Conservatism Is A Collection Of Losers. It Doesn’t Have To Be.

A American conservative criticism of current American conservatives, with some parallels with some Canadian conservatives:

“I’m a conservative but at this point who cares?” said Donald Trump in 2016. “We’ve got to straighten out the country.”

Perhaps the only reason to care about conservatism today is that a preoccupation with the concept itself often presents an obstacle to “straightening out the country.” Indeed, it mostly prevents self-identified conservatives from achieving their own political goals. Going forward, whatever valuable causes might be associated with conservatives—and in my opinion there are many—will need to be rescued from conservatism.

I am not the first person to point out that conservative political coalitions are mostly just collections of losers, but the point nevertheless bears repeating. Today’s conservatism is merely the name used to categorize the rejects of the post–Cold War order: this includes a few oddball financiers who can’t play nicely with others, extractive industries and other declining sectors, the small businesses most reliant on low-wage, low-skill labor, and a group often referred to as social conservatives who have been almost totally marginalized from mainstream culture. At bottom, nothing holds this gang of misfits together except exclusion from the dominant group of big tech oligarchs, more respectable financial rent seekers, and the leading cultural tastemakers in media and academia.

The conservative favorite Lord Acton famously quipped that power corrupts, but as the self-described Marxist Slavoj Žižek is fond of pointing out, powerlessness corrupts, too. One effect of conservatives’ waning economic and social power has been a retreat into their own self-referential identity groups and subcultures—bizarre little cults ranging from Straussians to Burkeans to the various branches of “Austrian economics.” Conservatives applaud themselves for this apparent devotion to “ideas,” but it’s actually just an effect—and a cause—of their irrelevance with respect to matters of practical importance and almost total intellectual incoherence. Despite this obsession with theoretical inquiry, however, conservatives have been nearly banished from the academy, prestige media, and cultural institutions. The leading “conservative thinkers” of the last 20 years have influenced hardly anyone beyond the next generation of downwardly mobile graduate students.

As Gladden Pappin, deputy editor of American Affairs, has argued, contemporary conservatism is an attempt to articulate the role of non-state institutions rather than a serious approach to wielding political power. The result is an abundance of platitudinous books on Tocqueville and treacly essays on civility, but little serious study of how today’s economy actually works or how to coordinate diverse interests across complex institutions. Thus, even when conservatives happen to win office, typically all that they can imagine doing is reducing their own capacity to exercise power. Conservative foundations and donors have plowed millions into producing mind-numbing Adam Smith documentaries—last year, they even created a virtual pin factory, along with an absurdist farce featuring the Dalai Lama—but they have shown little interest in, say, planning for economic and technological competition with China or understanding the effects of financialization. In part, this may be owing to the fact that conservatism has become nothing more than an ideological gloss retrospectively applied to the machinations of lobbyists and grifters. Yet on a deeper level it seems that the conservative corpus is simply no longer capable of anything but reflexive spasms.

I state these matters so harshly—in a magazine called The American Conservative of all places—not to rub salt into the wounds of long-suffering conservatives, but rather because vast new possibilities have opened up for those willing to throw off the constricting ideologies of the “end of history.” The neoliberal economic system is falling apart under the weight of its own contradictions, while its intellectual and cultural energies appear increasingly exhausted. New policy options and even novel directions in culture are coming into view. New electoral coalitions are emerging to support, for example, more family-oriented economic policies, to strengthen communities from the neighborhood to the nation, and to challenge the moral-cultural dominance of radical liberal individualism.

Ottawa must put data first and tie to health funding

Agree in principle but politically hard to achieve (Quebec doesn’t even automatically share its data with CIHI):

The federal government looks yet again about to transfer billions of dollars to the provinces with essentially no strings attached.

We’ve seen this before with $40 billion in the 2004 First Ministers’ Health Accord and then $11 billion in the 2017 Health Accord, both highlighting home care, without evidence of significant progress.

And the prime minister just announced $19 billion for the Safe Restart Program, though without any details, especially as to what the federal government receives in return.

One major quid pro quo could address Canada’s profound lack of high-quality data, especially highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. While U.S. analysts are able in near real time to estimate and project COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths down to the county level, Canada is barely able to produce comparable data by province.

Some of this $19 billion is meant for COVID testing and tracing, and improvements in long-term care.

A major failing in the tragic and disproportionate COVID-19 mortality rates in nursing homes was due to poor staffing levels, an issue that has been known for decades and pointed out in myriad reports and studies. But there are essentially no comparable and complete national data in this area.

As strongly recommended in the recent Royal Society of Canada report, high quality data on current staffing levels, connected at the individual level to health outcomes, are essential, especially for the federal government to develop the evidence-based national standards for long-term care so many have been calling for.

The provinces have typically argued that health care is a provincial jurisdiction, so the federal government cannot compel them to provide sorely needed data. However, in another example, we have had almost two decades of cajoling the provinces with federally funded Canada Health Infoway paying at least half the cost to develop and implement standardized and interoperable software systems for electronic health records.

Most relevant for the current pandemic, Infoway was specifically tasked with producing a system for anticipating and dealing with infectious disease outbreaks. This system, had it been working even 15 years after its initial funding in 2004, would have enabled a very different outcome this year, likely with far fewer cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Paper agreements and cajoling the provinces with optional subsidies have clearly failed. It’s time for a much tougher stance.

The federal government has the necessary constitutional powers, including explicit jurisdiction for statistics, criminal law, spending powers, and the general peace, order and good government (POGG) power, to compel the collection and flows of 21st century kinds of data.

Monique Bégin, as federal minister of health, successfully ended the practice of physicians’ extra-billing by amending the Canada Health Act to deduct any extra billing from an offending province’s fiscal transfer. The Supreme Court has just upheld the federal government’s genetic privacy legislation as constitutional despite objections from Quebec.

