Statistics are great unless they measure the wrong things: Don Pittis

Always a risk, particularly in today’s economy:

If prices are rising by about two per cent, as inflation data is likely to show this week, why did one of my newspaper subscriptions just go up by 17 per cent?

And if wages are rising at about four per cent, as recent jobs data has shown, why are some provincial governments insisting that wage increases be held below one per cent?

As house prices go through the roof, the fact that the price of the biggest purchase Canadians make in their lives is not included in our inflation statistics makes it easy to see why many young people have expressed doubts about the accuracy of those figures.

It is a struggle that Statistics Canada faces every day as it tries to sketch out with numbers an authentic picture of the reality Canadians experience. But Oxford fellow and bestselling author of Age of Discovery Chris Kutarna says the task is far more complicated than many statisticians like to admit.

Kutarna worries that Statistics Canada’s plan to plunge into the ocean of “Big Data” so beloved of retailers and credit card companies — described last week by chief statistician Anil Arora — will inevitably create bias in the results simply because we are measuring the wrong things.

“One of the terrifying and most fundamental sources of risk is that we only consider what we’re now measuring as real,” said Kutarna, on the phone from London, England.

For example, long-standing data sets built on debt, spending, prices and gross domestic product simply close the door on values such as family, respect, happiness and species extinction.

“There is far more that is real and not being measured than there is that is real and we are measuring it,” said Kutarna.

One practical example from his book is the failure of modern statistics to measure the value of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia which, despite providing value to billions, adds less to GDP figures than the old Encyclopedia Britannica which reached far fewer people.

In a recent speech, Stephen Poloz, governor of the Bank of Canada, described an economy changing so fast that our statistical models fail to grasp it.

Poloz paraphrased the Solow Paradox, the observation by economist Robert Solow that computers had led to an increase in productivity everywhere but in the statistics. Poloz suggested GDP is being understated by as much as two per cent.

One example he offered was the way so many companies are distributing computer services to the cloud, turning whole computer divisions into a budget line item.

“How does StatCan deal with that?” asked Poloz.

Last week, Arora boasted to a gathering of the Empire Club that Statistics Canada was respected everywhere as a global leader, but he acknowledges it is constantly struggling to keep up with changing technology and the shifting understanding of how the world works.

“Look, that’s what statistics is, right? To take what are evolving concepts, nebulous concepts, things that haven’t even taken a lot of shape and then quickly try to turn them into numerics,” said Arora in an interview.

The statistics chief calls it a “team sport” where governments and individuals need to decide which of the millions and millions of things that could possibly be measured should be addressed by the some 5,000 employees at Statistics Canada. Their job, he says, is to bring scientific rigour to the process, so that the numbers are as accurate as possible.

“This is always going to be a journey,” said Arora, adding that finding and incorporating into our figures what have so far been labelled intangibles may be a never-ending task.

Part of that journey that those employees are now undertaking is the attempt to mine the immense bodies of information embedded in Big Data, those traces of activity we leave behind when we do almost anything on the internet from buying to searching. Not only are they readily available for quick analysis but they reduce the employee hours required in traditional surveys.

“Alternate sources of data are increasing exponentially and we have the technologies and the mechanisms to convert them to public good with high quality statistics,” said Arora in his speech.

When it comes to the inadequacies of GDP, a big part of the problem has less to do with Statistics Canada than how we continue to use familiar indicators that may be out of date.

Arora says the University of Waterloo’s Canadian Index of Wellbeing includes 200 indicators — from crime and safety to sustainable growth — most of which come from Statistics Canada data. But it’s GDP that gets the attention.

Statisticians are always groping to find the data sets that matter. But even in areas we think we know and understand, statistics are merely an indicator — an estimate, of reality. Things we don’t understand are, by definition, even harder to measure.

“We live in this culture where what is real is what we measure,” said Kutarna, “That the things we measure are reality.”

In which case, a certain amount of healthy skepticism, whether about this week’s inflation numbers, about GDP, productivity or the many other financial statistics that are often offered as solid immutable facts, may well be in order.

Source: Statistics are great unless they measure the wrong things: Don Pittis

Big Brother, Big Data and Statistics Canada

The ongoing challenge of better and more timely data that can be best achieved through linking data, and the privacy and consent concerns, where government is held to a much higher standard:

On December 9, 2019, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada published the results of an investigation into complaints that Statistics Canada had requested from a credit institution and Canadian banks the personal information on financial transactions of banking customers without notifying those customers. This clearly raises the issue of big-data mining by public authorities – the marriage of Big Brother and Big Data – with regard to the protection of privacy.

Let us recall the facts: Seeking to measure household debt more precisely, Statistics Canada reached an agreement with TransUnion, which agreed to forward files covering close to 24 million Canadians. The files included personal credit ratings along with identifying elements (name, address, date of birth, social insurance number, etc.). Statistics Canada was then able to link this data (600 pieces of information) with data from its own surveys, such as the census. In addition, Statistics Canada asked Canadian banks to provide it with information on all transactions carried out by a sample of 500,000 households.

