Trudeau government considers legislative changes to make public service more diverse

Of note. The most significant aspects IMO are:

  • ongoing improvements in data (the disaggregated data for visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities is incredibly useful);
  • the push for increased diversity among executives is buttressed by the DM performance commitment on diversity and inclusion;
  • review of the Employment Equity Act and representation benchmarks (review of the Act will likely generate some debate from all quarters although it’s approach of self-identification and annual reporting has resulted in increased in ongoing increased representation of the EE groups);
  • Review of the Public Service Employment Act and possible amendments to reduce systemic barriers (unclear what that will entail): and,
  • It remains to see how effective the various consultation and related initiatives such as the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion will be in affecting change.

For my analysis of disaggregated data see my What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service … and What the Public Service Employee Survey breakdowns of visible minority and other groups tell us about diversity and inclusion:

The Trudeau Liberals are eyeing changes to the law governing public service hiring to help make federal departments and agencies more diverse.

They also plan to do further research on the makeup of the federal public service and will try to hire more senior leaders with varied backgrounds.

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos and his parliamentary secretary, Greg Fergus, are spelling out the priorities today to foster greater diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the public service.

The government says while there has been some progress for Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples and others who face racial discrimination in the workplace, too many public servants continue to face obstacles.

The Treasury Board Secretariat has begun discussions about the framework for recruitment in the public service and is specifically looking at “possible amendments” to the Public Service Employment Act.

The act is intended to ensure federal hiring is fair, transparent and representative.

The move would complement a review of the Employment Equity Act planned by Labour Minister Filomena Tassi.

The government recently released data that provides more detail about the composition of the public service.

Duclos and Fergus say the annual public service employee survey will help the government identify more precisely where gaps remain and what is needed to improve representation.

The government plans to increase diversity through promotion and recruitment, including introduction of the Mentorship Plus Program to allow departments to offer mentoring and sponsorship opportunities to high-potential employees who might currently face barriers.

The government says although progress will take time, the public service can be a model of inclusion for employers across the country and around the world.

“In time, we will build a public service that is the true reflection of our pluralism and diversity,” Duclos said in a statement.

Just last week, Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart issued a call to action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the public service, setting out federal expectations for current leaders.

The government has also launched the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion, supported by a budget of $12 million, to create an ongoing discussion about change.

“There is much to do before all public servants can feel they truly belong in a public service that values inclusiveness and differences,” Fergus said.

“Outlining these key areas of focus is a key step in taking concrete action.”

Source: Trudeau government considers legislative changes to make public service more diverse

And the TBS announcement of the government’s strategy of January 26:

The public service has long made diversity and inclusion a core value and continuously reflects on the treatment of Black Canadians, Indigenous Peoples, and other individuals who face racial discrimination and other barriers in the workplace, and who are often underrepresented at the most senior levels of the public service. While there has been progress, too many public servants continue to face obstacles. It is time to close the gaps and eliminate the barriers that remain, ensuring the public service is truly representative of the people it serves.

The President of the Treasury Board, the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, along with Greg Fergus, Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board, has announced the government’s priorities to foster greater diversity, inclusion and accessibility in the public service. Among these efforts, there are several key initiatives:

Generating and publishing data for a more accurate picture of representation gaps

Already, the government has released disaggregated datasets, providing first‑ever views into the composition of public service employees who self‑identify in Employment Equity sub-groups, such as Black or Métis for example.

The annual Public Service Employee Survey, now underway, will generate data and insights to better understand the workforce at even more detailed levels. The results will help us identify more precisely, in particular demographic or occupational groups for instance, where gaps remain and what actions are required to improve representation. 

Increasing the diversity of the senior leaders of the public service

Departments, supported by the Treasury Board Secretariat, will work to increase diversity among senior leaders of the public service and establish a culture of inclusiveness that will combat racism and address systemic barriers. This includes increasing representation through promotion and recruitment and the introduction of the Mentorship Plus Program to allow departments to offer mentoring and sponsorship opportunities to high-potential employees who may currently face barriers. 

Ensuring appropriate benchmarks

The Treasury Board Secretariat will continue to work closely with partners, which includes supporting Employment and Social Development Canada on the review of the Employment Equity Act, to ensure that the public service applies appropriate benchmarks for diversity. 

Addressing systemic barriers

The Treasury Board Secretariat has initiated discussions with key stakeholders about the framework for recruitment in the public service and is specifically looking at possible amendments to the Public Service Employment Act and to support the review the Employment Equity Act, planned by the Minister of Labour.  

In addition to these initiatives, on January 22, 2021, the Clerk of the Privy Council and Head of the Public Service, issued a Call to Action on anti-racism, equity and inclusion in the federal public service. The Call to Action sets out common expectations for leaders to take practical actions that will form the basis for meaningful change.

Engagement, and education will underpin all this work. To that end, the President of the Treasury Board and his Parliamentary Secretary held a roundtable last week with employee communities and stakeholder groups that continue to face barriers to representation and inclusion. And the Government of Canada recently launched the Centre for Diversity and Inclusion. The Centre, supported by a budget of $12M outlined in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, will co-develop initiatives with these communities, leveraging the lived experiences of public servants to foster an ongoing dialogue for positive change. At the same time, the Canada School of Public Service is refreshing its diversity and inclusion curriculum and has launched an Anti-Racism Event Series.

Progress will take time. But concrete steps in these areas will bring the public service closer to its goal: to be more reflective of Canada and a model of inclusion for employers across the country and around the world. 

Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/treasury-board-secretariat/news/2021/01/government-announces-priorities-for-action-to-increase-diversity-and-inclusion-in-the-public-service.html

Clerk’s Call to action on anti-racism, equity, and inclusion in the Federal Public Service, DM performance commitments

While the call to action is the high level message, the implementation approach is covered by the 2020-21 DM commitments on diversity and inclusion, included below the call.

These are significant given that DM commitments cascade down to all executives, with the strongest one, from a measurement and accountability perspective, being:

Deputies will be required to present a staffing plan demonstrating the rate of hiring and promotions of individuals at the executive and non-executive levels, who self-identify in at least one of the EE groups, that will aim close the gap within the next 4 years, with demonstrable and steady progress made annually starting in 2021.

As the above chart shows, there has been a steady increase in visible minorities and Indigenous peoples representation at both the all employee and EX levels.

I have obtained from TBS disaggregated date for visible minorities and Indigenous peoples covering hirings, promotions and separations for the years 2017-19 and will publish my analysis when complete in a few weeks which will refine the baseline by which to measure the impact of the performance commitment and call to action:

The past several months have precipitated deep reflection on the unjust treatment of Black people, other racialized groups, and Indigenous peoples in our society. As public servants come forward and courageously share their lived experiences, the urgency of removing systemic racism from our institutions and from our culture becomes more evident.

Our leadership across the Public Service must be more diverse. Unless swift action is taken, we will fall short of effectively supporting the Government and serving Canadians. We have an obligation to our employees, and to all Canadians, to do better by ensuring that we are putting the full capacity of our entire pool of talent at the service of Canadians.

Grassroots networks and communities have opened conversations, often reliving their own personal traumas, in an effort to increase our collective awareness and to build paths forward. More data is being disaggregated, helping us to further understand where gaps exist and to inform direction and decisions. Training and new recruitment models are being developed. We are by no means where we want to be and much work still remains, but these efforts across the Public Service are creating a foundation for change.

As we focus on combatting racism, it is not sufficient to simply equip ourselves with knowledge and tools. We must take action in ways we know will be meaningful in addressing all barriers and disadvantages. Being a leader means taking an active role in ending all forms of discrimination and oppression, consciously and constantly challenging our own biases, and creating an environment in which our employees feel empowered and safe to speak up when they witness barriers to equity and inclusion. Inaction is not an option.

With the Accessibility Strategy for the Public Service of Canada, we have seen how concerted, system-wide efforts, together with strong commitment and leadership, can generate necessary momentum. Although much work remains, setting out a plan with concrete actions, bringing the voices of those most impacted to the forefront, and holding ourselves accountable for success is a model worth following.

We must encourage and support the voices that have long been marginalized in our organizations. We must create opportunities where they have long been absent. We must take direct, practical actions to invoke change. This is a true test of leadership, and one we must meet head on. Now.

