John Pasalis: Canada’s immigration policies are driving up housing costs

Although correlation is not causation given that other factors given domestic migration (rural to urban, interprovincial) and housing policies, high immigration levels are one of the more significant factors. Signal that some of the various analyses and commentary making the link are becoming more widespread, with Pasalis challenging a “third rail” of Canadian politics, immigration:

Ask a Canadian why home prices are so high and you’ll certainly get a whole host of answers from foreign buyers to greedy investors and, up to recently, a long period of low interest rates.

But the most common answer you are likely to hear is that a lack of supply of new housing in Canada is the primary cause of the high cost of housing.

The lack of supply narrative has been the dominant explanation for high home prices in Canada over the past five years. Every level of government in Canada cites a lack of supply as the primary cause for high home prices and countless academic and bank economists have made the same argument. Scotiabank’s chief economist went so far as to argue that a lack of supply was the underlying cause “for rising prices and diminished affordability”. When an economist says A causes B they mean that the relationship is a statistical fact rather than an opinion.

The debate regarding the key drivers of high home prices has been so one-sided it led Howard Anglin, former deputy chief of staff under Stephen Harper, to write a column in The Hub in 2021 titled, “The one factor in the housing bubble that our leaders won’t talk about.”

What’s the one factor not talked about? How Canada’s immigration boom is impacting the demand for housing and, by extension, increasing the cost of housing.

Over the previous decade, Canada admitted roughly 275,00 new immigrants each year. In 2022, Canada saw a record 431,645 new permanent residents and this number is expected to reach 500,000 annually by 2025.

An unequal two-sided problem

When considering these two demand and supply factors alone, demand for homes due to changes to Canada’s immigration level and the lack of supply of new homes to meet this demand, we see an interesting phenomenon. One factor, the lack of supply, has been discussed for many years, and year after year, political efforts to mitigate this issue have failed. The other factor, immigration, is one that policymakers have far more control over.

Policymakers don’t have any direct control over the number of new homes developers launch and complete each year, a number that has always been hard to achieve due to labour shortages and other factors, and is only expected to decline in the years ahead due to higher interest rates and the current economic uncertainty.

So why has the debate about the high cost of housing focused on a solution that policymakers have no direct control over, building more homes, as opposed to addressing the demand for housing from changes in our immigration level, something policymakers have direct control over?

I’ll highlight what I believe are the two primary reasons.

The false lure of the zoning panacea

A popular area of academic research has been to explore the role that local zoning policies have on the supply of new housing and home prices, and the academic conclusions on the surface sound very intuitive.

Municipalities that have relatively few zoning restrictions on the supply of new housing tend to have more affordable homes and experience more moderate growth in house prices because builders can more easily adjust to changes in demand by building more homes. Academics also argue that these cities with few zoning restrictions have fewer and shorter housing bubbles.

I’ll admit, it’s a wonderful story! If cities simply remove zoning barriers to new housing, builders will flood our market with new homes putting an end to years of rapid price growth and leaving us with an affordable housing market for all.

Unfortunately, the academic theories don’t hold up very well in the real world. Many of the cities that economists cite as having relaxed zoning policies which, in theory, should see modest price growth, such as U.S. cities like Houston, Atlanta, and Charlotte, have all seen a significant surge in home prices over the past decade. Cities like Phoenix in the U.S. and Dubai more globally which have relatively relaxed zoning policies experienced housing bubbles during the first decade of the 2000s because the supply of housing wasn’t able to keep up with the sudden surge in demand from investors.

The fact is that even with relaxed zoning policies, it’s very hard for the construction sector to respond to a rapid surge in demand for housing.

A report by the Bank of Montreal found that countries with higher rates of population growth also saw the most rapid increase in home prices, a result that is intuitively obvious, and one we are seeing in Canada. While it’s very easy for our government to double the number of immigrants moving to Canada each year, it’s extremely hard for them to double the number of homes being built to house these new Canadians. When housing completions don’t increase enough to match a country’s immigration goals, the result is what we are experiencing in Canada: a spike in the cost of housing.

Despite the evidence, the solution to our housing crisis promoted by our policymakers and expert economists continues to be rooted in the delusion that housing supply can respond to any sudden surge in the demand for housing if we simply reform zoning policies.

This does not mean supply-side reforms that encourage more housing and more density are not important, they are. But supply-side policies alone are not the panacea to our housing crisis that some academics and economists make them out to be.

A politically sensitive issue

The other likely reason that many economists have argued that a lack of supply is the cause for high home prices is because any suggestion that Canada’s record high immigration levels may in fact be the bigger driver of home prices runs the risk of being called xenophobic. I’ve experienced this myself from self-described “housing advocates” who believe that with the right zoning reforms, there is no limit to how many homes Canada can build.

But questioning what is the right level of immigration for our country, and whether the current level is doing more harm than good, isn’t xenophobic at all. It’s a critical policy question that for a long time has been ignored out of fear that one might be called a racist for even raising the question.

But the times are changing.

Over the past month we have seen a significant shift in this discussion. More journalists, economists, and editorials are questioning the goal of our federal government’s immigration strategy and whether their current immigration targets are doing more harm than good.

After years of silence regarding the impact our government’s immigration policies are having on healthcare, housing, and wages, more and more experts are starting to ask some very important questions. And not surprisingly, in virtually every column the author clarifies that they are not xenophobic or against immigration, but are noting some of the negative side effects of our country’s aggressive immigration strategy.