In the current pandemic emergency, high-quality, standardized, real-time data on “excess deaths,” COVID cases and hospitalizations, and details on the operations of the thousands of nursing homes and retirement residences across Canada are essential.

For nursing homes, we need these data to learn why some were completely successful in avoiding any novel coronavirus cases amongst residents and staff, while others suffered tragically. In turn, such statistical information will provide the federal government the strong evidence base needed to take the lead in establishing national standards for nursing home staffing levels, though action on staffing must not wait for perfect data.

And once we have standardized individual-level data on COVID cases, including factors like age, sex, neighbourhood, other diseases, individuals’ household composition, race, hospitalization rates, disease severity, and deaths, as the U.K. has been able to do for 17 million of its residents in near real time, then Canada will be able to support far more sophisticated analysis and projections to deal with the current top pandemic issues — not least, whether to open bars or schools.

Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

Of note:

As students across India logged in to their virtual classrooms last month, many of them no doubt felt their prayers had been answered.

The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), India’s largesteducation board, announced in July that it had cut this year’s syllabus by 30 percent. It hopes that the move will relieve stressed-out students who have lost valuable hours in the classroom to COVID-19 and are trying to adapt to online learning.

But not everyone is pleased. The move has fueled controversy over the fact that government-run schools no longer have to teach chapters on democratic rights, secularism, federalism, and citizenship, among other topics. These concepts lie at the core of the Indian Constitution but have at times come into conflict with the Hindu-majoritarian ideology of the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The party’s well-established interest in using the education system to spread its own unitary brand of Indian identity has further raised concerns that the omissions are politically motivated.


After a victory in last year’s general elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP began rolling out a set of controversial citizenship policies that critics have called unconstitutional and anti-Muslim and that have been condemned for promoting an ethnoreligious idea of India. The country has since witnessed a series of large-scale national protests against the measures, including the Citizenship Amendment Act—a law designed to aid refugees from neighboring countries but which excludes Muslims—and a new National Register of Citizens. When combined, the two measures could end up disenfranchising large numbers of India’s Muslim population. (That’s the point, Home Minister Amit Shah, has admitted.) The protests were the largest public challenge to Modi’s rule since he first came to power in 2014.

When chapters like “Popular Struggles and Movements” and “Democracy and Diversity” were removed from the Class 10 political science syllabus, stakeholders and opposition groups were quick to frame the cuts as being in line with the other steps for which Modi has been  criticized. The move advances the vision of an “exclusivist, theocratic, intolerant, fascistic nation,” Sitaram Yechury, the leader of Communist Party of India (Marxist), wrote on Facebook in July. His party later called for the cuts to be rescinded, saying they hurt “secular democratic India’s future.”

The Education Ministry has denied any political motives behind the move, which it said was backed by a consensus of policymakers. It also issued a clarification on July 8 calling the cuts a “one-time measure only.”

It is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate.

For practitioners, though, it is hard to separate the syllabus cuts from the current political climate. “It’s clear that this was a very selective exercise,” Anita Rampal, a professor and former dean of the education department at Delhi University, told me in July. “The deleted chapters relate directly to policies that are currently being questioned in the public sphere—and that’s important because not many issues usually are. These are topics the government finds inconvenient.”

Adding weight to such interpretations are other activities the government has undertaken during the pandemic. According to Human Rights Watch, New Delhi has stifled dissent and arrested protesters. The government has also come under fire for refusing to release academics and social activists from jail, including the 80-year-old poet Varavara Rao, who was kept in cramped prison conditions on charges of inciting caste-based violenceunder India’s draconian Unlawful Activities Act. He ended up contracting the coronavirus.

Meanwhile requests from opposition leaders to resume parliament or allow for videoconferencing have fallen on deaf ears. In turn, the Indian National Congress, the main opposition party, has accused the government of trying to avoid parliamentary scrutiny. Add to this a distracted mainstream media with little interest in covering education policy minutiae and educators like Rampal have little to be hopeful about. “It’s a populist move that few people have the time or inclination to question,” she said. “Once deleted, I can’t see these chapters coming back in any meaningful way.”

The Education Ministry maintains that the recent move is in students’ best interests. Before the pandemic, too, ministry officials spoke about the need to “rationalize” the syllabus and unburden students from the lengthy slog. But if that is the goal, the cuts have undermined it. In an op-ed, Krishna Kumar, a former director of the National Council of Education Research and Training (the organization responsible for designing the curriculum), argued that the cuts have left some remaining topics “incomprehensible.” He points out that students will now learn about the constitution without learning about India’s federal structure.

The deleted chapters were also among those that offered relief from the rote learning and factual regurgitation that are endemic to the Indian education system.

 “These chapters allowed students to raise questions about social justice and engage in critical analysis,” Rampal said. “Removing these chapters sends a clear signal about what they believe is right for children to be learning.”

The CBSE has said teachers can still teach these topics if they wish. But that is unlikely to happen. “Teachers are evaluated on how well their students score in the board exams and are penalized if they finish the syllabus late,” a New Delhi secondary-school teacher told me. “When you’re already under so much pressure, there’s no incentive to be creative or deviate from the highly centralized teaching calendar.” This system has bred a culture of survival and removed any space for teachers to “really think and talk about educating children’s minds,” the teacher said. “It’s why so many great teachers have left.”

Policymakers must know that topics that are not going to be tested in board exams are unlikely to be covered in class, said Pradyumna Jairam, a former CBSE board social sciences teacher and researcher at King’s College London. “That’s why it is crucial to look at which chapters have been deleted and to ask why they don’t want these chapters to be taught,” he added.