The Canadian Bankers Association (CBA), which Statistics Canada first approached, said that it was reluctant to respond to such a request because of the burden it placed on banks, but mostly because complying meant that they would violate their privacy standards. A Global News report on October 26, 2018, blew the whistle. The chief statistician was called up before the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology, and an investigation was launched by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner. The Financial Transactions project, for which no data had yet been transferred, was immediately suspended. TransUnion also stopped forwarding information.

According to the results of the investigation, those whose information had been shared had not been notified. In the first case, TransUnion put a note in people’s files, but nobody told them it was there. (Only if they asked to see their file for some other reason could they discover it.) In the case of the project with the banks, Statistics Canada had not planned to notify the selected households. In both projects, Statistics Canada claims to have complied with the Privacy Act. The organization also claims to have relied on section 13 of the Statistics Act, which requires any person responsible for documents or archives, public or private, to transmit them to Statistics Canada if such a request is made. The Commissioner concluded from his investigation that the Credit Information Project did comply with existing law and that the complaint on this subject was thus “not well founded.” In the case of the Financial Transactions Project, he concluded – against the opinion of Statistics Canada – that what was asked for went beyond the transmission of pre-existing documents or archives and involved the creation of new files. However, since no data had yet been transmitted, the Commissioner did not see fit to accept the complaint. That said, he expressed several concerns and made six recommendations, two of which call on Statistics Canada to refrain from going ahead with both projects as designed.

These two projects offer an example of linkage between big data as a by-product of transactions and interactions carried out for private purposes and information obtained through surveys to which citizens are obliged to answer. The scale of Statistics Canada’s projects is impressive and suggests that the revolution associated with Big Data is now affecting national statistical offices, hitherto hesitant to join it due to methodological scruples and ethical constraints. Section 13 of the Statistics Act, conceived of at a time when statistical treatment of documents and archives was limited by their physical nature, presents unforeseen potential. It is also clear from the results of the investigation that Statistics Canada’s requests rested upon a particularly broad interpretation of this section of the law. The Privacy Commissioner therefore considers that the legal framework applying to the collection of “big-data administrative data” from the private sector is outdated and suggests that the legislator review the Statistics Act respecting this matter.

On the other hand, the problems that the Statistics Act could pose would no doubt be lesser, according to the Commissioner, “if the Privacy Act were not so out of date.” In 2016, he proposed that it be amended “to explicitly require compliance with the criteria of necessity and proportionality in the context of any collection of personal information.” In fact, even if Statistics Canada agreed to demonstrate the “necessity” of the information sought in these and other projects and the “proportionality” of the means used to obtain these data, the agency is not legally required to do so.

Finally, beyond legal amendments, the Commissioner’s report presents recommendations that are inspired by European practices aimed at ensuring the consent of individuals or even at circumventing this problem. They include “civic data sharing,” which is based on prior consent, “algorithm-to-the-data,” which means only anonymized results are transferred by the private enterprise to public authorities, and “privacy-preserving computation,” which also amounts to anonymizing information at the source. The first method resembles in all respects the position of the Harper government with regard to the long-form census. The other two would interfere with the type of data linkage that Statistics Canada envisioned.

Much has been made in recent years of the necessary independence of Statistics Canada from government. If the Office of the Commissioner’s report presents a less-than-sympathetic and somewhat authoritarian image of the agency, it is at least reassuring that Statistics Canada is accountable to a parliamentary committee, that it had to collaborate with the Office of the Commissioner to improve its practices and that a report was made public. The whole affair illustrates how big-data mining poses new challenges for official statistics when it comes to the trade-off between privacy rights and evidence-based policy-making.

Source: Big Brother, Big Data and Statistics Canada

Human Rights Watch dénonce l’offensive de la Chine contre les droits de l’homme

One of the better reports on the HRW report:

Le gouvernement chinois profite de sa puissance économique pour attaquer avec une intensité inédite le système international de protection des droits de l’homme, a estimé mardi 14 janvierl’organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW), en appelant les démocraties à réagir.

« Le gouvernement chinois mène une intense offensive contre le système international de protection des droits de l’homme, (…) la plus intense qu’on ait vue depuis l’émergence de ce système au milieu du XXsiècle », a déclaré depuis New York Kenneth Roth, directeur exécutif de l’ONG, en présentant son rapport annuel, qui couvre une centaine de pays.

En Chine, le parti communiste a bâti « un Etat policier orwellien high-tech et un système sophistiqué de censure de l’Internet pour surveiller et supprimer les critiques publiques », a écrit M. Roth dans ce document de 650 pages, qui dénonce notamment « le système cauchemardesque » de répression instauré contre les musulmans du Xinjiang.

« Menace existentielle » sur les droits humains

A l’étranger, le gouvernement chinois « utilise son influence économique croissante pour museler les critiques », selon l’organisation.

« Si d’autres gouvernements commettent des entorses graves aux droits de l’homme, aucun autre gouvernement ne montre les muscles avec autant de vigueur et de détermination pour saper les normes internationales des droits humains et les institutions qui pourraient les soutenir. »

M. Roth avait espéré présenter ce rapport cinglant depuis Hongkong. Mais il a été refoulé dimanche en arrivant dans ce territoire semi-autonome, secoué depuis sept mois par des manifestations prodémocratie qui dénoncent une ingérence croissante de Pékin dans les affaires de l’ex-colonie britannique.

