Hungarian PM Accused George Soros of Fueling Anti-Semitism, MTI Reports – Bloomberg

Might be time for former PM Harper to reconsider his congratulatory message in his capacity as head of the International Democrat Union (IDU):

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban accused George Soros, the Jewish billionaire philanthropist who survived Nazi persecution, of fomenting anti-Semitism by helping immigrants come to Europe, MTI state news service reported.

Soros and his Open Society Foundations, which funds dozens of NGOs in Hungary, “bear responsibility for the increase in anti-Semitism in Europe,” Orban said in a letter to Ronald S. Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, MTI reported Friday. Soros, 87, who eventually emigrated to the U.S. after World War II, said last year that Orban used Nazi-era propaganda methods to try to discredit him in a national billboard campaign.

Orban has built a border fence to keep immigrants out in a vow to protect Hungary from people he’s called “Muslim invaders.” In the letter, he said immigrants to Europe included those whose “political and religious views markedly increased the sense of insecurity in Jewish communities.”

Orban won a fourth term as prime minister last month and has become a ringleader for anti-immigrant populist forces in Europe. Open Society Foundations said this week that it was moving its staff from Budapest to Berlin, citing a government crackdown on NGOs.

via Hungarian PM Accused George Soros of Fueling Anti-Semitism, MTI Reports – Bloomberg

The case against transparency in government AI

Useful note of caution regarding the risks of manipulation as Facebook’s experience indicates:

Governments are becoming increasingly aware of the potential for incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) and machine-assisted decision-making into their operations. The business case is compelling; AI has the ability to dramatically improve government service delivery, citizen satisfaction and government efficiency more generally. At the same time, there are ample cases demonstrating the potential for AI to fall short of public expectations. With governments continuing to lag far behind the rest of society in the adoption of digital technology, a successful incorporation of AI into government is far from being a foregone conclusion.

AI itself is essentially the product of combining exponential increases in the availability of data with exponential increases in computing power that can sort that data. Together, the result is software that makes judgments or predictions that are remarkably perceptive to the point of even feeling “intelligent.” Yet, while the outputs of AI might feel intelligent, it’s perhaps more accurate to say that these decisions are actually just very highly informed by software and big data. AI can make decisions and observations, but in fact AI lacks what we would call judgment and certainly does not have the capacity to make decisions guided by human morality. It is only able to report or make decisions based on the training data it is fed, and thus it will perpetuate flaws in data if they exist.

As a result of these technical limitations, AI can have a dark side, especially when it is incorporated in public affairs. Since AI decision-making is easily prone to propagating the biases of others, AI risks making clumsy decisions and offering inappropriate recommendations. In the US, where AI has been partly incorporated into the justice system, on several occasions it has been found to propagate racial profiling, discriminatory policing and harsher sentences for minorities. In other cases, the adoption of AI decision-making in staffing has recommended inferior positions and pay rates for women based solely on gender.

In light of such cases, there have been calls to drop AI from government decision-making or to mandate heavy transparency requirements for AI code and decision-making architecture to compensate for AI’s obvious shortcomings. The need to improve AI’s decision-making processes is clearly warranted in the pursuit of fairness and objectivity, yet accomplishing this in practice will pose many new challenges for government. For one, trying to rid AI of any bias will open up new sites for political conflict in spaces that were previously technocratic and insulated from debates about values. Such questions will spur a conversation about the conditions under which humans have a duty to interfere with, or reverse, decisions made by an AI.

Of course, discussions about how best to incorporate society’s values and expectations into AI systems need to occur, but these discussions also need to be subject to reasonable limits. If every conceivable instance of AI decision-making in government is easily accessible for dispute, revision and probing for values, then the effectiveness of such AI systems will quickly decline and the adoption of desperately needed AI capacity in government will grind to a halt. In this sense, the cautious incorporation of AI in government that is occurring today represents both a grand opportunity for government modernization and also a huge potential risk should the process go poorly. The decision-making process of AI used in government can and should be discussed, but with a keen recognition that these are delicate circumstances.

The clear need for reasonable limits on openness is heading into conflict with the emerging zeitgeist at the commanding heights of public administration which favour ever more transparency in government. To be sure, governments are often notorious for their caution in sharing information, yet at an official level and in the broad principles recently espoused at the centre of government (particularly the Treasury Board), there has been an increasing emphasis on transparency and openness. Leaving aside how this meshes with the culture of the public service, at a policy and institutional level there is a growing reflex to automatically impose significant transparency requirements on new initiatives wherever possible. In general terms, this development is long overdue and a new standard that should be applauded.

Yet in the more specific terms related to AI decision-making in government, this otherwise welcome reflex to ever greater transparency and openness could be dangerously misplaced. Or at least, it may well be too much too soon for AI. AI decision-making depends on the software’s ability to sift through data which it analyzes to identify patterns and ultimately arrive at decisions. In an effort to make AI decisions more accountable to the public, over-zealous transparency can also offer those with malign intent a pathway to tainting the crucial data for informing decisions and inserting bias in the AI. Tainted data makes for flawed decisions, or as the shorthand goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” Full transparency about AI operational details, including what data “go in”, may well represent an inappropriate exposure to potential tampering. All data ultimately have a public source and if the exact collection points for these data are easily known, all the easier for wily individuals to feed tainted data to an AI decision system and bias the system.