Why are more experts starting to talk about our government’s immigration targets?

It’s becoming clearer that the federal Liberal government’s strategy to nearly double the number of immigrants admitted to Canada each year without making the necessary investments to support them is straining our housing markets and health-care system.

A demand crush that further hurts renters

The other important factor is that many of the negative side effects of Canada’s immigration strategy are starting to be felt most by the poorest and most marginalized communities in Canada—including many of these immigrants themselves.

While the discussion about Canada’s housing crisis often centres around the high price of homes and its impact on first-time buyers, a bigger concern should be how our government’s policies are driving up the cost of renting as renters typically have much lower household incomes as compared to homeowners, and unlike homeowners they don’t benefit financially from the rising cost of housing.

To provide some context to the recent acceleration in rents, it is helpful to compare how average rents have changed before and after the current Liberal government took office in 2015.

Under the previous federal Conservative government, the average rent for a Toronto condominium went from $1,570 in 2006 to $1,866 in 2015, a $297 (or 19 percent) increase in nine years. In contrast, average rents under our current Liberal government have climbed from $1,866 in 2015 to $2,657 in 2022, a $791 (or 42 percent) increase in just seven years.

Am I suggesting that our current government’s change in immigration policy alone is responsible for this outsized increase in average rent in Toronto? Of course not, but of the most common explanations for the high cost of housing, from foreign buyers to low interest rates and even irrational exuberance, this one has the most direct impact on rents.

Calculating the demand and price of a property is more complex as the source of capital and the cost of debt are all important factors, alongside the usual factors such as the number of households requiring housing. Rent, on the other hand, is simply the cost of housing services, a cost more closely linked to the demand and supply for housing services, and not as impacted by other factors.

It’s worth noting that the higher appreciation in condo rents since 2015 was not due to a lack of building. Average annual condo completions were 12 percent higher after 2015 when compared to the period before 2015. This additional supply didn’t cool condo rents because Canada’s population was growing faster than these housing completions.

The impact of—and on—foreign students

The other aspect of Canada’s immigration policies that is often overlooked is the growth in the number of international students attending universities, which are not directly included in Canada’s immigration numbers today. An important part of Canada’s immigration pipeline, the number of foreign study permit holders in Canada has climbed from 352,330 in 2015 to 621,565 in 2021.

The Globe and Mail’s Matt Lundy argues that there is a simple explanation for this boom in foreign students: money.

The annual tuition for foreign students is five times what domestic students pay, so post-secondary institutions are doing what any profit-maximizing corporation would do: they are admitting as many foreign students as they can.

But unlike Canada’s program for permanent residents, there are no targets for foreign study permit holders—post-secondary institutions can admit as many students as they want each year. But while these institutions have the right to maximise their profits by admitting as many foreign students as possible, they have no obligation to ensure there is adequate housing for the students they are admitting. The lack of planning and investment from post-secondary institutions into the housing needs of their students means that the burden of Canada’s housing crisis has fallen in part on these often financially stretched students who are moving to Canada for a better life but are left feeling exploited. When foreign students are fighting for the most affordable rentals in their community, it also puts pressure on low-income households looking for the same.

It’s time to start asking harder questions about the negative side effects of Canada’s immigration policy. As economist David Green wrote, immigration is not some magic pill for saving the economy.

John Pasalis is President of Realosophy Realty, a Toronto real estate brokerage that uses data analysis to advise residential real estate buyers, sellers, and investors.

Source: John Pasalis: Canada’s immigration policies are driving up housing costs

‘Hip Hip Hooray!’ Cheering News for Free Speech on Campus

Funny but pointed analysis of the Stanford list of banned common words:

The following is a celebration of the cancellation of the Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, an attempt by a committee of IT leaders at Stanford University to ban 161 common words and phrases. Of those 161 phrases, I have taken pains to use 45 of them here. Read at your own risk.

Is the media addicted to bad news? It’s not a dumb question, nor are you crazy to ask. After all, we follow tragedy like hounds on the chase, whether it’s stories about teenagers who commit suicide,victims of domestic violence or survivors of accidents in which someone winds up quadriplegiccrippled for life or confined to a wheelchair. We report on the hurdles former convicts face after incarceration, hostile attitudes toward immigrants and the plight of prostitutes and the homeless. Given the perilous state of the planet, you might consider this barrage of ill tidings to be tone-deaf.

Well, I’m happy to report good news for a change. You might call it a corrective, or a sanity check, but whatever you call it — and what you can call things here is key — there have been several positive developments on American campuses. The chilling effects of censorship and shaming that have trapped students between the competing diktats of “silence is violence” and “speech is violence” — the Scylla and Charybdis of campus speech — may finally be showing some cracks.

Matters looked especially grim in December, when the internet discovered the 13-page dystopicallly titled “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative. A kind of white paper on contemporary illiberalism, it listed 161 verboten expressions, divided into categories of transgression, including “person-first,” “institutionalized racism” and the blissfully unironic “imprecise language.” The document offered preferred substitutions, many of which required feats of linguistic limbo to avoid simple terms like “insane,” “mentally ill” and — not to beat a dead horse, but I’ll add one more — “rule of thumb.” Naturally, it tore its way across the internet to widespread mockery despite a “content warning” in bold type: “This website contains language that is offensive or harmful. Please engage with this website at your own pace.”

