Wells: Michael Wernick has some advice

Good and informative interview and comments:

Brian Mulroney was the prime minister the first time Michael Wernick sat at the back of a cabinet committee room, taking notes. One time the young civil servant found himself transcribing John Crosbie’s remarks as the powerful fisheries minister recited arguments Wernick himself had put into Crosbie’s briefing notes. That particular ouroboros of influence was “quite exciting for a young desk officer,” Wernick said in an interview shortly before the recent federal election.

The venue was my back yard. The occasion was the release of Wernick’s new book, Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics (UBC Press). Wernick was a senior official for decades in Ottawa, a deputy minister under Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. Justin Trudeau made him Clerk of the Privy Council, a position from which Wernick retired amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy in 2019, after Jody Wilson-Raybould released a surreptitious recording of a conversation with Wernick.

Wilson-Raybould, clandestine recordings, and the doctrines of independence for attorneys general are not topics of Wernick’s book, and he made it clear he preferred that they not figure in our interview. I relented, mostly. I’ve known Wernick for 26 years. He’s been learning how Ottawa works for longer than that. The lore he’s accumulated, poured between the covers of a slim volume aimed at students of political science, is a valuable contribution to Canadians’ understanding of how they’re governed.

“I didn’t want to write a memoir,” Wernick said. What came out instead is “a kind of an amalgam of many experiences with different ministers and three prime ministers that I got to work with reasonably closely. I was trying to capture those conversations—what it’s like to sit across from the new minister after swearing in, or some of the conversations that go on. Particularly in the early days of a government as they’re finding their feet or learning their skills.”

For the longest time he couldn’t settle on a format. He finally found a model in Renaissance Florence.

“I have a daughter who’s studying political science at U of T. She was doing a political theory course. And she was home for Christmas, but still working on a paper. And one of the things on that second-year political science course, that I took umpteen years ago, is [Niccolo Machiavelli’s] The Prince. It’s second-person advice on statecraft. It’s held up for a long time. And that gave me that sort of lightbulb moment. ‘Oh, I can do something that way. I could do it direct and second-person advice to somebody who’s coming into that position.’ That unlocked the whole thing for me.”

The resulting book is nearly devoid of juicy insider gossip—never Wernick’s style—but full of pithy advice to political leaders in general. “If you can end a meeting early and gain a sliver of time,” he tells prospective prime ministers, “get up and leave.” And, elsewhere, “It is rarely to your advantage to meet the premiers as a group.” And, ahem, “The longer you are in office, the more courtiers you will attract.”

From various perches in the senior ranks of the public service, Wernick watched three prime ministers land in the top job and try to figure out how to govern. “There is a skill set involved in governing,” he said. “We seem to expect people to learn that skill set on the job quickly, without a lot of help.”

And yet the days after a gruelling election campaign are nearly the worst time to be starting a new job. “One of the things I try to emphasize is the human element of it. People come in off an election campaign, exhausted. Physically exhausted. And in a state of considerable disruption. Often they’re new to being a minister. They’re also new to being an MP. They have to make decisions about their family, relocate or not to Ottawa. They’re changing locations. They’re changing careers, fundamentally. And I was always warning public service colleagues, ‘You have to allow for that. Allow for some of that exhaustion and shock.’”

New governments have only a few weeks to get up to speed. And habits that are formed early are not likely to be substantially revised later, with the benefit of hindsight. By then it’s too late. “The Prime Ministers I saw settled into the job very quickly. But then it’s hard to change. They get into a comfort zone or routines and patterns. It’s a very human thing to do. So part of my purpose in the book is just to say, ‘Pause and be a little bit mindful of the how of governing before it all gets locked in.’”

One of the recurring themes in Wernick’s book is how little time everyone has. A federal cabinet will have 100 hours in a year for all of its plenary discussions. Maybe 120. It’s never enough. “It’s overbooked from day one until the day they leave. And you’re always making choices: to do one thing means not doing something else. And mindful management of the allocation of time is really important. It can get away on you.”

The cabinet is going to need a lot of help. That was Wernick’s job, and that of all his bureaucratic colleagues, as well as countless political staff, operating with different aims and methods. “When it works well, you have a certain balance in what I call a triangle between the decision-maker—could be the PM, could be a minister—the support network they get from the public service, and the support network that they get from the political side.”

Sometimes the triangle gets out of balance. “The system gets into trouble when the public service tries to anticipate politics too much. And it clearly gets into trouble when the political side starts trying to run departments administratively. If people keep in their swim lanes and understand each other’s roles, each can add something. I always found it irritating when people chided ministers for being political. They’re supposed to be political in a democracy.”

I asked Wernick about a favourite Ottawa worry, that the public service is losing its ability to generate new ideas and policies. He didn’t bite. “I think there’s a little bit of a mythology that there was some other time when the great and good mandarins of the town—all white males, by the way—generated the ideas and pushed them towards the political system,” he said.

“I think there’s a competing narrative that the policy space is much more open and inclusive than it ever was. The costs of entry are much lower. Anybody with a laptop and a Google account can be a policy analyst. When I joined government, we had a quasi-monopoly on the ability to run big simulation models on income-security programs. Now many university professors can do it better.”

Besides, “I don’t think it’s really the role of the public service to be the originator of new ideas. Those usually come from democratic politics: ‘We wish to decriminalize cannabis.’ And then you work through the problem of how to do it competently.”

Governing Canada includes some pointed advice to cabinet ministers about the fact that they’re probably not going to get a chance to choose the date of their departure from politics. Prime ministers and voters have a way of making those decisions quickly and at inconvenient moments. Did I detect an autobiographical element to these passages?

“That’s largely true of clerks and public servants as well,” Wernick said. “Or hockey coaches. Like, there’s a lot of job jobs where you can’t arrange a perfectly-timed departure. I’m not the only person who’s been backed into a corner where it was impossible to continue to do the job. It’s unfortunate, but it happened.”

“But it’s happened to other people. Circumstances get away on people. People fall into all sorts of things that make it untenable for them to continue in the job.”

When things got weird for Wernick, did he draw any comfort from those earlier examples?

“No. I mean, that’s not the way I’d put it. I was conscious, during those last few months, that I was drifting towards a zone where I couldn’t do the job anymore. I was becoming part of the story. You have to enjoy at least some basic level of trust from the opposition leaders. I didn’t have that. And that just made it impossible to carry on.”

If he had a do-over, would he handle SNC-Lavalin differently? “That’s probably for another day, in another interview. I did not pick up on some of the warning signs about the trouble that was coming…. But I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. You work and live in the moment and you do the best you can at the time.”

I tried one more question that was a little closer to the concrete example of the current government than to the trends and aphorisms Wernick’s book prefers. In the book, he writes to a hypothetical prime minister: “You will not be successful if you hang on to the same closed circle of close advisors and confidants for your whole time in office. There is an inevitable drift into a comfort zone and a form of groupthink that can create blind spots and put you at risk.”

Gee, did he have anyone in mind?

Butter would not melt in Wernick’s mouth as he told me he had no examples from current events. “The example I was actually drawing on was Stephen Harper in 2011. You know, the opposition leaders [Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh, in the election that had not yet happened when Wernick and I spoke] probably have a transition team, who will give them some advice on how to set things up. And I worked with Derek Burney from the Harper team, and Mike Robinson from the Martin team, and Peter Harder from the Trudeau team.” Those new governments are always “very conscious and mindful about how they want to set things up.” But re-elected prime ministers “tend to just start up again, with the same people in the same processes. People have argued, and I think I agree, that Stephen Harper missed an opportunity in 2011, to pause and think.

“I would say to any Prime Minister, when they’re going into a second or third mandate: ‘You should pause. It’s going to be different. Think about the processes and the people.’”

Source: Michael Wernick has some advice

Will the removal of the Canadian citizenship preference in the public service make a difference

My latest:

In recent employment equity reports, the federal government has provided disaggregated representation for visible minorities, Indigenous people and persons with disabilities to help assess how well the public service represents the public it serves. Previously, disaggregated data for visible minority and Indigenous groups in public administration was available only through census data every five years.

The 2020 speech from the throne included a commitment to implementing an action plan “to increase representation in hiring and appointments, and leadership development” within the public service, which was later confirmed in changes to the Public Service Employment Act.

