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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her favourite song from her recording days is Someday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Klassen: When the bureaucrat is the boss, democracy starts to suffer

While many written upon the relationship between elected representatives and the un-elected public service, seems like an odd time to express this concern where governments that have relied on public health expertise have responded much better to COVID-19 than those who have not.

In the end, elected representatives are accountable through the ballot box for the decisions that they take. At a time of a pandemic, going against public health expertise is a high-risk approach as the US and UK approaches illustrate:

The government response to COVID-19 in Canada has made explicit how much power bureaucrats have amassed. Civil servants are more influential now than ever, not because they make decisions but because they are the keepers of the specialized knowledge necessary to govern the country.

Politicians enact laws and decide on budgets but have little, if any, expertise in a policy area. For example, how can one person, such as a prime minister or minister, understand the complexities of the Income Tax Act with its more than 3,200 pages? The expert knowledge of a particular field such as public health resides with permanent officials, such as Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer and her 2,400 staff at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Sometimes politicians have the luxury of time before reaching a policy decision, which minimizes the influence of government bureaucrats in shaping the outcome. Typically, a new program or trade agreement is implemented after years of proposals, consultations, hearings and opportunities for politicians to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the implications and trade-offs.

In contrast, the COVID-19 pandemic demands the enactment of new programs and laws in a matter of weeks, if not days. Canadian politicians have relied exclusively on the advice of bureaucrats in designing responses at the federal, provincial or municipal level. Politicians of every stripe have adhered to the instructions of public health bureaucrats. All speeches by politicians and government statements highlight that “the government is acting on the best advice of public health officials.”

U.S. politicians have been less keen to follow the advice of bureaucrats. Donald Trump makes comments that are at odds with his public health advisers. He places blame on the public health officials at the World Health Organization. Democratic and Republication governors pursue strategies on public health guided in some significant measure by ideology. The populist streak in the U.S. and the enshrined right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence produces a politically diverse response to COV-19.

“Peace, order and good government,” enshrined in Canada’s constitution, has guided the relationship between elected politicians and appointed civil servants since before 1867. Peace and order require stability and continuity, which is what permanent public servants provide regardless of the party in power. Good government requires specialized knowledge, which the public service also provides. Unlike the U.S., Canada’s politicians do not disagree with their senior civil servants on key policy matters.

A century ago, Canada’s federal public service was small, with more than half of its employees working for the post office, and in transportation and customs-related jobs. Income taxes, as a temporary measure, had just been introduced in 1917. At that time, the responsibilities of Cabinet ministers were considerably simpler than today, decision times much slower, and the news cycle much longer.

Starting in the 1940s, when the role of government expanded dramatically as the welfare state grew, power began to seep from elected officials to bureaucrats. The depth of knowledge required to understand public policy decisions is no longer available to ministers, who remain in portfolios for two years on average, during which time they must also fulfil their constituency and parliamentary duties.

One outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that bureaucrats will be even more influential, at least in matters related to public safety. This may seem an appealing prospect but is not in the best interests of Canadians.

Allowing public health experts, military planners, transportation engineers, educators and other unaccountable government officials to determine policy is undemocratic. Democracy means accepting the messy business of politics with its partisan rivalries, compromises, tradeoffs, U-turns and inconsistencies. Democracy also demands that politicians have the fortitude to set aside – at times – the specialized and rational calculations and recommendations of their officials.

Thomas Klassen is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at York University in Toronto.

Source: Klassen: When the bureaucrat is the boss, democracy starts to suffer

Peter Russell: Ottawa’s fragile, halting journey away from political patronage

Of note regarding judicial appointments:

In the 21st century, Canadians have raised their expectations of how important public positions are filled by our governments. And rightly so: Under the patronage model, these positions are handed to those who are known to be supporters of the governing party as a reward for political service, whereas merit-based appointment means finding the best-qualified person for the job. Our diminishing tolerance of favouritism is an appropriate raising of standards for a well-educated population.