Before you get worked up, know this: A webmaster has taken the site down and the program has been aborted for re-evaluation. Last month, in a welcome display of clear leadership, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, Stanford’s president, said the policy, brainchild of a select committee of IT leaders, had never been intended as a universitywide policy and reiterated the school’s commitment to free speech. “From the beginning of our time as Stanford leaders, Persis and I have vigorously affirmed the importance and centrality of academic freedom and the rights of voices from across the ideological and political spectrum to express their views at Stanford,” he wrote, referring to the school’s provost, Persis Drell. “I want to reaffirm those commitments today in the strongest terms.”

Could this be a seminal moment for academic freedom? Consider other bright spots: Harvard recently went ahead with its fellowship offer to Kenneth Roth, the former head of Human Rights Watch, which was earlier rejected, allegedly owing to his critical views on Israel. M.I.T.’s faculty voted to embrace a “Statement on Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom.” At Yale Law School, which has been roiled by repeated attempts to suppress speech, a conservative lawyer was allowed to appear on a panel with a former president of the A.C.L.U. after protests disrupted her visit the year before. And Hamline University, which had refused to renew an art history professor’s contract because she showed an artwork that some Muslim students may have found offensive, walked back its characterization of her as “Islamophobic.”

Finally, when an office within the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California banned the terms “fieldwork” and “in the field” to describe research projects because their “anti-Black” associations might offend some descendants of American slavery, U.S.C.’s interim provost issued a statement that “The university does not maintain a list of banned or discouraged words.”

It’s hard to know how much these shifting prohibitions distress students, whether freshman or senior, given how scared many are to speak up in the first place.

But we do know two things: First, college students are suffering from anxiety and other mental health issues more than ever before, and second, fewer feel comfortable expressing disagreement lest their peers go on the warpath. It would be a ballsy move to risk being denounced, expelled from their tribe, become a black sheep. No one can blame any teenager who has been under a social media pile-on for feeling like a basket case. Why take the chance.

Yet when in life is it more appropriate for people to take risks than in college — to test out ideas and encounter other points of view? College students should be encouraged to use their voices and colleges to let them be heard. It’s nearly impossible to do this while mastering speech codes, especially when the master lists employ a kind of tribal knowledge known only to their guru creators. A normal person of any age may have trouble submitting, let alone remembering that “African American” is not just discouraged but verboten, that he or she can’t refer to a professor’s “walk-in” hours or call for a brown bag lunchpowwow or stand-up meeting with their peers.

“You can’t say that” should not be the common refrain.

According to a 2022 Knight Foundation report, the percentage of college students who say free speech rights are secure has fallen every year since 2016, while the percentage who believe free speech rights are threatened has risen. Nearly two-thirds think the climate at school prevents people from expressing views that others might find offensive. But here, too, let’s convey some good news: The number of students who say controversial speakers should be disinvited has fallen since 2019. And one more cheering note: The editors of The Stanford Review, a student publication, poked gleefully at the document before it was taken down, with the shared impulse — irresistible, really — of using a number of taboo terms in the process.

Surely my ancestors from the ghettos of Eastern Europe couldn’t anticipate that their American descendants would face this kind of policing of speech at institutions devoted to higher learning. (While we’re on history, per the document, but news to all the Jews I know: “Hip hip hooray” was a term “used by German citizens during the Holocaust as a rallying cry when they would hunt down Jewish citizens living in segregated neighborhoods.”)

Consider what learning can flourish under such constraints. In a speech last fall celebrating the 100th anniversary of PEN America, the novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie noted: “Many American universities are well-meaning in wanting to keep students comfortable, but they do so at the risk not just of creating an insular, closed space but one where it is almost impossible to admit to ignorance — and in my opinion the ability to admit to ignorance is a wonderful thing. Because it creates an opportunity to learn.”

It is reasonable to wonder whether any conceivable harm to a few on hearing the occasional upsetting term outweighs the harm to everyone in suppressing speech. Or whether overcoming the relatively minor discomforts of an unintentional, insensitive or inept comment might help students develop the resilience necessary to surmount life’s considerably greater challenges — challenges that will not likely be mediated by college administrators after they graduate.

Rather than muzzle students, we should allow them to hear and be heard. Opportunities to engage and respond. It’s worth remembering how children once responded to schoolyard epithets: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never harm me.” Narrow restrictions on putatively harmful speech leave young people distracted from and ill-prepared for the actual violence they’ll encounter in the real world.

Source: ‘Hip Hip Hooray!’ Cheering News for Free Speech on Campus

Ottawa’s contract for $200-million fund not transparent, Black business group says

Not a good look:

A prominent Black business group is accusing the federal government of running a rushed and opaque procurement process to administer a $200-million endowment program for Black-led charities and community organizations.

The Liberal government first announced the Black-led Philanthropic Endowment Fund in the 2021 budget, but only put out a request for proposals to run the fund last fall. Groups had until Nov. 25 to apply. The fund is meant to be self-sustaining for at least 10 years and the administrators have access to only $9.5-million of the fund for early operating and granting activities.

One group that applied is the Black Opportunity Fund (BOF), which was started by a coalition of Black executives in 2020 to tackle systemic anti-Black racism in corporate Canada and invest in Black-led organizations and businesses.