The changes include longer-term and more-complex policies to address “bias and barriers” that impact all equity-seeking groups, as well as one change that will have an early impact for visible minorities  ̶  removing the preference for Canadian citizens: “Permanent residents now have the same preference as Canadian Citizens when appointments are made through external advertised hiring processes.”

There was no debate on this change when the legislation was considered by the House of Commons finance committee  ̶  despite its impact  ̶  because it was included in an omnibus budget bill.

A recent Public Service Commission study on the “citizenship of applicants and external appointments” highlighted the impact of this policy: while visible minority citizens were 17.2 per cent of all applicants and 19.5 per cent of all hires, visible minorities who are only permanent residents formed 5.1 per cent of all applicants and only 1.2 per cent of all hires in 2018-19.

The former preference for citizens was subject to criticism by some visible minority groups because it effectively reduced the opportunities for non-citizen visible minorities. Its removal should ensure more equitable opportunities for all visible minorities at all stages of selection, although other barriers  ̶  such as education, official language knowledge and possible bias  ̶  may remain. Whether this change represents a theoretical or practical change will be known only after a few years when we can compare pre- and post-change hiring numbers.

Table 1 (below) looks at overall visible minority representation, contrasting the total visible minority population, the older citizenship-based benchmark, the 2019-20 employment equity report numbers, and the degree to which there is over-representation or under-representation, compared to the new and old benchmarks.

By way of comparison, the government estimates that the visible minority workforce availability (WFA)  ̶  the share of the Canadian workforce eligible for public service work  ̶  based on the 2016 census is 15.3 per cent based upon the citizenship preference. The removal of the citizenship preference and the inclusion of permanent residents will result in WFA being revised upward closer to the overall visible minority population number following its recalculation in the 2021 census.


The representation of most groups is relatively close to their share of the citizenship population and greater than WFA for all employees, with larger gaps for executives. The population benchmark shows larger gaps, particularly with respect to executives. Non-identified and mixed-origin visible minorities are relatively over-represented for all employees and executives.

Table 2 takes the same approach with respect to Indigenous representation with the exception that total and citizenship-based populations are identical. It shows relative over-representation of Métis, and under-representation of First Nations and Inuit for all employees, with all groups under-represented at the executive level. The government Indigenous workforce availability estimate, based on the 2016 census, is 4 per cent.


Table 3 compares the representation of each visible minority by occupational group, expressed as the percentage difference with employees who are not a visible minority and not Indigenous for 2020. Visible minorities are slightly under-represented among executives, more so among technical, with the greatest gap in operational groups. Visible minorities are over-represented in scientific and professional with some exceptions, and in administration and foreign service, although there is a mixed pattern with respect to admin support.


Table 4 highlights the change in representation from 2017 to 2020, comparing the percentage change in representation for each visible minority group with the percentage of all public servants who are neither a visible minority nor Indigenous for each occupational category. Overall, visible minority representation has increased by 35.9 per cent compared with only 11.8 per cent for those who are neither a visible minority nor Indigenous. This applies to virtually all groups and categories, with Japanese being the exception and Chinese having a relatively lower increase.


Table 5 similarly compares the representation of each Indigenous group by occupational categories expressed as the percentage difference with employees who are neither a visible minority nor Indigenous for 2020 (for the executive and technical occupational groups, there are fewer than five Inuit and Other public servants and thus no reporting). All Indigenous groups are under-represented among executives, with the largest gap in scientific and professional categories, but are relatively over-represented in the admin and foreign service, and admin support areas.


Table 6 highlights the change in representation from 2017 to 2020. Overall, the growth in Indigenous representation has been comparable to the growth of not-a-visible minority, not-Indigenous public servants, 11.9 per cent compared to 11.8 per cent. However, Inuit representation has increased significantly, as has that of Métis executives, with First Nations declining relative to not-a-visible minority, not-Indigenous employees.


While this analysis highlights the differences in visible minority and Indigenous representation among the different occupational categories, it does not break it down by level or salary. Census data for the federal public service shows, however, that Black, Filipino and Latin American workers had the lowest median incomes compared to not-a-visible minority. Among Indigenous Peoples, First Nations have the lowest median incomes compared to non-Indigenous.

Given political and public service focus on Black representation, Blacks are the visible minority group with the strongest representation compared to their share of the population with respect to all public servants, and Blacks have stronger representation than South Asian, Chinese and Filipinos in the EX category. Moreover, the percentage increase over the past four years has been comparable or stronger than that of most other visible minority groups. Representation of visible minority groups has increased at three times the rate of not-a-visible minority, not-Indigenous public servants. In contrast, Indigenous representation has matched only the rate of increase, suggesting more effort is needed.

The public service is clearly making significant progress with respect to visible minority representation. The removal of the citizenship preference will likely accelerate this trend toward increased representation.

Given the expected upward revision of the WFA, the gap between actual representation and WFA will increase despite the public service already hiring and promoting more visible minorities. The degree to which the removal of the citizenship preference results in greater increases in representation will be known only after a few years and further public service analysis of citizenship status of visible minority hires and promotions.

Ironically, advocates for this change and greater representation will likely focus more on the larger gap due to the benchmark change, rather than the progress in representation.


Data was provided by the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) for visible minorities, Indigenous Peoples and persons with disabilities, based upon self-identification for the fiscal years 2016-17 to 2019-20 by occupational group. 2020 data was compared to 2017 data to indicate changes over this period, with visible minority and Indigenous Peoples being compared against the not-visible minority and not-Indigenous for the different occupation categories on a percentage basis. The formula used: (2020 number of public servants minus 2017 number of public servants) divided by 2017 number of public servants. 

For example, in 2020, there were 99 Black executives compared with 73 in 2017 or an increase of 26. That is a (26 ÷ 73 =) 35.6 per cent increase. The overall increase in the number of executives who were neither a visible minority nor Indigenous was 5,244 – 4,592 or 652; 652 ÷ 4,592 = 14.2 per cent. Subtracting the percentage increase of all executives from the percentage increase of Black executives: 35.6 per cent – 14.2 per cent = 21.4 percentage points.

While the visible minority group definitions are similar to those used by Statistics Canada, TBS groups Arab and West Asians together under “Non-White West Asian, North African or Arab.” “Mixed Origin” refers to those with one visible minority parent. By contrast, Statistics Canada uses a “multiple visible minorities” category to include persons with more than one visible minority response.

While the employment equity reports also provide disaggregated data regarding persons with disabilities, the totals do not match with the disability total (10,622 persons) in the annual reports because one person can have multiple disabilities, making it difficult to perform a similar analysis by particular disability.

Source: https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/septembe-2021/will-the-removal-of-the-canadian-citizenship-preference-in-the-public-service-make-a-difference/

Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

Hard to disagree.

The other question that few seem to be raising is why participation in the English language debate is limited to national parties that run candidates in 60 percent or more of all ridings. Hard to see any value in Bloc participation in the English debate, unlike in the French debate:

The only thing offensive about Shachi Kurl’s question in Canada’s English-language debate regarding Bill 21 is the cowardly reaction from our federal leaders.

On debate night, Kurl, the president of the Angus Reid Insitute, asked a question about a law that bans wearing religious symbols for some public-sector workers in Quebec. Even though she never implied all Quebecers are racist, many threw her under the bus for suggesting that she did.

While the reactions of the Bloc Québécois’ Yves-François Blanchet and Quebec’s Premier François Legault were predictable, regardless of how the question would have been framed, many religious minorities are disappointed by the deflection by our other federal leaders postdebate — from condemning the premise of the question to demanding an apology from the debate consortium.

Rather than using the moment to take a stand and talk about how problematic Bill 21 is for Canadians, federal leaders have opted for expediency and protecting votes in Quebec by adopting the language of apologists, manipulating the question and largely avoiding what should be a moment for a serious conversation.

While Justin Trudeau said he wouldn’t rule out “intervening” against Bill 21, he also claimed he had a hard time “processing” Kurl’s question and that it implied all “Quebecers are racist.” Erin O’Toole, in response stated that “Quebecers are not racist and it’s unfair to make that sweeping categorization.” Jagmeet Singh, who called the Bill discriminatory also said that “It’s a mistake to imply that only one province has a problem with systemic racism.” Despite this, many saw these responses as serious levels of deflection from the actual question put by Kurl.