Canadian governments appear to be getting it, enacting reforms that move the dial toward merit-based appointments and away from ones based on patronage. In 2010, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government established a committee-based process to advise the Queen as to who should serve as governor-general. This committee, chaired by the Queen’s Canadian secretary, two senior public servants familiar with the governor-general’s role and responsibilities and two individuals from different parts of the country with an understanding of the requirements of the office, would land on David Johnston. Two years after that, Mr. Harper established the Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments, which used a similar process to search for promising lieutenant-governor candidates by soliciting names from a broad range of candidates and creating a short list for the prime minister to choose from. This was an important step along the road of moving from patronage to merit-based appointments.

Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, too, has made its own efforts with two reforms: an independent advisory board for appointments to the Senate and another one for the Supreme Court of Canada. The one for the Senate has three permanent Ottawa appointees, plus ad hoc appointees from the province or territory where a vacancy is being filled. The one for filling Supreme Court vacancies comprises judges, lawyers, and legal academics, plus at least two laypeople. The mandate of each board is to seek out outstanding candidates, encourage them to apply, then produce a short list from which the prime minister makes his selection.

But The Globe and Mail’s reporting about Justice Colleen Suche – who was rebuked by the Canadian Judicial Council last week for inappropriately giving advice on judicial appointments to her husband, Liberal MP and former cabinet secretary Jim Carr, as well as to the Justice Minister – exposes the halfway house the Trudeau government has built for itself on the road from patronage to merit.

Mr. Trudeau’s vice-regal selections seem pretty good. Over the five years he has been Prime Minister, he has appointed one governor-general in Julie Payette, as well as six lieutenant-governors, and only one of these appointments – former Liberal MP and cabinet minister Judy May Foote, as Lieutenant-Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador – has the appearance of being based on political patronage. The appointees include five women, a person of Cree background and an Acadian, part of the government’s policy of treating the representational quality of an appointment as part of what constitutes merit. And the appointments resulting from the new Senate and Supreme Court procedures have been impressive, even if there may well be ways to improve the process.

But if that all sounds familiar, that’s part of the problem. When Mr. Trudeau took over as Prime Minister in 2015, he did not use the Harper-era Advisory Committee on Vice-Regal Appointments. He did not make any announcement about this, nor give any explanation. We cannot know which names the committee would have put forward, but one thing is certain: Creating an institutional legacy for that process would have made it more difficult for a potentially reactionary prime minister to bring back the patronage system. And for all his efforts so far, wouldn’t it be a shame if they were discarded by a non-Liberal government simply because they were introduced by the Liberals?

This is particularly unnerving when it comes to the appointment of judges. Our judicial system has three basic strands. At the top is the Supreme Court of Canada, the highest court of appeal for disputes about every kind of law. At the bottom are the provincial and territorial courts, which is where most cases first go to trial. And in the middle are courts to which the federal government appoints the judges. Some of these are federal courts, maintained and administered by the federal government, and many more are courts maintained and administered by the provinces and territories, their courts of appeal and ones that conduct trials involving the most serious criminal matters and the most serious civil matters. These middle courts comprise the strata for which Justice Suche was sending lists of names to the Justice Minister.

And while the provinces and territories have adopted patronage-to-merit measures to reform appointments to their courts, and the system for appointing Supreme Court justices has been similarly reformed by the Trudeau government, appointments to this middle layer of courts remain all too vulnerable to patronage.

Efforts to reform the system of making appointments to these middle-strata courts go back to the 1980s, when judicial advisory committees (at least one for each province and territory) were introduced to make recommendations for appointments to vacancies on these courts. Candidates could be “recommended,” “highly recommended” or “not recommended.” The Harper government removed the “highly recommended” option. The Liberals restored it, but – and here’s the rub – they will not commit to appointing only candidates that are “highly recommended.”

And why is that? Well, the lists of the merely “recommended” are very long – a lawyer practically has to be disbarred to not make that list. The government can always find the names of its political friends on the lists of recommended candidates. Jurists such as Justice Suche should confine their advice to the Justice Minister to candidates highly recommended by independent advisory committees.