Jairam’s answer is that the deleted chapters dealt with uncomfortable periods of Indian history, like the partition of the subcontinent in 1947 and lower-caste struggles for emancipation. The chapter on popular movements, for example, drew a strong parallel between the assertion of Dalit rights and the civil rights movement in 1960s America, he said. “I taught this chapter, so I know how effective it was. It encouraged students to reflect on how privilege still operates in society, as well as on their own privilege, which may have sheltered them from these uncomfortable truths.”


But Jairam’s interpretation begs the question of why the BJP might have a problem with students learning about human rights, democracy, local government, and civil liberties.

The answer lies in the ruling party’s ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a volunteer paramilitary organization, and its deeply embedded Hindutva ideology. “The individualistic values promoted by liberal democracy is anathema to their view of Hindu traditions,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist specializing in South Asia. He noted that Shah, Modi’s home minister, “argued that India should not follow the Western notion of human rights. Nor does the RSS allow for any room for elections or public debate within the organization.”

Education reform has long been a priority of the RSS. The organization itself operates a network of schools through its education wing, the Vidya Bharati. It views changing curriculum content in particular as a key component of nation building and erasing foreign elements from India’s Nehruvian teaching methods. When the BJP was last in power in the early 2000s, it appointed RSS members to top education positions and launched a national curriculum framework under the slogan “Indianize, nationalize, and spiritualize.”

The way history textbooks have already been rewritten in BJP-ruled states can provide clues to the kind of agenda the current administration is pursuing. In Rajasthan, for example, the state board removed all mentions of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and champion of a diverse and secular India, while adding multiple references to V.D. Savarkar, the father of Hindutva ideology. Meanwhile B.R. Ambedkar is labeled as a “Hindu social reformer” despite his later conversion to Buddhism. Critics claim his seminal key role in fighting for Dalit emancipation was also minimized.

Given this background, “it’s actually surprising that central board textbooks were not rewritten sooner,” Jaffrelot said. In 1999, the last time the BJP was in power and when Murli Manohar Joshi was the minister for human resources development, “this was a priority of the party, and they began making changes straight away.”

In that way, there is a feeling among some political observers that the BJP has left its most divisive policies for its second term in power. With the Supreme Court’s independence under question, a brutal crackdown on dissenting voices from academic and civil society, and a feeble opposition, the path has been cleared for the government to pursue its most controversial objectives, starting with the revocation of Kashmir’s special status a year ago and leading, most recently, to reconfiguring textbooks.

“Now is the time for them to do whatever they want, because who can say anything against them?” Jaffrelot said.

Source: Under Cover of the Pandemic, the Modi Administration Has Removed Chapters on Democracy, Secularism, and Citizenship From Textbooks

Auditor-General to probe lapse in Canada’s pandemic warning system

Needed:

Canada’s Auditor-General is planning to investigate what went wrong with the country’s once-vaunted early warning system for pandemics after the unit curtailed its surveillance work and ceased issuing alerts more than a year ago, raising questions about whether it failed when it was needed most.

Sources close to the matter said the Auditor-General is planning to probe the government’s handling of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN, which was a central part of the country’s advance surveillance, early detection and risk-assessment capacity for outbreaks.

The Globe and Mail reported on Saturday that a key part of GPHIN’s function was effectively shut down last spring, amid changing government priorities that shifted analysts to other work. According to 10 years of documents obtained by The Globe, the system went silent on May 24 last year, after issuing more than 1,500 alerts over the past decade about potential outbreaks including MERS, H1N1, avian flu and Ebola.

GPHIN was part of Canada’s contribution to the World Health Organization. Those alerts often helped Canada, the WHO and other countries assess outbreaks at their earliest stages to determine the urgency of the situation. It was responsible for alerting the WHO to the first signs of several potentially catastrophic events, including a 2009 outbreak of H1N1 in Mexico, a 2005 flare-up of bird flu in Iran that the government there tried to hide, and the 1998 emergence of SARS in China.

According to federal documents, “approximately 20 per cent of the WHO’s epidemiological intelligence” came from GPHIN. But sources from inside the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the analysts were stripped of their ability to independently issue alerts in late 2018. Those alerts, which had garnered GPHIN a global reputation as a leader in pandemic intelligence, had to be approved by senior management, a move that ultimately silenced the system.

Several past and present employees told The Globe that the government had grown wary of GPHIN’s mandate in recent years, believing it was too internationally focused, given that pandemic events were rare. Analysts were given domestic projects to focus on that didn’t involve global surveillance, and the operation’s early-warning capacity soon suffered. Over the past decade, doctors inside Public Health also began to fear their messages weren’t being heard, or understood, on important topics, the employees said, which affected Canada’s readiness for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Auditor-General is also planning to look at Canada’s risk assessments during the pandemic, which may have affected the speed and urgency of mitigation measures, such as border closings, airport shutdowns and the use of protective masks. Throughout January, February and into March, the government maintained the risk the virus posed to Canada was “Low,” even as evidence of human-to-human spread became increasingly evident around the world. Canada didn’t elevate its risk rating to “High” until March 16, nearly seven weeks after the WHO declared the global risk was high and urged countries to start preparing.

The Office of the Auditor-General has previously signalled that it would be taking a critical look at the federal government’s response to COVID-19, but the probe of GPHIN is now among its top priorities, according to sources familiar with the matter. The sources were not authorized to speak publicly and the Auditor-General, as a matter of course, does not comment publicly on its investigations. The work is to be completed late this year or early next year.

“It’s still early in the process,” said Vincent Frigon, spokesman for the Office of the Auditor-General. “We don’t comment on ongoing audits, however when we do have a better idea of what’s the scope of the audit we should be able to release the information. … We should have a more specific timeline later this year.”

