Conform or else: the Trudeau government’s dictat on free speech

Is it overreach for governments to expect people to bow to official policy in all things? After all, we elected them to lead us

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The federal government has initiated a new ideological vetting of applicants for its summer job program for students. The organizations nominating students for summer grants, and the students and their parents, must declare that they conform to government of Canada policy.

An unusual number of students have been rejected by the government. Considerable adverse comment has arisen about this requirement.

However, the government in this initiative is following parliamentary precedent. Members of Parliament are required to conform to their parties’ policies in their votes. Each party has a whip who ensures, through discussion and pressure, that members vote the party line. To vote otherwise would risk being excommunicated from the party and likely lose their seat in the next election.

If members of Parliament must conform to their parties’ ideologies, is it not entirely reasonable that more lowly members of society also be required to conform to the government’s ideology? If citizens wish to receive government benefits, should they not demonstrate that their beliefs are correct?

The puzzling question is why the government has been so lax in applying ideological vetting in its areas of responsibility. The government hires many employees for the public service. It could easily vet job applicants and require an attestation of ideological purity from them. And is there any reason that ongoing employees should be allowed to go scot free? If public employees failed to commit to the attestation, could they not be terminated, or at least blocked from promotion?

I see no reason why the same principles should not be applied by provincial governments. The governments of British Columbia and Quebec could demand attestation that the applicant or employee opposes all pipelines, while the governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan could demand attestation that the applicant or employee supports all pipelines. The government of Ontario could require attestation of support for alternative energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, no matter how ineffectual and uneconomical. When the Parti Quebecois returns to power, it could require commitment to separatism, oops, I mean independence.

Municipal governments also have obligations that would require attestations of conformity by employees and occupants needing services. For example, they could require support for bicycles and dedicated bike lanes, or against bicycles and dedicated bike lanes. For the maintenance of green forest bands around the municipality that ban development and provide breathing room, or the modification of green bands on the grounds that they strangle housing development and raise house prices. For or against raising property taxes. For or against public housing.

After all, our governments are elected by our citizens, and in our representative system of governing, governments have a right to implement the policies they ran on, or thought up afterward. We elected our governments. Is it not our obligation to bow to them?

Philip Carl Salzman is a professor of Anthropology at McGill University and a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


Trudeau conform free speech

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