Human Rights Watch dénonce l’inaction, voire la complicité d’autres pays face à cette « menace existentielle » que fait peser Pékin sur les droits de l’homme, selon elle.

« Plusieurs gouvernements sur lesquels on pouvait compter pour que leur politique étrangère défende les droits de l’homme au moins une partie du temps ont largement abandonné cette cause », affirme l’organisation.

« Certains dirigeants comme le président américain Donald Trump, le premier ministre indien Narendra Modi et le président brésilien Jair Bolsonaro brident le même ensemble de lois protégeant les droits humains que la Chine, galvanisant leur public en combattant les mondialistes qui osent suggérer que tous les gouvernements devraient respecter les mêmes normes. »

Reproches faits à l’UE ou à l’ONU

L’Union européenne, « occupée par le Brexit, handicapée par des Etats membres nationalistes et divisée sur les migrants », en prend aussi pour son grade, ne défendant plus les droits de l’homme comme avant.

HRW reproche notamment à Emmanuel Macron de « ne pas avoir mentionné publiquement les droits de l’homme » lors de sa visite en Chine en novembre.

Les dirigeants de l’ONU, où Pékin fait tout pour éviter que la situation au Xinjiang soit discutée, sont aussi pointés du doigt. M. Roth reproche notamment à son secrétaire général, Antonio Guterres, de ne pas avoir voulu « demander publiquement que la Chine mette fin à l’emprisonnement massif de musulmans » au Xinjiang.

Article réservé à nos abonnés Lire aussi « China Cables » : révélations sur le fonctionnement des camps d’internement des Ouïgours

Plus généralement, HRW accuse gouvernements, entreprises et universités de préférer se taire plutôt que de risquer de perdre l’accès à l’immense marché chinois.

L’ONG cite notamment les récentes représailles de Pékin à un tweet de Daryl Morey, directeur général de l’équipe de basket des Houston Rockets, qui soutenait les manifestants de Hongkong.

Article réservé à nos abonnés Lire aussi « L’intimidation est énorme » : à Hongkong, les entreprises étrangères sous l’œil de Pékin

Human Rights Watch appelle les démocraties à s’unir pour contrer les efforts Pékin contre les droits humains, en gelant par exemple les comptes bancaires à l’étranger de tous les responsables impliqués dans la répression au Xinjiang.

L’ONG les appelle aussi à conditionner toute visite d’Etat de dirigeants chinois à « de véritables progrès en matière de droits de l’homme ».


Australia rejects visa-free immigration deal with UK

Canadians advocating for a FTA with a post-Brexit UK should note. In any case, UK will most likely be fixated on addressing all the issues related to the EU to devote much serious time to other countries:

The Australian government has turned down the UK’s offer of a post-Brexit trade agreement that included visa-free work and travel between the two countries.

Trade minister Simon Birmingham said full free movement would not be accepted because it could cause an exodus of highly trained workers to the UK and an influx of unskilled British workers to Sydney and Melbourne. Last year, ministers in New Zealand voiced similar fears of a brain drain.

Last September, international trade secretary Liz Truss, on a visit to Australia, announced that a plan to allow British citizens to live and work in the country visa-free could be just months away.

She said: “We’ve been clear on the fact we want to adopt the Australian-based points system in terms of our new immigration system as we leave the European Union… our two countries have a special link and a historic relationship, and it’s certainly something that we will be looking at as part of our free-trade negotiations.”

But even then, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, said the visa-free arrangement with New Zealand was not something that would be extended to other countries.

Birmingham said yesterday: “Negotiations for an FTA [free trade agreement] between Australia and the UK will prioritise enhancing trade with a market that is already our eighth-largest trading partner.

“Work and visa settings may also form part of discussions but it is important to appreciate that there is a huge spectrum of grey between the black and white of no movement or unfettered movement.

“Once talks are launched with the UK we will work through all of these issues in the usual way,” he said.

Under existing arrangements, Australians can visit the UK for six months as a tourist without a visa.

A visa, however, is required to do paid or unpaid work for those born after 1983 and don’t have a parent who is a UK citizen (or was a UK citizen at the time of the traveller’s birth).

Chetal Patel, partner at City law firm Bates Wells, said the rejection of the UK proposal was a setback for the UK government: “Although bilateral trade discussions are ongoing, the news that the Australian government has rejected a visa-free arrangement serves as another stark reminder of the challenges the UK faces post-Brexit. It’s also a significant rebuke for the new administration considering the introduction of visa-free arrangements seemed to be almost a foregone conclusion just a few weeks ago.

“Surely work visas and other visas should be decided separately from the UK’s trade negotiations?

“This development ultimately begs several questions. What kind of approach will the government take in negotiations with other states given that the Home Office may now be completely restructured? Is the liberalisation of free movement as previously mooted by Boris Johnson and free marketeers going to be the guiding principle of immigration policy? Or does this episode suggest that preferential arrangements with certain other nation states will no longer be pursued?”