A real-world case in point would be “TayTweets”, an artificially intelligent Twitter handle developed by Microsoft and released onto the Twitterverse to playfully interact with the public at large. TayTweets was known in advance to use the Tweets directed at its handle as its data source, which would permit it to “learn” language and ideas. The philosophy was that TayTweets would “learn” by communicating with everyday people through their Tweets, and the result would be a beautiful thing. Unfortunately, under this completely open approach, it did not take long for people to figure out how to manipulate the data that TayTweets would receive and use this to rig its responses. TayTweets had to be taken down within only 24 hours of its launch, when it began to voice disturbing, and even odious, opinions.

Presumably AI-enabled or assisted decision-making processes in government would be much more cautious in the wake of TayTweets, but it would not take long for this kind of vandalism to occur if government AI adhered to a strict regime of openness about its processes. Perhaps more importantly, a failure like TayTweets would be hugely consequential for a government and its legitimacy. Would any government suffering from a “TayTweets”-like incident continue to take the necessary risks with technological adoption that would ultimately permit it to modernize and stay relevant in the digital age? Perhaps not. A balance indeed needs to be struck but, given the high risk and potential for harm that would come with government AI failures, that balance should err on the side of caution.

Information about AI processes should always be accessible in principle to those that have a serious concern, but it should not be so readily accessible as to be a source of catastrophic impediment to the operations of government. Being open about AI decisions will be an important part of ensuring that government remains accountable in the 21st century, yet it is wrong-headed to assume that successful accountability will be accomplished for AI processes under the same paradigm that has been designed to govern traditional human decision-making processes. The principal of transparency remains a cornerstone of good governance, but we are not yet at the point of truly understanding what transparency looks like for AI-enhanced government. Assuming that we already are is a recipe for trouble.

Source: The case against transparency in government AI

Cohen: Why we ought to worry about democracy’s retreat globally | Ottawa Citizen

Good commentary by Andrew Cohen, including Rosalie Abella’s fears for the independence of Israel’s judiciary:

Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada lives on public platforms. She lectures often, at home and abroad, and collects laurels celebrating her shimmering career (including 38 honorary degrees) like loose change.

As a decorated jurist of 42 years, she contemplates law and society as a quotidian challenge. So there she was two weeks ago, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel, addressing the country’s democracy.

It was an extraordinary speech – a cri de coeur, really – brimming with erudition and urgency. It was also brave. Abella laments the assault on the independence of Israel’s judiciary, whose stature she has long admired.

“As a Jew, it has made me particularly sad to see the judiciary’s noble mission and legacy under rhetorical siege here,” she said. “To me when an independent judiciary is under siege, democracy is under siege, and when democracy is under siege, a country’s soul is being held hostage.”

She is alarmed by the effort to “delegitimize the judiciary … in the name of patriotism.” She finds this “perverse.” After all, she asks, doesn’t patriotism mean reflecting national values, which, in Israel, means being Jewish and democratic?

For defending those values, she sees a judiciary “demonized by some for being independent from political expedience and immune to political will.” Judges are not there to comply with the will of politicians, she warns; those who think patriotism means doing only what politicians want “are the biggest threat to Israel’s values, because they misconceive democracy as majoritarian rule.”

Abella doesn’t name the right-wing politicians targeting the judiciary. What makes her warning timely – like a siren in the night – is that she is addressing the erosion of democracy, in fundamental and disturbing ways, across the world. As Foreign Affairs magazine asks in its current issue: “Can Democracy Survive?”

It’s not hyperbole. Democracy is under its greatest strain since the 1930s. Assaults on the press, free and fair elections, minority rights and civil liberties are common. Look around: the rise of authoritarianism is everywhere.

Having liberalized after the fall of Communism, Russia is an authoritarian state under Vladimir Putin, who fixes elections, jails opponents and kills journalists. In China, which showed signs of liberalization leading up to Tiananmen Square in 1989, the leadership may serve for life.

Poland, Turkey and Hungary have lurched into authoritarianism. That Stephen Harper could tweet congratulations to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on his election was so brazen it was thought a joke; alas, it was not.

The man who once refused to shake Putin’s hand – “You need to get out of Ukraine,” Harper told him – now embraces Orban, who is silencing critics and attacking institutions in Hungary.

Freedom House tracks the state of democracy around the world. In 2017, it found that democracy declined in 71 countries and advanced in just 35. “Democracy in crisis,” it declares.

In old democracies such as France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, right-wing populists are gaining traction, appealing to anti-immigrant sentiments and shunning civil liberties or the rule of law. Surveys show that while support for democracy remains strong among those over 65, those under 35 care less about it. This is particularly disturbing.