As much as supporters for Bill 21 like to suggest that it is a product of Quebec’s unique culture and relationship with laïcité (secularism) that isn’t the complete story and it only works to mask some of the disturbing realities and motivations for the law.

Bill 21 is also a product of Islamophobia, bigotry, and, yes, racism. The sentiments driving support for Bill 21 also exist elsewhere in the country and impacted religious communities want us all to fight back. Canadians need to stop pretending this is a localized issue, and our leaders need to know that their positions concerning fighting hate and racism in all its forms appear hypocritical in light of their reactions postdebate.

The research on Bill 21 is incredibly clear. It results in greater racism against religious minorities. It creates second-class citizens. It disproportionately targets minority communities. And it drives people out of Quebec, including my friend Amrit Kaur who as an Amritdhari Sikh teacher is now working in British Columbia instead of in her home province due to that law.

What is upsetting is that it took a question from a racialized woman to ignite a conversation on Bill 21 that our federal leaders had been trying to avoid. What is even more upsetting is that instead of confronting the issue for what it is, many commentators and politicians took the moment to instead chastise Kurl for suggesting the bill is discriminatory, as well as express dismay that challenging the issue head on has, amongst other things, disrupted partisan campaigns in the province.

It is as if calling a piece of legislation discriminatory or racist is worse than the piece of legislation actually being discriminatory and racist.

Some have even suggested that making this a topic only plays into the hands of Blanchet and the Bloc Québécois, as if that means we should just ignore the problem and pretend that it will somehow solve itself. It has been years of political tiptoeing and appeasement around Bill 21, and as someone who has helped in the fight against it, enough is enough.

What happens in Quebec is also not operating in a vacuum. Fears of similar legislation and sentiments creeping into other parts of Canada are very real.

For the Sikh community, a community I have worked in as the Executive Director for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, we have fought turban and Kirpan accommodation battles across Canada. The fights never end as we maintain a precarious relationship with religious accommodation.

Bill 21 just legitimizes the racism and discrimination our people face every day everywhere, not just Quebec. Seeking an apology from the debate consortium and Kurl for a perfectly appropriate question, rather from the law makers disproportionately impacting racialized Canadians, aids and abets the othering our people face coast to coast to coast.

Leaders claiming to understand the fears of minorities and the magnitude of hate in Canada comes up hollow when held up against their reactions to what was one of the most honest descriptions of the Bill 21 in the political arena to date.

Source: Canada’s federal leaders show cowardice by denying the racist premise of Bill 21

‘We’re not having our voices heard or our issues prioritized’: Researchers say diverse candidates disproportionately underfunded

Erin Tolley’s work on representation and the various filters along with various anecdotes:

Voters will be able to choose from an increasingly diverse slate of candidates in this election, but recent data shows women, racialized and Indigenous candidates are still disproportionately underfunded by their own parties, often while running in districts where they already face an uphill battle to win.

A team of Carleton University researchers led by Erin Tolley, Canada Research Chair in gender, race and inclusive politics, has collected data from the previous four election cycles, beginning in 2008, showing a distinct upward trajectory in the overall diversity of candidates, but only incremental progress in electing more multicultural Members of Parliament.

“Parties have caught on, correctly, that Canadians are looking at the candidates and scrutinizing the diversity, and so parties have felt that pressure to show more diversity on the candidate slate,” Tolley said in an interview.

“But often the scrutiny stops there. People have the impression that, if on election day, more women, racialized or Indigenous candidates are not elected to Parliament, then that is simply the voters’ choice. But that conclusion ignores the control that parties have over the placement of these candidates and the level of financial support they are giving to each candidate while they are campaigning.”

Tolley’s research team followed the money and found evidence that, even when parties nominate women, racialized and Indigenous candidates, “they continue to transfer more financial resources to white male candidates, rather than to these candidates that, arguably, would need more party support in order to win their ridings, especially because parties are nominating them in the most difficult ridings to win.

“So, yes, women, racialized and Indigenous candidates are being nominated more often, but it is a longstanding pattern — and it remains the case — that they are nominated disproportionately in less winnable ridings.”

Party leaders have some control over which candidates will run, but Tolley said those decisions are often left to local riding association executives.

“It’s a relatively unseen feature of democracy in Canada, but these riding association executives — this small cabal of party faithful — really shape the choices that voters ultimately have.”

There are exceptions, however, and the research and data pattern doesn’t align with Huda Mukbil’s experience running as a first-time candidate for the NDP in Ottawa-South.

The NDP’s candidate in 2019, Morgan Gay, made some inroads for the party with 16 per cent of the Ottawa-South vote and had been set to compete for the party’s nomination again this year.

Conservative Eli Tannis secured 24.5 per cent and will again challenge incumbent Liberal David McGuinty, who won in 2019 with 52 per cent of the vote. (The Tannis campaign did not return an interview request.)

Mukbil and Gay went through the nomination process. “But, when he and I met and he saw that I was very serious about winning (the Ottawa-South seat), he stepped down,” Mukbil said in an interview.

“He said, ‘I want you to have the opportunity to do this,’ realizing that Ottawa-South has a very diverse population with the largest Arabic-speaking population within all of Ontario and a sizeable Black community and Somali community. With all that diversity, we determined together that I would be the candidate to represent Ottawa-South,” Mukbil said.

“But I know that in other ridings and with other parties, there have been challenges with fundraising. There’s a challenge in the support you can get from the party at the national headquarters level, in terms of which ridings they feel are winnable, and which ridings they feel the need to invest in.”

Federal parties have “heeded the call” to nominate a more diverse set of candidates, Tolley said, “but they haven’t made a lot of progress on addressing the longstanding disparities in the financial support they give to candidates, or in the party’s confidence in women, racialized and Indigenous candidates to actually win.”

That theory doesn’t apply to the Greens, said Lorraine Rekmans, Green Party candidate for Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes.

“Because we’ve come up from the grassroots and we’ve never had a huge central party to draw funds from,” she explained.

“The Greens are small and mighty. We have small campaigns, we’re never fully funded, but we’re still able to make gains with all the odds stacked against us.”

Rekmans is a mother and grandmother of Anishnabe heritage, a member of the Serpent River First Nation who served as the Green Party’s Indigenous affairs critic for the past 12 years, and last month was elected national party president.

“Our national executive council is very diverse, we’re all representative of minority groups on the council, and I believe I’m the first Indigenous woman to be the president of a national political party in Canada,” Rekmans said.

“So we’ve been making headway. We’ve been advocating for diversity everywhere in this country, and we believe that any system in Canada has to reflect and represent the population that it serves.”

And Canadians are beginning to listen, Rekmans said.

“In previous elections, people may have expressed concern about drinking water quality and housing standards and conflicts between the RCMP and Indigenous people protecting their land — and that did resonate with Canadians — but it was the shock of the unmarked graves that was a wakeup call,” Rekmans said.

“So, as an Indigenous candidate, I think it’s important for my voice to be at the table to advocate for Indigenous issues, and that is a challenge to me because I am running to be a Member of Parliament, and I understand that constituents want to be represented,” Rekmans said. “So the question becomes: when the constituents look at me as an Indigenous woman, do they feel I can represent them?”

Until Canadians elect a more diverse Parliament, and until there is real representation among the key decision-making roles in government, Mukbil said, “then we’re not having our voices heard or our issues prioritized.”

Mukbil recently participated in Ottawa’s Black candidates debate, where she challenged Hull-Aylmer Liberal candidate Greg Fergus on his government’s record in addressing systemic discrimination.

Fergus, one of seven Black MPs in the House of Commons and co-chair of the Black Parliamentary Caucus, defended his government’s efforts and investments supporting Black and other racialized communities, while outlining further cultural and heritage investments in the party’s 2021 platform during Monday’s debate.