Patel said it would be interesting to see the impact of the Morrison government decision on the Australian-style immigration points based system to be implemented in the UK. “We’re expecting the Migration Advisory Committee’s report to be published at the end of this month, so we may know more about what’s in store very shortly,” she said.

About 120,000 people born in Australia are UK residents, with the largest concentration being in south-west London. About 2,000 Australians work in the NHS.

Source: Australia rejects visa-free immigration deal with UK

What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing? Policy Options at 40

Good and useful contrast by Jennifer Ditchburn between what has changed and what has remained the same:

Flipping through back copies of Policy Options from 1980, the year the magazine was founded, there’s a distinct feeling of déjà vu.

There are headlines such as,

“How Best to Live with the United States;”

“The Liberal Vacuum in the West;”

“Canada Needs to be Self-sufficient in Oil.”

The State of the Legislative Process in Canada”

“Since the election there has been more bemoaning than ever of the structural malformation of the Canadian body politics, with one main party rootless in Quebec and the other almost alien to Western Canada,” wrote founding editor-in-chief Tom Kent, the legendary public policy thinker and journalist, of the two main parties.

“What is worrisome is the strengthened fear that the fundamental reason why it seems unchangeable is that people in both those regions increasingly doubt whether federal politics matter much anyway.”

In 1980, as in 2020, the country was in a period of intergovernmental malaise and coming out of an election. The first referendum on Quebec sovereignty was held in May 1980. The notorious National Energy Program was inaugurated that year, and Pierre Trudeau, prime minister at the time, opened the 32nd Parliament with not a single Liberal MP from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and only two in Manitoba.

By the fall of 1980, Trudeau had announced his intention to approach the United Kingdom unilaterally to seek the patriation of the Constitution – sparking more than a year of constitutional negotiations with premiers, and mobilizing Indigenous leaders to make sure their treaty and inherent rights were respected.

There is always something bizarrely comforting about spotting familiar patterns in Canada’s past: How many times do we hear the phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est pareil” in reference to our political history? Meanwhile, people who weren’t yet born during the years of the National Energy Program or The Night of Long Knives can reference those grievances and find the echoes in our contemporary frictions. Yes, old policy and political mistakes can cast long shadows.

But here’s the thing: Canada in 2020 is nothing like the Canada of 1980, and we should be careful not to use old maps to orient ourselves as we move into the next decade. Our country is more urban and suburban, more ethnoculturally diverse, and also getting proportionately older.

Susan Gibson, then with Ontario’s Status of Women Council, wrote in 1980 about the hiring and promotion of women in the public service that, “it is clear that substantive improvement in the status of women Crown employees still lies in the future.” At the time, Gibson said there were no women deputy ministers in Ontario, and only 1.38 percent in senior positions. By 2017, women accounted for 30.4 percent of Ontario deputy ministers and about half of other executive levels, according to an employee survey from that year.

Reading through those issues of Policy Options from 1980, a few things were notably absent.

John F. Graham, the late Dalhousie University professor and economist, was the only person that year to discuss environmental concerns.

“We now…face the prospect in the not very distance future of very low, zero, or negative economic growth resulting from a combination of exhaustion of natural resources and suicidal environmental damage,” he wrote.

The impact of technology is referenced, but in the “boob tube” style of the 1980s – which was to bemoan the impact of television on Canadian public discourse. Who could have envisioned the way our lives and our economy would change with the advent of the smartphone, social media platforms and advancing artificial intelligence?

Indigenous rights and the Crown’s treaty obligations do not figure in the numerous articles about federalism and intergovernmental affairs. Although a vast amount of work remains to be done to fulfil the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to restore a true nation-to-nation relationship, decolonization was simply not a topic of policy conversation in non-Indigenous circles 40 years ago.

Plus ça change, well, ça change.

Yes, we are in another phase of discontent within the Canadian federation, but it is impossible to consider this time in Canadian history without also looking outside of our borders. Where the issues eloquently explored in this magazine in 1980 dealt principally with federal-provincial, industrial and Canada-US policy, almost all the challenges before us today have a global dimension.

While the federal government and the premiers tussle over carbon pricing and support for the energy sector, the overarching question is whether the world’s nations collectively will act quickly enough to curb the catastrophic rise in global temperatures. (The results of the COP 25 conference in Madrid last month bode poorly.)

The suitability of the equalization program and stabilization fund are on the First Ministers’ agenda, but the bigger picture about the Canadian economy hinges on the disruptive forces of automation, artificial intelligence and the impact of climate change down the road. As the federal government’s foresight agency Policy Horizons pointed out in a recent report, it’s unclear what skills workers will need in the future, and also how taxes will be collected as jobs becoming increasingly virtual.

Yes, Canada’s relationship with the United States remains a perpetual policy preoccupation, but now it is overlaid with concerns over how to fill the vacuum Washington has left in international multilateral institutions and counterbalance the growing influence of China.

Even when we talk about the health of our democracy, the future leadership of the Conservative Party, and other Canadian political issues, we have to consider the wider context of disinformation and borderless social media platforms, populist trends worldwide, and the microtargeting of voters through the use of their own data.