Rwanda, Venezuela, Mexico, Kenya and Honduras are among the countries where democracy has eroded. The same in Nepal, Eritrea, South Sudan, Libya, Egypt and Yemen. In Myanmar, led by a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, ethnic cleansing is horrifying.

In the United States, the president declares the media “the enemy of the people,” and attacks the judiciary and law-enforcement agencies. He refers to “my justice department” and its failure to “protect” him.

In Canada, the threat to democracy comes through bots and fake news filling social media, which will play out dangerously in the next federal election.

For Abella, in Jerusalem, the attack on the judiciary in Israel reflects something larger: an attack on our humanity: “Without democracy there are no rights, without rights there is no tolerance, without tolerance there is no justice, and without justice, there is no hope.”

via Cohen: Why we ought to worry about democracy’s retreat globally | Ottawa Citizen

Employment Equity in the Public Service of Canada for Fiscal Year 2016 to 2017: 2016-17 data delayed

Highly unusual for the EE data not to be included in the annual report (can’t recall this happening in recent years). The report’s explanation suggests that this is collateral damage of the Phoenix pay system.

That being said, better to take the necessary time for data verification than publish inaccurate data:

The 2016 to 2017 annual report features a 10-year trend analysis of the representation of the 4 designated groups and reports on results of initiatives that advance employment equity, diversity and inclusion. (Data for 2016 to 2017 will be provided at a later date and included with the report as an annex.) Over the past 4 years, the representation of each employment equity group in the core public administration has exceeded workforce availability. However, gaps persist in some departments and in certain occupational groups. We will continue our efforts to close these gaps.

…. Statistical tables for the 2016 to 2017 fiscal year in 7 areas will be published following:

  • retrieval of data from the Phoenix pay system
  • reconciliation of data with sources from the Public Service Commission of Canada and from departments and agencies
  • validation of the accuracy of the data to be published

via Employment Equity in the Public Service of Canada for Fiscal Year 2016 to 2017 – Canada.ca

Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

Not surprising. I can only imagine the internal conversations.

Of course, compared to Trump tweets, contradictions and reversals … (not intended as a benchmark):

When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Twitter to welcome refugees to Canada last winter, it prompted a spike in inquiries from would-be refugees to Canadian embassies abroad, and resulted in confusion within the federal government, newly released emails reveal.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada,” Trudeau said on Twitter Jan. 28, 2017, the day after Trump put out an executive order banning refugees and visitors from Muslim-majority countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

It was widely seen as a comment on Trump’s policy. To date the message has been retweeted over 400,000 times and liked more than 750,000 times. International commentators wondered whether Canada was announcing it would take in all those banned from entering the U.S. Some Canadian officials wondered about that too, according to records the National Post obtained through an access-to-information request.

Noting that Trudeau’s message had been picked up by the New York Times, an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada official anticipated in an email to colleagues, the same evening as the tweet, that “there will be more pressure” to respond the following day.

Two days later, officials stickhandling media requests were worrying about overloading spokespeople. “I’m sorry, I’m trying to figure out how not to max you out,” one said in an email.

In addition to requests from media there were queries from Canada’s own officials posted abroad. Concerns from the embassy in Mexico appear in an email chain with the subject line “Guidance required on how to respond to increasing number of refugee enquiries in the region following change in US administration and Prime Minister’s tweet.”

The first secretary and “risk assessment officer” at the embassy, whose name is redacted, sent an initial message on Feb. 1, 2017, four days after the tweet.

“I am seeking official guidance/response from Ottawa on how to address refugee enquiries following all the publicity around the US ban on some nationalities, and our Prime Minister’s tweet on welcoming refugees,” the email began.

“We are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from the public about requesting refugee status in Canada, and a number clearly having links with our Prime Minister’s tweet this weekend. A significant number of the enquiries received since the weekend have been from nationals of the ‘US banned countries’, but we are also receiving them from all nationalities, both through emails and directly at our reception.”

The first secretary went on to say that some of the requests had come from Cuban nationals, and that the mission in Costa Rica had been in touch to express concerns about inquiries being received there, too.

“In the current situation, other missions in our area of responsibilities are probably seeing the same thing happening and I think we need to liaise with them and provide formal guidance on how to address these enquiries given the Prime Minister’s tweet,” the official wrote. “A number of clients are asking if it is true that Canada will accept the refugees the US are rejecting, and what is the process to do so. … I would imagine that missions all around the world are seeing these enquiries increasing since the weekend.”

Much of the ensuing conversation — shared with nine Global Affairs Canada email accounts, another six from IRCC and a few that are blanked out — is redacted.

But it shows immigration officials responding with lengthy messages containing response lines developed to clarify Canada’s intentions after the tweet.

An IRCC official told diplomats on Feb. 2 that the lines, approved by the Privy Council Office, were also being shared with officials at the Canada Border Services Agency. The suggested response started with: “We are working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, U.S. officials and our missions abroad to clarify the current situation and determine what our next steps might be.”