BOF is funded through programs with corporate partners, including Toronto-Dominion Bank and Walmart Stores Inc. It does not currently take government funding.

Executive director Craig Wellington said BOF had been one of many groups with whom the government had consulted in designing the philanthropic fund.

He said BOF wrote up a proposal of more than 500 pages to describe in detail how the fund could be used effectively, and had arranged a consortium of partners that included the Toronto Foundation and RockCreek, a global investment firm with $16-billion in assets under management.

He said after the group filed its application in November, it heard nothing until Jan. 27, when it was informed it was not selected for the fund in a short e-mail signed from “Service Canada.”

“We had received no phone calls, no communication, no e-mails, regarding the proposal. Not a question,” Mr. Wellington said.

He said the short timeline – compared with the length of time it usually takes the government to do its due diligence on large procurement processes – suggested to him that Ottawa already had a winner in mind.

“What we are starting to hear is that they’ve already selected the agent,” Mr. Wellington said. “Which would be shocking, because we’re talking about Nov. 25 to a week ago. You’re talking eight weeks total, including the holiday closure. For a $200-million procurement. That is not possible. The government cannot buy computers in six weeks.”

In a letter sent Monday to a group of Liberal ministers that includes Minister of Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen, BOF asked for the government to make a detailed account of how it is reviewing and selecting applications. BOF also asked the federal Auditor-General to review the procurement process.

“It was our expectation that the government would undergo a thorough, rigorous and transparent process to select the steward for the fund, particularly in light of recent controversies with respect to other procurement processes,” said the letter signed from BOF board chair Ray Williams, managing director and vice-chairman of National Bank Financial.

One of the most prominent federal initiatives for Black-owned businesses to date is the $160-million Black Entrepreneurship Loan Fund, which was slow to roll out funds after it launched in the summer of 2021. A frequent criticism from members of the Black business community has been that the entrepreneurship fund was rushed out the door before it was ready, and not enough due diligence was done in selecting the administrators, which led to poor results.

Brittany-Anne Hendrych, a spokesperson for Mr. Hussen, defended the selection process and said it built on earlier consultations the government had held with Black organizations on the design of the program.

“Let us be clear, all applicants were assessed by officials at Employment and Social Development Canada based on their capacity to deliver on the goals of the endowment fund in a fair, transparent and objective manner,” Ms. Hendrych said in a statement.

She said a fund administrator had indeed been selected and more information would be announced soon.

The Michaëlle Jean Foundation, which was a partner on the BOF application, said it supported the call for more government transparency.

“It is a deep disappointment that the federal government has not had any questions for BOF or its partners with regards to their well-considered and action-oriented proposal for this fund,” executive director Tara Lapointe said in a statement.

Mr. Wellington said he thinks the government is putting optics ahead of its concern for proper spending.

“They’re getting prepared to make an announcement during Black History Month,” he said. “So Black History Month, and making a photo-op or whatever, is more of a priority than a rigorous, transparent process.”

Source: Ottawa’s contract for $200-million fund not transparent, Black business group says

Douglas Todd: The cure for religious extremism

Not sure how to achieve this “cure:”

What do the World Cup in Qatar, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, American gay, lesbian and transgendered people, Quebec’s government, Canada’s Indigenous residential schools, and India and China have in common?

They have all been embroiled in recent battles over religious freedom, a subject that can make a lot of eyes glaze over in secularized societies. That is unfortunate, because religious freedom is the remedy to extremism.

The ideal of religious freedom has taken on an especially sour taste in North America because it has been weaponized by some conservative Christians and others to defend their “freedom” to discriminate against gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

While this is a one-sided misuse of the concept, it shouldn’t take away from the value of religious freedom, which many maintain is the foundation of all human rights. That is even while it’s largely misunderstood in the West.

There is no ambiguity, however, in regard to the brutal way tens of millions of Muslims, Christians, Falun Gong members and Baha’i are subjected to harassment, imprisonment, forced labour and worse in Hindu-majority India, Buddhist Myanmar, Shia Iran, and atheist China.

Indeed, six of 10 of the world’s most populous countries — China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Nigeria — are home to severe religious extremism, says Brett Scharffs, director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies and a renowned specialist on religious freedom.

The four countries that round out the world’s 10 largest — the U.S., Brazil, Bangladesh and Mexico — are also on downward trajectories, says Scharffs. The U.S., for instance, has been battered by more massacres at churches, synagogues and mosques, which are also often targeted for vandalism and arson.

In Canada, a gunman killed six people at a Quebec mosque in 2017. And in 2021, scores of Catholic and other churches in Canada were vandalized or burnt to the ground. These attacks occurred following misleading media reports of the discovery of “mass graves” of children next to the sites of former Indigenous residential schools, which were federally funded and church-run.

It’s not too hard to point to where religious freedom is threatened — including via Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church is dangerously backing Vladimir Putin’s attempt to erase the preferences of Ukrainian Orthodox people, who want to be independent of Moscow’s oppressive Orthodox leaders.

The concept of religious freedom was also central to a more nuanced issue: Western complaints about anti-homosexual laws in Qatar during the World Cup soccer spectacle.