Over the next year, we will be re-publishing some of the articles that appeared in 1980, along with responses to the material from 2020. As the current editor-in-chief, I can’t help but wonder which issues just barely appearing on our radar now will be fundamentally shaping Canada in the years to come.

Source: What policy issues will define our next 40 years of publishing?Policy Options at 40

Articles of interest over the holidays – India’s Citizenship Act

Northern India’s Uttar Pradesh has been the worst affected in the ongoing protests against a controversial new citizenship law. At least 19 people have died in the state since protests began on 20 December. The BBC’s Vikas Pandey travels to the region to find out why it has witnessed such large-scale and violent protests.

The extremely narrow lanes of Babupurwa in Kanpur city lead me to Mohammed Shareef’s home.

He is sitting outside the small tin-roof house. It has just one room which doubles as a kitchen during the day and bedroom at night. He gets up, hugs me and breaks down. Several minutes pass in silence.

“I have lost everything. I have no will to live. What was my son’s fault? Why did the police shoot him?” he says trying to hold back tears.

Source: Citizenship Act protests: Why fear has gripped Muslims in this Indian state

Protests against a new citizenship law in India risk making investors wary of doing business in Asia’s third-largest economy.

At least 25 people have been killed in nationwide demonstrations against the new rules enacted into law earlier this month. The law bars undocumented Muslims from three neighboring nations seeking Indian citizenship, while allowing people of other faiths to do so.

Source: Protests Against India’s Citizenship Law Risk Spooking Investors Away

As India’s new citizenship law seeks to create a stratified citizenship based on religion, a large number of Indians opposing it are emerging as a people of one book, the country’s Constitution, which came into force on Jan. 26, 1950.

In the past two weeks, diverse crowds across the country have responded to the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act, referred to as the C.A.A., passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government by chanting the preamble to the Constitution of India, with its promises of social, political and economic justice, freedom of thought, expression and belief, equality and fraternity.

Student protesters being herded into police vans, opposition leaders standing outside the Indian Parliament and ebullient crowds of tens of thousands in Hyderabad, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai have read aloud the preamble and held aloft copies of the Constitution and portraits of B.R. Ambedkar, its chief draftsman.

The C.A.A. offers an accelerated pathway to citizenship for Hindu, Sikh, Zoroastrian, Buddhist and Christian migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan but excludes Muslims. It effectively creates a hierarchical system of citizenship determined by an individual’s religion, reminiscent of Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which privileged citizenship for “indigenous races,” excluded the Rohingya and paved the ground for the genocidal violence against them.


The recently enacted Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, carves out a special pathway to citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants from some countries. This sort of discrimination against Muslims is popularly thought of as being a relatively recent phenomenon. However, at the founding of India’s republic, the citizenship provisions of the Constitution also discriminated against Muslim immigrants and ma

The Permit System

After the partition of the country, two waves of immigration occurred from West Pakistan to India. In the first wave, which started from March 1, 1947, large numbers of Hindus and Sikhs arrived here. In the second wave in 1948, many Indian Muslims who had migrated to West Pakistan sought to return to India because of poor conditions there, especially in Karachi. This second wave

In April 1948, Nehru acknowledged that the “influx … of Muslims to Delhi and other parts of India from Pakistan has raised certain difficulties”. The following month, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Nehru that there was “considerable discontent” among the public in general and refugees in particular about the Indian government’s “failure to prevent the inflow of Muslims from Pakistan.” The return of “these Muslims”, he explained, “while we are not yet able to rehabilitate Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan… would again be the breeding ground of communal poison, on which activities of organisation[s] like the RSS thrive.” He believed that returning Indian Muslims were “a great source of danger to the peace and security of Delhi”. Nehru replied and said that this was an “undoubtedly serious” matter.

It was against this backdrop that the Indian government introduced a system on July 19, 1948, under which no person could move from West Pakistan into India without a permit issued by the Indian high commission in Karachi or Lahore.

Read more at:

At 24, Indian transgender Ray has already had to fight many battles for recognition and now faces a new threat – losing her citizenship because of controversial new legislation.

The Delhi-based law student – whose official documents identify her as male – is among tens of thousands of people protesting against the legislation and a mooted nationwide citizens’ register, worried that it will render transgender Indians like herself stateless.

Her fears are not unfounded. In September this year, a petition was filed in India’s Supreme Court after around 2,000 transgenders were left off a citizens’ register in the northeastern state of Assam, throwing their future into doubt.

Despite being legally recognised as a third gender in a historic 2014 Supreme Court ruling, they often live on the extreme fringes of Indian society, with many forced into prostitution, begging or menial jobs.

For a community that already faces severe discrimination in conservative India – much of it from their own families – transgenders feel they are at extra risk from legislation pushed by Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi aimed ostensibly at tackling illegal immigration.

Source: India’s transgenders face losing citizenship with new law

Articles of interest over the holidays – USA

Source: Is America About to Suffer Its Weimar Moment?