Trudeau ultimately stood by the message in his tweet but began adding, during public appearances, that “there are steps to go through” to be considered a refugee. Canada did not change the number of refugees it would accept through resettlement programs. But Conservative politicians would go on to blame the tweet for encouraging an uptick in irregular crossings by asylum seekers at the Canada-U.S. border, particularly in Manitoba and Quebec.

Trump’s travel ban was met with widespread protest and challenged in court. After parts of the executive order were struck down, Trump twice reissued altered versions, both of which include the same list of countries minus Iraq. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the legality of the latest iteration, issued in September, by June.

Source: Trudeau tweet caused influx of refugee inquiries, confusion within government, emails reveal

My fellow partisans: How we can yell at each other more thoughtfully – Jason Lietaer

Building on the earlier column by Ian Capstick (Today’s political partisanship is hurting Canada’s best and brightest: Ian Capstick), Jason Lietaer provides some useful categorization and do’s and don’ts):

Over the past several years, fuelled by the rise of social media and an increasingly politically divided populace around the world, excessive partisanship has flourished. It’s a growth industry. If it were a stock, you would buy. You would mortgage your house to buy and then buy a little more on margin, just to be safe.

I think most thoughtful people consider this is to be bad. The tone of the last U.S. election campaign could be compared to a raging dumpster fire, but that would be an insult to dumpsters, to fires, and to dumpster fires.

One of the men in my line of work, a genuinely nice guy named Ian Capstick, wrote a piece in Maclean’s announcing he was done with partisanship. The piece calls for more empathy, more reasoned debate and a little bit of self-awareness. It’s better for our collective mental health, he argued.

He’s right. The problem, though, is that not all of us are ready to give up partisan politics. So I wanted to take Ian’s thought further, and present a user’s guide to stopping the madness—and who better to advise on reducing partisanship than the guy who ran Stephen Harper’s war room and called a Liberal op-ed “complete and utter horses–t” on Twitter just this week? (See? A little self-awareness and humour can go a long way!)

Since most of you out there aren’t TV or radio personalities, I’ll mostly use social media examples. But for those of you who are partisans on TV and radio: we see you too.

To fix the problem, we first have to identify the problem. As I see it, there are six major kinds of partisans we all run into. We could spend weeks subdividing them into kingdom, phylum, class and species…but that’s probably a job for the minister of science.

Here are the groups we’re dealing with:

The Bot: If you’re spending your day arguing with one of these, just delete your account. You cannot be helped. These, as evidenced by their name, are not actually quite … people. The account in question may be run by the Russians, the CIA, Mossad, or just a nerd in the school lunchroom, but it doesn’t really matter. Usually the avatar is a woman in a bikini, a man whose face is obscured by a scuba mask, or it’s a picture of a bumper sticker or billboard associated with some ridiculous issue.

The Troll: Although the Troll’s actions are virtually indistinguishable from the Bot, this is an actual person. Their defining characteristics are a density that is only approached by volcanic rock, and a penchant for non-sequiturs and whataboutism (the ancient science of dismissing any follies of your own party with seemingly analogous examples from your opponents). Despite Darwinism, they are surprisingly common. This is the kind of person who sits at a family gathering insisting that the local mayor is on the take because of a zoning variance, makes fart jokes and takes the last piece of pie for good measure. They are—simply put—jerks. There is nothing to be gained by entering into a dispute with them. Do not approach unless you like to be called names, have all day to debate a fool, or are in desperate need of more Twitter followers.

The Impenetrable Wall: A true hyper-partisan, this group has never seen their preferred party make a mistake, has never seen anything from the other side that might be a good idea, and never, ever, resorts to facts to buttress an argument. Often polite and well-mannered, they are the kind of person you meet for a drink but make damn sure you’ve built in an excuse beforehand so you can leave immediately at any moment. If they try to use facts, they are out of context or flat-out wrong. Do not try to approach one of these in the wild without a net or a gun loaded with tranquilizer darts.

The Phony Listener: A close cousin to the Impenetrable Wall, but a nicer version. They have the effect of a cross between a therapist and a teacher. They are just as attached to their positions, but they are presented with a sanctimonious “more in sadness than anger” tone. Oh, there will be pats on the head and subtle bridging: “I understand your point, but I think the most important thing is…” The effect is the same: minds are not changed. Ever. If you deal with this group, try to have some fun. Call out their hypocrisies and gently make fun of their biases. It drives them crazy. Personal note: I adopt this helpful persona when I try to drive progressives mad.

The Snake In The Grass: Perhaps the most infuriating group, but possibly my favourite because I sometimes inhabit this arena when I’m feeling frisky. Usually a “semi-retired” smug politico or a still-working certified media party elite, these folks use barely perceptible language shifts to push the point of view of their side, while seemingly flying above the fray. The worst part: they really don’t even know they’re being partisan. Many inhabit the salons of Ottawa or just simply Air Canada lounges congratulating themselves on how enlightened they are. The media members from the left will generally be found signing a contract with the Trudeau government within a few months to provide communications support; on the right, they are anxiously awaiting a Doug Ford premiership so they can get raises by working in the public sector.