Now, with a minority government, is the time for parliamentarians to take a close look at the halfway house the Trudeau Liberals are content in live in, to make sure important positions go to the most qualified people – and to lay out a path that ensures the journey to merit-based appointments can be completed, regardless of which government is in power.

Source: Ottawa’s fragile, halting journey away from political patronage: Peter H. Russell

Appreciating the politics of the pandemic

Good discussion of the interface between public health science and politics:

The pandemic is political. While COVID-19 is essentially a public health crisis with massive economic effects, political decisions facilitated the spread of the virus, and politics guides how governments are working to keep it at bay. Appreciating the politics of the pandemic is vital to understanding how we got here, what we are doing about it and what the post-pandemic world may look like.

While there has been some analysis on the political aspects of the pandemic, it merits further attention. Contemporary political science is a strange creature in many ways. It is quite derivative, drawing on other fields such as psychology, economics and sociology. Although this borrowing can be viewed as a weakness, it also can be a seen as a significant strength because it gives the field the ability to analyse the individual, societal, governmental and international aspects of events.

In that spirit, we offer a political science perspective on events and debates surrounding the pandemic and potential considerations for moving forward as Canada ponders an end to confinement and scenarios for recovery.

The novel coronavirus originated in China, and that country’s handling of COVID-19 has been the subject of significant debate. The Chinese government began by silencing whistleblowers in the early days of the epidemic and then took drastic measures to control the spread of the virus. China has now reinvented itself as a global champion in the fight against the pandemic through generous public and private transfers of personal protection equipment abroad.

China deceived and used coercive measures initially to control information and distort COVID-19 statistics, on which we relied for modelling other countries’ pandemic trajectories. With questions raised about its handling of the virus, China also tried to demonstrate international leadership and benevolence to compensate.

This is the contradictory universe of authoritarianism, where the projection of power and influence at home and abroad is built on image. Authoritarian states have always relied on their image as an essential part of how they govern and legitimate themselves. At home, image management is not just about the dictator masquerading as the enlightened despot, it is also often a reminder of what the state stands for and expects from its citizens.

Image management in foreign affairs is just as important, particularly for a burgeoning regional hegemon such as China. Authoritarian states regularly mask the ugly to promote their shiny brand. In China’s case, early signals that hinted at failings, including the failure to anticipate the danger of COVID-19 and to react, were replaced by stories of its effective responses and its ability to prove itself as a global leader in the fight against the pandemic.

China’s handling of the crisis has also led to a series of questions about the World Health Organization (WHO). The organization’s approach to COVID-19 highlights the pressures and limits that international organizations face. While these organizations are essential for fostering global cooperation, providing guidance and leading international initiatives, they remain subordinate to states and the contentious nature of international politics.

Notably, international organizations are not only dependent on states for financial contributions, but for information, access and goodwill. In the absence of these, international organizations can achieve only so much, and their ability to perform their advising and coordinating functions is hampered.

In the context of the current pandemic, the twin pressures of information denial from China in the early months and the upcoming financial punishment from the United States will weaken the WHO. It will complicate efforts to build back a reputation that has arguably been tarnished, whether justified or not, by its handling of the pandemic. For all their internal flaws, international organizations like the WHO are only as effective as states and the international environment allow them to be.

On the other hand, Canada’s relationship with the WHO since the first months of 2020 reminds us that certain states are heavily invested in international organizations, not only for the coordination and guidance they offer, but also for what they represent and provide as hallmarks of the liberal international order. The Canadian government’s determination to follow WHOguidance was in part a reflection of the fact that no one state has the capacity to handle the pandemic alone.

Multilateralism involves the sharing of information and pooling efforts together to do more while enjoying economies of scale, giving groups of states far greater reach with more effectiveness than they could achieve alone. Other smaller countries chose to follow a more independent and prudent approach regarding WHO advice when the first signs of a possible pandemic emerged. In theory, Ottawa might have been able to do the same. But Canada’s determination to follow WHO guidance equally reflects a larger commitment to multilateralism and the global order that the country helped build after the Second World War.