A PHAC spokesman said the agency would assist in the audit. “The Auditor-General plays an important role in Canada’s democracy as a key Officer of Parliament,” PHAC said in an e-mailed statement. “The Public Health Agency of Canada is fully prepared to assist the Office of the Auditor-General as they work on their audit of the Government’s pandemic preparedness and response.”

Few outside GPHIN knew the operation had curtailed its outbreak surveillance work to the extent it had. When a senior public health official addressed the WHO in November, the government described the system as still active. In a 2018 assessment of Canada’s pandemic preparedness capabilities, the WHO referred to GPHIN as the “cornerstone” of Canada’s pandemic response capability, and “the foundation” of global early warning, where signals are “rapidly acted upon” and “trigger a cascade of actions” by governments.

The unit, which involves roughly a dozen highly trained epidemiologists and doctors fluent in multiple languages, began as an experiment in the 1990s during the advent of the internet, but was elevated after the 2003 SARS crisis, when Canada realized it needed to be better prepared for serious outbreaks.

When fully operational, it was a combination of machine learning and human analysis, with GPHIN’s algorithms sifting through more than 7,000 data points from around the world each day, from local news reports and online discussions to arcane medical data, searching for unusual patterns. Those were then narrowed down for closer analysis by medical experts.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/investigations/article-auditor-general-to-probe-oversight-of-countrys-pandemic-warning/

‘Without early warning you can’t have early response’: How Canada’s world-class pandemic alert system failed

This has to be considered a significant fail: disbanding the PHAC Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN a few years before COVID-19.

Kudos to the Globe for good investigative reporting and analysis.

Given that resource reductions and reallocations are normally executed at the bureaucratic level (with political sign-off), one would hope that PHAC is revisiting this decision and the relative importance within PHAC of senior bureaucratic decision-makers vs scientific advice and expertise. Savoie’s comments on senior public servants as courtiers comes to mind when reading about these differences so well captured in the Globe report.

Some form of enquiry (preferably external) is needed  to assess how this short-sighted decision took place and the related accountabilities.

While there is no excuse for the ethical violations of the PM and Finance Minister regarding WE, it would be a far better use of Parliament to investigate this decision and its impact, given that it contributed to Canada’s missing the opportunity for an early and thus likely more effective response, with fewer deaths of Canadians:

On the morning of Dec. 31, as word of a troubling new outbreak in China began to reverberate around the world, in news reports and on social media, a group of analysts inside the federal government and their bosses were caught completely off guard.

The virus had been festering in China for weeks, possibly months, but the Public Health Agency of Canada appeared to know nothing about it – which was unusual because the government had a team of highly specialized doctors and epidemiologists whose job was to scour the world for advance warning of major health threats. And their track record was impressive.

Some of the earliest signs of past international outbreaks, including H1N1, MERS and Ebola, were detected by this Canadian early warning system, which helped countries around the world prepare.

Known as the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN, the unit was among Canada’s contributions to the World Health Organization, and it operated as a kind of medical Amber Alert system. Its job was to gather intelligence and spot pandemics early, before they began, giving the government and other countries a head start to respond and – hopefully – prevent a catastrophe. And the results often spoke for themselves.

Russia once accused Canada of spying, after GPHIN analysts determined that a rash of strange illnesses in Chechnya were the result of a chemical release the Kremlin tried to keep quiet. Impressed by GPHIN’s data-mining capabilities, Google offered to buy it from the federal government in 2008. And two years ago, the WHO praised the operation as “the foundation” of a global pandemic early warning system.

So, when it came to the outbreak in Wuhan, the Canadian government had a team of experts capable of spotting the hidden signs of a problem, even at its most nascent stages.

But last year, a key part of that function was effectively switched off.

In May, 2019, less than seven months before COVID-19 would begin wreaking havoc on the world, Canada’s pandemic alert system effectively went dark.

Amid shifting priorities inside Public Health, GPHIN’s analysts were assigned other tasks within the department, which pulled them away from their international surveillance duties.

With no pandemic scares in recent memory, the government felt GPHIN was too internationally focused, and therefore not a good use of funding. The doctors and epidemiologists were told to focus on domestic matters that were deemed a higher priority.

The analysts’ capacity to issue alerts about international health threats was halted. All such warnings now required approval from senior government officials. Soon, with no green light to sound an alarm, those alerts stopped altogether.

So, on May 24 last year, after issuing an international warning of an unexplained outbreak in Uganda that left two people dead, the system went silent.

And in the months leading up to the emergence of COVID-19, as one of the biggest pandemics in a century lurked, Canada’s early warning system was no longer watching closely.

When the novel coronavirus finally emerged on the international radar, amid evidence the Chinese government had been withholding information about the severity of the outbreak, Canada was conspicuously unaware and ultimately ill-prepared.

But according to current and former staff, it was just one of several problems brewing inside Public Health when the virus struck. Experienced scientists say their voices were no longer being heard within the bureaucracy as department priorities changed, while critical information gathered in the first few weeks of the outbreak never made it up the chain of command in Ottawa.

‘WE NEED EARLY DETECTION’

The Globe and Mail obtained 10 years of internal GPHIN records showing how abruptly Canada’s pandemic alert system went silent last spring.

Between 2009 and 2019, the team of roughly 12 doctors and epidemiologists, fluent in multiple languages, were a prolific operation. During that span, GPHIN issued 1,587 international alerts about potential outbreak threats around the world, from South America to Siberia.

Those alerts were sent to top officials in the Canadian government and throughout the international medical community, including the WHO. Countries across Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa also relied on the system.

On average, GPHIN issued more than a dozen international alerts a month, according to the records. But its purpose wasn’t to cry wolf. Only special situations that required monitoring, closer inspection or frank discussions with a foreign government were flagged.