The Prototype: This individual considers all points of view and emotional context before making an opinion. She reacts to opponents’ arguments with empathy and self-reflection. He thinks before acting and does not get angry or intolerant. Facts are brought forward and discussed. Every interaction they are involved in is collegial, minds are sometimes changed, and everybody feels great afterward. Note: As you know, this person does not actually exist.

So how do we move from Troll down to the Prototype? I’ve got a few handy rules. Some of them I even follow myself!

Do not ascribe motives to your opponents. This is more important than all the other rules combined. It’s the root cause of most problems. If you believe in your heart that your opponents are trying to destroy the country, you are a jerk. It’s just science. I can guarantee Stephen Harper wasn’t trying to wreck the country, and Justin Trudeau isn’t either. Mulroney, Chretien or Martin: ditto. Get it out of your mind. They might have the wrong ideas in your opinion, but these people are trying to do what they believe is the right thing and got into politics for the right reasons.

Be hard on the issue, not the person. Or disagree without being disagreeable—whatever cute phrase you want to use. Treat people online as you treat your colleagues at work. Too often we treat each other online as though we are warring spouses involved in a divorce filing. Treat people with respect, and if you can’t, go throw the ball around with your kids.

Speaking of:

Get an identity outside of politics. Pick up a hobby. Take up interpretive dance. Go exercise. Go for a drink with somebody who can’t recite the names of all the current premiers. Just get off your phone. This is key for young political staffers—trust me, your life is better when politics is part of your life, not your whole life.

Get some friends on the other side. I implore you: meet some people of the opposite political persuasion. You’ll be shocked how much it will broaden your horizons. By the way, this advice goes for pretty much everything in your life. If you’re homophobic, hang out with some gay people. If you find yourself thinking racist thoughts, go meet a more diverse group of people. Shocking what you may learn.

Admit when you’re wrong. It’s tough. I get it. But it’s freeing. If you mess up, put your hand up and move on. If fewer people are entrenched, real discussions can happen.

Watch your tone. The last federal election was all about tone. It’s easy to forget these lessons. For conservatives: we got off track with our tone. For progressives: you identified it and campaigned on it almost exclusively. Don’t forget these lessons. Canadians expect a level of civility from everyone.

Media is not the enemy. For conservatives: most media doesn’t love us. Get over it. It’s not changing. For Liberals: you’re governing the country. There’s gonna be tougher questions for you. Drop the sanctimony and get back to what you do best. For the NDP: sorry guys, if you want to be considered to lead the country, the stakes are higher. You have to get ready for the scrutiny and be better.

Get off the talking points already. This is mostly for TV and radio folks, but man, it’s tiresome. Spend an extra couple of minutes to put it in your own words. Listen as much as you talk. Respond to debate. Ask a question or two of your fellow panelists. Try to say something nice about your opposition. You’ll be surprised how much better you will be.

Use the Google machine. Before you accuse somebody of bias, read what they wrote. Look online for a few objective facts. Before you beak off, just give yourself five minutes to walk away from your computer, read an article or two, and take a breath.

So there it is: A starting point for all you beginners before going to your first Partisans Anonymous meeting. A nine-point plan that could make you a happier partisan.

Ian quit cold turkey, but you don’t have to. Let’s just be better.

via My fellow partisans: How we can yell at each other more thoughtfully – Macleans.ca

Today’s political partisanship is hurting Canada’s best and brightest: Ian Capstick

While written in the context of partisan politics, some broader lessons for us all in terms of the need for reflection, empathy and being open to others:

For eight years, I was a commentator on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, speaking on issues ranging from the state of the economy to breaking-news stories. My job, in effect, was to think analytically about the political issues of the day, and predict where things would go. Yet something I couldn’t predict was just how much partisanship would have a profound effect on my life.

It was, in effect, making me sick.

I realized it after an awkward on-air back-and-forth led to a heated off-air interaction with our guest host, Terry Milewski. He was asking about NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s condemnations of violence as he grappled with reports about his attendance at Sikh independence rallies, and though I felt I’d given a solid answer, he kept pressing me on the issue.

Ultimately, he kept his cool—and I did not.

Over and over on the show, I have railed against entitlement—and yet there I was, berating a semi-retired award-winning journalist in the commercial break. Angry or not, right or wrong, I knew in that moment it’s not who I wanted to be. No matter how legitimate my issue might have been with his questions, I lost any real ability to address it once I’d led with anger instead of empathy. But why was I so upset?

After that encounter, I reviewed clips from various years, and watched myself over the last year experience small lapses in attention on air; forgetting familiar political words and remote locations was especially distracting.