While it is entirely legitimate to criticize the leaders of countries hosting major global events, Scharffs wonders whether the army of Western critics of Qatar were harder on the Muslim-majority country than on homophobic Putin when he hosted the World Cup in 2018. And when China held last year’s Winter Olympics, Scharffs believes it got off lightly for persecuting Uyghur Muslims and Christians.

Normally, in Canada, religious freedom also tends to play out subtly, since the nation is not yet as polarized as many others, even while some seem to want to make it so.

Many English-speaking Canadians accuse Quebec’s popular governing party of bigotry, Islamophobia and even racism for its 2019 religious neutrality law, Bill 21, which bans public employees in positions of authority from wearing visible religious symbols on the job. But do many fail to understand the French concept of “laicite”?

This week, politicians in Quebec’s Assembly called for the dismissal of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new appointee, Amira Elghawaby, as Canada’s representative on combatting Islamophobia, since she had earlier claimed “the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law but by anti-Muslim sentiment.” She apologized late Wednesday.

Quebec points to how laicite attempts to keep religion out of public affairs, while enshrining the right to believe or not believe. It’s restrictions apply to not only the Muslim hijab, but also the Jewish kippa, Christian cross, and Sikh turban.

Laicite does not tend to get a tolerant hearing in Anglo-American cultures such as Canada, which, as Scharffs says, are arguably the most “permissive” in regard to public religious symbols. Scharffs took note at a conference when French intellectuals unanimously defended laicite in the name of women’s rights. “They had a strong sense that women wearing a hijab was not a sincere expression of autonomy, but was the result of coercion on the part of husbands, fathers and brothers.”

And while Scharffs, a law professor at Brigham Young University, says it is true that women are generally compelled to wear headscarves in many Muslim-majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia, he says in North America the hijab is more an expression of choice. While Scharffs understands Quebec’s attempt to make secularism the over-riding public system, he prefers a more pluralistic position, which allows space for the expression of multiple religious worldviews.

When it comes to the over-heated U.S., Scharffs worries the populist religious right and populist secular left are becoming more extremist, showing little concern for each others’ freedoms. Conservative Christian nationalists, for instance, don’t care about the freedom of minority faiths. And many proponents of identity politics, whether on gender or sexual orientation, are determined to shut down the speech of religious people. That is even while both sides claim they support the principle of non-discrimination.

“The trouble is LGBQT people are scared. And religious people are scared,” said Scharffs. “I see much of today’s polarization driven by fear.”

No wonder the ideal of religious freedom is threatened.

Source: Douglas Todd: The cure for religious extremism

Shree Paradkar: For Amira Elghawaby, surviving this witchhunt won’t be through civility — she needs to stick to the ugly truth

Understand the political pressures to apologize. Still doesn’t justify walking back from her and Farber’s legitimate take on Bill 21 and the Quebec analysis by Leger (virtually all surveys by various companies highlight Quebec’s lower acceptance and tolerance of Canadian Muslims. Other comments, yes:

Take a look at these two quotes.

“Anti-Muslim sentiment appears to be the main motivation for those who support a ban on religious symbols, a new poll has found.” — a Montreal Gazette report in 2019.

“Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.” — an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece a couple of months later.

Can you find the difference between this news report and this commentary? There isn’t much, in substance at least, if you analyze the Leger Marketing poll the quotes reference. But only one of them is at the centre of newly manufactured national outrage.

That second quote appeared in an opinion piece that Amira Elghawaby, then a journalist, co-wrote with Bernie Farber, then CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress.

The first quote is received as information. The second, we’re given to understand, is prejudice.

Elghawaby, whom the Trudeau government appointed only last week as its special representative on combating Islamophobia, is the target of a bizarre witchhunt for the apparent sin of offending an entire province for having repeated the outcome of a poll — three years ago. She apologized for it this week.

She never should have.

Gather around, folks, to hear the story of the most inane politicization of an innocuous political posting, to understand what the cowardice of power looks like and to learn why one must never apologize for speaking truth to that power.

See, it begins in June 2019, when Bill 21, which bans public servants from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs, passed into law.

No, make that 2017, with Bill 62, which decreed nobody was allowed to cover their face while providing a public service. Or maybe 2013, with Bill 60, a supposed “Charter of Values,” calling for a ban on all “ostentatious” religious symbols. Or better still 2010, when the more blatant Bill 94 tried to ban women wearing the niqab and burqa while receiving or delivering public services.

Whatever the bill, whichever the party, whatever the stated purpose — “it affects all religions,” “it respects our secularism” — it is an example of majoritarian excess. That’s true even taking into account that the separation of church and state has been hard-earned in Quebec. And while various religious minorities felt the impact of Bill 21, it has been most devastating for Muslim women.

A survey last August found two-thirds of Muslim women interviewed said they’d either been a victim of or witnessed a hate crime.

In general, I don’t put much stock in the oppression-fighting powers of government appointees. But if the mandate of this representative is to provide expert advice to ministers on combating Islamophobia, you’d think, at the very least, those who appointed her understood that this expert’s views were legitimate.

However, because Quebec is an important battleground for votes, federal politicians are loath to stand against it. Which means majoritarian sentiments, not fairness or principle, dictate political calculus.

It explains why the Liberals appear reluctant to stand by even the mildest of rebukes of Quebec; there was nothing provocative about what Elghawaby and Farber wrote.

Islamophobia literally kills Canadians, and fuels various other forms of violence. But go on, make it about the hurt feelings of the majority instead.