GPHIN’s role was reconnaissance – detect an outbreak early so that the government could prepare. Could the virus be contained before it got to Canada? Should hospitals brace for a crisis? Was there enough personal protective equipment on hand? Should surveillance at airports be increased, flights stopped, or borders closed?

This need for early detection sprang from a climate of distrust in the 1990s, when it was believed some countries were increasingly reluctant to disclose major health problems, fearing economic or reputational damage. This left everyone at a disadvantage.

For Canada, the wake-up call came in 1994 when a sudden outbreak of pneumonic plague in Surat, India, sparked panic. Official information was sparse, but rumours promulgated faster. As citizens fled the city of millions, many on foot, others boarded planes.

Public Health officials in Ottawa were soon alerted to an urgent problem: Staff at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, fearing exposure to the plague, threatened to walk off the job if a plane arriving from India was allowed to land. The government scrambled to put quarantine measures in place.

“We were caught flat-footed,” said Ronald St. John, who headed up the federal Centre for Emergency Preparedness at the time. The panic demonstrated the need for advance warning and better planning.

“We said, we’ve got to have early alerts. So how do we get early alerts?”

Waiting for official word from governments was often slow – and unreliable. Dr. St. John and his team of epidemiologists didn’t want to wait. They began building computer systems that could scan the internet – still in its infancy back then – at lightning speed, aggregating local news, health data, discussion boards, independent blogs and whatever else they could find. They looked for anything unusual, which would then be investigated by trained doctors who were experts in spotting diseases.

It was a mix of science and detective work. A report of dead birds in one country, or a sudden outbreak of flu symptoms at the wrong time of year in another, could be clues to something worse – what the analysts call indirect signals.

Find those signals early enough, and you can contain the outbreak before it becomes a global pandemic.

“We wanted to detect an event, we didn’t want a full epidemiological analysis,” Dr. St. John said. “We just wanted to know if there was an outbreak.” …

Source for remainder: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-without-early-warning-you-cant-have-early-response-how-canadas/

Lang: Missing – public servants who could warn Trudeau about WE conflict

Good commentary by Lang who worked under Herb Gray when he was deputy PM (I worked in PCO at the time and interacted with him time-to-time):

“Mandarin” is another word sometimes associated with such powerful bureaucrats, who were occasionally resented – but often valued – by politicians for their knowledge, wisdom and willingness to stand up to ministers to ensure the basic integrity of the ministry.

As the government has lurched from the SNC-Lavalin scandal of a year or so ago to the WE charity controversy of today – both of which centre on questions of prime ministerial and ministerial ethics and judgment – one question that isn’t asked enough is “Where are the mandarins in all this?”

When Justin Trudeau’s government came to office nearly five years ago, its chief hallmark was inexperience. The few ministers from previous Liberal administrations in its ranks at the beginning had little power. From its inception, power in the Trudeau government has been highly concentrated in the Prime Minister’s Office and among a few trusted ministers — notably Chrystia Freeland and Bill Morneau — none of whom had any prior government experience.

The feeling among some Ottawa watchers in the early days was that this inexperience would be managed and shaped by the mandarins. They would help ensure the government remained stable, competent and exhibited good judgment most of the time. This expectation was re-enforced by the prime minister himself, who stated early on that his government would rely much more heavily on the advice and counsel of the professional public service than his predecessor, Stephen Harper, had.

It doesn’t seem to have worked out that way. Or, perhaps there are no “old school” deputy ministers left in the government of Canada.

Take the SNC-Lavalin scandal. The issue boiled down to a big company allegedly threatening to cut jobs and investment in Canada if it was not given a specific legal concession from the government that would enable the firm to continue to bid on federal contracts.

Any decent mandarin should have known at the outset that corporations routinely tell the federal government job losses will result if they do not get X, Y or Z. This kind of thing used to be greeted with skepticism by the public service, justifiably so. But if the SNC threat was judged a serious risk, there was also a time when a few senior deputy ministers would have sprung into action and developed options for the government to manage its way of out of the issue, such that it might never even have come to public attention, much less have led to two ministerial resignations and threatened the viability of the government.

Today, we have the controversy surrounding WE, a charity that the prime minister and his wife have had a longstanding and very public association with, and to which the government intended to direct a contract worth some $19 million. The Clerk of the Privy Council, the prime minister’s deputy minister, must have known about Trudeau’s general relationship with WE.  He must have seen a conflict of interest here, or at least an appearance of conflict. An “old school” Clerk would have insisted on the prime minister recusing himself from any cabinet decision-making on this issue to protect the prime minister and the government. Instead, if we are to take Trudeau at his word, the public service more or less boxed him and his ministers in to an inevitable appearance of conflict of interest by recommending that only WE could do the job and offering no alternatives, something very rare in government.

None of this is to say that public servants are responsible for either the SNC-Lavalin scandal or the WE mess. Responsibility for both rests on the shoulders of the prime minister and his cabinet.  There is no legal, or even ethical, obligation on deputy ministers to stop ministers from exercising terrible judgment. Yet there was a time, not that long ago, when the expectation was that some wise, “old school” deputies had the government’s back.

Source: Lang: Missing – public servants who could warn Trudeau about WE conflict

Andrew MacDougall’s take is also worthy of note:

The thing you have to understand about the federal public service is that it isn’t geared toward excitement; it’s a “safety first” kind of place.

Pick a policy, any policy. If there’s a Flashy Option A and a Boring Option B, the public service opts for boring every day of the week and twice on Sunday. And that goes treble if Flashy Option A is, to pick a random example out of thin air, a sole-source contract worth nearly $1 billion to an organization with no track record of delivery of federal programming.