An interesting aspect of the Canadian response has been the placing of public health expertise at the forefront of decision-making.

Working with the WHO, rather than going it alone, is a form of good international citizenship for Canada and an expression of the fact that global problems require global solutions. While this has led to questions about the efficacy of Canada’s initial response to the pandemic, appreciating the multilateral dimension of the Canadian approach sheds light on why Ottawa stuck by the WHO and why it likely will continue to do so.

Within Canada, the debate is turning toward decisions made by governments, federal and provincial, and the information and advice they have been providing citizens. An interesting aspect of the Canadian response has been the placing of public health expertise at the forefront of decision-making.

Public health officials have been providing daily briefings and ministers have been steadfast in assuring citizens that the measures and policies that have been put in place reflect expert advice and the best available evidence. This approach has been met by expressions of significant trust in government, as observed by various polls.

As Canada begins to contemplate a loosening of restrictions, experts in public finance will likely join their public health counterparts in providing critical advice to ministers. This expert advice has been vital to Canada’s response and will be as important for the country’s recovery.

Yet expertise will not be enough. Political decisions will still need to be made, as studies of evidence-based policy tell us. This will involve weighing the evidence provided to ministers from different competing sources, managing the uncertainty that necessarily accompanies advice about the future and balancing trade-offs between public health considerations, economic concerns and citizens’ tolerance for restrictions over the long-term.

No one field of expertise can provide complete advice on these trade-offs. But these decisions will require political judgment, an attribute that belongs with politicians and their political advisors.

Finally, when political judgement begins to take on greater importance, the risks associated with having experts as the public face of the government’s response will increase. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam has already become a political and media target, including in the form of inexcusable racist attacks on her loyalty to Canada. This is no fault of Tam’s. It is an unfortunate consequence of her public profile. If decision-making around the lifting of restrictions becomes more contentious, ministers will need to increasingly emphasize that they are responsible for the government’s actions.

Indeed, as the field of policy studies indicates, giving expert officials visibility increases trust, but it can also create confusion about who is accountable for decisions. Although they may have an interest in fostering this confusion, responsible ministers should leave no doubt that “the buck stops with them.” Politics must come back to the forefront, where it belongs.

Source: Appreciating the politics of the pandemic

Pandemic pretext: More delays in long-awaited access to information answers

ATIP is far too often late and, as the examples below indicate, sometimes very late, in responding, with COVID-19 providing further excuses for delay:

Federal departments that have stalled access to information requests for three years or more are now citing the pandemic as the reason for further delays.

Emails are going out to people who make access to information requests, notifying them the requests are now “on hold.”

“We cannot send consultations out because most third parties, other government departments (municipal, provincial, territorial and federal) are closed or reduced to minimum employee capacity,” the department now says.

“So until we are given the green light to start processing consultations again, we won’t be able to process any of the records for your request. But in the meantime, we would like to know if you still wish to proceed with your request or if you wish to abandon.”

Rubin says Health Canada owes him answers to about a dozen requests dating back for years — one from 2014 about adverse pharmaceutical reactions including some deaths, one on drug licensing from 2015, others from 2016 and 2017. They now warn him of “possible delays in treating your request,” due to the pandemic.

“Openness, transparency and accountability are guiding principles of the Government of Canada. However, our ability to respond to requests within the timelines mandated by the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act may be affected” by the pandemic, the department says.

The Finance Department wrote him using the the exact same words.

National Defence says it has reduced staff in the access office and hasn’t enough secure lines to handle his requests remotely. They asked for Rubin’s consent to put the request on hold. Rubin said no.

“You have to push back,” he said. “A lot of people don’t consider this a human right. But it’s not just administrative.”

Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) has several aging Rubin files, and he hadn’t heard about them either, until this month’s message that “PSPC’s network is currently limited to essential and critical services such as pay, pension and procurement. While we are committed to respecting your right of access and are actively looking for solutions to maintain operations, we have little to no capacity at this time.”