For the first time, I recognized some of my signature knee-jerk confrontational behaviour on- and off-air was because of what therapists call rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), or an acute sensitivity to criticism that is found in many adults with attention deficit disorder. I had let my routines slip, my self-care slide and the constant barrage of negativity overwhelm me.

As I reflected on these moments with family and friends, I realized how similar my entitlement and anger was to the actions of many of the politicians and staff who had berated me—online and off—for whatever they saw fit.

I noticed, ultimately, that I was failing to comment with empathy. I decided to leave the show on Mar. 20.

Empathy is fundamental, both personally and for our lives at large. The ability to see value in two diametrically opposed ideas is critical to creating a thriving, pluralistic democracy.

But partisan politics in the social media age is increasingly leaving little room for contemplation. Political parties seek out smart people who have been encouraged to think outside of the box for their entire careers, and then shoehorn them into the smallest of “message boxes” and expect them to cease thinking for themselves. When debate becomes about taking entrenched sides, intransigence and invective become the order of the day.

That empathy seems to be missing even when it comes to debating ideas with people on the same side. Look no further than how Hamilton MP David Christopherson was just treated online and off for breaking ranks with the NDP caucus in voting against new rules for the Canada Summer Jobs program, which asks groups to attest that their core mandate respects the values of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including abortion rights. As a result, the NDP has punted Christopherson from his role on the standing committee on procedure and House affairs, responsible not only for the rules and practices of the House but also passing judgement on MP conflicts of interest; there is hardly a better parliamentarian for this critical (and equally mind-numbingly boring) committee assignment.

Christopherson is an ally of LGBTQ people; he is pro-choice and an ardent feminist. He has stuck his neck out on more issues than most in his caucus have even voted on. And yet last week, the leadership of the NDP felt it needed to punish him for articulating a carefully considered and nuanced view.

“If the law is an ass, you have right to say so,” Christopherson told his local paper in Hamilton. “You have to obey the Charter; you have to obey the laws. But you don’t have to bow and scrape and commit fealty. You don’t have to say, ‘I love the law.’ ”

He’s right, of course—but you wouldn’t know it from the state of political debate in Canada today.

Progressives rightly railed against a values test when former MP Kellie Leitch demanded it be imposed on refugees and immigrants—yet they were strangely silent when the values test Liberals imposed had answers that aligned with their values. And now, with Christopherson’s punishment costing him his job on the important multi-party standing committee, the whole system loses out.

(You have to wonder if Dave will be scrolling Facebook while serving his extra hours in House of Commons debates wistfully hitting “like” on photos of his Layton-era colleagues relaxing in Florida, wondering how the hell he ended up in the back row and not on a beach.)

Christopherson is just the latest to fall victim to this unwillingness to see compromise and collaboration as strengths instead of weaknesses. And in the eyes of many partisans, I’m guilty of this too. Despite ostensibly providing analysis from the lens of a proponent of the NDP, I’ve been criticized for providing too much nuance and context and not enough sharp jabs and verbal left-hooks. It’s why I was thrilled I didn’t have to talk about any of the Christopherson affair on television.

In Ottawa, simply changing your mind is seen as professional frailty, and as disloyalty to your party. Once the talking points are issued, only the bravest stray from the script. Social media has only handed political strategists more tools to monitor MPs and opinion-makers and an additional channel with which to influence their opinions.

Social networks can leverage network effect and economies of scale. Their ability to grow their membership is what makes these corporations attractive to investors and potentially very dangerous to democracy and our mental health: they’re draining empathy from the very people who make up the user base of the networks.

While the corporations offering the so-called free services are benefiting from the economy of scale, so are those who use the tools to cause emotional harm and pain. Partisan sock puppets, trolls and bots make sure of that. The very technology and algorithms that were supposed to allow people to come together are now regularly being used to drive people apart.

This is part of the reason official Ottawa is in the midst of a mental health crisis—and at the root of it is unhealthy partisanship and how it’s being amplified online. Our political capital’s practice of forced conformity and its tough social media climate is affecting the long-term health of some of our country’s brightest.

Understanding and addressing our personal and political histories and how they intertwine is part of how we can heal current-day trauma. To foster this healing, we must be able to have honest and open dialogue about the incredible pain and suffering the very institutions of Parliament and government have caused to so many.

In my case, it means I need time and space to be more reflective, less quick to judgement, and more deeply informed about the subjects I’m commenting on. I need to learn to be angry less often and lead with empathy.

We need to encourage collaboration over conflict. We need to spend more time eating together and less time berating each other. Parliament needs more joint committees to enable work across both Houses.

Pundits need to stop pretending like things have never happened before: historical context is a powerful tool for helping to understand the political reality of today. We need to encourage the telling and reframing of not only the great stories of confederation, but the difficult and painful stories as well. Without this space for reflection, we are bound to repeat the same political mistakes.