Put differently, the only way the public service recommended WE for the CSSG is if the political wing of the government gave it such narrow specifications that it could return only one answer. You can bet there exists, somewhere, an exquisitely crafted memo from the public service to cabinet saying, in effect: “If you really want to go forward with this completely brain-dead approach to federal programming, then you go right ahead, ministry.” The job of the opposition and the press is to now surface that memo.

Because thankfully for Trudeau, the federal bureaucracy is also rather polite, which explains why the prime minister is being allowed to hide behind his version of events. The public service is used to being human shields for politicians and will keep quiet.

Which isn’t to say the prime minister’s story is surviving contact with reality. Every day brings another WE tale of woe.

In this (still-surfacing) version of events, a charity with a long association with the prime minister, his family and his advisers, one that pays hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trudeau’s family members and puts together slick, campaign-style videos promoting the prime minister while simultaneously receiving millions of dollars of government grants and contributions and other sole-source contracts, is being laid low by the pernicious effects of the coronavirus. There is massive churn on the board of directors and large numbers of staff are being laid off as Canada enters lockdown. All looks lost. Until, that is, the Trudeau government comes to the rescue with an offer to administer a pandemic-related program.

According to the charity, the Prime Minister’s Office rang up the day after the program was announced in April to say it needed help from WE to deliver the program. All with the blessing of the federal public service of course, which already, by the way, runs the Canada Summer Jobs program targeted at much the same audience as the new Canada Student Service Grant. What are the odds?

Not that WE had ever delivered a similar program, mind you. Not that WE even have the staff to deliver the program (the charity had to hire back hundreds of laid-off staff in anticipation of getting the work before the program was formally announced in June). Not that WE even have any particularly good ideas to pull students into the program, other than throwing money at other groups to do it for them. And we’re meant to believe this group was the “only” one capable of delivering the program?

A sure sign Trudeau’s version of the story isn’t true is the fact he won’t release any evidence to support it. The government won’t even say which other groups were considered to deliver the grant.

In other words, this contract was friends, not safety, first.

Source: https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/macdougall-trudeau-ducks-for-cover-behind-the-non-partisan-public-service/wcm/0748db2c-65e8-4ddd-999d-b5bb87c16067/

Quebec stops publishing daily COVID-19 data despite leading country in number of cases UPDATED: Quebec reversal

Update: Quebec announced that it will continue publishing the data on a daily basis following an outcry (Québec recule: les données sur l’évolution de la pandémie seront publiées sur une base quotidienne). Still curious about the rational behind the original decision.

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Not sure this strategy will address the “communications” issue as weekly reporting will likely continue to highlight Quebec’s relatively poor performance both domestically and internationally.

Not a great example of transparency and accountability.

Will change my weekly update to accommodate their Thursday release schedule:

Quebec’s Health Ministry says it will only provide weekly reports about COVID-19, rather than providing a daily rundown of the situation.

The province’s public health institute, INSPQ, had also been publishing daily updates, including the number of cases and hospitalizations in Quebec, the number of tests conducted and how many people have died.

The data was also broken down by age and region and showed how many long-term care homes have outbreaks.

The move from daily to weekly updates appears to mean Quebec is providing data less frequently than any other Canadian province, despite leading the country in number of cases. Ontario, which has the second-highest number of cases, continues to provide daily numbers.

As of Thursday, Yukon’s Emergency Measures Organization is providing a public update once per week — but the territory has only 11 confirmed cases.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the change in his daily news conference on COVID-19 Thursday, saying it’s up to each province to decide how transparent it needs to be.

He also said that Quebec still has a “significant number of cases” and deaths every day.

“I certainly hope that Premier [François] Legault would continue to be transparent and open with Quebecers and indeed with all Canadians as he has been from the very beginning,” Trudeau said.

The Health Ministry and INSPQ will only publish the data on their respective websites every Thursday, the first of them beginning July 2. The ministry will also be sending out a news release with the figures on that day every week.

The decision was first announced in a news release on Fête nationale, the province’s annual holiday.Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s public health director, said Thursday that the decision was made in order to provide the public with “more stable numbers,” as fewer confirmed cases each day will make any day-to-day increase appear more significant than it is.

He said this would also allow the province to provide a more accurate portrait of how the virus is spreading, as reporting delays have often prompted a revision of the daily numbers.

“As soon as there is some important data to share with the population, we will do that.” Arruda said, suggesting that the daily updates could return in the event of a second wave of infections.

The government announcement appeared to take the INSPQ by surprise. A notice on its website Tuesday said it would begin limiting its updates to weekdays only, rather than seven days a week.

But on Thursday, following the Health Ministry’s announcement, it said it too would only provide a weekly update. A spokesperson referred any questions to the Health Ministry.

The number of daily cases and deaths in Quebec has declined in recent weeks.As of Thursday, 55,079 people in Quebec have tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That’s an increase of 142 new cases since Wednesday.

There are 487 people in hospital and 5,448 have died. A total of 520,227 tests have come back negative.

The Quebec government has allowed most businesses to reopen, including restaurants, bars, gyms and shopping malls, with physical-distancing restrictions in place.

Source: Quebec stops publishing daily COVID-19 data despite leading country in number of cases

Five years on, Trudeau’s vow to build a diverse public service still unfulfilled

I find this report unbalanced and does not reflect that the government largely met its commitment to increase diversity in appointments as I wrote in 2019 (Taking stock of Ottawa’s diversity promises) while public service diversity continues to increase for women and visible minorities for both employees and executives albeit at a slow but steady pace.

The main issue is with respect to Black Canadians at senior levels and I will be looking at data to take this concern from the anecdotal and symbolic (only one Black DM) to quantify the occupational groups and levels where this is most prevalent, as well as looking at other relatively under-represented particular visible minority groups.

