The holidays may be near, but there is no rest for the weary. Changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program have faith groups reeling across the country. Unwilling to let this disappear under the glare of the holiday lights, many are registering their discontent. I offer my own initial perspective here, as a letter to the Prime Minister, and to my own MP, Scott Brison. You may wish to register your views with your own MP.
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau, and Hon. Scott Brison;
First of all, thank you for the hard work you do to serve Canadians, and our country. You do a difficult and often thankless job at great expense to yourselves and your families. You are appreciated. Thank you for serving and sacrificing. Know that there are many who cheer you on from the wings and even pray for you as you seek wisdom to make decisions and serve well day to day. We do this even when we disagree with you.
Over my 50 years, I have lived in various parts of Canada, and as an expat for 15 years before returning 5 years ago. This experience has given me a perspective of Canada that makes me deeply grateful for our values, for our liberal society, and for the heritage of this great and gentle nation. It has also made me question my nationality as a Canadian as I have pondered the history of our engagement with Indigenous peoples, and the treatment of various groups including African Nova Scotians, who have sought to share the land we know as Canada. I understand the desire to prevent future injustices by working towards reconciliation with all people – Indigenous, African Canadians, LGBTQ2, and others. I am grateful for inclusion and diversity.
As a returned Canadian, I have set out as part of my mission to help those who share more traditional values to understand that there is a place for people of faith in Canada, and that we need to participate in the public landscape rather than hide away in fear; in a mosaic like ours, we need to stop panicking about every little change, and learn to mature in our reflections and behaviours as we move into the future. I have repeatedly reassured the people of my community that there is no bogeyman in the basement.
Now, just when some have started to think it was safe to get out from under the covers, they discover that the bogeyman was not in the basement, but under the bed. And I find myself wondering, have I lied to them? Have I myself been duped into complacency?
The attestation that is being required of applicants for Canada summer jobs funding looks a lot like a bogeyman. I understand that in the first instance it is designed to ferret out organizations like those that place aggressive anti-abortion agendas at the heart of their work. I understand that the actions of some groups are at times offensive and hostile. I get that you are not keen to provide federal funding for their work. However, with the addition of this required attestation, you have swallowed a camel to strain out a gnat.
The wording of the attestation leaves many Canadians feeling confused and insecure. Not because we wish to promote aggression or hate of any kind, but because it strains out disagreement and diversity in the name of liberal values that defy the name. I could easily sign a statement to uphold the Canadian Human Rights Charter. But that does not mean I must agree with abortion, same-sex marriage, or the active promotion of transgenderism. I may well agree with them. But should I be forced to agree in order to be part of Canadian society? If so, then democracy is dead.
(I know many people within my community who disagree with my role as a woman leader, even though it is soon to be 2018. I would defend to the death their right to disagree, no matter how much it pains me. Because if everyone isn’t free, then no one is free.)
The response is often expressed, ‘You cannot be free to spread hate!’ Yet even that great champion of freedom, JS Mill recognized the difference between freedom of belief and freedom of action. He recognized that to march en masse to the house of someone you disagree with, and threaten them with harm, is unacceptable in a free society. But freedom to disagree, to believe that they are wrong, freedom of conscience, is essential to the survival of a democracy. Are we reaching a point in Canada where disagreement is no longer allowed? When liberalism becomes a new fundamentalism, to the exclusion of all other views? Embracing diversity is the opposite of forcing everyone agree with you.
I beg you, Mr. Prime Minister, not to push those of moderate view into more strident views that otherwise, they would not choose to take. I beg you to not inflict wounds of division on our country. Canadians have a legacy of Laurier’s ‘sunny way’; it’s in our DNA. By contrast, the inability to hold an Aristotelian mean has led to terrible schisms south of the border. Fundamentalisms on both sides become irreconcilable when diversity is narrowed to a single view.
Many of the groups who will feel excluded or disoriented in this action are those that provide much-needed public services for marginalized groups, children, and elderly in our communities. They may not agree with you on what wider values characterize Canadian society. But they are Canadian, to the core. To disagree, and still go out and watch the hockey game together, has to be part of what it means to be Canadian going forward into an otherwise divisive future.
So please reassure me there is no bogeyman under the bed.
Ask your government to revoke this attestation immediately.
Anna Robbins, PhD