Which is exactly what La Presse began when it reported that the prime minister’s new appointee had once painted Quebec as “anti-Muslim.”

This is why you have Quebec’s nationalist ruling party, Coalition Avenir Québec, scooping a handful of nothing, swirling it in the air, and releasing it with the triumphant flourish of a magician’s revelation. You have opportunistic federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre gleefully swooping in to grab the invisible magic dust and professing great affront by it, and you have the Liberals dithering, contemplating: is the scandal nothing or is it worth something, trapped in the eternal question: what is the value of zero?

At various times, the prime minister has distanced himself from her comments; appeared to stand by her; and apparently facilitated a meeting with the Bloc leader without consulting her.

No doubt other sections of the media are trying to get a bite out of the nothingburger, investigating penetrating handwringers such as “how was she appointed in the first place?”

Photographs published in the past few days could well be a metaphor for her isolation. On the day of the announcement of her appointment, Jan. 26, a photo tweeted by Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen features himself along with Elghawaby and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra among others. On Wednesday, Elghawaby is seen going to meet Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and facing a swarm of journalists, by herself.

She hasn’t even begun the job. As my colleague Raisa Patel reported, Elghawaby’s start date is Feb. 20. “That also means she currently does not have her own staff, nor is she being paid to take part in such meetings.”

And we wonder why women, especially those marked for identity-based hostility, stay away from public positions?

Those who challenge power are often chided for being belligerent, unreasonable, uncivil. It’s as if all it requires for the powers that be, and those who influence them, to ensure equality is to be asked politely.

Want civility? Elghawaby apologized Thursday. Said she was sorry for having “hurt the people of Quebec.”

“I’m glad that she apologized but she still has to resign,” said Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister responsible for the French language.

So much for conciliation. Lesson learned.

Source: Shree Paradkar: For Amira Elghawaby, surviving this witchhunt won’t be through civility — she needs to stick to the ugly truth

Immigration increase alone won’t fix the labour market, experts say

Still thinking inside the box of increased immigration rather than other policy measures to address labour shortages:
Experts say Canada’s plan to increase immigration may ease some pressures in the labour market, but bigger changes are needed to ensure new permanent residents are matched with the jobs that most need filling.
With the unemployment rate at historic lows, many companies are “starved” for workers, and new immigrants will help fill some of the need, said Ravi Jain, principal at Jain Immigration Law and co-founder of the Canadian Immigration Lawyers Association.

Source: Immigration increase alone won’t fix the labour market, experts say

Yakabuski: Trudeau’s anti-Islamophobia adviser’s job is to preach to the converted

Another relevant commentary on the politics of the appointment. As noted earlier, there appointment has drawn criticism from the more secular Muslims, and Iranian Canadians protesting the mandatory hijab in Iran and the Iranian regime:

The noxious effects of identity politics have been on full display in Canada since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Jan. 26 nomination of Amira Elghawaby as his government’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia.

In Quebec, the reaction to Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment has gone far beyond the boilerplate outrage that usually awaits external critics of the province’s efforts to preserve its language, identity and values. This time, the indignation is real and proportional to the offence Mr. Trudeau committed in promoting someone who has perpetuated stereotypes about Quebeckers as hostile toward “others.”

At its core, the controversy over Ms. Elghawaby’s nomination represents a clash of two forms of identity politics practised in Canada that are equally corrosive. One seeks to validate claims of Canada as a country founded on oppression and racism, with both continuing to permeate our institutions and society to the point of inflicting relentless pain on Indigenous, racial, religious and sexual minorities. Practitioners of this kind of identity politics question whether Canada Day is even worthy of celebration, as Ms. Elghawaby herself has done.

Mr. Trudeau rarely misses an opportunity to give succour to those who hold such views. His very appointment of Ms. Elghawaby is an affirmation of this clenched-fist approach to fighting discrimination, which leaves little room for compromise or dialogue. It takes its cues from the radical American left that infiltrates university campuses and silences free speech. And it is embraced by progressive politicians to mobilize their bases.

Ms. Elghawaby’s brand of identity politics has now entered into direct collision with Quebec nationalism, arguably Canada’s oldest form of identity politics and one based on Quebeckers’ perception of themselves as an endangered (and historically oppressed) cultural minority in North America. They take offence, often far too easily, whenever their survivalist reflexes are criticized by others as inward-looking or worse.

It was this kind of identity politics we witnessed on Tuesday when the National Assembly adopted a unanimous resolution calling for the repeal of Ms. Elghawaby’s nomination. MNAs from the far-left Québec Solidaire, which practises American-style identity politics with a Québécois twist, abstained on the vote.

Exhibit A in the case against Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment is a 2019 Ottawa Citizen op-ed on Quebec’s religious symbols ban, co-authored with her Canadian Anti-Hate Network colleague Bernie Farber, in which the duo wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebeckers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.” They went on to refer to a Leger Marketing poll that found that the vast majority of Quebeckers with negative views of Islam supported Bill 21, which prohibits public employees in a position of authority, including teachers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

It is dangerous to rely on a single poll on a subject as emotionally charged and personal as religion to make a sweeping statement about the motivations of Quebeckers for supporting Bill 21. Besides, one can hold negative views of Islam without being anti-Muslim or Islamophobic. Just as one can criticize Papal doctrine on homosexuality, women and contraception without being anti-Catholic.