“Justin Trudeau was the first prime minister to acknowledge the existence of systemic anti-Black racism,” Fergus said. “In the last six years, but especially in the last year, we’ve made big steps in recognizing where the government has been weak in providing supports to Black communities, whether that is in the very public issue of entrepreneurship and prosperity, our justice and public security system, whether that’s in terms of representation within government with a good (proportion) of Black people at all levels of the public service, and then the issue of culture and heritage.”

Fergus highlighted early Liberal priorities that have yielded $6.5 billion for mental health, while ensuring the investment is “focused on Black communities, racialized Canadians and Indigenous Canadians and youth — people who should have appropriate mental health responses.”

Fergus also touted the government’s own data-collection efforts, with Statistics Canada tracking disaggregated data since 2018 on vulnerable populations, including immigrants, Indigenous people and visible minority groups.

“It’s a very non-sexy issue, but one that I think has the biggest impact,” Fergus said during the debate. “We need to start asking these questions. How are our policies and programs serving the Black community? And if they’re not, then people will have the data so we can act on it. You can’t change what you can’t measure.”

It’s a start, Mukbil agreed, though a tentative one.

“For years we’ve just been talking about collecting disaggregated data, but what’s the plan once that’s done? We already know that systemic racism is part of all our institutions and yet we have not seen action or substantial changes,” she said.

“But we’re at a time when there’s an awakening, and a conversation about these issues, which wasn’t happening in the past.”

Source: ‘We’re not having our voices heard or our issues prioritized’: Researchers say diverse candidates disproportionately underfunded

Matt Gurney: We know who the PPC voters are. Here’s what they believe

Interesting polling data on PPC supporters:

Poll after poll has shown that the People’s Party of Canada, led by former Conservative Maxime Bernier, is surging in popular support. The party, which captured only 1.6 per cent of the vote in 2019, electing zero candidates, is now polling at closer to five or six per cent, or higher. These gains have not come at any obvious loss to any major party (the hapless Green party may be an exception, but there were only so many Green voters in the first place). While there is no doubt that some voters are bolting to the PPC from traditional parties, it seems certain — and polling suggests — that they are also drawing support from the nine million Canadians who were eligible to vote in 2019 but did not. 

This is, to put it very mildly, worth watching. In a recent column here, drawing on polling information provided by John Wright, the executive vice president of Maru Public Opinion, we tried to establish what we could about a PPC supporter. They are not particularly remarkable; as noted last week, a typical PPC voter is a typical Canadian. They are fairly evenly distributed across all demographic segments and found in generally similar numbers in the various provinces. The earlier numbers were based on a fairly small sample size — the PPC’s low support on a national level has limited their numbers in any typical national-level poll. Last week, I said that more polling was necessary, to firm up the profile of who a PPC voter is and where they live. Wright has been doing that polling — the sample sizes are still modest, but a representative profile is beginning to emerge …  not just of who a PPC voter is, but what they believe.

There is a degree of background context that must be established before we can move onto the numbers. When he presented me with his latest results on Tuesday, Wright noted that polling PPC voters is a particular challenge for his industry. The very concept of “the typical PPC voter” is rapidly shifting. The PPC base of even five weeks ago was a small fringe of grumpy people loosely assembled around a handful of vaguely libertarian policies, some anti-immigration blather and a disillusionment with the political status quo. (A typical PPC billboard encapsulates this unfocused dissatisfaction: “The Other Options Suck.”) Many polling companies track the attitudes of partisans of various affiliations by creating a panel of those partisans and then polling them over and over. Polling companies trying to track the PPC’s sudden rise, if they rely on such an identified panel of PPC voters that will be repeatedly surveyed, are capturing the PPC as it existed before the mid-August influx of new supporters. This is undoubtedly skewing our understanding of what the PPC voter, as they exist right now, believes. Wright has done four waves of polling in the last 10 days to update, as best as possible, our understanding of what the PPC voter believes today. He will continue to poll several times a week for the foreseeable future. 

As to that August surge, as discussed in my column here last week, the best way to explain it is to look for something that recently changed — and something has: there are millions of Canadians who are adamantly anti-vax and anti-vaccine mandate/passport. The PPC surge began at the precise moment that vaccine mandates became a major issue in the federal campaign, and provinces began discussing their plans for certificates to verify vaccination status for domestic purposes. Pollsters needed a few weeks to notice the surge and verify it was real. 

Back to the numbers.

First, let’s briefly deal with the “who” of the PPC: the latest numbers with the larger survey generally conform with what I reported last week and is being reported elsewhere. PPC support is fairly uniform across the country, in the mid-to-high single digits; the only notable outlier is Quebec, which is below the national average of six, with four per cent. PPC support is generally stable across income groups and, in one of the only notable divergences from the earlier, smaller sample, fairly uniform across the genders, as well. PPC support is roughly double among those under age 55 relative to those over 55. The party is about half as popular among those with a university degree compared to those without. This profile is generally similar to what other pollsters are seeing in their own data 

Now let’s look at what they believe.

Wright had previously run an attitudinal survey of the Canadian electorate, polling their level of agreement with a variety of statements. The PPC voters gave answers that were wildly offside with the rest of the electorate. Wright has now run that survey again with a much larger sample of PPC voters (and will run it again for a yet larger sample) and the numbers didn’t change much. Other pollsters have been able to report in general terms the kinds of things a PPC voter might believe, or at least what they believed six weeks ago, but we can now put some actual meat on the bones of what they believe now, after the surge in support. And folks, it’s pretty eye-opening stuff.

Take immigration, something the PPC openly spoken against. The typical Canadian has about an even chance of thinking Canada is letting in too many immigrants — 47 per cent of the country feels that way, and that includes three in five Conservatives, half of Bloc voters, a third of Liberal and NPD voters — but a whopping 83 per cent of PPC voters. PPC voters are way more likely than the rest to favour a very hands-off approach to gun control and regulation; the typical Conservative is a lot closer to a Liberal or NDP voter on this issue than they are a PPC voter. 

But that’s about what you’d expect for a vaguely libertarian party that has been publicly critical of immigration. It gets weirder from here.

Roughly a third of Canadians (35 per cent) agree that the government is stripping away personal liberties; with Conservative and Green voters answering in the affirmative more often than NDP and Liberals. By comparison, 89 per cent of PPC voters believe the government is stripping away their liberty. Almost 90 per cent of PPC voters further agree that their governments are creating “tyranny” over the population. To put that in context, only about 40 per cent of Conservatives feel that way, with the other major parties way behind.

Oh, and here’s a cheerful one to chew over: Wright asked Canadians if they’d agree that “we are on the verge of a revolution in our society to take our freedom back from governments who are limiting it.” That question received 32 per cent support nationally — but an incredible 84 per cent from PPC supporters.

This sounds like the kind of thing we maybe ought to be paying attention to, eh?

It’s the attitudes on vaccination and measures to promote vaccination that show the wildest disparities between PPCers and the rest, though. Wright asked if Canadians would agree that “regardless of what society says, I will not be vaccinated.” Only 16 per cent of his national respondents agreed; this number is generally similar to what other pollsters have been tracking as their “anti-vax” hard core. 

About 20 per cent of Greens are hardcore anti-vaxxers. The mainstream parties are all within the margin of error with each other, and in the very low double or high single digits. But 60 per cent of PPCers say they will not be vaccinated.

Wright also polled party supporters on this question: “I am against vaccine passports because they exclude people from participating in society.” That view was held by only 29 per cent of Canadians. But 88 per cent of PPC voters agreed. 

This is big: fully half of PPC voters fear they will lose their jobs due to opposition to vaccines. That’s significantly greater than the national average: only a fifth of Canadians claimed to have this worry. 

There are limits to the available polling. I can’t tell you what issues PPC voters agree with the majority on. There undoubtedly are some — remember, the typical PPC voter is a fairly typical Canadian. These people are your friends, co-workers and neighbours. I also can’t tell you much about their ethnic composition — there is an assumption among many pundits that they’ll be lopsidedly white, and I confess that wouldn’t shock me, but the PPC’s age profile skewing younger rather than older might complicate that. 