I am therefore calling on all Public Service leaders to:

  • Appoint Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to and within the Executive Group through career development and talent management
  • Sponsor high-potential Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees to prepare them for leadership roles
  • Support the participation of Indigenous employees and Black and other racialized employees in leadership development programs (for example, the Executive Leadership Development Program) and career development services (for example, official language training)
  • Recruit highly qualified candidates from Indigenous communities and Black and other racialized communities from across all regions of Canada

I am further calling on all Public Service leaders to invest in developing inclusive leadership skills and in establishing a sense of belonging and trust for all public servants, as well as those joining us now and in the future, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation or gender expression by:

  • Committing to personally learning about racism, reconciliation, accessibility, equity and inclusion, and fostering a safe, positive environment where these conversations are encouraged throughout our workplaces
  • Combatting all forms of racism, discrimination and other barriers to inclusion in the workplace by taking action on what we have learned, empowering employees to speak up about bias and oppression, and better equipping managers to address these issues
  • Enabling and advancing the work of grassroots networks and communities within the Public Service by providing necessary resources and bringing them into discussions at senior executive tables
  • Including voices from diverse backgrounds in the identification of systemic racism, discrimination and barriers to inclusion, and the design and implementation of actions to address them
  • Measuring progress and driving improvements in the employee workplace experience by monitoring disaggregated survey results and related operational data (for example, promotion and mobility rates, tenure) and acting on what the results are telling us

This call to action represents specific and meaningful actions. My expectation is that progress will be measured and lessons shared. While senior leaders are accountable, this set of actions demands our collective responsibility – at all levels – and a recognition that the existing equity work underway must continue. We have already seen the value of this work in early implementation of recommendations from reports such as Many Voices One Mind: A Pathway to Reconciliation.

As we are bringing these actions to life, we must also recognize that experiences vary across different regions of Canada, and that interconnected dimensions of identity, such as race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identification and expression, physical or mental ability, and other individual characteristics, often create varying and complex experiences of bias. As persons with visible and invisible disabilities continue to face physical and technological barriers, the approaches we develop must be truly inclusive by also being truly accessible.

Building a diverse, equitable and inclusive Public Service is both an obligation and an opportunity we all share. We must advance this objective together, acting both individually and collectively, and recognizing that our progress will rely on amplifying the voices of those within our organizations to help lead the way. In my role as the Head of the Public Service, I will keep close to the voices of public servants. I am calling on you to do the same.
Ian Shugart
Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet

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And the substance behind the statement:

2020/2021 Deputy Minister Commitments on Diversity and Inclusion 

The Federal Public Service is stronger and most effective when we reflect the diversity of Canada’s populations we serve.  While progress has been made in recent years to achieve gender parity in the Deputy Minister community, there is more progress to be made in increasing representation of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities. At the enterprise level, strong partnerships are in place between departments, the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer, the Public Service Commission and the Canada School of Public Service on horizontal initiatives, such as data analysis, training and development programs as well as recruitment.

To further expand on actions meant to tackle racism and improve representation at all levels, the April 1, 2020 Treasury Board Directive on Employment Equity, Diversity and Inclusion requires Deputies to designate a senior official responsible for developing a comprehensive action plan, in collaboration with equity-deserving groups that will explain how barriers to inclusion will be identified, removed and prevented, and that:

  • Establishes a baseline of where the Department is at today;
  • Sets out objectives, to increase representation through recruitment and promotion within the organization and to respond to Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) results related to the perception of harassment and discrimination;
  • Explains how equity-deserving groups are engaged in the plan’s development and will continue to be; and
  • Is updated annually, and results reported publicly.

Targets play an important role in driving organizations to achieve measurable change in advancing diversity and inclusion objectives. As a goal for 2021, departments will consider their Workforce Availability statistics as the floor and not the ceiling with regards to diversity targets.

Deputies will be required to present a staffing plan demonstrating the rate of hiring and promotions of individuals at the executive and non-executive levels, who self-identify in at least one of the EE groups, that will aim close the gap within the next 4 years, with demonstrable and steady progress made annually starting in 2021.

In keeping with the Treasury Board Directive and the Performance Management Program’s Corporate Priorities, Deputies must also add focus on efforts and results to build a more inclusive and diverse workforce. Therefore, they are to select three measures from the list below that will enable their leadership teams to advance measureable change in their organizations. As such, they are encouraged to select these measures from one or more themes that go beyond what is currently being done in their organizations, and recognize the different scope of authority at various executive levels within the organization. In reporting on these commitments, Departmental management teams will need to provide clear and measureable results on what the measures have accomplished in achieving progress to address under-representation.

Changing the Public Service Culture
Establish a culture of inclusiveness that values diversity and will combat racism and address systemic barriers
  • Fostering inclusive leadership by:
    • Ensuring all executives complete anti-racism and unconscious bias training by March 2021; and
    • Engaging senior management tables on anti-racism via facilitated group discussions on unconscious bias and systemic racism to start the de-stigmatization of discussions on racism and particularly anti-Black racism.
  • Providing adequate support by:
    • Ensuring that employee mental health and wellbeing supports are culturally sensitive and adequately tailored to address issues of racism, discrimination and hate in the workplace; and
    • Ensuring departmental Ombudsman Offices are trained and equipped to create safe spaces for employees facing racism or experiencing discrimination. Also, providing concrete tools for employees to respond to micro-aggressions in the workplace.
  • Engaging in dialogue that will de-stigmatize discussions on racism and systemic barriers by:
    • Hosting monthly organizational fireside chats where subject matter experts deliver relevant presentations on racism, ableism or other discrimination-related topics;
    • Developing a value statement on anti-racism and ableism and proactively seeking opportunities to talk about the value of diversity and inclusion;
    • Promoting and supporting the planning of organizational initiatives, celebrations and respectful incorporation of diverse histories and cultures into the workplace; and
    • Frequently meeting departmental employee equity committees and/or networks and inviting representatives of these committees and/or networks to attend meetings of the senior executive on a regular basis in order for a diversity of perspectives to be considered.
Reflecting Diversity and Promoting Inclusion
Increase the representation of Black, other racialized and Indigenous People as well as persons with disabilities within all levels of the organization
  • Actively supporting the recruitment and retention of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities by:
    • Establishing clear targets to increase the representation of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities within all levels of the organization through recruitment, with particular attention to and especially key organizational communities such as human resources and communications;
    • Partnering with equity-deserving communities to attract and retain new talent that reflects Canada’s diversity;
    • Reviewing and ensuring that hiring processes are culturally sensitive and driven to remove barriers to appointment for Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities;
    • Supporting non-imperative staffing and language training for managerial positions where Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities are being considered for appointment.
  • Actively supporting the promotion, sponsorship and career development of Black people and other racialized groups, Indigenous People, and persons with disabilities by:
    • Establishing clear targets to increase the representation of Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities within all levels of the organization through promotions, with particular attention to and especially key business lines, including human resources and communications;
    • ADM or DM-level sponsoring of Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities who are identified by their managers as high-potential for executive roles or to advance to the ADM level;
    • Reviewing and ensuring that talent and performance management processes are culturally sensitive and driven to remove systemic barriers to Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities;
    • Supporting language training for career development of Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities;
    • Adopting the Aboriginal Leadership Development Initiative (ALDI) operating at Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada / Indigenous Services Canada to identify and cultivate Indigenous talent;
    • Implementing a mentoring program for Black employees and other racialized employees, Indigenous employees, and employees with disabilities within the organization and requiring that all DMs and ADMs shadow mentees that belong to one of the aforementioned equity-deserving groups.
Updating Policy and Programs: Our Future Workplace
Ensure that internal and external policies and programs are inclusive and free of systemic racism and barriers
  • Reviewing and adapting all external public oriented policies and programs to ensure they meet the government requirements for accessibility, equity and transparency by:
    • Identifying and addressing systemic racism and barriers to accessibility and disability inclusion within those policies;
    • Ensuring transparency and accessibility of departmental Grants and Contributions’ programs with specific initiatives targeted at equity-deserving groups and individuals;
    • Reporting on the year over year incremental departmental measures in place to support the intent of s. 10.1, 10.2 and 11 of the Indigenous Languages Act if applicable.
  • Establishing and overseeing a review of all internal systems, policies, programs and initiatives by:
    • Setting up panels to hear how existing programs and policies are being experienced by equity-deserving groups and what they think needs to be addressed;
    • Reviewing HR, Procurement, Communications policies, programs and initiatives using Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+) and considering various identity factors including race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender identification and expression as well as and mental or physical disability to identify systemic racism and barriers to accessibility and disability inclusion;
    • Ensuring Black employees, other racialized employees, Indigenous employees and employees with disabilities have membership and their view represented at executive tables, advisory councils, occupational health committees and other horizontal committees to foster diverse perspectives on internal policies, programs and operations.
  • Increasing accessibility internally by:
    • Ensuring new systems, including internally developed or procured hardware and software, meet modern accessibility standards;
    • Requiring that any documentation distributed across the organization (e.g. presentations, videos, briefing notes and papers, publications) be accessible and ensuring staff have the necessary training to achieve this goal;
    • Addressing systemic discrimination and barriers to accessibility and disability inclusion within all internal operational policies, programs and initiatives;
    • Developing and communicating proactive, streamlined workplace accommodation processes and practices in the organization, including for those working from home, as well as putting in place the necessary supports for employees and their managers.