There isn’t yet room for complexity in political opinion. But maybe if we spend a little bit more time trying to understand each other rather than tear each other down, we all might get to a place that embraces the challenges of our nation with a bit more grace.

via Today’s political partisanship is hurting Canada’s best and brightest – Macleans.ca

Martin Collacott: Sikh political power in Canada under scrutiny

Yet another column on Sikh Canadians and their political influence. Their over-representation represents a mix of their geographic concentration in a number of ridings as well as their greater tendency to participate in politics compared to other groups such as Chinese Canadians, who also are concentrated in a number of ridings. Black Canadians are too dispersed to have the same electoral impact despite their size.

As to his recommendation that political party membership should be contingent on Canadian citizenship, while not without merit, would be unlikely to change the overall dynamics much:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent visit to India made clear just how intertwined Sikh politics are with the political scene in Canada, as well as the complications this creates in our relations with India.

The visit reflected the huge influence Sikhs have on Canadian politics while constituting only one per cent of the population. We currently have four Sikh federal cabinet ministers, compared to none from the much larger Chinese community. Another example of this highly skewed level of representation is that in the parliament of India, Sikhs hold only two senior cabinet posts even though they comprise more than 20 million of that country’s population [given India’s population of 1.34 billion, 20 million is 1.5 percent, two out of the 27 cabinet ministers is 7.4 percent compared about half that of Canadian Sikh representation].

Not only are Sikhs heavily over-represented in the cabinet, but Trudeau appears to have made a distinct effort to find people likely to be supported by members of the community sympathetic to the creation of an independent Khalistan, a Sikh state to be carved out of India. This became apparent back in December 2014 when Trudeau as the then-leader of the Liberal party parachuted in Harjat Singh Sajjan as the candidate in Vancouver South to replace Barj Dhahan, who had already been chosen by local Liberal constituency members.

Whereas Sajjan enjoys the backing of the World Sikh Organization (WSO), which supports an independent Khalistan, Dhahan is a moderate and ally of former B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh, one of the most respected politicians of Sikh background in Canada and no friend of Khalistani separatism.

One senior Sikh official summed the situation up by stating that he thought the Liberal party had been “hijacked by the WSO” and that the party, “especially Justin, (was) in bed with extremist and fundamental groups.”

The problem, therefore, is not only that Sikhs are heavily over-represented in federal politics, but that the Liberal party has chosen to concentrate on getting the support of Khalistani separatists and extremists as the easiest way of strengthening its support base in that community. It would not be surprising in the circumstances if other ethnic and religious groups started employing the same tactics in an effort to promote policies that benefit their particular community rather than Canadians in general — a development that would deepen ethnic divisions within our society.

Correcting this situation will involve not only the adoption of more responsible policies by the Liberals, but changes to internal party voting rules.

Back in 2003 and 2004, I and three associates published a series of articles exposing the potential damage done by political parties that recruit blocks of supporters from specific ethnic communities in the expectation that this support would be translated at some point into policies favouring the communities in question. We pointed out that such practices could lead to increasing divisions in Canadian society as more and more ethnic and religious groups gave their political support to those who would primarily serve their community’s interests rather than on policies that would benefit Canadians in general.

One recommendation we made was that full membership of a political party should be restricted to people eligible to vote in a federal election — which includes Canadian citizenship. At present, members of political parties can vote for delegates to a leadership convention as well as the selection of a candidate for election in a constituency, and as such are able to influence policy, without having to be a citizen.

Non-citizens could still be encouraged to take an interest in politics (perhaps as associate members of parties), but should not have full voting rights and the capacity to influence policy until they become Canadians.

In the meantime, political parties continue to recruit people who are often not Canadians, know little about Canada and yet are used by political factions to influence our policies. While the Liberals and NDP are the chief culprits in terms of allowing such abuse of the system, all parties should review their internal membership voting rules to ensure that the kind of distortion of Canadian democracy we are now seeing is brought to an end.

Source: Martin Collacott: Sikh political power in Canada under scrutiny

Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants

Strong step:

The province has put a moratorium on suspending racialized public servants while it reviews how it processes complaints on racial discrimination.

The announcement came a day after more than 20 Black employees, mostly women, brought their concerns directly to Michael Coteau, Ontario’s minister of children and youth services, who is also in charge of the province’s anti-racism initiatives.

At a meeting Jan. 18, past and present public servants said they suffered racial harassment and faced reprisal when making complaints.

Coteau heard stories from Black employees who said their roles were steadily diminished despite years of positive reviews. Others had trained new staff, only to see those new employees be given higher, more lucrative positions. Some said their complaints about racial discrimination were mishandled. A majority of the participants said they had been suspended, demoted or fired while the staffers they had complained about faced no repercussions.

“When I started at the ministry, I was confused for the hired help,” Hentrose Nelson, who has worked in the public service since 2004, told Coteau. Nelson was one of the organizers of the meeting and she spoke about her experience with the complaints and suspension process.

Nelson is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against provincial Citizenship and Immigration Minister Laura Albanese, alleging systemic racism in the department.

None of the accusations has been tested in court.