The op-ed in question was hardly an isolated incident. In her role as a contributing columnist for the Toronto Star and on social media, Ms. Elghawaby has regularly made uncharitable comments about Quebeckers. In a 2013 column, she saidphilosopher John Ralston Saul “might as well be writing about today’s Quebec” when he referred, in a 2008 book, to the “fear of loss of purity – pure blood, pure race, pure national traits and values and ties” in the Western world.

The cherry on the sundae, if you like, was the tweet (now deleted) that Ms. Elghawaby posted in response to a 2021 Globe and Mail op-ed by University of Toronto philosophy professor Joseph Heath, who had argued that “the largest group of people in this country who were victimized by British colonialism, subjugated and incorporated into Confederation by force, are French Canadians.” Ms. Elghawaby’s tweet did not mince words. “I’m going to puke.”

Ms. Elghawaby is, as the saying goes, entitled to her opinions. But one wonders how she can promote understanding of and tolerance toward Muslims among Canadians if she starts out from the defensive crouch she has taken in her writings. Tolerance is a two-way street.

Then again, Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment has little to do with any attempt by Mr. Trudeau to foster meaningful dialogue. Her nomination is meant to delight outspoken interest groups whose support is critical to Liberal political fortunes.

On Wednesday, Ms. Elghawaby, who will be paid between $162,700 and $191,300 a year in her new post, apologized to Quebeckers for “the hurt [she] caused with her words.” And Mr. Trudeau said he understood Quebeckers’ “distrust” toward organized religion, given the Roman Catholic’s Church’s dominance before the Quiet Revolution. But it was mostly all damage control.

By all accounts, Ms. Elghawaby’s job mainly involves preaching to the converted. She has already shown herself to be very good at that.

Source: Trudeau’s anti-Islamophobia adviser’s job is to preach to the converted

Les longs délais de traitement des visas nuisent aux universitaires

More concern in Quebec regarding visa delays, particularly with respect to conferences and academics:

Les longs délais de traitement pour obtenir un visa de visiteur au Canada causent de plus en plus de maux de tête à des organisateurs de conférences à Montréal comme à Toronto, qui comptent sur la venue d’experts et de participants de l’étranger. Cette difficulté d’obtenir un visa dans les temps complique la tenue de plusieurs de ces grandes rencontres, allant même jusqu’à les compromettre.

Originaire du Maroc, AbdelazizBlilid collabore avec Stéphane Couture, un professeur du Département de communication de l’Université de Montréal, pour une conférence qui doit se tenir au mois de juin à Montréal. Malgré son souhait d’enfin rencontrer son collègue canadien, qu’il n’a jamais vu en personne, M. Blilid est résigné. Avec un délai officiel de 216 jours sur le site Web d’Immigration, Réfugiés et Citoyenneté Canada (IRCC) pour obtenir un visa de visiteur, le professeur marocain n’a même pas encore pris la peine de déposer une demande.

« Si la situation reste comme telle, je ne demanderai pas de visa, et je manquerai ce deuxième colloque aussi », laisse-t-il tomber, en anticipant qu’il devra y assister à distance. Il commence à être habitué : la dernière fois, un long délai de quatre mois l’avait aussi dissuadé à déposer une demande de visa pour assister à un autre colloque.

L’été dernier, à la suite d’un article rapportant de longs délais de traitement pour les visas de visiteurs, le ministre de l’Immigration Sean Fraser avait réitéré son engagement à diminuer le temps d’attente à la fin de l’année 2022 pour le ramener aux normes de service. Or, comme Le Devoir le révélait mercredi, non seulement les délais n’ont pas baissé six mois après la promesse du ministre, mais ils ont plutôt explosé.

Stéphane Couture a reçu récemment une subvention du fédéral pourorganiser cette conférence, à laquelle40 intervenants et 200 participants sont attendus. Il avait en tête d’inviter des experts du Sénégal, du Maroc et du Cameroun avec qui il collabore. Mais devant les délais qui s’allongent, en particulier pour le Sénégal, où ils sont de 462 jours, il songe à tout reporter. « Une [solution] serait de tenir la conférence dans un autre pays », a dit le professeur.

Pour lui, ces longs délais de traitement nuisent non seulement à ses activités de recherche, mais également à toute son université. « Il y a une attractivité qui n’est pas là. Ce n’est pas très sérieux », soutient-il. « La mission de l’Université de Montréal, c’est d’être l’université francophone la plus influente du monde. Mais si ça prend un an et demi pour avoir la permission de venir visiter Montréal […] alors que mon collègue marocain dit que ça lui prend une semaine pour pouvoir aller en France… »

Les organisateurs de grands événements internationaux y penseront à deux fois avant de choisir Montréal comme ville hôte, craint M. Couture.

Plusieurs embûches

Longs délais de traitement, difficulté d’avoir de l’information concernant l’état d’une demande, acceptation ou refus de dernière minute : pour avoir été responsable de la logistique des participants pour différents congrès internationaux, Laura Sawyer, directrice générale de l’Association internationale de la communication (en anglais, ICA), sait de quoi elle parle.

Mme Sawyer a elle-même dû intervenir auprès des ambassades et des consulats pour aider des participants à obtenir le visa leur permettant d’assister aux divers congrès annuels de son association.