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U.S. Census Bureau director to resign amid criticism over citizenship data

Of note (former StatsCan head Munir Sheikh resigned over Conservative government’s replacement of the mandatory census with the less accurate voluntary National Household Survey):

Facing criticism over efforts to produce citizenship data to comply with an order from President Donald Trump, U.S. Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham said Monday that he planned to resign with the change in presidential administrations.

Dillingham said in a statement that he would resign on Wednesday, the day Trump leaves the White House and President-elect Joseph Biden takes office. Dillingham’s term was supposed to be finished at the end of the year.

The Census Bureau director’s departure comes as the statistical agency is crunching the numbers for the 2020 census, which will be used to determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets, as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year.

In his statement, Dillingham said he had been considering retiring earlier, but he had been persuaded at the time to stick around.
“But I must do now what I think is best,” said Dillingham, 68. “Let me make it clear that under other circumstances I would be honored to serve President-Elect Biden just as I served the past five presidents.”

A Census Bureau spokesman said the agency’s chief operating officer, Ron Jarmin, will assume the director’s duties. Jarmin served in the same role before Dillingham became director two years ago.

Last week, Democratic lawmakers called on Dillingham to resign after a watchdog agency said he had set a deadline that pressured statisticians to produce a report on the number of people in the U.S. illegally.

A report by the Office of Inspector General last week said bureau workers were under significant pressure from two Trump political appointees to figure out who is in the U.S. illegally using federal and state administrative records, and Dillingham had set a Friday deadline for bureau statisticians to provide him a technical report on the effort.

One whistleblower told the Office of Inspector General that the work was “statistically indefensible.”

After the release of the inspector general’s report, leaders of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called for Dillingham’s resignation, and several Democratic lawmakers followed suit.

Dillingham then ordered an indefinite halt to the efforts to produce data showing the citizenship status of every U.S. resident through administrative records.

During Dillingham’s tenure, the Trump administration unsuccessfully tried to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire, and the president issued two directives that advocacy groups said were part of efforts to suppress the participation of minorities and immigrants in the head count of every U.S. resident.

Trump’s first directive, issued in 2019, instructed the Census Bureau to use administrative records to figure out who is in the country illegally after the Supreme Court blocked the citizenship question. In the second directive last year, Trump instructed the Census Bureau to provide data that would allow his administration to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the numbers used for divvying up congressional seats among the states.

An influential GOP adviser had advocated excluding them from the apportionment process in order to favor Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, even though the Constitution spells out that every person in each state should be counted. Trump’s unprecedented order on apportionment was challenged in more than a half-dozen lawsuits around the U.S., but the Supreme Court ruled last month that any challenge was premature.

Dillingham oftentimes appeared cut out of the loop on these census-related decisions made by the White House and Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau. At a congressional hearing in July, Dillingham said he wasn’t informed ahead of time before Trump issued his directive on the apportionment numbers.

The pandemic and errors found in the data have forced the Census Bureau to delay releasing the numbers used to apportion congressional seats until early March.

Last week, the Department of Justice and municipalities and advocacy groups that had sued the Trump administration over the 2020 census agreed to put the lawsuit on hold for 21 days so the Biden administration can take power and decide how to proceed with the census and the litigation.

“Director Dillingham’s departure will coincide with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, providing the new administration the opportunity to appoint competent, ethical leadership committed to the scientific integrity of the Census Bureau,” Arturo Vargas, CEO of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, said Monday.

Source: Census Bureau director to resign amid criticism over citizenship data

Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Sigh… Yet another oversight. So PHAC relied exclusively on the WHO which appears to have relied exclusively on the Chinese government, and did not explore other data sources:

Public health officials failed to cite early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 gathered through classified military intelligence as the pandemic crisis emerged a year ago, CBC News has learned — an oversight described as a strategic failure by intelligence and public health experts.

For over seven decades, Canada and some of its closest allies have operated a largely secret formal exchange of military medical intelligence. That relationship regularly produces troves of highly detailed data on emerging health threats.

The small, specialized unit within the Canadian military’s intelligence branch began producing warnings about COVID-19 in early January of last year — assessments based largely on classified allied intelligence. Those warnings generally were three weeks ahead of other open sources, say defence insiders.

But documents show the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) COVID-19 rapid risk assessments — which politicians and public servants used to guide their choices in early days of the pandemic — contained no input from the military’s warnings, which remain classified.

Three of the five PHAC risk assessments — obtained under access to information law by one of the country’s leading intelligence experts and CBC News — show federal health officials relying almost exclusively on assessments from the World Health Organization.

Even those writing the risk assessment reports acknowledged the dearth of intelligence.

Confidence level ‘low’

“Due to the limited epidemiologic data from China, and limited virologic information available for the etiologic agent, the confidence level for this assessment is considered as ‘low’ and the algorithm outputs remain uncertain at this time,” said the Feb. 2, 2020 PHAC risk assessment report.

The analysts at PHAC were uncertain because — as the world learned later — China was stonewalling the WHO about the extent of the Wuhan outbreak and assuring international health experts that everything was under control.

Meanwhile, in the military medical community, alarm bells were ringing. In the U.S., the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), located in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was not only gathering raw intelligence through various classified means — it was producing comprehensive assessments of the trajectory of the virus as of last February.

“This coronavirus pandemic is right in their wheelhouse, which is part of their core mission — to be on the lookout for any early indications of infectious disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Clemente, a physician practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina who has researched and written extensively about the history of medical intelligence.

‘Strategic surprise’

The original purpose of military medical intelligence among the allies was to assess sanitary and health conditions in the places around the globe where their troops were deployed.

But over the years, Clemente said, the mandate evolved to include “preventing strategic surprise” — such as pandemics and deliberate biological attacks.

“So there’s a wide range of reports, from your short-form daily bulletins to long-form assessments,” he said.

“It’s important to know that this is different from, say, the World Health Organization because the NCMI has access to all-source intelligence, meaning they have access to the most secret levels of intelligence, including clandestine human reporting, satellites, signals intelligence and … open  reporting.”

The information gathered through such intelligence channels would be knowledge “that other traditional health care and public health agencies” don’t have, he added. It’s also the kind of knowledge that would have informed the Canadian military’s medical intelligence branch as the pandemic was gathering momentum.

‘A terrible failure’

The fact that PHAC didn’t track what the military medical intelligence branch was seeing, coupled with changes to the federal government’s own Global Pandemic Health Information Network (GPHIN), represent “a terrible failure,” said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who studies intelligence services and national security. He requested the documents through the access to information law.

The auditor general is reviewing what went wrong with the country’s early warning system, including the risk assessments. Flaws in those assessments may have affected the introduction of anti-pandemic measures such as border closures and mask mandates.

A second, separate independent review of Canada’s early pandemic response has been ordered by Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

CBC News first reported last spring that the military medical intelligence branch (MEDINT) began writing reports and issuing warnings about COVID-19 in January 2020. At the time, a spokesperson for MEDINT would not comment “on the content of intelligence reports that we receive or share.”

A follow-up investigation by CBC News has shed more light on the long-established secret network the allies use to warn each of health threats.

It’s governed by an obscure forum going by a rather clunky name: the Quadripartite Medical Intelligence Committee (QMIC).

A ‘Five Eyes’ network for pandemics

Originating in the Second World War, the forum allows the American, Canadian, British and Australian militaries to exchange classified global health data and assessments about emerging health threats.

Clemente describes it as the medical equivalent of the better-known Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Clemente said that, through U.S. freedom of information law, he has compiled a comprehensive, declassified portrait of the deep health intelligence ties between allies — especially between Canada and the U.S.

He said he also has collected reports and analyses on how NCMI tracked and assessed previous pandemics and disease outbreaks, including SARS, H1N1 and Ebola.

Those assessments — copies of which were obtained by CBC News — are very precise and complete. The U.S. military’s assessments of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes remain classified, but Clemente said it’s certain that NCMI was doing similar surveillance on COVID-19 which would have been shared with allies.

Wark said Canada’s public health system was redesigned almost two decades ago with the aim of preventing “strategic surprise,” but many of initiatives planned or implemented following the SARS outbreak were allowed to wither away and die.

One 2004 proposal which fell by the wayside was to find a mechanism that would allow PHAC to seamlessly incorporate classified intelligence into its system of reporting.

Greg Fyffe, the former executive director of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat in the Privy Council Office (which supports the prime minister’s office), said military medical intelligence assessments rarely came across his desk during his tenure a decade ago.

He said that when intelligence reports reach the highest levels of government, they often arrive in summary form and analysts occasionally have to seek out more details.

“There’s so much intelligence information out there that it’s not a matter of saying … ‘I have a little bit of something that you’d like to see,'” said Fyffe. “We’re talking about huge volumes of material which can’t all be shared.”

In a year-end interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the suggestion that better early warnings could have stopped COVID-19 from spreading to Canada.

“I think we used all the resources that we always have to follow and monitor,” he said. “I don’t know that it would have made a huge difference for us to have extra reporting on top of what we were getting.”