The PPC vote is vastly more alarmed at the prospect of tyranny and an erosion of liberty and personal freedom than most Canadians, and that PPC supporters are wildly divergent from the typical Canadian on all issues around vaccination and efforts to boost vaccination rates. Also, the stereotype of the typical PPC voter simply being a the looniest subsection of the Conservatives doesn’t really seem to hold up. For all the criticism Erin O’Toole has faced over vaccination and related issues, Conservative voters are actually quite closely aligned with the majority; indeed, the average Conservative voter is less adamantly opposed to vaccination than the average Canadian. Tyler Dawson @tylerrdawsonMaxime Bernier has arrived at Borden Park, and a spontaneous singing of O Canada has broken out. Unsurprisingly, they’ve used the old lyrics. September 11th 20214 Retweets24 Likes

If any party other than the PPC is weirdly offside the consensus on the vaccine-related questions, it’s the Greens. Anyone who’s ever met a Green voter probably isn’t shocked by that, the party was always populated by a strange mix of genuinely smart policy wonks and cranks. The cranks have another option now.

None of this is predictive. PPC support might evaporate on election day. Broader societal support doesn’t automatically confer upon it a meaningful electoral ground game and functional get-out-the-vote effort. I believe that the polls showing surging PPC support are capturing something real, but a bunch of typically non-voting citizens falling in with a proto-party with no real organizational strength will almost certainly result in said proto-party underperforming its polling at the ballot box. 

As noted in my last column, though, the PPC surge began right as talk about vaccine passports and mandates heated up. It’s heated up more since. Half of PPC voters fear their livelihoods are in danger. Ninety per cent of them believe they’re having tyranny imposed upon them. The more vaccine mandates and passports are advocated by the major political parties and loudly and aggressively championed by prominent voices in the mainstream, the more juiced up this contingent is likely to become. Remember: Wright has PPC support at six per cent nationally, but almost a fifth of Canadians fear they’ll lose their job for opposing vaccines. The gap between those numbers is Bernier’s pool of accessible new supporters. It’s a big pool.

You don’t have to agree with the PPC and its supporters. This doubly-vaxed writer certainly does not. But these polls just aren’t another dataset for the horserace number crunchers. These are warning signs of what could possibly be a very real, persistent problem to Canadian social and political stability. Anyone who thinks that alarmist should imagine how alarmist they’d sound trying to explain the last five years to their younger selves, circa 2016. 

More polls to come. Stay tuned.

Source: https://theline.substack.com/p/matt-gurney-we-know-who-the-ppc-voters?token=eyJ1c2VyX2lkIjoxMDcxOTUwNywicG9zdF9pZCI6NDEzNDIwOTcsIl8iOiJ3SVY5SCIsImlhdCI6MTYzMTcyMjc2NSwiZXhwIjoxNjMxNzI2MzY1LCJpc3MiOiJwdWItNzAwMzIiLCJzdWIiOiJwb3N0LXJlYWN0aW9uIn0.2uw4YxAuD5mFwQp5Nrlxy3GtZ3eMACSX91sSXFeP9yk

Ibbitson: The People’s Party is far outside the mainstream of Canadian politics, but it deserves representation and Mason: Maxime Bernier’s disgraceful election campaign

Two very different takes on Bernier and his campaign, Ibbitson arguing that PPC political representation in Parliament is preferable to no representation, as better that they feel being shut-out:

Word has it that Chelsea Hillier’s campaign is gaining traction. If the votes split the right way, the People’s Party of Canada candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London could win the Southwestern Ontario riding on Sept. 20. Here’s hoping she does.

To preserve a healthy democracy, Ms. Hillier – who is the daughter of rogue Ontario MPP Randy Hillier – along with party leader Maxime Bernier and a number of other PPC candidates should be elected to the House of Commons.

The People’s Party is far outside the mainstream of Canadian politics. Some of its more ardent supporters fuelled the protests that dogged Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign. (Ms. Hillier’s former riding president, Shane Marshall, was dismissed and has been charged by police after he allegedly threw gravel at Mr. Trudeau.) Mr. Bernier’s rhetoric – “When tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty” – can be incendiary.

It is reasonable to suspect that many, if not most, of the demonstrators harassing health care workers and patients outside hospitals will be casting a ballot for the PPC.

Nonetheless, the People’s Party of Canada is a legitimate political party that deserves representation. It reflects the views of almost two million voters. Suppressing the voices of those voters will only worsen their estrangement from the mainstream.

The PPC platform is straightforward: It would cut back on immigration by as much as 75 per cent and eliminate multiculturalism as a policy. Newcomers would be interviewed to ensure they embrace “Canadian values and societal norms,” which are “those of a contemporary Western civilization.”

Canada under a PPC government would withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change while lowering the bar for oil-and-gas pipeline approvals. It would direct the Bank of Canada to lower its inflation target from 2 per cent to 0 per cent; balance the budget in its first mandate; cut back on equalization payments; let provinces run their health care systems as they see fit; lift many gun restrictions; and oppose “vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, and other authoritarian measures.”

Not my cup of tea – and then some. But similar policies have been implemented at one time or another in the United States and some European countries. In other countries, populist right-wing parties are prominently represented in legislatures.

As Erin O’Toole has moved the Conservative Party toward the centre, some voters on the party’s right appear to have abandoned it for the PPC, which has the support of about 7 per cent of eligible voters, according to Tuesday’s Nanos tracking poll for The Globe and Mail and CTV News. That’s more than four times the 1.6 per cent the party polled in the last election and more support than the Bloc Québécois or Green Party command.

In a House of Commons that fairly represented the will of the electorate, there would be about two dozen PPC MPs if that level of support were translated into votes on election day. But due to the vagaries of the first-past-the-post voting system, the party could be shut out, which would further alienate right-wing voters who have already lost faith in their political institutions.

There could be plenty of reasons why so many people are drawn to the People’s Party. They have become resentful and untrusting over the loss of manufacturing jobs. They are stressed by the pandemic. Some of them resent the increasing number of non-European immigrants. This is racist, but it is how they feel. And they enjoy the self-empowerment that comes from rejecting authority.

While most of us agree that making vaccination mandatory for workplaces, public transportation and other shared spaces is essential to protect the vulnerable and defeat the pandemic, others see such restrictions as attacks on their personal freedom. And many of them distrust the scientific consensus around vaccines, just as they do when it comes to climate change.

Mr. Bernier seeks to be their voice. If their voice is silenced – if PPC members fail to break through in Parliament, just as Mr. Bernier was unfairly denied representation in the leaders’ debates last week – they will find another way to be heard.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-the-peoples-party-is-far-outside-the-mainstream-of-canadian-politics/

Gary Mason, on the other hand, focuses on just how much Bernier has changed for the worse and the reactionary politics he preaches:

Election campaigns are bruising, generally thankless affairs, in which the mood of the candidates is inextricably linked to the proximity of the finish line.

That is, unless you have nothing to lose, then you can often enjoy the experience and get more exposure than you ever imagined – or frankly, deserved.

Welcome to Mad Max Bernier’s world.

Mr. Bernier leads the People’s Party of Canada. This is his second federal campaign as front man of a political entity he founded in the wake of a failed bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017. (He lost by a hair to Andrew Scheer.) But this time around he’s attracting far more attention than he did in the 2019 election.

The pandemic has not been good for much, except, perhaps, Mr. Bernier’s political fortunes. It’s not the kind of bump with which most people would be happy to be associated, but then, beggars can’t be choosers. Many of the deplorable anti-vaxxers who have been protesting outside hospitals and angrily confronting Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail have found a home in the PPC. (A former PPC riding president was recently charged with assault with a weapon after allegedly pelting Mr. Trudeau with gravel at a campaign event.)

They have been drawn to the party’s emphasis on freedom and liberty and its “governments-have-no-right-to-tell-us-what-do” credo. A passionate, if not flakey libertarian, Maxime Bernier is capitalizing on the intersection of a pandemic and a federal election. His party has given voice to those who believe vaccine mandates and passports are an infringement of their constitutional rights.

Prior to now, Mr. Bernier and his party have mostly been an easily ignored sideshow. His questioning of human-caused climate change and his horrible mocking of climate campaigner Greta Thunberg were enough to make most normal-thinking people tune the party out long ago. The sketchy nationalists the PPC seemed to attract were a concern, but not any threat to our security. If he wanted to hold meetings and quote Ayn Rand, fine. If he wanted to be an outlet for the country’s conspiracy theorists, okay.