I agree with Michael Wernick that while the employment equity act is ripe for a review, opening it up would indeed be a hornet’s nest. And looking back over the over 30 years of EE data, hard to argue that it has not been a success in improving representation given its focus on representation:

When they took power in 2015, the Trudeau Liberals promised to “build a government that looks like Canada.”

But their government, now in its second mandate, still hasn’t hired enough minority senior staff members to truly reflect the country’s diverse makeup.

Only four chiefs of staff to 37 ministers are people of colour — roughly 11 per cent of the total — while they constitute more than 22 per cent of the national population, according to the last census in 2016.

As protests against anti-black racism — triggered by George Floyd’s police custody killing in Minneapolis — have grown in size and spread around the globe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been talking more about “systemic” racism in Canadian institutions. The prime minister also kneeled in a crowd of anti-racism protesters in Ottawa last Friday as a symbolic gesture of support for their calls for change.

“Systemic racism is an issue right across the country, in all our institutions, including in all our police forces, including in the RCMP. That’s what systemic racism is,” Trudeau said Thursday morning.

“Here are the facts in Canada. Anti-black racism is real, unconscious bias is real, systemic discrimination is real,” the prime minister said in a speech in the House of Commons last week, vowing that his government is committed to breaking down barriers and providing opportunities for marginalized communities.

The lack of diversity among Liberal staffers was keenly felt by Omer Aziz, who worked briefly as an adviser to Chrystia Freeland when she was foreign affairs minister.

“I would go into meetings and I’m the only non-white person there. I felt that when I would raise my voice and give my advice, that it wasn’t taken seriously,” Aziz told CBC.

“That is eventually why I left what was my dream job.”

Getting better … slowly

Other senior staffers told CBC that while being one of just a few people of colour around the table may not be an ideal job situation, diversity in the higher ranks of the federal public service has come a long way in the past decade.

The government is also responsible for appointing people to hundreds of bodies outside the core public service, such as agency boards, foreign missions and Crown corporations.

The Trudeau Liberals reformed that hiring process early in its first mandate to serve its goal of attracting diverse applicants. The result: a dramatically improved ratio of people of colour to other hires, from 4.3 per cent when the Liberals were elected in 2015 to 8.2 per cent as of June 2020.

As for the most senior civil servants (deputy and associate deputy ministers), the number coming from diverse backgrounds is still less than 10 per cent of the total — so low that the Privy Council Office won’t release the figure, arguing it would compromise privacy rights because it would be easy to work out who these senior civil servants are.

‘You have to represent’

“We are in 2020. How come it took so long? It shouldn’t have,” said Caroline Xavier, the only Black person serving as an associate deputy minister in the federal government. She was appointed to the post at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada back in February.

“Sometimes the burden is heavy because you have to represent. It’s a burden I’m prepared to take on because it’s my job to open more doors for others.”

Xavier said there’s no easy solution, but conversations about breaking down barriers “are happening” within government.”There is a recognition at the most senior levels that this has got to be rectified.”The federal government fares far better when it comes to appointing women; the ranks of deputy ministers and other high-level positions are close to gender parity now.

The Trudeau government isn’t the first to pursue greater diversity in the upper ranks of the public service.

In 2000, a task force struck to look into the participation of people of colour in the federal public service cited an “urgent imperative to shape a federal public service that is representative of its citizenry.”

Seven years later, the Senate published a report on employment equity in the public service with the title: “Not There Yet.” Ten years after that, in 2017, a Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat task force reported that “many gaps in representation persist in the executive category … the very leaders who shape and influence the culture of federal organizations are not sufficiently diverse.”

‘People don’t want to admit that’s going on’

Since 2000, there has been a slow but steady increase in the number of Canadians of colour in the public service — from just under six per cent of the total then, to more than 16 per cent today.

But annual employment equity reports and the census show that Black civil servants, along with Filipinos and Latinos, are still grouped at the lower end of the salary ladder.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus, chair of the parliamentary Black caucus, told CBC News this week that he wants to see the government address that disparity.

“It doesn’t make sense that there’s been no Black deputy ministers — you can’t convince me that there aren’t Black people who are competent,” he said. “But there’s something that went into the calculation over time, that that person didn’t make the right fit, or didn’t get that promotion. We can justify any individual decision, but when you aggregate all these decisions, you end up with a biased result.

“Those are the things that we’ve got to take a look at. But it’s hard to do the things which are hard to do. And it’s hard to see bias. People don’t want to admit that’s going on.”

Trudeau has tasked his parliamentary secretary, Ontario MP Omar Alghabra, with looking at public service renewal. While the Black Lives Matter protests have given the file more urgency, the government has no clear plan yet.

Sharon DeSousa has suggestions. A regional executive vice president with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, she served on the 2017 task force on diversity in the public service. She points out that only one recommendation out of 43 was implemented.”We keep having committees and reports and, to be honest, we’re coming up with the same data,” DeSousa said.”We’ve got systemic barriers and we need to address them,” she said, adding that if the Liberals were serious about going after unconscious bias, they would take a hard look at how data on hiring are being collected, and the problems baked into legislation like the Employment Equity Act.

A ‘hornet’s nest’

The Employment Equity Act hasn’t been updated in nearly two decades and still uses the broad term “visible minorities” — a phrase the United Nations has called discriminatory because it lacks nuance and assumes the experience of a Black employee is the same as that of a South Asian one.

Former head of the privy council Michael Wernick said he believes now is the time to look at changing legislation.

“I think to get at issues in the 2020s, you’re going to want to dig down into each of those communities and have more precise strategies for them,” Wernick said, adding that employment equity laws are still an important tool for promoting diversity.