Political impact

Of all the concerns about immigration, perhaps none is more important to politicians than how immigration affects political control. In particular, many Republicans believe that immigration has clearly boosted the Democratic Party and that higher immigration will obviously doom the GOP. But historically (and recently), congressional Republicans have performed much better during periods when the immigrant share of the population is high. By contrast, Democrats dominated the low immigration periods.

GOP Almost Always Controls a House of Congress During High Immigration Periods, Rarely Controls Either House During Low Immigration Periods

The Republican Party came into existence in 1854, and while it quickly dominated, the Civil War and Reconstruction make its early history anomalous. Looking solely at the period since Reconstruction, Republicans have controlled at least one House of Congress 85 percent of years when the immigrant share of the population was greater than 10 percent, while not controlling either House 83 percent of all other years (Fig. 1). Moreover, they have controlled both houses 59 percent of the high immigration years, compared to just 7 percent of the low immigration years.

Source: Congressional Republicans Dominate High Immigration Periods | Cato @ Liberty


The citizenship question the Trump administration wanted to add to the 2020 census would have likely been especially sensitive in areas with higher shares of Latinx residents and noncitizens. That’s among the Census Bureau’s final conclusions from its recent experiment testing public reaction to the question.

If courts had not blocked the question from appearing on census forms, it would have also likely lowered self-response rates in parts of the U.S. where Asian residents make up between 5% and 20% of the population, according to the Census Bureau’s final report on the national experiment conducted earlier this year.

The findings released on Monday flesh out preliminary analysis the bureau put out in October when officials announced the question likely would not have had a significant effect on overall self-response rates.

Digging deeper into specific groups, however, the bureau did find statistically significant differences between certain households asked to fill out a test census form with a citizenship question and those presented with forms without one.

“These differences were small,” wrote Victoria Velkoff, the bureau’s associate director for demographic programs, in a blog post about the bureau’s early findings.

Source: Census Bureau Releases Final Report On 2019 Test Of Citizenship Question


At the time of year when Christians around the world are supposed to unite in celebration of their savior’s birth, this Christmas has been a particularly fractious time for white evangelicals in America. Last week, Christianity Today, a leading evangelical magazine, published an editorial condemning Trump’s “immoral character” and calling for his removal from office. “That he should be removed,” the editorial, written by outgoing editor-in-chief Mark Galli, contended, “we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.”

It was a stance that nearly broke the internet — the publication’s website temporarily went down as millions tried to read the piece — and revealed the fault lines in a religious movement that is often viewed as a monolithic political force. No sooner had Christianity Today published its words than the piece drew heavy and vitriolic pushback from other conservative Christian voices. Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, scoffed on Fox News that the publication ought to be renamed “Christianity Yesterday” for being “out of step with the faith community” when it came to Trump. Shortly after, nearly two hundred evangelical leaders signed a letterexpressing their “dissatisfaction” with the editorial for supporting what it called the “entirely-partisan, legally-dubious, and politically-motivated impeachment.”

Secular media pounced on the controversy, seemingly surprised that an evangelical outlet had taken such a stand while also deeming the fracas as part of what The Daily Beast called the “spiraling evangelical Christian civil war.” That’s an overstated assessment of a rather imbalanced divide, but the Christianity Today editorial does point to a committed and principled NeverTrump evangelical movement that has held steadfast since 2015 and which draws a sharp contrast with the spineless Congressional Republicans who, in toto, have folded in complete submission to Trump.

Source: The evangelical resistance?

Ever since the 1970s and the birth of the Religious Right, white evangelicals have been closely associated with the Republican Party. Generally speaking, this has meant white evangelicals tend to lean conservative on most social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.

But recent political events show that what began as a rightward lean has, on at least one issue, become an area of genuine extremism. Inspired by the Christmastime dustup between Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and blogger Matt Walsh, Eastern Illinois University political scientist Ryan P. Burge did some data analysis on just how white evangelicals feel about immigration in 2019, and what he found was startling.

Using data from the Cooperate Congressional Election Study, Burge found that on the five immigration questions asked by the survey, white evangelicals had a rightward gap from the mainstream Burge characterized as “humungous” — at least 20 percentage points on four of the five questions.

Source: Study: The Average White Evangelical Is Further Right on Immigration Than Abortion

Articles of interest over the holidays – China

The order from Chinese officials was blunt and urgent. Villagers from Muslim minorities should be pushed into jobs, willing or not. Quotas would be set and families penalized if they refused to go along.

“Make people who are hard to employ renounce their selfish ideas,” the labor bureau of Qapqal, a county in the western region of Xinjiang, said in the directive last year.

Such orders are part of an aggressive campaign to remold Xinjiang’s Muslim minorities — mostly Uighurs and Kazakhs — into an army of workers for factories and other big employers. Under pressure from the authorities, poor farmers, small traders and idle villagers of working age attend training and indoctrination courses for weeks or months, and are then assigned to stitch clothes, make shoes, sweep streets or fill other jobs.

These labor programs represent an expanding front in a major effort by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, to entrench control over this region, where these minorities make up about half the population. They are crucial to the government’s strategy of social re-engineering alongside the indoctrination camps, which have held one million or more Uighurs and Kazakhs.