One department told him: “despite all our efforts, we will not be able to respond to your ATIP request within the legislated timelines.” The legislated timeline ended years ago.

“Our access to information legislation is so flawed that it’s possible for access to information requests to be delayed and delayed and delayed, which turns the whole purpose of the legislation into a joke,” said James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University.

“The fact that people who haven’t heard for a year or two years are now getting a notice that it’s been delayed because of COVID reveals how badly flawed” it is.

“I like Ken’s remark that oh, it’s good to hear from you.”

He also noted that the lockdown shows the unevenness of government services, as some are cut off from paper documents while others shift to digital documents.

This newspaper asked Environment Canada more than a year ago for internal emails involved in sending out a single news release on climate change. This month, after our request passed its first anniversary, we asked how long it would take.
The answer: They were just about to send us the information, and then the lockdown hit.
The department promises a speedy answer once its office reopens.

Source: Pandemic pretext: More delays in long-awaited access to information answers

How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

Too early to tell but the opportunities are there:

The COVID-19 pandemic has handed the public service a grand-scale opportunity to experiment with new ways of operating, including rethinking the need for massive office buildings in Ottawa-Gatineau and embracing digital government more fully. What public servants learn in the next few months by working remotely and in crisis could jolt the bureaucracy into a re-ordering of practices and culture that reformers haven’t been able to do in 25 years.

Public servants rapidly mobilized over the past month to implement a massive financial aid package, abandoning play-it-safe and rules-bound processes to put the needs of Canadians first as they doled out billions in emergency funding.

“It’s not that the crisis is forcing us to reshape the public service, but the post-pandemic world could be the window of opportunity, or necessity, to accelerate the renewal and reforms in institutions,” former privy council clerk Michael Wernick said in an interview.

Alex Benay, the former chief information officer who led the government’s digital agenda until he left for the private sector, wrote the crisis unleashed a “new norm,” the “digital first” government he’s long pressed for.

“Sadly, it took COVID-19 for people to realize that the real problem was not technology, not necessarily the culture…The real ‘enemy,’ so to speak, has been the operating model of government has yet to change to adjust to the new digital realities,” Benay wrote in a recent LinkedIn post.

Crises sparks change, but not always lasting change

It’s not the first time the public service has roared into action to combat a crisis. Its rapid response was reminiscent of the moves it made during the “program review” budgetary cuts of the 1990s, after the 9/11 attacks, and during the 2008-09 financial crisis, which had lasting impacts on government.

These events didn’t, however, fundamentally change the culture of the public service and many argue it went back to its old risk-averse and hierarchical ways as the crisis receded. That culture is hard-wired into public service, built on rules developed to keep governments accountable for the decisions they make with taxpayers’ money.

The public service has been slow to embrace technology that’s changing the private sector at breakneck speed. Bureaucrats have been pushed to innovate, to use digital tools to rethink how they work and deliver services, to take risks, and even to fail as they experiment with new ways of working.

Mel Cappe, who was Canada’s top bureaucrat in the aftermath of 9/11, said today’s public servants rightly opted to get emergency aid out to those who needed it over a “bullet-proof system” that ensured no mistakes at the front-end. The thinking was that errors could be fixed later.

It allowed the public service to take just two weeks to distribute employment insurance payments to 2.4 million applicants, the number it normally handles in a year. Money “going to people undeserving is an error I would rather have than depriving people of the money they need in crisis,” Cappe said in a podcast.

“Work will change and services will change. Why does a call centre have to have a building?” he said in an email. “Our expectations of the role of government have increased dramatically. New programs, new services, new bodies. But we have no idea what or how.”

A smaller, more distributed public service?

Long before the pandemic struck, questions had been raised as to why nearly 42 percent of federal workers are clustered in office towers in the National Capital Region. In the blink of an eye, thousands of bureaucrats are working from home. Many predict it won’t be long before politicians will be asking why these home offices are in the nation’s capital. Why can’t those jobs be across the country?