The prime minister said that, in hindsight, there were things “we probably would have wanted to have done sooner in terms of preparing,” such as bolstering stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

‘We could have been much better prepared’

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan indicated in a year-end interview that he shared the information he had and there were “many conversations” within the government.

While he cautioned that military intelligence alone can’t cover global disease surveillance, he did acknowledge that Canada’s early warning mechanisms need a serious review “from a whole-of-government perspective … making sure we have the right sensors out.”

Preparation is the whole point of early warning, said Wark, who agreed with Trudeau’s assessment of the volatility of the novel coronavirus’s transmission.

“We wouldn’t have stopped it from coming to Canada,” said Wark. “That would have been impossible. But we could have been much better prepared to meet its onslaught, and we were not. We suffered a terrible failure of early warning, of intelligence, of risk assessment.

“And the main lesson that has to be drawn … from the experience of COVID-19 is that we have to fix all of those things. We have to have a better early warning system.”

Source: Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Snyder: The American Abyss: A historian of fascism and political atrocity on Trump, the mob and what comes next.

Good long and sobering read:

When Donald Trump stood before his followers on Jan. 6 and urged them to march on the United States Capitol, he was doing what he had always done. He never took electoral democracy seriously nor accepted the legitimacy of its American version.

Even when he won, in 2016, he insisted that the election was fraudulent — that millions of false votes were cast for his opponent. In 2020, in the knowledge that he was trailing Joseph R. Biden in the polls, he spent months claiming that the presidential election would be rigged and signaling that he would not accept the results if they did not favor him. He wrongly claimed on Election Day that he had won and then steadily hardened his rhetoric: With time, his victory became a historic landslide and the various conspiracies that denied it ever more sophisticated and implausible.

People believed him, which is not at all surprising. It takes a tremendous amount of work to educate citizens to resist the powerful pull of believing what they already believe, or what others around them believe, or what would make sense of their own previous choices. Plato noted a particular risk for tyrants: that they would be surrounded in the end by yes-men and enablers. Aristotle worried that, in a democracy, a wealthy and talented demagogue could all too easily master the minds of the populace. Aware of these risks and others, the framers of the Constitution instituted a system of checks and balances. The point was not simply to ensure that no one branch of government dominated the others but also to anchor in institutions different points of view.

In this sense, the responsibility for Trump’s push to overturn an election must be shared by a very large number of Republican members of Congress. Rather than contradict Trump from the beginning, they allowed his electoral fiction to flourish. They had different reasons for doing so. One group of Republicans is concerned above all with gaming the system to maintain power, taking full advantage of constitutional obscurities, gerrymandering and dark money to win elections with a minority of motivated voters. They have no interest in the collapse of the peculiar form of representation that allows their minority party disproportionate control of government. The most important among them, Mitch McConnell, indulged Trump’s lie while making no comment on its consequences.

Yet other Republicans saw the situation differently: They might actually break the system and have power without democracy. The split between these two groups, the gamers and the breakers, became sharply visible on Dec. 30, when Senator Josh Hawley announced that he would support Trump’s challenge by questioning the validity of the electoral votes on Jan. 6. Ted Cruz then promised his own support, joined by about 10 other senators. More than a hundred Republican representatives took the same position. For many, this seemed like nothing more than a show: challenges to states’ electoral votes would force delays and floor votes but would not affect the outcome.

Yet for Congress to traduce its basic functions had a price. An elected institution that opposes elections is inviting its own overthrow. Members of Congress who sustained the president’s lie, despite the available and unambiguous evidence, betrayed their constitutional mission. Making his fictions the basis of congressional action gave them flesh. Now Trump could demand that senators and congressmen bow to his will. He could place personal responsibility upon Mike Pence, in charge of the formal proceedings, to pervert them. And on Jan. 6, he directed his followers to exert pressure on these elected representatives, which they proceeded to do: storming the Capitol building, searching for people to punish, ransacking the place.

Of course this did make a kind of sense: If the election really had been stolen, as senators and congressmen were themselves suggesting, then how could Congress be allowed to move forward? For some Republicans, the invasion of the Capitol must have been a shock, or even a lesson. For the breakers, however, it may have been a taste of the future. Afterward, eight senators and more than 100 representatives voted for the lie that had forced them to flee their chambers.

Post-truth is pre-fascism, and Trump has been our post-truth president. When we give up on truth, we concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place. Without agreement about some basic facts, citizens cannot form the civil society that would allow them to defend themselves. If we lose the institutions that produce facts that are pertinent to us, then we tend to wallow in attractive abstractions and fictions. Truth defends itself particularly poorly when there is not very much of it around, and the era of Trump — like the era of Vladimir Putin in Russia — is one of the decline of local news. Social media is no substitute: It supercharges the mental habits by which we seek emotional stimulation and comfort, which means losing the distinction between what feels true and what actually is true.

Post-truth wears away the rule of law and invites a regime of myth. These last four years, scholars have discussed the legitimacy and value of invoking fascism in reference to Trumpian propaganda. One comfortable position has been to label any such effort as a direct comparison and then to treat such comparisons as taboo. More productively, the philosopher Jason Stanley has treated fascism as a phenomenon, as a series of patterns that can be observed not only in interwar Europe but beyond it.

My own view is that greater knowledge of the past, fascist or otherwise, allows us to notice and conceptualize elements of the present that we might otherwise disregard and to think more broadly about future possibilities. It was clear to me in October that Trump’s behavior presaged a coup, and I said so in print; this is not because the present repeats the past, but because the past enlightens the present.

Like historical fascist leaders, Trump has presented himself as the single source of truth. His use of the term “fake news” echoed the Nazi smear Lügenpresse (“lying press”); like the Nazis, he referred to reporters as “enemies of the people.” Like Adolf Hitler, he came to power at a moment when the conventional press had taken a beating; the financial crisis of 2008 did to American newspapers what the Great Depression did to German ones. The Nazis thought that they could use radio to replace the old pluralism of the newspaper; Trump tried to do the same with Twitter.

Thanks to technological capacity and personal talent, Donald Trump lied at a pace perhaps unmatched by any other leader in history. For the most part these were small lies, and their main effect was cumulative. To believe in all of them was to accept the authority of a single man, because to believe in all of them was to disbelieve everything else. Once such personal authority was established, the president could treat everyone else as the liars; he even had the power to turn someone from a trusted adviser into a dishonest scoundrel with a single tweet. Yet so long as he was unable to enforce some truly big lie, some fantasy that created an alternative reality where people could live and die, his pre-fascism fell short of the thing itself.

Some of his lies were, admittedly, medium-size: that he was a successful businessman; that Russia did not support him in 2016; that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. Such medium-size lies were the standard fare of aspiring authoritarians in the 21st century. In Poland the right-wing party built a martyrdom cult around assigning blame to political rivals for an airplane crash that killed the nation’s president. Hungary’s Viktor Orban blames a vanishingly small number of Muslim refugees for his country’s problems. But such claims were not quite big lies; they stretched but did not rend what Hannah Arendt called “the fabric of factuality.”

One historical big lie discussed by Arendt is Joseph Stalin’s explanation of starvation in Soviet Ukraine in 1932-33. The state had collectivized agriculture, then applied a series of punitive measures to Ukraine that ensured millions would die. Yet the official line was that the starving were provocateurs, agents of Western powers who hated socialism so much they were killing themselves. A still grander fiction, in Arendt’s account, is Hitlerian anti-Semitism: the claims that Jews ran the world, Jews were responsible for ideas that poisoned German minds, Jews stabbed Germany in the back during the First World War. Intriguingly, Arendt thought big lies work only in lonely minds; their coherence substitutes for experience and companionship.

In November 2020, reaching millions of lonely minds through social media, Trump told a lie that was dangerously ambitious: that he had won an election that in fact he had lost. This lie was big in every pertinent respect: not as big as “Jews run the world,” but big enough. The significance of the matter at hand was great: the right to rule the most powerful country in the world and the efficacy and trustworthiness of its succession procedures. The level of mendacity was profound. The claim was not only wrong, but it was also made in bad faith, amid unreliable sources. It challenged not just evidence but logic: Just how could (and why would) an election have been rigged against a Republican president but not against Republican senators and representatives? Trump had to speak, absurdly, of a “Rigged (for President) Election.”

The force of a big lie resides in its demand that many other things must be believed or disbelieved. To make sense of a world in which the 2020 presidential election was stolen requires distrust not only of reporters and of experts but also of local, state and federal government institutions, from poll workers to elected officials, Homeland Security and all the way to the Supreme Court. It brings with it, of necessity, a conspiracy theory: Imagine all the people who must have been in on such a plot and all the people who would have had to work on the cover-up.The Presidential Transition

Trump’s electoral fiction floats free of verifiable reality. It is defended not so much by facts as by claims that someone else has made some claims. The sensibility is that something must be wrong because I feel it to be wrong, and I know others feel the same way. When political leaders such as Ted Cruz or Jim Jordan spoke like this, what they meant was: You believe my lies, which compels me to repeat them. Social media provides an infinity of apparent evidence for any conviction, especially one seemingly held by a president.