Source: Inside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of WorkersInside China’s Push to Turn Muslim Minorities Into an Army of WorkersThe Communist Party wants to remold Xinjiang’s minorities into loyal blue-collar workers to supply Chinese factories with cheap labor.

The first grader was a good student and beloved by her classmates, but she was inconsolable, and it was no mystery to her teacher why.

“The most heartbreaking thing is that the girl is often slumped over on the table alone and crying,” he wrote on his blog. “When I asked around, I learned that it was because she missed her mother.”

The mother, he noted, had been sent to a detention camp for Muslim ethnic minorities. The girl’s father had passed away, he added. But instead of letting other relatives raise her, the authorities put her in a state-run boarding school — one of hundreds of such facilities that have opened in China’s far western Xinjiang region.

As many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been sent to internment camps and prisons in Xinjiang over the past three years, an indiscriminate clampdown aimed at weakening the population’s devotion to Islam. Even as these mass detentions have provoked global outrage, though, the Chinese government is pressing ahead with a parallel effort targeting the region’s children.

Source: In China’s Crackdown on Muslims, Children Have Not Been Spared


Inside the federal bureaucracy, Clarke digs up a ‘creeping culture of excessive silos, hierarchies’ in digital attitudes

Reflects basic accountability at both the political and official levels, and that governments, by their very size and broad impact, have to be more cautious given their stewardship role:

What happens when the risk-averse organizational culture of the Government of Canada confronts the freewheeling style of digital culture? A purposeful slow reaction, finds a new book on the topic.

Amanda Clarke is a public administration scholar at Carleton University who specializes in digital government. Opening the Government of Canada: The Federal Bureaucracy in the Digital Age is a result of years of work documenting the Government of Canada’s transition to a digital world. The findings reveal how an organization that is prone to resist change is compelled to deal with global forces propelling innovation.

Opening the Government of Canada documents the digital responsiveness of the federal bureaucracy in the later stages of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Clarke consults an abundance of what academics call grey literature, namely media coverage, government tweets and blogs, and completed access to information requests. She gains original insights through interviews with 32 Canadian public servants and a special adviser. Those are buttressed by conversations with seven public servants in the United Kingdom. They narrate a consistent theme: that the Canadian government is cautious and hesitant about digital reform.

Provocative questions are asked at various junctures in the book. On page 69: What happens when closed government gets a Twitter account? On page 95: Who should speak for the government? These jarringly simple questions belie the author’s natural curiosity about how government works. The inquisitiveness is an excellent framing device to generate interest in figuring out the answers.

The book begins by summarizing some statistics about digital media. Among the observations are that managerial philosophies shift as digital disruption grows. Conflict ensues, which at its core is an ideological battle about notions of democratic government. On one side of the philosophical divide are valid reasons for government to operate in silos with a centralized hierarchy. On the other side are those advocating for government transparency and accountability. Readers are encouraged to consider a variety of perspectives in the closed doors versus crowd-sourcing debate.

For my part, whenever I think of digital politics scholarship in Canada, one of the subject experts who immediately comes to mind is political scientist Tamara Small of the University of Guelph. Small’s work barely factors into Opening the Government of Canada, likely because she mostly studies political parties. Yet she has repeatedly shown that most Canadian politicians use social media as a broadcasting medium. That is, instead of two-way engagement, they use social media as a digital megaphone. Politicians and their staff are more likely to raise awareness of content from news releases than they are to get into a digital conversation. Clarke discovers the same tendency in the Government of Canada, where tweets are informational one-way broadcasting (pages 82-83). Moreover, Clarke finds that government departments routinely amplify other government departments’ posts, much like MPs from the same party retweet each other. This example shows that studying how politicians behave (political science) can help inform our analysis of what happens in government (public administration). A key difference is that communicating digitally has become a fundamental aspect of what MPs do whereas it is still a work in progress for the government.

The comparison between politics and public administration is a useful reminder about drawing parallels. In government, there is safety in following what other entities are doing. It is much easier for organizations to transpose existing behaviour to new platforms than it is for them to do something radical. Thus we have the creation of GCTools, which is the government’s own social media platform.

This innovation caused Canada to be a global leader in digital government. Despite spotty uptake, public servants could avail of this safe space to discover skilled experts across government (page 131). GCTools is loosely reminiscent of the government seeking to exert control over other forms of communications, such as the Canada Gazette newspaper or any number of public relations activities. A key difference is that GCTools connects people.

GCTools was developed under the Conservative government, which had a well-deserved reputation for top-down communications management. Chapter 3 documents how the government adapted to changing digital norms earlier in this decade. The developments were slow, reserved, measured, and cautious. In society, the Twitterverse came alive with people busily posting about everything from serious questions about government, to the banalities of their personal lives. Meanwhile, within the Government of Canada, a web of policy frameworks and multi-stage workflow processes were implemented to generate social media content. It is clear that the public service struggled to react to changing societal norms.