The public service’s headquarters is in Ottawa-Gatineau – where it occupies about 3.5 million square metres of office space – because that’s where Parliament, ministers and deputy ministers are. The pandemic shows cabinet, Parliament and MPs can meet virtually, so it’s “inevitable there will be push to spread those jobs across the country,” said Wernick

“I think that 10 years from now the public service will be much smaller, more distributed, less concentrated in Ottawa and flatter in hierarchy. It’s been moving in that direction and this will accelerate it,” he said.

Ryan Androsoff, who teaches digital leadership at the Institute on Governance and is a co-founder of the Canadian Digital Service, calls the crisis an “inflection point” for remote work. Forced to work at home, public servants know they can do it.

He argues agents who work at the government’s 221 call centres could work remotely, as could many policy analysts and other knowledge workers. It could lead to a major reduction in federal real estate holdings across the country.

There are bugs to iron out – more laptops and tablets are needed; employees need access to software for video conferencing, cloud and collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams; and above all, they need more bandwidth. Employees not working on the pandemic or other critical jobs have been directed to stay off the network during peak hours because of limited available bandwidth. Protocols would also need to be developed for accessing confidential documents remotely and the setting of productivity goals.

By headcount, the public service is larger in the regions, but there has long been a divide between headquarters and regions. Senior management is in Ottawa, where policy and decisions are made, leaving operations to the regions. Regional workers have often complained they feel out of the loop and like second-class employees.

Technology and distance working will eliminate that divide and allow the government to recruit a workforce that better represents the country to help resolve the regional alienation dividing the country. Androsoff warned, however, that divide could worsen if the region’s operational workers make the switch to remote working, but Ottawa policy-makers go back to the office as normal.

“Moving to a remote and distributed workforce as the norm for everyone opens up all parts of the country to feel they are a part of the central government rather than isolated in regional outposts,” Androsoff said.

“I am a westerner, from Saskatchewan, and in Ottawa you tend to see far fewer people in policy-making or executive roles from the east and west partly because it requires a move to Ottawa.”

Office accommodation for 300,000 employees is one of the government’s biggest operating expenses. It may be cheaper to set up workers at home, but it will also require a new approach to management for some 15,000 supervisors and 7,000 executives.

“It’s never been a technology limitation. It’s the philosophy about managing the workforce that has to change,” said Michel Vermette, a former CEO of the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada.

“It means making people accountable for what they produce, and the public service has not done that very well. It has substituted office presence for production.  Managers need to think differently; hold people accountable for what they do, not for showing up,” he said.

Vermette said the crisis is showing managers they can trust employees are actually working when not in the office because suddenly “they have no choice and people are demonstrating they can be productive at home.”

It could also help change the culture of endless meetings. Some hope the number of large in-person meetings could be curtailed and call for training on how to run them better. Meetings held online or by videoconferencing should treat everyone the same whether they are physically present at headquarters or calling in.

Improving digital access to services

Under lockdown, people are living even more digitally and will emerge expecting better and speedier digital service — especially after they received almost immediate relief benefits in their bank accounts, said Androsoff. He expects demand for digital services will accelerate and the 32 percent of Canadians who still visit federal offices will decline.

The Liberal government has put a lot of stock in modernizing digital services as a way to restore trust in government. The crisis, however, exposes the risks of aging technology that governments have been warned about for a decade. Systems are outdated; some more than 50 years old, costly to maintain and on the brink of failure.

That’s particularly the case at Employment and Social Development Canada, which with the Canada Revenue Agency, jumped huge technological and approval process hurdles to deliver emergency funding.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, argues a “silver lining” is the realization that technology is the backbone of government’s business, not just the back office.

“There will be a big push for improvement in technology because the government is way behind in investments in infrastructure and training,” said Daviau, whose union represents 17,000 federal information technology workers.

“But the downside is whenever there is an economic stimulus, they take it back from the public service, so I worry for the future. There will be a restraint budget. How will the public service be reshaped; what will be cut and what will government decide it can live without? This situation clearly highlights the importance of a public service that can act quickly.”