Boafoa Kwamena, a spokesperson for the Ontario Public Service — which encompasses over 60,000 employees in the province’s ministries, agencies and Crown corporations — would not comment on specific complaints. She also declined to answer Metro’s questions about what prompted the moratorium or how long it will last, saying in an email this week only that it is in place pending the review of existing policies and procedures.

Where there is a clear case of wrongdoing such as theft or violence against another staff member, the moratorium does not apply as those cases are reviewed by the province’s Public Service Commission.

“Creating a safe, inclusive and respectful environment for everyone in the OPS is a top priority,” Kwamena wrote in an email.

She added that officials are working with the Black OPS Network, an internal employee network, on a three-point plan. It includes an independent third-party review of complex cases; an independent review of the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Prevention policy with an anti-racism methodology; and developing an anti-racism policy. Attendees of the January meeting also called for these actions.

The review of the complaints process is intended to start by this March. A private sector lawyer will manage the review of complex cases. The OPS has declined to name the lawyer until a contract has been finalized.

“This is really something that we wanted to do for other Black women,” explained Jean-Marie Dixon, who has worked as a lawyer in the civil service.

Dixon says the action employees are taking now is for future generations. She wants to see people who have engaged in racism and discrimination fired as well as more funding and support for Black women going through a grievance, complaint or lawsuit.

Nelson welcomes the news of the moratorium and echoes the hope for more change to come.

“It’s not about our struggle only,” she said in an interview following the announcement. “It’s a systemic beast which we are trying to fight. It’s a huge win.”

via Ontario puts moratorium on suspending racialized public servants | Toronto Star

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ICYMI – Bagnall: Could cloud services signal the end of ‘big zombie IT projects’ in government?

Still will face the same management challenges as conventional IT and the particular difficulties governments have in fixing and sticking to specifications. But certainly worth exploring:

As federal government announcements go, this one could have been a real snooze-fest.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison and Carla Qualtrough on Wednesday jointly unveiled a new information technology policy that had been in force for months, involving a once-obscure branch of technology called cloud services.

But their short show-and-tell, delivered on Facebook Live, hinted at something more profound taking place.

Brison in particular has accepted the idea that big government has to change the way it builds and manages its IT infrastructure — and that cloud services, which allow departments to lease computer capacity a bit at a time from private sector firms such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure — offer the way to do it.

“We can’t be a Blockbuster government when we’re serving a Netflix citizenry,” he said in comparing a defunct video rental business with a video-streaming company.

Brison appeared to be taking aim in part at Shared Services Canada, the government’s central computer services agency, which reports to Qualtrough. Since its formation in 2011, Shared Services has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new data centres to house information and software that underpins programs ranging from the Canada Pension Plan to Statistics Canada’s census.

While the data centres are fresh and modern, Shared Services hasn’t impressed many federal departments because it’s been slow and inflexible in setting up new online services and ordering the new hardware.

Over the past year, smaller departments have forced the issue by quietly running their own pilot projects using Azure and other cloud providers. Private contractors now have dozens of cloud-based IT procurements in the works, such as applications designed to make scientific or business data available to the public.

Brison, whose department sets the overall policy for government IT, has reportedly been impressed with what cloud technology can do. On Wednesday he enumerated key benefits, such as how departments using cloud services can experiment with software applications a bit at a time, learning from the inevitable mistakes along the way.

“It’s better to learn the lessons early,” he said in an apparent reference to IT disasters such as the botched rollout of the Phoenix Pay system, “than to have big zombie IT projects rumbling on, trapped under the tyranny of sunk costs.”

How would Phoenix have developed in a cloud-based world? We could actually have an opportunity to find out if Qualtrough opts to restart the entire project. Nothing on that prospect Wednesday, though.

Of course, it’s very early days in the cloud services revolution. Qualtrough, who also seemed very much on board, noted her department had negotiated 22 contracts to date with companies that are selling cloud services to seven government departments and agencies, including Correctional Service Canada.

However, the value of these contracts — which are brokered by Shared Services in exchange for a fee — barely tops $2 million. This is a tiny fraction of Shared Services’ annual budget of more than $1.5 billion.

And there’s the other matter of security. Most of the government’s data is secret (a Protected B or higher classification), and Shared Services still has a monopoly over storing this information. Wednesday’s announcement was for unclassified stuff such as government websites that are to be viewed by the public.

Private contractors are suspicious that Shared Services is relying on security designations to retain its share of the government’s IT business.

It’s not clear how long its monopoly will last. Qualtrough noted the government is mulling further changes that would allow departments “in the future” to store even secret data in the cloud — one of the reasons tech giants such as Google and Amazon have been adding data centres in Canada.

This much is clear: providers of cloud services have secured their foothold in government. If they deliver as promised, this could be the beginning of the end of monster IT failures. There’ll be many small ones, to be sure. But the egregious example of Phoenix Pay has taught us that’s a much better way to run.

via Bagnall: Could cloud services signal the end of ‘big zombie IT projects’ in government? | Ottawa Citizen