The command and control approach of the Harper government seems to have aligned well with government’s natural ethos to run a closed shop. Clarke evokes the environment of permanent campaigning that injected a further dose of caution. Permanent campaigning refers to non-stop electioneering—that is, the official election campaign may be over, but many of the same politicized communications activities persist. A non-stop communications mentality is especially evident during periods of minority government and when the dissolution of Parliament is on the horizon. On page 86, we are informed that communications centralization becomes a virtue to avoid the “nightmare” of public servants freelancing on government social media accounts.

There are other challenges with digital government. Striving for public service neutrality in digital communications is a complex proposition (pages 92-94). Questions about who is running public-facing accounts are warranted, given that many public servants have personal social media profiles. Open data is fine in principle, but releasing datasets as PDFs that inhibit running calculations is unhelpful (page 98). Many public servants are not digital natives. This requires re-training and a conscious effort to recruit digital talent (page 158). Ultimately, fewer barriers to public interaction is less about technology than it is about attitude (page 186).

Reading about public administration can be fraught with information that gets lost in a blur of acronyms, dates, and technical writing. Thankfully, Clarke largely spares her readers from those trappings. The more I read, the more I learned and the more I enjoyed going on a journey inside the public service as it responded to digital demands. That said, for her next book I would encourage less quoting of passages from literature in order to free up more room to quote her interview participants. Another pedantic criticism is the inclusion of the U.K. interviews, which was an unusual decision. As well, the book was published in 2019, and it would be interesting to know how the analysis of 2012 Twitter data stands the test of time. We are told that e-government has become flatter, more nimble and responsive (page 157). There is some brief mention of happenings under the Liberal government, however it is unclear how the e-government trend has permeated post-Harper.

What has changed under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau? In some ways quite a lot. Since 2018, Trudeau has churned through three ministers of digital government. The creation of the portfolio is a telling development. The first two, Scott Brison and Jane Philpott, resigned from cabinet for unrelated reasons not long after taking on the portfolio. When Philpott took the helm, Amanda Clarke published some advice in Policy Options (Feb. 8, 2019) about managing the digital file. She and co-author Jonathan Craft of the University of Toronto recommended courageous leadership, more training, and a willingness to embrace experimental approaches. They urged the minister to integrate digital thinking earlier on in the public policy process. Joyce Murray became the latest minister of digital government in March 2019.

The position was secondary to Brison, Philpott, and Murray serving in their primary role of president of the Treasury Board. The post-election cabinet unveiled in November expanded the number of ministers. A lot of the attention has gone to the unusual title of minister of middle class prosperity—a good example of permanent campaigning at work. Digital government was hived off. Jean-Yves Duclos is now exclusively overseeing the Treasury Board while Murray is exclusively minister of digital government. This is mostly about the prime minister spreading political rewards around. But make no mistake: digital government is a much bigger entity than it was even a few years ago. For evidence, one need look only at how the Government of Canada has upended where its advertising dollars go, with an unequivocal preference for digital.

Yet is it unclear whether anything has changed in other areas. For instance, some internet access was blocked in some government departments in 2015 (page 103). To what extent is that the case today? Smartphones seem to present an obvious workaround. Details like this seem fundamental to assessing whether the Government of Canada is fostering a digital culture.

Looking deeper, digital optimists have reason to be frustrated. The Trudeau Liberals imported a spirit of openness into government in 2015. Part of this was to present a contrast with the Harper Conservatives. The longer the Liberals have been in power, the more the have adopted the characteristics of risk-aversion and information secrecy. The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada has vocalized frustrations with the government’s lack of commitment to access to information. Digital communications creates efficiencies whereas open government creates headaches. It seems likely that it is “corner of the desk work” (page 112) under the Liberals as it was under the Conservatives.

The concluding chapter makes a number of recommendations best left for readers to discover. Suffice it to say, Clarke finishes off by commenting on what her research about digital attitudes in the Government of Canada has found: “a creeping culture of excessive silos, hierarchies, and risk aversion.” Here’s hoping that Minister Murray and her team find time to read Opening the Government of Canada over the holidays.

Source: Inside the federal bureaucracy, Clarke digs up a ‘creeping culture of excessive silos, hierarchies’ in digital attitudes

Cabinet, Parliamentary Secretary and CPC critic comparison

Now that the parliamentary secretaries have been announced, I prepared this chart that compares representation of women, visible minorities and Indigenous peoples in cabinet, parliamentary secretary appointments and Conservative critic roles. Given the relatively small size of the Bloc and NDP caucuses, have not bothered to do the same as virtually every member of those two parties plays a critic role.

The Liberal commitment to a gender-balanced cabinet means that women are comparatively over-represented compared to their share of caucus. Conversely, and likely to balance caucus representation, women parliamentary secretaries are comparatively under-represented. The Conservatives, on the other hand, have compensated for their relative lack of women MPs by ensure that one-quarter have the higher profile critic roles.

For visible minorities, with the reference population adjusted to visible minorities who are citizens, the Liberals not only elected more visible minority MPs but have ensured that cabinet and parliamentary secretary representation is comparable to their caucus representation. The Conservatives have also chosen to highlight their visible minority MPs in their critic appointments.

For Indigenous peoples, the Liberals have slight under-representation in cabinet and parliamentary secretary appointments compared to the population and caucus.