Still, he said, opening the act up for debate could be like turning over a “hornet’s nest” and coming to a consensus won’t be easy.The Liberals also have flirted with the concept of “name blind” recruitment for the public service — the practice of concealing a candidate’s name to protect those with more ethnic-sounding names from conscious or unconscious bias in the hiring process.A pilot project in 2017 produced a report suggesting name blind recruitment made no difference to outcomes, which prompted former Treasury Board president Scott Brison to declare that “the project did not uncover bias.”

But it turned out the methodology was flawed. Departments had volunteered to take part in the pilot and knew their hiring decisions would be evaluated.

The Public Service Commission is still examining other random recruitment processes.

Some factors that serve to prevent people of colour from being hired by the federal government — the country’s largest single employer — are harder to work around, said Andrew Griffith, a former director-general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada who has written extensively about the issue.

“There’s a preference in the public service to hire Canadian citizens and not all visible minorities have become citizens yet,” Griffith said. He said he believes that factor narrows the gap between the diversity of the general population and that of the federal public service.

Other factors that could be frustrating the push for a more diverse public service, he said, are language requirements and a need for regional representation in parts of Canada that are not so diverse.

That second factor could be less of a problem in the longer term, with a pandemic crisis forcing many civil servants to work from home. But Griffith said getting into government work is “just a long convoluted process.”

Source: Five years on, Trudeau’s vow to build a diverse public service still unfulfilled

‘Non-advertising’ hiring up due to feds’ new appointments policy, data shows

My latest – links below:

The new appointments policy allowing for greater flexibility in the hiring of federal public servants came into effect in April 2016, resulting in a greater number of “non-advertised” hiring compared to formal publicly advertised hiring processes and competitions.

The Public Service Commission has reported on an overall increase in non-advertised appointments to 34 per cent of hires in 2017-18 compared to 25 per cent in the previous fiscal year, reflecting the attractiveness of this easier way to staff. 2018-19 data shows a further increase to 35 per cent. Greater use of non-advertised staffing raises the potential risk of the “who you know” factor playing a greater role in hiring and this analysis aims to assess this potential risk.

Source: ‘Non-advertising’ hiring up due to feds’ new appointments policy, data shows (Hill Times)

pdf: TBS New Appointments Policy Impact, New Appointments Policy: Annex A Departmental Comparisons (clearer table than in the HT piece)

BLIZZARD: Canada’s potential first lady, Nazanin MacKay, is a born fighter

Interesting comment “even had people suggest they won’t vote for her husband because she’s Muslim. In fact, MacKay was raised Catholic and still practises that faith.” Likely reflects some parts of the Conservative base.

I knew her professionally when she was a board member of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and I was DG – Citizenship and Multiculturalism. My mini-review of The Tale of Two Nazanins can be found here):

In some ways, she is the daughter of a revolution.

Born in Tehran in 1979, the same year Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard came to power, Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay has a fierce passion for defending democracy and human rights — especially those of women and children.

Her father was the manager of a western hotel in Tehran at the time of the revolution. Unaware of the changes the takeover would make, he conducted business as usual, allowing men and women to mingle and allowing alcohol to be served in the hotel — all forbidden by the Islamist regime.

One day, the Revolutionary Guard broke in and arrested him. He was imprisoned and tortured, but was saved from summary execution by a fluke.

Freed as soon as his wounds healed, he fled to Spain and was joined by his family two months later. They moved to Canada shortly after.

MacKay, wife of Conservative Party of Canada leadership front-runner Peter MacKay, was a baby at the time. Still, her family history instilled in her a passion for human rights. She is co-founder of the group Stop Child Executions. [Inactive since January 2016]

In 2006, MacKay heard of another Nazanin in Iran. Nazanin Fatehi was about be executed after she fought off three men attempting to rape her and her niece. One of the men died. Fatehi was charged with murder.

After that campaign, other families got in touch with MacKay, asking for help saving their children in similar situations.

“I realized there were a lot of children condemned to execution,” she said.

The organization counted more than 160 children on death row in Iran, along with a handful in other countries who needed help. She estimates they were able to save 12 children.

MacKay has an impressive resume. The mother of three small children, she is a former Miss World Canada and runner-up in the global Miss World. She has a pilot’s licence and was once a recording artist. But her main focus is her fight for human rights of oppressed people.

Her favourite song from her recording days is Someday.

“It’s a revolution song, encouraging the people in Iran to rise up and one day, this regime that shackled the people will be gone and we’ll see a free and democratic country that takes into account the voices of the people,” she said.

She used the Miss World competition as a platform to shine a light on the rights of women and children.

One discouraging aspect of the ongoing leadership campaign is how her Mideast background has been misrepresented on social media. She has been falsely accused of supporting Omar Khadr’s $10.5-million payout, and even had people suggest they won’t vote for her husband because she’s Muslim. In fact, MacKay was raised Catholic and still practises that faith.

The accusations that she supported Khadr’s payout are nonsense.

“There’s nothing further from the truth,” she said.

At the time, she made it clear that Canada had national and international obligations to its citizens.

“Whether we like it or not, he’s a Canadian citizen. It’s horrible what he did and he definitely should not have been compensated with that money,” she said.

“But we’re a country that follows the rule of law and we have our own obligations. I didn’t agree necessarily that we repatriate him back to Canada and that he be set free like any other citizen. I said we have to wait and see what the courts order.”

She believes Khadr should redeem himself by giving the money to the family of his victim.

If her husband wins the leadership, don’t expect Nazanin to sit on the sidelines. She speaks her mind.

“He’ll definitely hear from me, whether he likes it or not,” she said with a laugh.

With degrees in international relations, political science and diplomacy, she has a lot to contribute.

Her story is quintessentially Canadian: like so many others. She came here for a better life, found it, and now gives back to her new country.

Source: BLIZZARD: Canada’s potential first lady, Nazanin MacKay, is a born fighter