Reading between the lyrics

On the surface, a change to one line in our national anthem might not seem to have that much in common with recent revisions to the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program.

And yet, as both stories dominated the headlines last week, I couldn’t help reading between the lines – and the lyrics – of these two separate issues.

Let’s begin with the CSJ overhaul, which sparked uproar among faith-based organizations in early January when Ottawa introduced new regulations insisting that any applicant for summer employment grants would have to check off a box stipulating that neither its core mandate nor the job(s) provided by the grant would discourage or oppose reproductive rights.

Now, this isn’t the first time the Liberals under Justin Trudeau have taken such a strong stand on this issue. Prior to the 2015 federal election, Trudeau insisted that he would reject any Liberal candidates that did not run on a pro-abortion platform.

It brought back echoes of the 2004 vote, when then-Prime Minister Paul Martin pounded the abortion issue in the campaign’s dying days to fend off Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. That strategy worked to a degree, with Martin salvaging a Liberal minority, although Harper would prevail in the early-2006 rematch.

Obviously, Trudeau’s strong pro-abortion stand didn’t hurt – and may have even helped – in his quest for a majority government 18 months ago. But in applying this blanket approach to the job grant process after a Toronto-area Liberal MP’s unwitting approval of an CSJ application from a group known for distributing graphic anti-abortion literature, the Trudeau Liberals are essentially trying to rewrite the definitions of “diversity” and “inclusivity.”

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll confirm that my first-ever out-of-school job came courtesy of a grant awarded to my Catholic parish in L’Ardoise in the summer of 1990. I was one of four local teenagers hired to oversee activities at the parish hall, volunteer with the parish-run Festival Acadien de L’Ardoise, and occasionally lend a hand at other locations such as the community’s fire hall.

We didn’t spend a single minute of the summer as recruiters for the Catholic Church. But we certainly appreciated the chance to help our community while pocketing some much-needed pre-university money, and I’m dismayed at the thought of thousands of young Canadians losing out on such opportunities this summer.

To their credit, the federal government finally issued an update to the revised CSJ strategy in late January, including five examples of acceptable and non-acceptable applications. In short, a “faith-based organization with anti-abortion beliefs” and/or “that embraces a traditional definition of marriage” can apply for grants to run summer camps (with the caveat that the camps must accept LGBTQ2 youth), provide meals to the homeless, and encourage social interaction for the elderly, provided that “removing or actively undermining women’s reproductive rights” isn’t a part of the job description or the applicant’s core mandate.

Exactly one week later, a Federal Court of Canada judge threw out a joint application by The Right to Life Association and a student seeking one of the grant-oriented jobs this summer. They had hoped to suspend the CSJ application deadline, but the judge in question declared that the court required more time to hear from both sides, meaning the check-box on reproductive rights remained on the CSJ application forms as the deadline passed last Friday.

It all happened against the backdrop of the Senate’s approval of a change to the English translation of “O Canada.” With Conservative Senators boycotting the final vote on Wednesday evening, Independent and Liberal Senators endorsed a bill launched by Liberal MP Mauril Belanger prior to his death in 2016, which will see the line “in all thy sons’ command” replaced with “in all of us command.”

Conservative Senator Don Plett suggested that such an alteration should have gone to a national referendum, and I realize that some Canadians – including members of my own family – aren’t happy with the changes, even though politicians of all stripes have been lobbying for a gender-neutral anthem for the past three decades.

I’ll once again point out that, in the stampede to make “O Canada” gender-free, a very specific line – added in 1980, no less – still opens the last verse: “God keep our land, glorious and free.”

What a curious paradox that our “more inclusive” national song still refers openly to those of us who believe in God, just as an ideological debate erupts over the supposedly-bulletproof concept of giving students summer jobs.

To quote CBC commentator Robyn Urback, it all seems like “diversity-lite” more than actual inclusiveness. And I suspect it will be awhile before we’re all singing from the same song sheet on either of these issues.