Cette année, le 73e Congrès de l’ICA, qui aura lieu à la fin mai à Toronto, accueillera plus de 4000 participants, dont plus de 3300 viendront de l’extérieur du Canada. Et selon leur nationalité, un grand nombre d’entre eux auront besoin du précieux sésame.

« Nous partageons la frustration des universitaires dans le monde face aux difficultés liées à ces voyages internationaux », a-t-elle affirmé au Devoir. Des difficultés qui se sont exacerbées depuis la pandémie, affirme-t-elle,et qui ont aussi un impact sur la logistique du séjour, dont la réservation des hôtels.

Sans pouvoir juger quatre mois à l’avance de l’ampleur du problème, Laura Sawyer, dont l’association compte plus de 5000 membres répartis dans 80 pays, s’attend encore une fois à devoir personnellement intervenir auprès des autorités migratoires canadiennes.

Les limites de la distance

Pour Mme Sawyer, même si les participants qui n’auront pas obtenu de visa pourront suivre le congrès à distance, il y a une limite à ne jamais pouvoir se rencontrer. « La valeur d’une conférence ne réside pas seulement dans les présentations et les panels, mais aussi dans les conversations de couloir, les événements sociaux, le réseautage », dit-elle. « C’est extrêmement frustrant quand un universitaire renommé, et qui est crucial pour un panel, se retrouve dans l’impossibilité d’entrer dans le pays hôte de la conférence. »

Assister aux conférences en ligne peut être une solution, mais c’est toutefois loin d’être idéal, croit aussi Stéphane Couture.

« Mettez-vous à la place de ces personnes-là. Si la conférence dure quatre jours en décalage horaire via Zoom, ils vont venir à deux ou trois réunions », laisse tomber le professeur. Il aurait aimé que ses collègues venus d’ailleurs restent quelques journées de plus que le colloque pour visiter la ville et tisser des liens. Toute la richesse des rencontres informelles est réduite à néant, déplore-t-il.

Une situation ironique, poursuit-il, quand on considère que la subvention fédérale qu’il a reçue se nomme Connexion, et que le but était « de connecter les gens ». « La dynamique qui permet des connexions va être grandement perdue, croit M. Couture. Les personnes africaines vont structurellement être désavantagées. »

De son côté, l’Université de Montréal indique que les universités canadiennes sont intervenues dans les derniers mois à ce sujet, au même titre que pour les permis d’études des étudiants étrangers.

Source: Les longs délais de traitement des visas nuisent aux universitaires

Australia’s central bank says it will remove the British monarchy from its bank notes

Of note. The easiest change without any constitutional issues, removing the Monarch from bank notes, coins and stamps:

Australia is removing the British monarchy from its bank notes.

The nation’s central bank said Thursday its new $5 bill would feature an Indigenous design rather than an image of King Charles III. But the king is still expected to appear on coins.

The $5 bill was Australia’s only remaining bank note to still feature an image of the monarch.

The bank said the decision followed consultation with the government, which supported the change. Opponents say the move is politically motivated.

The British monarch remains Australia’s head of state, although these days that role is largely symbolic. Like many former British colonies, Australia is debating to what extent it should retain its constitutional ties to Britain.

Australia’s Reserve Bank said the new $5 bill would feature a design to replace a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, who died last year. The bank said the move would honor “the culture and history of the First Australians.”

“The other side of the $5 banknote will continue to feature the Australian parliament,” the bank said in a statement.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers said the change was an opportunity to strike a good balance.

“The monarch will still be on the coins, but the $5 note will say more about our history and our heritage and our country, and I see that as a good thing,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton likened the move to changing the date of the national day, Australia Day.

“I know the silent majority don’t agree with a lot of the woke nonsense that goes on but we’ve got to hear more from those people online,” he told 2GB Radio.

Dutton said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese was central to the decision for the king not to appear on the note, urging him to “own up to it.”

The bank plans to consult with Indigenous groups in designing the $5 note, a process it expects will take several years before the new note goes public.

The current $5 will continue to be issued until the new design is introduced and will remain legal tender even after the new bill goes into circulation.

The face of King Charles III is expected to be seen on Australian coins later this year.

One Australian dollar is worth about 71 cents in U.S. currency.

Source: Australia’s central bank says it will remove the British monarchy from its bank notes

Liberals resist Tory, Bloc push for Quebec language law to rule federally regulated businesses

Just as Quebec zealously guards against and protests federal incursions into areas of provincial responsibility, so should the federal government with respect to federal jurisdiction. One of the recent rare times it is doing so:
Repeated attempts in committee Tuesday by Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois to incorporate elements of Quebec’s new Charter of the French Language in the modernization of the federal Official Languages Act were met with fierce resistance from federal Liberals.The study of C-13 in the parliamentary committee is still in its early stages, and the Bloc and the Conservatives have made it clear that they are siding with the Quebec government. They want businesses in Quebec, including federally regulated businesses, to comply with the provincial charter, which restricts the right of Quebec anglophones to work and be served in English.

More than once during Tuesday’s meeting, the Bloc and Tories introduced amendments that would lead to Quebec’s new language charter — formerly known as “Bill 96” — to prevail over federal jurisdiction, but they were defeated by the Liberals with the help of the lone NDP MP on the committee.

Source: Liberals resist Tory, Bloc push for Quebec language law to rule federally regulated businesses