Canada’s political scandals might not be as exciting as the soap opera currently unfolding in the White House, but this week, two of Canada’s peskiest controversies converged to make things a little harder on Justin Trudeau.
Unless you’ve blacklisted it on your computer, you are probably aware of the ongoing battle between the B.C. government and the Alberta government over the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The B.C. government is dead set against the project, citing environmental and Indigenous concerns, while the Alberta government, backed by the federal government, is adamant that the project move forward.
The groups are currently at a standstill as Kinder Morgan has suspended all “non-essential” work on the pipeline because of the uncertain political environment, the B.C. government works to get their case against it heard by the Supreme Court and the feds try to secure funding and legal backing for development.
Considering everyone’s position on this issue, it was curious when a job posting for an activist group working against the pipeline expansion surfaced this week. The B.C.-based organization, Dogwood B.C., put out a call to applicants for a full-time temporary position whose duties would include helping their “organizing network stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline and tanker project, as well as help [Dogwood] strengthen the public call for stronger, more accountable and transparent democracy.”
That’s not striking on its own, but the eyebrow-raising part of the posting is that the $15/hr salary is to be paid through the Canada Summer Jobs Program – a grant program funded by the federal government.
According to CBC reporting, Dogwood B.C. has previously received funding through the Summer Jobs Program, including during the Harper government. That didn’t stop Conservative leader Andrew Scheer from going in on Trudeau about the funding during a heated Question Period Wednesday.
“Does the Prime Minister not realize that paying groups to protest against these projects is exactly part of the problem,” he questioned. Trudeau countered that his personal and political beliefs should not be grounds for silencing others A.K.A. the very valid free speech defence.
“Unlike – apparently – the leader of the Official Opposition, we believe in free speech,” Trudeau said, “We believe in advocacy on this side of the house.”
That’s where Scheer pulled in another controversy that’s been dogging Trudeau for the past few months: the Liberal’s requirement that groups seeking funding for summer jobs sign a “core mandate” which states, among other things, that the group respects reproductive rights including access to abortions. That’s been quite the sticking point for church groups and religious organizations who have called out Liberals for forcing their beliefs systems on them and withholding funding as punishment for noncompliance.
“There is nobody who believes that the Prime Minister is committed to free speech when he punishes all those in this country who do not agree with his personal view,” Scheer said. Scheer has said publicly that he is personally pro-life, but is not looking to change laws if he becomes Prime Minister, the official Conservative Party stance.
Trudeau countered by asserting both his beliefs in assuring reproductive rights and freedom of speech, slipping in a little dig at Harper too, of course.
“The commitment that this government has made to stand up and defend reproductive rights and the rights of women at every single opportunity is one that sticks in [Conservatives’] craw,” he said, “We will not apologize for ensuring that women’s rights are protected across this country.
“We remember the Stephen Harper years that so many of the members opposite were part of where anyone who dared disagree with official government position were persecuted, marginalized, had their funding yanked, shut down,” he added, “We will always support the right of Canadians to express themselves.”