On the surface, a conspiracy theory makes its victim look strong: It sees Trump as resisting the Democrats, the Republicans, the Deep State, the pedophiles, the Satanists. More profoundly, however, it inverts the position of the strong and the weak. Trump’s focus on alleged “irregularities” and “contested states” comes down to cities where Black people live and vote. At bottom, the fantasy of fraud is that of a crime committed by Black people against white people.

It’s not just that electoral fraud by African-Americans against Donald Trump never happened. It is that it is the very opposite of what happened, in 2020 and in every American election. As always, Black people waited longer than others to vote and were more likely to have their votes challenged. They were more likely to be suffering or dying from Covid-19, and less likely to be able to take time away from work. The historical protection of their right to vote has been removed by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, and states have rushed to pass measures of a kind that historically reduce voting by the poor and communities of color.

The claim that Trump was denied a win by fraud is a big lie not just because it mauls logic, misdescribes the present and demands belief in a conspiracy. It is a big lie, fundamentally, because it reverses the moral field of American politics and the basic structure of American history.

When Senator Ted Cruz announced his intention to challenge the Electoral College vote, he invoked the Compromise of 1877, which resolved the presidential election of 1876. Commentators pointed out that this was no relevant precedent, since back then there really were serious voter irregularities and there really was a stalemate in Congress. For African-Americans, however, the seemingly gratuitous reference led somewhere else. The Compromise of 1877 — in which Rutherford B. Hayes would have the presidency, provided that he withdrew federal power from the South — was the very arrangement whereby African-Americans were driven from voting booths for the better part of a century. It was effectively the end of Reconstruction, the beginning of segregation, legal discrimination and Jim Crow. It is the original sin of American history in the post-slavery era, our closest brush with fascism so far.

If the reference seemed distant when Ted Cruz and 10 senatorial colleagues released their statement on Jan. 2, it was brought very close four days later, when Confederate flags were paraded through the Capitol.

Some things have changed since 1877, of course. Back then, it was the Republicans, or many of them, who supported racial equality; it was the Democrats, the party of the South, who wanted apartheid. It was the Democrats, back then, who called African-Americans’ votes fraudulent, and the Republicans who wanted them counted. This is now reversed. In the past half century, since the Civil Rights Act, Republicans have become a predominantly white party interested — as Trump openly declared — in keeping the number of voters, and particularly the number of Black voters, as low as possible. Yet the common thread remains. Watching white supremacists among the people storming the Capitol, it was easy to yield to the feeling that something pure had been violated. It might be better to see the episode as part of a long American argument about who deserves representation.

The Democrats, today, have become a coalition, one that does better than Republicans with female and nonwhite voters and collects votes from both labor unions and the college-educated. Yet it’s not quite right to contrast this coalition with a monolithic Republican Party. Right now, the Republican Party is a coalition of two types of people: those who would game the system (most of the politicians, some of the voters) and those who dream of breaking it (a few of the politicians, many of the voters). In January 2021, this was visible as the difference between those Republicans who defended the present system on the grounds that it favored them and those who tried to upend it.

In the four decades since the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have overcome the tension between the gamers and the breakers by governing in opposition to government, or by calling elections a revolution (the Tea Party), or by claiming to oppose elites. The breakers, in this arrangement, provide cover for the gamers, putting forth an ideology that distracts from the basic reality that government under Republicans is not made smaller but simply diverted to serve a handful of interests.

At first, Trump seemed like a threat to this balance. His lack of experience in politics and his open racism made him a very uncomfortable figure for the party; his habit of continually telling lies was initially found by prominent Republicans to be uncouth. Yet after he won the presidency, his particular skills as a breaker seemed to create a tremendous opportunity for the gamers. Led by the gamer in chief, McConnell, they secured hundreds of federal judges and tax cuts for the rich.Mitch McConnell Got Everything He Wanted. But at What Cost?Jan. 22, 2019

Trump was unlike other breakers in that he seemed to have no ideology. His objection to institutions was that they might constrain him personally. He intended to break the system to serve himself — and this is partly why he has failed. Trump is a charismatic politician and inspires devotion not only among voters but among a surprising number of lawmakers, but he has no vision that is greater than himself or what his admirers project upon him. In this respect his pre-fascism fell short of fascism: His vision never went further than a mirror. He arrived at a truly big lie not from any view of the world but from the reality that he might lose something.

Yet Trump never prepared a decisive blow. He lacked the support of the military, some of whose leaders he had alienated. (No true fascist would have made the mistake he did there, which was to openly love foreign dictators; supporters convinced that the enemy was at home might not mind, but those sworn to protect from enemies abroad did.) Trump’s secret police force, the men carrying out snatch operations in Portland, was violent but also small and ludicrous. Social media proved to be a blunt weapon: Trump could announce his intentions on Twitter, and white supremacists could plan their invasion of the Capitol on Facebook or Gab. But the president, for all his lawsuits and entreaties and threats to public officials, could not engineer a situation that ended with the right people doing the wrong thing. Trump could make some voters believe that he had won the 2020 election, but he was unable to bring institutions along with his big lie. And he could bring his supporters to Washington and send them on a rampage in the Capitol, but none appeared to have any very clear idea of how this was to work or what their presence would accomplish. It is hard to think of a comparable insurrectionary moment, when a building of great significance was seized, that involved so much milling around.

The lie outlasts the liar. The idea that Germany lost the First World War in 1918 because of a Jewish “stab in the back” was 15 years old when Hitler came to power. How will Trump’s myth of victimhood function in American life 15 years from now? And to whose benefit?

On Jan. 7, Trump called for a peaceful transition of power, implicitly conceding that his putsch had failed. Even then, though, he repeated and even amplified his electoral fiction: It was now a sacred cause for which people had sacrificed. Trump’s imagined stab in the back will live on chiefly thanks to its endorsement by members of Congress. In November and December 2020, Republicans repeated it, giving it a life it would not otherwise have had. In retrospect, it now seems as though the last shaky compromise between the gamers and the breakers was the idea that Trump should have every chance to prove that wrong had been done to him. That position implicitly endorsed the big lie for Trump supporters who were inclined to believe it. It failed to restrain Trump, whose big lie only grew bigger.

The breakers and the gamers then saw a different world ahead, where the big lie was either a treasure to be had or a danger to be avoided. The breakers had no choice but to rush to be first to claim to believe in it. Because the breakers Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz must compete to claim the brimstone and bile, the gamers were forced to reveal their own hand, and the division within the Republican coalition became visible on Jan. 6. The invasion of the Capitol only reinforced this division. To be sure, a few senators withdrew their objections, but Cruz and Hawley moved forward anyway, along with six other senators. More than 100 representatives doubled down on the big lie. Some, like Matt Gaetz, even added their own flourishes, such as the claim that the mob was led not by Trump’s supporters but by his opponents.

Trump is, for now, the martyr in chief, the high priest of the big lie. He is the leader of the breakers, at least in the minds of his supporters. By now, the gamers do not want Trump around. Discredited in his last weeks, he is useless; shorn of the obligations of the presidency, he will become embarrassing again, much as he was in 2015. Unable to provide cover for their gamesmanship, he will be irrelevant to their daily purposes. But the breakers have an even stronger reason to see Trump disappear: It is impossible to inherit from someone who is still around. Seizing Trump’s big lie might appear to be a gesture of support. In fact it expresses a wish for his political death. Transforming the myth from one about Trump to one about the nation will be easier when he is out of the way.

As Cruz and Hawley may learn, to tell the big lie is to be owned by it. Just because you have sold your soul does not mean that you have driven a hard bargain. Hawley shies from no level of hypocrisy; the son of a banker, educated at Stanford University and Yale Law School, he denounces elites. Insofar as Cruz was thought to have a principle, it was that of states’ rights, which Trump’s calls to action brazenly violated. A joint statement Cruz issued about the senators’ challenge to the vote nicely captured the post-truth aspect of the whole: It never alleged that there was fraud, only that there were allegations of fraud. Allegations of allegations, allegations all the way down.

The big lie requires commitment. When Republican gamers do not exhibit enough of that, Republican breakers call them “RINOs”: Republicans in name only. This term once suggested a lack of ideological commitment. It now means an unwillingness to throw away an election. The gamers, in response, close ranks around the Constitution and speak of principles and traditions. The breakers must all know (with the possible exception of the Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville) that they are participating in a sham, but they will have an audience of tens of millions who do not.