But what he’s been doing on the campaign trail is not kosher. Not by any measure.

Mr. Bernier recently wrapped up a three-day tour of Alberta, where, according to polls, the PPC enjoys more support than almost anywhere else in the country. He held a few well-attended events, including at a church at Spruce Grove, just outside of Edmonton. Hundreds, virtually all without masks, crammed inside the church hall to hear Mr. Bernier ramble on about how horrible it is that governments are using the pandemic as an excuse to restrict people’s rights.

“Because we know that without freedom, there’s no human dignity, equality of rights and economic prosperity,” he told his audience. “And we know that freedom is the foundation of our Western civilization.”

He pulled out a quote he uses often: “When tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty.” It’s a line familiar to many far-right militia organizations.

Here’s the biggest problem: Mr. Bernier is giving cover to all those out there who are refusing to get vaccinated, not because of some underlying condition, but because they simply don’t want to. This phenomenon is stalling our pandemic recovery. Alberta, for instance, is in a crisis, with hospitals overrun with COVID-19.The province’s intensive care units are now treating a record number of patients sick with the virus, the vast majority of whom were not vaccinated. Imagine.

Meantime, Mr. Bernier is out there promoting the kind of nonsense that is fuelling anti-vaxxer rage and making the jobs of governments trying to tame the fourth wave that much harder. This will be the PPC leader’s greatest legacy and his greatest shame.

To this day, many of Mr. Bernier’s former colleagues in the Conservative party remain dumbfounded by what they are witnessing. They did not see this coming. Mr. Bernier was always a libertarian, but one who didn’t take himself too seriously. He had a playful sense of humour. He could be relied on to assume serious positions in government, if not always without incident.

But after he came up just short of winning the CPC leadership four years ago something changed, and not for the better. He seemed to become embittered and intent on doing as much damage to the CPC as he could.

There’s no question he’s sucking some support away from his old party in this election. It remains to be seen, however, if it will be enough to cost the CPC a shot at government.

Regardless, when the story of this election is written, Mr. Bernier will remain a historical footnote. And a disgraceful one at that.

Source: Maxime Bernier’s disgraceful election campaign

Remaking government: Here are the parties’ plans for a post-pandemic workforce

Will be interesting to see:

It’s one of the big questions in the dozen or so local campaigns in this federal election: when will government employees return to their offices, and under what conditions?

The answers, for one thing, will determine just how robust will be the economic recovery in the two downtown ridings. Ottawa Centre and Hull-Aylmer respectively account for 45 per cent and 20 per cent of the federal government’s owned and leased office space in the capital region.

The return to the office, if it happens, will also have a significant impact on commuting patterns throughout the city.

Pre-pandemic, the capital’s rush hour was defined by a small army of federal government workers who made their way, usually by public transit, from a handful of suburbs to the core. For the past 18 months, most of these office workers have been doing their jobs from home in the bedroom communities of Orléans, Barrhaven, Kanata and Aylmer.

The resistance to abandoning this new way of working is apparently strong.

The department in charge of the federal government’s massive real estate holdings — Public Services and Procurement Canada — said it does not have “a target date for the return to the workplace for all employees. We are currently exploring various possibilities.” This, essentially, is the Liberal Party position.

“Having done a lot of canvassing these past few weeks, I know that public servants in Orléans have different perspectives on returning to work in person,” said Marie-France Lalonde, the Liberal incumbent candidate for Orléans. “A majority seem to be leaning towards a hybrid model,” she added in reference to the arrangement that allows employees to work from home some of the time.

Lalonde stressed the government should not rush into potentially profound changes of the workplace. “The realities are not the same from one department to another,” she said, “and I know that each is working to determine the best way to proceed internally.”

Earlier this summer, PSPC launched its “pathfinder project” calling on volunteers to return to the office to test various configurations. In the first few weeks, a couple of hundred employees in the capital region stepped up.

At the beginning of the economic lockdown early last year, some 126,000 workers were directly employed locally by the federal government, representing nearly 17 per cent of the region’s workforce. Add in municipal and provincial government employees and you’ve got close to 24 per cent. Then include thousands of specialists working under contract and it’s easy to see why the region’s commuting and shopping patterns have been so radically upended during the past 18 months.

The politics associated with the mostly-closed offices is complicated. Consider the Ottawa Centre riding currently held by the Liberals. Hundreds of retailers and restaurant owners depend for their livelihood on the physical presence of government workers. But, says New Democratic Party candidate Angella MacEwan, the latter shouldn’t be pushed back to the office before they’re ready, and that means consulting the unions.

“Government offices should re-open when provincial and municipal health guidance has allowed it,” says MacEwan, “and when workers and their unions have come to an agreement that these workplaces are safe for workers.”

Which leaves the question of what to do for all those businesses adjacent to the federal towers. “We should also have targeted supports for our downtown small businesses,” adds MacEwan, pointing out these have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic-inspired lockdowns.

For suburban ridings, the economic imperative to re-open government offices is less of a force. Nepean, for instance, accounts for less than eight per cent of the federal government’s office space in the region. The same is true of Ottawa South and Ottawa West. Most other ridings in the census metropolitan area of Ottawa-Gatineau have a minuscule federal government presence in terms of office infrastructure.

Most of Nepean’s 14,000 government workers pre-pandemic commuted to other ridings, including to the downtown core. Now they are pondering whether they should ever resume that sort of regular journey again.

“The NDP would continue to work closely with public sector unions, who are already consulting their members about permanent work-from-home solutions,” says Sean Devine, the NDP candidate for Nepean, adding that “our goal would be to arrive at mutually accepted options for where and how to work, so that the Canadian public can continue to benefit from the skill and dedication of public servants, while also ensuring that workers have choices for their own health and safety needs.”

The federal public sector unions have so far not been pressured by any of the major political parties to see their members return to the office.

Nevertheless, the Conservatives’ campaign platform framed the issue in a manner that has raised suspicions within the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal government union. PSAC focused on a couple of lines in the Conservatives’ campaign playbook that emphasized achieving savings “by making government more efficient.”

PSAC interpreted this to mean a Conservative government would trim employment and contract out more work to the private sector, though the context of the policy document suggests government employees would be permitted to work from home wherever possible, thus offering potential savings from reduced office space downtown.

“We have no intention of cutting the public service,” Matt Triemstra, the Progressive Conservative candidate for Nepean stressed during the riding’s first all-candidates’ debate. “We’re going to continue to let them work remotely.”

Which leads naturally to the issue of what to do with whatever empty space emerges.

This could provide an important opening for whichever party controls the next government. Roughly half of all federal properties are in poor condition, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada. Depending on location and building type, it might be more economical to convert such properties into apartments, or sell these properties to a private developer for the same purpose.

“The post-pandemic economy presents a unique opportunity to examine new ways to address our critical housing needs,” says Devine. “If we were to support a transition of these physical workspaces into living space, this might also help address how we re-vitalize our downtown core.”

The federal government also has flexibility with a portfolio that consists of owned and leased properties in roughly equal measure. Selling off owned properties in favour of leased offices would likely allow the government to better accommodate the unpredictable demands of a hybrid or work-from-home workforce. It would also generate some gains that could be deployed for other purposes.

Source: Remaking government: Here are the parties’ plans for a post-pandemic workforce

Sears: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Couldn’t agree more:

The consensus about the English debate appears to be that Justin Trudeau’s snarling performance lost it for him, that Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh landed a few effective blows, that Annamie Paul was the winner but it doesn’t matter, and that Yves-François Blanchet won the gold medal for angry petulance.

But the real losers were Canadians, and the folks that should have been removed from the debate stage were the debate organizers themselves. Their “debates” more resembled a rigidly staged game show, with a little “Survivor” added in the form of nasty loaded questions, designed to throw you out of the game.

The blame for the embarrassing debate failures this year is widely shared. The networks push their journalists to become stars of the show, and several played almost partisan and celebrity-seeking roles. The moderator had great difficulty with her role, displaying the exasperation of a newbie teacher attempting to corral a careening group of sugar-high kids.

The set designers should be retired. Flashy, plastic and ugly, the set looked like it was designed to play a starring rather than a supporting role.