Government is already racing to figure out how to steer the country into a post-pandemic recovery, which will remain uncertain until a vaccine is found. Many bureaucrats are braced for a cost-cutting budget, whether in 2022 or 2023. They say national and health security will be top spending priorities, and will nudge technology upgrades off the table.

“I share concerns that the inevitable fiscal retrenchment in next couple of years will slam on the brakes,” said Wernick. “We could lose the best parts of the innovation of the public service that has already happened and the appetite for continuing to invest in back office, IT and service improvement.”

Source: How COVID-19 could reshape the federal public service

No evidence to back WHO director general’s accusations against Taiwan

Likely not the end of this story:

The pattern surrounding the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Beijing party-state’s ongoing influence over it continues. Taiwan, a nation that has shown impressive success in combatting the COVID-19 virus despite its exclusion from WHO, is now accused of racism by the organization’s director general.

WHO Director General Tedros A. Ghebreyesus—an Ethiopian microbiologist and the first African to hold the position—asserted that Taiwan’s government not only launched a cyber campaign against him, but is also the instigator of the racism directed at Africans in general.

In a press briefing on April 6, the director general claimed he had been the victim of racially abusive attacks emanating from Taiwan, and that the country’s foreign ministry had actually stepped up its criticism of him.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-Wen and the ministry of foreign affairs have denied the charges.

Given the fraught situation between Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) generally, including the latter’s manipulation of WHO policies of Taiwan exclusion over the years—combined with the Beijing government’s serious mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, the evidence appears clearly stacked against Tedros’ claims.

President Tsai and her government provided warnings to the WHO as early as last December, which, if not ignored, as they were, might have saved thousands of lives.

For nearly half a century, the People’s Republic of China has effectively blocked Taiwan from joining the WHO. Despite never having exercised authority over the island, the CCP deems Taiwan part of its territory, and forces international organizations—including the United Nations and its agencies like the WHO—to accept its view.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, one of WHO’s top advisers recently evaded and then abruptly cut off Hong Kong journalist Yvonne Tong’s question on whether WHO would reconsider Taiwan’s status in light of the country’s exemplary performance in curbing the spread of COVID-19.

According to the reputable Foreign Policy Magazine, Beijing succeeded from the first outbreak of the coronavirus in misdirecting the World Health Organization (WHO), which receives comparatively modest funding from it but has somehow become obedient to it on many levels.

WHO’s international experts could not gain access to China until Tedros visited President Xi Jinping in Beijing at the end of January. Before then, WHO uncritically repeated information from party-state authorities, ignoring warnings from Taiwanese doctors. Reluctant to declare a “public health emergency of international concern,” WHO denied as late as Jan. 22 that there was any need to do so.

After China’s pandemic had levelled off, notes the Foreign Policy article, Tedros then praised Beijing’s “success.”

In sharp contrast, Taiwan has been treated as an outcast by the WHO, despite its exemplary performance in the current world crisis.

Almost 100 anti-COVID-19 initiatives from Taiwan’s national government included: screening Wuhan flights as early as Dec. 31; banning Wuhan residents on Jan. 23; suspending Taiwanese visits to Hubei province on Jan. 25; and barring all Chinese arrivals on Feb. 6. These and other measures resulted in only 388 confirmed cases and six deaths as of April 12 in a population of almost 24 million.

The WHO not only ignores Taiwan’s medical expertise, but also its status vis-à-vis China.

During the current pandemic, the organization keeps changing how it refers to Taiwan, going from “Taiwan, China,” to “Taipei” to the newer “Taipei and its environs”. It permitted Beijing to report Taiwan’s coronavirus numbers as part of its own total, instead of reporting Taiwan’s numbers alone—a conflation that created headaches for the smaller nation. Some countries imposed travel restrictions  on Taiwan along with China, despite the former’s small infection rate.