If Trump remains present in American political life, he will surely repeat his big lie incessantly. Hawley and Cruz and the other breakers share responsibility for where this leads. Cruz and Hawley seem to be running for president. Yet what does it mean to be a candidate for office and denounce voting? If you claim that the other side has cheated, and your supporters believe you, they will expect you to cheat yourself. By defending Trump’s big lie on Jan. 6, they set a precedent: A Republican presidential candidate who loses an election should be appointed anyway by Congress. Republicans in the future, at least breaker candidates for president, will presumably have a Plan A, to win and win, and a Plan B, to lose and win. No fraud is necessary; only allegations that there are allegations of fraud. Truth is to be replaced by spectacle, facts by faith.

Trump’s coup attempt of 2020-21, like other failed coup attempts, is a warning for those who care about the rule of law and a lesson for those who do not. His pre-fascism revealed a possibility for American politics. For a coup to work in 2024, the breakers will require something that Trump never quite had: an angry minority, organized for nationwide violence, ready to add intimidation to an election. Four years of amplifying a big lie just might get them this. To claim that the other side stole an election is to promise to steal one yourself. It is also to claim that the other side deserves to be punished.

Informed observers inside and outside government agree that right-wing white supremacism is the greatest terrorist threat to the United States. Gun sales in 2020 hit an astonishing high. History shows that political violence follows when prominent leaders of major political parties openly embrace paranoia.

Our big lie is typically American, wrapped in our odd electoral system, depending upon our particular traditions of racism. Yet our big lie is also structurally fascist, with its extreme mendacity, its conspiratorial thinking, its reversal of perpetrators and victims and its implication that the world is divided into us and them. To keep it going for four years courts terrorism and assassination.

When that violence comes, the breakers will have to react. If they embrace it, they become the fascist faction. The Republican Party will be divided, at least for a time. One can of course imagine a dismal reunification: A breaker candidate loses a narrow presidential election in November 2024 and cries fraud, the Republicans win both houses of Congress and rioters in the street, educated by four years of the big lie, demand what they see as justice. Would the gamers stand on principle if those were the circumstances of Jan. 6, 2025?

To be sure, this moment is also a chance. It is possible that a divided Republican Party might better serve American democracy; that the gamers, separated from the breakers, might start to think of policy as a way to win elections. It is very likely that the Biden-Harris administration will have an easier first few months than expected; perhaps obstructionism will give way, at least among a few Republicans and for a short time, to a moment of self-questioning. Politicians who want Trumpism to end have a simple way forward: Tell the truth about the election.

America will not survive the big lie just because a liar is separated from power. It will need a thoughtful repluralization of media and a commitment to facts as a public good. The racism structured into every aspect of the coup attempt is a call to heed our own history. Serious attention to the past helps us to see risks but also suggests future possibility. We cannot be a democratic republic if we tell lies about race, big or small. Democracy is not about minimizing the vote nor ignoring it, neither a matter of gaming nor of breaking a system, but of accepting the equality of others, heeding their voices and counting their votes.

Source: https://nuzzel.com/digeststory/01092021/nytimes/the_american_abyss?e=6714311&c=zsH9ZmXNh5eMSaix9Dy7Kr6kBCZkryuqvNwFRsSqZy&utm_campaign=digest&utm_medium=email&utm_source=nuzzel

Canada needs a national database to track COVID-19 vaccination in real time

Good analysis on the need by Michael Wolfson, a former assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada.

One of the frustrations I encountered with the non-resident birth data was that Quebec does not automatically include its health data as a matter of course in the Canadian Institute of Health Information, with Quebec refusing to provide me with the comparable data (given health provincial jurisdiction, point of principle over-riding common sense).

So not sure how realistic Wolfson’s proposal is but better and consistent data helps all:

With Canada in the midst of rolling out the vaccines, the importance of effectively monitoring the immunization campaign is coming to the fore. The federal government has recognized the importance of monitoring data, at least within federal jurisdiction, and the prime minister himself recently emphasized the federal government will “be a partner with the provinces  … [for] better co-ordination of data.”

The government response nicely recognizes the lead role of the provinces in setting priorities for vaccination. And the federal government appears sanguine about the existing jumble of layers of vaccine-monitoring data systems, including for adverse reactions.

This co-operative federalism is wonderful—when it works. However, for anyone with experience in software, databases and statistical analysis, the vaccination monitoring described sounds like a dog’s breakfast. That’s not good enough when lives are on the line.

Standard adverse-event reporting systems in the U.S. and Canada missed the scandalous connection between Vioxx and heart attacks. Something more reliable is essential for COVID-19 vaccinations, not only for safety but to avoid misinformation from anti-vaxxers.

Canada has world-class potential for statistical surveillance of adverse health events in the electronic health databases housed in each province. But these data often reside in multiple impenetrable silos within each province.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the urgency of breaking down these data silos. One of the most important blockages has been provincial insistence that health care is their show; the only role for the federal government is to hand them more money, no strings attached.

This has to stop.

Specifically, for a vaccine registry and monitoring, the obvious solution is a single standardized system, mandated by the federal government using its constitutional jurisdiction for statistics. The federal government could commission an organization—Statistics Canada is an obvious choice—to immediately develop a secure, real-time data-collection portal or site for critical information on every person who is vaccinated for COVID-19.

This software system would be used in clinics, doctors’ offices, and drugstores. The nurses and other health professionals giving the vaccination would enter information, exactly as done for flu vaccinations. But now, some of the information would be federally mandated, over and above anything recorded for patients’ medical records and provincial billing purposes.

Decades of experience have shown that rhetoric about federal-provincial co-operation has continually failed, resulting in the patchwork of incoherent and incomplete data that have been limiting too much of the science for managing Canada’s pandemic, and the health-care sector more generally.

The federal government was successful in eliminating doctors’ extra billing by holding back transfers to the provinces. But with no strings attached, a number of provinces have been shamefully clawing back some of the COVID-19 cash payments the federal government has sent to the neediest Canadians by reducing or cancelling their social assistance. To ensure effective implementation of this monitoring solution, strong fiscal sanctions should be included if provinces do not co-operate.

Real-time, federally mandated vaccine monitoring will provide crucial information on vaccination uptake not only by province, but also by neighbourhood, type of vaccine, race/ethnicity and occupation —enabling provincial and local public-health authorities to target vaccinations to the vulnerable. This is not federal intrusion into provincial jurisdiction; it is simply the most efficient constitutionally enabled way to provide critical information.

There is no reason that this kind of software could not be adapted and made available across the country for vaccinations in a matter of weeks, along with speedy agreements on data standardization.

While confidential personal data are involved, Statistics Canada has, for decades, collected exactly such data in the monthly labour-force survey (recently doing so online), with exceptionally strong safeguards for security and confidentiality.

There are obvious privacy concerns. However, we must be careful not to allow them to overshadow the potentially huge benefits. The framers of Canada’s constitution, over a century and a half ago, recognized the fundamental importance of critical statistical information that is national in scope.

While the proposed data flows may raise concerns among provinces and territories regarding ownership, these can be ameliorated with clear ground rules on how they can access these data.

Privacy commissioners across Canada have adopted the principles of necessity and proportionality as the central criteria for data collections that raise privacy concerns. For pandemic vaccination, with the deaths of potentially thousands of Canadians in the balance, these criteria would clearly be met.

Now, more than ever, Canada needs a strong national approach for monitoring data to ensure vaccination proceeds effectively, fairly and safely.

Michael Wolfson is a former assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada and a member of the Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa.

Source: Canada needs a national database to track COVID-19 vaccination in real time

Joyal: At stake in Bill 101 decision is the very concept of Canada

Along with other commentary in this vein (Caddell: Bill 101 applying federally? Time for some constitutional common sense):

In recent months there has been a campaign in Quebec, orchestrated by independentist parties and nationalist movements, and now joined by a bi-partisan group of former Quebec premiers, to induce the Canadian government to subject federally chartered agencies and businesses to Bill 101. These entities account for barely four per cent of the labour force, a minimal proportion. The campaign’s goal is to counter what is held to be a “decline of French” in Montreal that is allegedly raging in downtown businesses.

What is at stake in the situation currently facing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the very concept of Canada and the principles upon which it is based.

The federal government’s response seems hesitant. Yet the principles of linguistic equality are clear, and section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is eloquent. Seen through that lens, the fundamental nature of Canada serves francophones most of all.

The subtext of this campaign is pernicious: It implies that federally chartered enterprises contribute to the anglicization of Quebec. It overlooks the fact that some of these companies are also subject to the Official Languages Act, which includes precise measures for the provision of services in French and the right of employees to work in the language of their choice (in Quebec, for the majority, French), and that in addition there is a Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure that the law is obeyed.

Who could argue that Radio-Canada and its TV and radio networks could be a cause of the decline of French? That is ludicrous! The French language spoken on its airwaves has always been a model of quality in French Canada; the same is true of the NFB. French is also upheld in other enterprises with a federal charter, such as COGECO, or on 98.5 FM!

The noisy campaign propagated by a popular tabloid, brandishing the threat of an apprehended decline, creates a false perception and seems to be intimidating the defenders of basic principles.

