom of belief in any shape or form. We are simply saying organizations with the explicit purpose of limiting and eliminating Charter rights like women’s rights do not qualify for government funding,” he told me in an interview this week.

He hinted that the government may be prepared to bend on the check box in the online application form.

“On the actual mechanism for this, we’re happy to work with organizations that have concerns,” he said.

But when my colleague Brian Platt asked the office of Employment Minister Patty Hajdu if there is any chance that the attestation might be changed, a press secretary defended the status quo. It suggests a stubbornness that defies common sense.

Jason Cole, a Baptist pastor in Dartmouth, N.S., is typical of the moderate, eminently reasonable faith leaders across the country who feel they have been backed into a corner by the government.

Cole says Regal Heights Church is anti-abortion, “but we don’t picket against it.”

In an open letter to the Prime Minister, he said his church does not just agree with Charter rights, the rule of law, respect for others and charity, “we are champions of it and encourage others to do the same.”

There is a word for such behaviour: arrogance

But he said refusing to tick the attestation box that confirms the applicant respects “the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including reproductive rights” is a matter of conscience.

“In order to apply, as opposed to previous years, I now have to agree with a part of the ideology of the Liberal Party of Canada, which is not proper,” he wrote.

It’s clear Trudeau has overreached. He has achieved something few statesmen can boast about — unity among Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh organizations, albeit 100 per cent in opposition to him.

There is, presumably, some nervousness among his advisers that a sustained impasse could hit political support in communities that have, hitherto, been enthusiasts.

But such is the chauvinism on reproductive issues in Liberal circles, there is a refusal to believe in the legitimacy of any dissent from their orthodoxy.

There is a word for such behaviour – arrogance. It has killed Liberal governments in the past. It may do so again.

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