How did we sink so low? Well, Canadian political debates have been on a long, slow decline. The newly minted Leaders’ Debates Commission was created to address previous criticisms. It will no doubt give itself a firm pat on the back in its next report, pointing to what will no doubt be impressive viewing numbers. A more sober conclusion would be that it is absurd to think that little more than an hour of direct exchange between five leaders in each language for an entire election campaign is an adequate fulfilment of their mandate.

The commission said they had considered two debates in each language, but were concerned that might “dilute” the viewership. What specious nonsense. Every insider knows why they folded on that essential question: the networks are still really in charge, and they do not want to give up the airtime.

It is indeed ironic that some of the most iconic debates of decades past were moderated with great professionalism by the commission chair David Johnston. He and the other commissioners might want to have a viewing of those past debates together, and then consider whether the flashy game shows they have created are an improvement.

So, where to begin again? First, some basic principles.

Debates are ideally between two contestants, maximum three. Debates are not 45-second sound bites; nuanced messaging requires time, at least 90 seconds, with two minutes reserved for opening and closing remarks. Journalists should not be encouraged to compete with the leaders for airtime, nor should they number more than two. Citizens’ questions are a condescending distraction by the debate organizers. They pretend to be a “vox pop” compliment to Canadians. They aren’t. And two debates in each language is a minimum.

If the networks are not happy with those parameters, show them the door. There are many universities and citizens’ organizations perfectly capable of staging serious, professional political debates. Parliament should grant a new commission an annual budget to fund the debates themselves, granting those groups asked to host sufficient funds to produce an intelligent, informative program.

The Leaders’ Debates Commission is part of the problem. Some argued at its creation that it was Liberal-tainted. If that were true, then the Liberal Party of Canada must be fuming at this year’s series of gong shows. Their leader got hammered. No, the problem is not partisan bias — it is professional knowledge. Retired MPs and professors are excellent counsellors on many files, but television production is not among them.

As a reset, let’s lay out the criteria for membership clearly, and have professional recruitment conducted by an outside consultant, the way we do most major public appointments today. Then let’s have a parliamentary committee approve a granular set of expectations and goals, as a mandate letter to the new commission.

It is deeply ironic that in an election unique in its limitations on the ability of parties and candidates to reach out to meet voters — and the ability of voters to come to hear a leader in person — that one of the few tools left to help Canadians come to a voting decision was such a disaster.

Let’s start over one more time, and try to figure out how best to avoid another campaign of flops.

Source: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Freeman: Quebec Premier François Legault is our most dangerous politician

Valid concerns:

I’ve long believed that Quebec Premier François Legault was the most dangerous politician in Canada, and that his right-wing Quebec nationalism is as serious a threat to the future of the country as René Lévesque’s Parti Québécois (PQ) was in the 1970s and 1980s.

Because Legault doesn’t explicitly urge independence for Quebec, Canadians, including federal politicians, have been lulled into thinking that his government isn’t a threat to the country’s future.

Yet there are no signs that Legault, a one-time PQ minister, has ever dropped his separatist views. Rather, he’s parked them away for short-term electoral purposes, and instead pursued a wildly successful policy of destroying Canadian federalism and the idea of Canada from within.

He’s convinced Quebecers that the National Assembly is the only legitimate representative voice of Quebec voters, and has worked to transform the federal government into a servant of the Quebec state. According to Legault, Ottawa has two purposes: to transfer powers to Quebec, or to hand it unlimited amounts of cash, with no strings attached. If you can get both at once, even better.

Legault has also done immense damage to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as Quebec’s own Human Rights Charter, by pushing through legislation that clearly discriminates against residents of Quebec simply because of their religious beliefs. And in his proposed draconian changes to the province’s language laws, he will further undermine the historic rights of Quebec’s English-speaking minority.

Rather than defend these minorities, federal politicians, led by Justin Trudeau, have quivered and surrendered to Legault’s attacks on fundamental Canadian values. Trudeau has promised to eviscerate the Official Languages Act by turning it into an act to promote French language, rather than to protect linguistic minorities equally, wherever they live. And he’s only weakly challenged Bill C-21, the despicable law against religious minorities.

With Legault’s remarkable outburst on Thursday — which included telling Quebecers whom to vote for on Sept. 20, so as to elect a Conservative minority government — he’s pursuing his policy of undermining the federal government and making it accede to his every demand.

In his statement, Legault instructed Quebec nationalists not to vote for the Liberals, NDP, or the Greens, who he claimed would give Quebec less autonomy. “I am a nationalist,” he said. “I want Quebec to be more autonomous.” When Legault says “autonomy,” we all know what that means. For him, it’s all about eroding federalism until it disappears.

He then added that Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives were a lesser evil, because O’Toole would give Legault more of what he wants. He likes O’Toole’s “approach,” and says it would be easier to negotiate with him. In other words, he considers O’Toole a potential useful idiot.

But Legault doesn’t like the fact that O’Toole would rip up the Liberal daycare policy, depriving Quebec of its $6-billion payout under the deal. Who knows? Maybe O’Toole is so desperate, he’ll now promise that cash to Legault, as well. The Conservative leader has already promised to hand over administration of federal income tax to Quebec, a crazy idea that will further erode federal sovereignty in a key area.

Legault also likes O’Toole because he’s promised to finance 40 per cent of the costs of a Quebec City tunnel, a Legault boondoggle Ottawa has no business being involved in.

As for Trudeau, he looks like a dupe. The daycare deal shows how Legault has taken the naive Trudeau to the cleaners and gets zero credit for the operation. Instead of devising a well-thought-out federal daycare plan and asking that all provinces adhere to certain principles to be part of it, Trudeau claimed that the flawed Quebec program was perfect and should be copied by all provinces. And instead of insisting that Quebec correct the flaws in that program, he opened his cheque book to Legault, effectively paying him for something he was doing in the first place.

Trudeau has shown the same kind of spineless approach to defending religious and language minorities in Quebec, figuring that accommodation was always better than confrontation. His father never operated under those illusions when dealing with Quebec separatists, and still managed to get elected. But Pierre Trudeau had principles.

Will Quebec voters follow Papa Legault and do what he says on Sept. 20? Hard to say. It’s unlikely they’ll vote in droves for O’Toole, but this could be the boost the Bloc Québécois has been looking for. Without picking up extra seats in Quebec, Trudeau might find that his quest for even a minority government has become more difficult.

But what about voters in the rest of the country? If I were Erin O’Toole, I’d be worried. If Legault thinks the Conservatives are an easy mark, English Canadians might figure they’re better off sticking with the Liberals. Trudeau might be squishy when it comes to Legault, but at least he doesn’t have the covert blessing of a man who would destroy Canada.

Source: Quebec Premier François Legault is our most dangerous politician

Ashley Ford: Six Principles for the Policymaker

Not a bad list. Not sure I lived all of these but did try:

Having left a senior US Government position as a diplomat some months ago, I had the occasion the other day to discuss the advice that I would give to future policymakers, or to those who advise them. It was a fair question, but oddly not one that I could recall having been asked before (though I did say some relevant things in a recent paper I wrote on the future of principled conservatism in US foreign policy). Accordingly, as food for thought, here are six principles I try to keep in mind when engaging with the policy process.

1. Ensure input integrity

The first—and most important—principle is to ensure what I call “input integrity.” That’s a fancy way of saying, “Get your facts straight.” It’s certainly possible to stumble upon good policy choices by luck (the proverbial broken analog clock, for instance, is right twice a day). However, without more to rely upon than that, the relationship between policy choices and policy outcomes will most likely follow the adage of “garbage in, garbage out.”

Accordingly, it’s critical to ensure the quality of input by providing as much solid information and analysis as possible, and by considering diverse perspectives and voices in the decision-making process. This will help produce conclusions better matched to the circumstances you face and better able to withstand the scrutiny of colleagues. Decision-makers need to be as well informed as possible throughout the decision-making process, and remain as open as possible to differing views, framings, or analyses. This makes clarity and honesty imperative.