Letting the idea spread that we should reduce the rights of the minority in Quebec could have fateful consequences for francophone minorities in other provinces. Does the defence of modern Canada not deserve better than a dishonourable capitulation? The country has never progressed when it has abandoned a minority. What signal would we be sending for the future of Canada? This retreat would be a very bad omen.

For many years now, it has been the government of Canada that has most efficiently supported the cultural dynamism of Quebec, at all levels.

If we want to reinforce French, we must focus on innovative policies that address the contemporary situation of French, which is controlled by, among other things, the digital platforms that young people prefer.

For example: Adopt strong measures so that French-language works are properly visible on Big Tech, and not simply determined by algorithms that steer and limit users’ choices.

For example: Ensure that the Commissioner of Official Languages’ powers are efficiently reinforced concerning the adoption of French as a language of work and of service. In other words, give the watchdog better tools, rather than abandon the field to provincial officialdom. The interests of the whole country would be far better served.

What I suggest is not surrender to a narrow vision of linguistic and cultural reality that in practice would separate Quebec from the fundamental principles of Canada, but rather a renewed commitment to meet the societal challenges of today’s world with all the tools of public policy at the Canadian government’s disposal.

I think it is timely to voice these concerns: it seems to me that the current discomfort and silence are becoming deafening.Serge Joyal is a retired senator and former member of the House of Commons and federal cabinet minister. In 1980-81, he served as co-chair of the Special Joint Committee on the Constitution of Canada. This oped is adapted from a letter that he has sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Source: https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/opinion-at-stake-in-bill-101-decision-is-the-very-concept-of-canada/wcm/98a6236a-69a1-4ad7-b796-501d91677ee2/amp/

Exploring ways to bridge the gap between professors and the public service

Great fan of exchanges in both directions:

Over the coming months, Canadians will watch as several thousand positions in the upper echelons of the American executive branch are filled by presidential appointees. This is a complex and time-consuming process, with nominees having to be confirmed by the United States Senate. These appointments, moreover, may take even more time than usual because if the Republicans retain control of the Senate after the Georgia runoffs Jan. 5, they may choose to obstruct the transition of the newly elected Democratic president in light of President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede.

Canadians can be forgiven for thinking that this is an odd way to run a government. After all, aside from cabinet ministers and their political staff, virtually every public service position in Canada is held by non-partisan career bureaucrats. Although prime ministers do occasionally bring in outsiders to serve as deputy ministers, the vast majority of these positions are held by public servants who come up through the ranks. Similarly, while there are a large number of governor-in-council appointments to boards, tribunals and other executive bodies made at the discretion of the government, these are filled as vacancies arise rather than all being replaced with each new elected government. Compared to the United States, the upper echelons of the Canadian bureaucracy are characterized by continuity.

Despite the advantages associated with this stability and the benefits of a largely non-partisan public service, the strengths of the American approach should be recognized. Senior American officials do not spend entire careers in government. They can move from the private and non-profit sector to the public sector. This ensures that different experiences and perspectives are brought into government. What the American government lacks in continuity, it makes up in dynamism, and a broader and deeper pool of skills and experiences. American universities and think tanks, for their part, employ scholars and researchers who have experience in the senior levels of government, enhancing their credibility and impact within the policy community.

Most interestingly from our perspective, though, is the American practice of having academics serve in government for a part of their career. We are two university professors who have worked in the federal government, both in the area of national defence. This experience has given us insight into the realities of policy-making and how government operates, which enriches our research and teaching. Indeed, because we both teach in policy schools in the national capital, this mix of academic and government experience is one we share with several of our colleagues, and one our students expect from their professors. Yet the opportunity we have had to work in both government and academia is far from being as common as one might hope. A sizable gap exists between the policy and scholarly worlds in Canada, and while a few of us jump between the two sides, much more could be done to bridge the divide.

Academics, for instance, can challenge established positions and policies that those in government cannot. They can also bring the latest theoretical perspectives to bear on policy questions.

 

In a recent article published in Canadian Public Administration, we considered the benefits of encouraging closer contact and cross-pollination between policy-makers and academics in the field of national defence. Drawing on our own experiences working in both worlds, combined with a series of interviews with defence practitioners and scholars, we observed that both government and academia stand to gain by bridging the gap that exists between them. Academics, for instance, can challenge established positions and policies that those in government cannot. They can also bring the latest theoretical perspectives to bear on policy questions. Scholars, in turn, gain valuable lessons about the operations of government and how to make their research and teaching more policy-relevant if they have the opportunity to work in the public sector. Senior decision-makers who work alongside academics, furthermore, can get a better understanding of how scholars interpret, as well as critique policies and government action. Hence, although it is vital to keep the worlds of government and academia distinct and independent to ensure the autonomy of university research and scholarship, both stand to gain when there is more ease of travel between them.

We have examined the failures and success of the academic outreach programs that the Department of National Defence has maintained over the decades. The most recent of these, Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS), funds collaborative research networks and provides targeted engagement grants for research into specific topics. It also runs expert briefing series and “rapid response mechanisms” to bring policy-relevant research to decision-makers in a timely fashion. These are all laudable initiatives and have proven their worth. But there is one effort that merits further attention: additional secondments for academics inside government (and for public servants in academia). While interchange programs exist within the government of Canada, including them within targeted programs such as MINDS could draw a greater number of candidates from specific policy-focused fields.

Funding a greater number of secondments would not necessarily provide Canadian academics with a degree of government experience that matches that of their American counterparts who are appointed to the upper echelons of the executive branch, but it would increase the opportunities available to scholars who want to gain policy experience. The federal government, in turn, could better leverage different perspectives and ideas offered by those from outside the professional public service. Though this would be nothing like the turnover that we are about to see in the United States, it would bring a degree of novelty to Canada’s much-cherished system of public service continuity.

Source: Exploring ways to bridge the gap between professors and the public service

In support of a process based on merit

One of the better and more nuanced discussions regarding merit in the judicial appointment process and the involvement of the political levels:

The president of the Canadian Bar Association has written to party leaders in Parliament and justice critics to clarify his comments on judicial appointments, which he says have been mischaracterized in the House of Commons and in news reports. CBA president Brad Regehr states that he has not accused the government of interfering in the appointment process, nor has he suggested that the process has resulted in the appointment of unworthy candidates.

The president of the Canadian Bar Association has written to every party leader in Parliament to clarify his comments on judicial appointments, which he says have been mischaracterized by several of those leaders and in news reports. CBA president Brad Regehr states that he has not accused the government of interfering in the appointment process, nor has he suggested that the process has resulted in the appointment of unworthy candidates.

Regehr also points to leaks about applicants to the media as demeaning the selection process, unfairly tainting those who are appointed, and discouraging worthy candidates from applying.

“One of the things that really concerns me is the naming people who submitted their names in the belief that it was a confidential process, and all of a sudden their names are appearing in the media,” Regehr told the CBA National. “It really bothers me that this happened. The potential impact on those individuals – their relationships with their clients, with their co-workers, with their firm – it was highly inappropriate.”

In recent weeks, news stories based on those leaks have fuelled speculation that the government is appointing friends and donors of the party. Members of the Prime Minister’s Office vet candidates who have been recommended to the Justice Minister by the Judicial Appointments Committees (JACs). They also consult with caucus members to learn if they have heard anything about those candidates that could potentially embarrass the government.

Justice Minister David Lametti stated in Question Period that the PMO has not directed any appointments, nor has it declined any of his recommendations.

According to Regehr, the current appointment process has improved compared to what it once was. His concern is that the process remains free of political interference.

“I understand that government … may do some additional vetting – I’m not unrealistic,” says Regehr. “If there is an indication that a person’s enrollment in a particular party or their financial support to a political party becomes a governing factor, that’s of concern, because the idea should be that these judges are being appointed on merit, and that they are reflective of Canadian society.”

Regehr reiterated that political involvement is an indicator of someone who is devoted to public service.

“It would be best if there could be some further affirmation that this is not the governing factor in the appointment of judges,” says Regehr. “I will take those accusations in the House and allegations in the media with a grain of salt. I have a good relationship with Minister Lametti, and I have had a talk with him about this, and he has assured me that this is not the case.”

In an emailed statement to CBA National Magazine, Lametti said he was pleased to read Regehr’s letter.

“I share his concerns about the confidentiality of the process,” Lametti stated. “Those who have chosen to leak the names of individuals who are seeking a judicial appointment are violating the privacy rights of those individuals as well as undermining public confidence in the appointments process. They may also be discouraging qualified applicants from applying.”

Addressing Regehr’s stated concerns about delays in filling vacancies on the JACs, which in turn delay filling vacancies on the bench, Lametti said the government has worked to reconstitute the JACs in jurisdictions where terms have expired. It has also reduced the number of vacancies nationally, he said.

“It is my responsibility to make recommendations to Cabinet for judicial appointments,” said Lametti. “It is one of the most important tasks I have as Minister. I make my recommendations to Cabinet on the basis of merit and the needs of the particular court. I also believe that an effective bench is one which reflects the diversity of the country it serves, and I am proud of the progress we are making in appointing diverse candidates. More needs to be done, but we are on the right path.”

Asked about the vetting by the PMO as a function of the appointment process, University of Waterloo political science professor Emmett Macfarlane says that our political system has rested on a set of executive prerogatives of appointments that provide a direct line of accountability for the appointment itself.

“Modernization of a lot of these processes have included establishing a bit of an independent filter, usually through these Judicial Advisory Committees, that have been set up for a lot of the Section 96 courts, and are probably a reasonable step to the extent that historically there was a lot of patronage in these appointments,” says Macfarlane. “A degree of professionalization of the appointments process was reasonable.”

Macfarlane says he is concerned by some of what has transpired over the past week. People have taken to the idea that an independent filter means the government and the prime minister should be cut out of the equation entirely.

“That’s a bit of a naïve view about the nature of courts and the role of the judiciary in our system, in that we obviously want a judiciary staffed with people who can do their best to recognize their biases, but there’s no such thing as an apolitical court,” says Macfarlane. “In fact, the higher up the ladder you go, the more political the nature of the court’s work gets.”

Macfarlane says that having an elected official who must maintain Parliament’s confidence and is responsible for selecting people appointed to our courts provides some measure of democratic accountability to the third branch of government.

“This is important – the quality of people appointed obviously matters, but the political nature of the role matters too,” says Macfarlane. “That’s not to say we slide off the opposite slope in that we should be talking about electing judges – very few people, rightly, in Canada want to go that route, but the reason that we should want that degree of political accountability is reflected in the nature of judicial decision-making, particularly in areas like constitutional and administrative law.”

Source: In support of a process based on merit

Diversity isn’t a zero-sum game

Useful look at the linkages between official languages and employment equity, indicating little conflict between two complementary goals. Given that TBS now provides breakdowns by individual groups, further analysis of OL and diversity by group would be helpful given the differences between groups (see my What new disaggregated data tells us about federal public service … and What the Public Service Employee Survey breakdowns of visible minority and other groups tell us about diversity and inclusion).

Little new, however, on the various suggestions to further improve diversity:

Fostering Canada’s rich diversity continues to be a national priority, as emphasized in the latest speech from the throne. Yet, critics often view diversity as a zero-sum game. One recent argument insisted that promoting French-language diversity and racial diversity represents “deeply contradictory goals with little introspection,” claiming that French-language requirements discriminate against racialized people. This trade-off mentality is dangerous because it pits groups against each other. In reality, French-language diversity and racial diversity can thrive in tandem, and the federal workforce is a living example of that.

French-language diversity is increasing

French-language diversity in Canada has always faced challenges but it first gained legal representation in 1969 through the Official Languages Act. Today, its preservation is reinforced by the Liberal Party modelling bilingualism in its speeches and investing a record $2.7 billion over five years starting in 2018–2019 to make bilingualism more accessible to Canadians. Additionally, non-partisan government policies, such as the Directive on Official Languages for People Management,have promoted bilingualism in the federal workplace.

Such political and administrative dynamics have helped bolster the number of government positions requiring bilingualism or French-only from 40.1 per cent in 2017 to 45.1 per cent in 2019, according to the latest data from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Interestingly, this same data set reveals a story of diversity complementarity rather than contradiction.

Racial diversity is also increasing

Two common ways of measuring diversity are (1) overall representation and (2) access to executive positions. For visible minorities (the government’s term for racialized people), both metrics have increased. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of government-employed visible minorities skyrocketed by 21.2 per cent, expanding their representation in the federal workforce from 15.1 per cent to 16.7 per cent (figure 1). Notably, Black representation increased the most, growing from 2.8 per cent to 3.2 per cent, and it did so without cannibalizing the representation of other visible minority groups (South Asian/East Indian, people of mixed origin, Chinese, and others).

Clearly, representation has improved but what about access to executive positions wielding power over decisions and resources? It has also improved. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of visible minority executives increased by 20.8 per cent, elevating their share of total executive positions from 10.2 per cent to 11.1 per cent. Again, there wasn’t any cannibalization across visible minority groups. However, this gain has been outpaced by the growth in visible minorities’ overall representation. What this means more broadly is that the pipeline of diverse candidates to fill the nation’s top bureaucratic positions has expanded quickly. Yet, more efforts to train, promote and retain these staff are required to ensure that senior leadership is more racially representative.

Promoting diversity can be inclusive

This complementary diversity is even clearer when French-language and racial data are combined. Since 2017, the federal government has added roughly 8,900 positions that require bilingualism or French-only speakers. Visible minorities have filled a whopping 28 per cent of these positions (which is almost double the percentage of working-age visible minorities in Canada who can speak French). This, in large part, is a result of greater access to language training and new initiatives to achieve departmental racial diversity goals. Simply put, visible minorities are fully capable of promoting the French language if they’re equipped with the proper resources.

Interestingly, these encouraging trends haven’t threatened many other diversity groups. For example, women’s representation and the share of Indigenous executives have both increased over the same period. This may be due to workers having intersectional identities. However, the myriad of diversity personified by top cabinet ministers signals the priority to reflect Canada’s true diversity in the government. Equally, the bureaucracy’s increasing emphasis on diversity since 2016 – through new studies, task forces, departmental diversity and inclusion councils, executive leadership development programs, and the like – has expanded diversity across multiple fronts.

A path forward for French-language diversity

French-language diversity and racial diversity in the Canadian government are increasing but more must be done to reflect Canada’s true diversity. To increase French-language diversity, the government should prioritize improving the quality of language training. Currently, departments use third-party language-training suppliers, which often entails high costs, as noted by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. This decentralization across departments translates into a lack of standardization, inhibiting a high and consistent quality of education, and limited coordination, preventing departments from pooling resources and sharing best practices to teach French.

Instead, the government should offer more virtual group language lessons, workshops and resources through the Canada School of Public Service (the government’s central employee training hub). In-housing more teaching ensures greater quality control, broadens accessibility to more staff and saves on training costs in the long run. To help employees master French, the government should create short and immersive language-exchange programs – across departments and with international agencies – so that staff can work in a different official-language setting. These micro-assignments can include a language-mentoring component, which has also been suggested by the Privy Council Office. In turn, departments would benefit from these staff subsequently spurring more ideas, best practices and collaborations across departments and institutions.

A path forward for racial diversity

To increase racial representation, the government should invest in targeted recruiting programs. As the federal Joint Union/Management Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion suggests, recruiting racialized students has historically been challenging. Programs like the Indigenous Student Employment Opportunity and the Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilitieselevate the importance of specific groups; a similar resource-backed program for racialized people would highlight them in recruitment. Another way to build the diversity pipeline is through sponsorship programs. In the United States, the Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program(funded by the federal government) helps historically underrepresented U.S. minorities fund their graduate program, pairs them with mentors and places them in a full-time position at the U.S. State Department. This end-to-end program incubates talent from the start and fosters their long-term success with resources.

To boost racialized employees’ access to executive positions, the government should formalize a career mentorship program available across all departments. This government-wide approach would enable more standardization (while allowing for some departmental customization) and best-practice sharing. Additionally, departments should consider a reverse-mentorship program, whereby junior racialized staff act as mentors to senior non-racialized executives. Research and the United Kingdom Civil Service’s first-hand experiences reveal that such a program elevates a group’s visibility, unlocks more trust between groups and ultimately increases retention. These interactions also create a non-hierarchical feedback loop that enables executives to better understand lived realities and how the organizational culture interacts with those realities. Thus, they can more effectively address diversity and inclusion barriers.

Whether it’s targeted recruiting or mentorship programs, what’s crucial is that these initiatives be incremental to existing efforts and not cannibalize them. Additionally, accountability is integral to their success. For instance, this could mean factoring into executive evaluation and compensation how an organization performs based on its original diversity goals.

Diversity is just one piece of the journey

Canada’s commitments to cherish its French-language diversity and racial diversity deserve some praise. The federal workforce proves how these two can be complementary rather than a zero-sum trade-off. However, the Canadian government can’t rely on this positive trajectory because it’s far from being truly diverse and inclusive. That’s why it should standardize more official language teaching and bring it in-house, promote official language-exchange programs, invest in targeted recruiting for racialized people and institutionalize mentorship programs.

Beyond diversity, workplace inclusion equally needs attention. For example, the 2019 Public Service Employee Survey results show that visible minorities in the government are nearly twice as likely as non-visible minorities to report experiencing discrimination. This can negatively impact an individual’s sense of belonging, trust in a department, willingness to fully contribute at work and even retention.

Be it diversity challenges or inclusion challenges, resolving both is critical to reducing workplace inequities and socioeconomic disparities. Doing so is a necessary step to making diversity, inclusion and equity a reality in the Canadian government.

Source: Diversity isn’t a zero-sum game