Forgive the classical allusion, but as Plutarch once put it, a true friend is not a flatterer, but someone who—precisely due to the sincerity of friendship—speaks hard truths when they need to be heard. Sound policymaking requires candid advice informed by as much solid information, data, and analysis as possible, even—or indeed especially—when that advice challenges expectations or preconceptions. This also applies when interrogating the assumptions that underlie proposed courses of action, including about the availability and likelihood of desired end-states, and the causal linkages that proposals often presuppose between policy inputs and outcomes.

In the interests of improving the integrity of the deliberative process, it can also be useful to harbor a degree of constructive skepticism in the face of policy enthusiasms. This can be a touchy subject, since passion and commitment to a particular agenda are invaluable drivers of the policy process—such passion often being the “engine” for engagement in trying to improve the world. Nevertheless, passion and enthusiasm can sometimes work at cross-purposes to the critical tasks of ensuring that decision-making is as well-informed as possible, of questioning and testing assumptions, and of ensuring that diverse perspectives and data inputs are taken into account in decision-making.

After all, those certain they already know the transcendently “Right Answer” will be disinclined to waste time debating policy and considering complicating details or contrary views. But that course is risky, and doesn’t serve the interests of good policymaking because people are fallible and because enthusiasm about one’s own rectitude can create blind spots, even for the best among us. As an old friend of mine likes to put it, “If you want it bad, you get it bad”—if you want something desperately enough, you’re more likely to make bad choices in its pursuit. Simply put, uncritical enthusiasm increases the likelihood of failure.

Even those convinced they already have the answer should still be willing to entertain contrary scenarios, consider heterodox views, interrogate their own assumptions, and remain open to inconvenient facts. There’s little downside to this, and a huge potential upside. (If you’re right, your position should easily survive such encounters, and indeed be strengthened by them. And if your initial approach is incorrect, openness and inquiry will let you improve it, and perhaps even forestall disaster.) Especially in an era of factually unmoored, enthusiasm-driven position-taking, a little constructive skepticism can be the policymaker’s best friend.

2. Fail “safe”

The idea of “failing safe” is related to the thought processes I’ve stressed above. It is important to consider what will happen if the underlying assumptions of a particular course of action prove to be incorrect, or if you encounter unexpected “off-design” scenarios. After all, not all paths “fail” equally “safely.” It may sometimes be wiser to adopt an approach that is not quite as effective in predictedscenarios if, in return for this sub-optimization, it would work much better in the face of unexpected ones. There may be a balance to be struck here.

For instance, it is possible to open a can of beans with a screwdriver, as well as to do a good many other things, if perhaps not always elegantly. But an electric can opener cannot turn a screw. Opening cans is vastly easier with the opener, but unless I’m sure I’ll only ever encounter unopened cans—and that the electricity will never go out—there’s something to be said for picking a screwdriver, assuming I have to choose between the two.

This can sometimes be hard for policymakers to stomach (or to defend to others, especially in a political context) because it necessarily involves choosing not to adopt the course of action they really think would work best in the circumstances they’re most likely to face. But I do think it’s important to add “alternative scenarios” to the mix, for the world does seem to love throwing us curve balls.

Scenario planning concepts should encourage us to consider more flexible, “Swiss Army Knife”-type policy choices rather than always betting on highly specialized, single-use tools that may work extremely well under optimal circumstances but could fail catastrophically in unpredicted situations.

3. Clarity in trade-offs

Policymakers should be honest with themselves (and others) about strategic trade-offs between competing equities. Policymaking is, after all, frequently not just about finding the best answer to the problem at hand, but also about making decisions in an environment of finite resources: limits on available funding, manpower, bureaucratic attention, political capital, and time. In such contexts, full-bore pursuit of one important objective necessarily often means cutting back on efforts to achieve another, or accepting heightened risk in de-emphasized areas. Where resources are limited, each policy prioritization you make may need to be “paid for” somewhere else.

There is often no way around such challenges, but policymakers tend to hate making this kind of choice, or sometimes even admitting that they need to—or that they have done so. These are inherently difficult choices that can be politically challenging to make and defend, because they involve adjudicating and potentially compromising between objectives, all of which may be very important. Such choices, however, are often inescapable, and we do the integrity of the policy process a disservice if we pretend we aren’t making them.

4. Seek sustainability

Policymakers should ensure that the country can stay on course over time where it needs to do so. This sustainability question may not be so relevant when leaders have to respond to a “one-off” crisis. But in broader questions of setting national policy and running large, path-dependent bureaucracies, policies need to be sustainable in the long-term.

Especially in an era of polarized politics, democratic governments are vulnerable to significant policy oscillations as different political teams succeed each other. Sometimes that’s a strength, because it increases the frequency at which folks re-examine past policy choices for faulty assumptions or unintentional bad outcomes. But inconstancy can be problematic in areas where we need a sustained application of attention and focus—such as in grand strategy against near-peer competitors who think in terms of decades rather than just, say, about the end of the next fiscal year or the next election.

From those kinds of challenges, there’s something to be said for deliberately choosing a good but not maximally beneficial course of action if such compromise gets you “buy-in” from other stakeholders in ways that will ensure that the policy remains a consistent priority over time. Doing this can be hard, for in a time like ours, such compromise may be depicted as “betrayal.” But insisting upon the “perfect” answer to a long-term problem at the cost of having it be only a temporary one—a choice that is soon reversed by one’s successor—isn’t sound policymaking. It is preening at the expense of policy, and it ultimately undermines one’s cause.

Another aspect of sustainability relates to public discourse. Especially in a democracy, no policy will be genuinely sustainable over time unless it is clearly explained and defended to all relevant stakeholders in public. Open, honest, and clear articulation of policy choices and the reasoning behind them is essential to making them stick. This is so, not just because it helps ensure stakeholder “buy-in,” but also because it puts reasons and arguments permanently “on the record” as a benchmark against which later policymakers will have to defend their own choices, and as a foundation upon which others may be able to build. In office, I’ve always tried to put as much clear policy explication and reasoning on the record as possible, and I very much appreciate this in others; it can help make us all smarter.

5. Revisit choices

It’s important to re-examine policy choices and the assumptions that underlie them periodically, in light of the best available information and analysis. Humans are fallible, and their choices are always made, to one degree or another, in an environment of ambiguous or incomplete information, sometimes under considerable stresses and time pressures. And even if they do actually get everything right the first time, the world is still not a static place—it can and does change. It’s therefore essential to build some kind of “revisit” process into decision-making in order periodically to reassesses the “fit” between policy prescriptions and the environment.

Ideally, such revisits will reassure us that we’re still on the right track. If not, they still give us a chance to make any necessary adjustments. After all, one doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to agree with the (perhaps apocryphal) quip usually attributed to John Maynard Keynes that when the facts change, one should be willing to change one’s mind. That may be easier said than done, but it’s important nonetheless.

6. Attend to values

Finally, it is important to keep one’s eye on the overall course and direction of policy within a framework of clearly understood and articulated values. This isn’t so much about the policy process, I suppose, as it is about remembering fundamental points of overall policy direction. One’s “tactical” moves should always make sense within the overall “strategic” vision that broader societal and institutional values and choices help provide.

This takes the issue at hand to a level above the factual and analytic “input integrity” I discussed earlier. Facts and their analysis are critical to understanding the environment and devising ways to achieve desired outcomes. But they do not provide much of an answer to questions such as: What objectives does the community wish to pursue in the first place? How do we decide whether or not to prioritize one goal over another? How do we assess and execute trade-offs among stakeholder equities where outcomes cannot be fully optimized for everyone?

For these dilemmas, policymaking relies heavily upon dynamics of socio-political bargaining and other forms of (often contested) choice-making driven by values. Technocracy can help inform such decisions, and can almost always help make policy implementation more effective. But often, it can only do so within a higher-level framework of antecedent values and choices.

Policymakers should be mindful of the higher-level values framework within which they operate. A brigade commander might issue a general directive to “Take that hill!” but should empower his platoon leaders to improvise specific movements based upon their superior knowledge of the condition of their troops and the terrain immediately in front of each unit. Similarly, broader value-informed directional choices provide a sense of “commander’s intent” for the more detailed aspects of policy development and adoption. Such values provide our overall compass bearings, and we forget that sense of direction at our peril.

Source: Six Principles for the Policymaker