“Taiwan’s selfless medical workers and volunteers can be found around the world. The Taiwanese people do not differentiate by skin colour or language; all of us are brothers and sisters,” Tsai said in response to Tedros’ accusations. “We have never let our inability to join international organizations lessen our support for the international community.” She added that the WHO head was welcome to visit Taiwan and see for himself.

The internationally acknowledged success of Taiwan with the scourge of COVID-19 might lead to a diplomatic opening. Its government has already concluded a bilateral agreement with the United States to send masks, which could lead to drugs and vaccines going to America for clinical trials. Other governments seem likely to follow.

Susan Korah is an Ottawa-based journalist and David Kilgour was secretary of state, Asia-Pacific, 2002-2003, and Africa/Latin America, 1997-2002, in the Chrétien government.

Source: OpinionNo evidence to back WHO director general’s accusations against Taiwan

Delacourt: Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle

Couldn’t resist posting given its reference to my Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism with respect to Alberta Premier Kenney’s critique of Dr. Tam:

Sooner or later, someone was going to say it: Who made Dr. Theresa Tam the boss of all Canadians?

The fact that it was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is not surprising, historically or politically.

But Kenney’s words on Monday were a crack in a wall of remarkable deference to the authority of Canada’s chief medical officer over a month of national lockdown. As we now head into month two, the question is whether Canadians more generally are starting to bristle at the doctor’s orders.

The federal government issued an emphatic “no” on Tuesday.

“Canadians have demonstrated that they have a tremendous level of trust and confidence in our public health officials and in our medical system,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “And we are going to continue work with top medical officials like Dr. Theresa Tam to make sure that we’re doing everything we need to do.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Tam and other provincial public health officers have been conferred with the authority of “rock stars” in this crisis.

But Kenney’s remarks on Monday broke a united front of assent to Tam’s advice — not just as it applies to the future, but to the past as well.

The premier said that Alberta was going to seek out tests and medication to fight the pandemic without waiting for approval from federal Health bureaucrats. Then, in a bit of a drive-by swipe at Tam personally, he also threw doubt on the advice the doctor had already given in the early days of the virus outbreak.

“This is the same Dr. Tam who is telling us that we shouldn’t close our borders to countries with high levels of infection and who in January was repeating talking points out of the (People’s Republic of China)about the no evidence of human-to-human transmission,” Kenney said in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics program.

There’s an old joke about how you get 50 Canadians out of a pool. You say: “Canadians, get out of the pool.” This pandemic, by and large, has made that joke feel a little too close to home, as a whole nation has put life as we know it on hold to comply with medical orders to contain the COVID-19 virus.

Deferential as we are, we likely wouldn’t have gone to these extraordinary lengths on the basis of political advice alone.

The federal government spent $30-million on a wave of ads with Dr. Tam as the sole spokesperson. (And no, that’s not the voice of Trudeau at the end of the ad, though it does sound an awful lot like him. I asked and the answer was no.)

Day after day, premiers and political leaders line up at podiums to give public briefings, backed by the latest information from the doctors in charge. Whenever a question is asked about what’s going to happen next, the unfailing answer is that governments will be heeding the instructions of the top doctors.

This in itself is evidence that we’re living in unusual times. We don’t always listen to doctors and medical experts, on matters of smoking, obesity, exercise or even climate science, for instance. Statistics aren’t always as persuasive as they are these days, when we’re all scouring charts for flattened curves.

Kenney, as mentioned earlier, has a long history of skepticism about stats and evidence as they’re used in the federal government. One of his own former bureaucrats in the citizenship and multiculturalism department, Andrew Griffith, has written some compelling work about how Kenney forced the public service to rebalance evidence and political considerations while he was minister.

The idea was that politicians are in government to weigh all kinds of public interests against the weight of impersonal numbers and charts, including the intelligence the political types gain from mixing with people outside the corridors of the civil service. So as I said, it’s not that surprising to see Kenney balking again at blind subservience to public servants’ advice, even from Canada’s top doctor.

Is that such a bad thing? Reasonable people might well agree, in fact, that while the medical health of Canadians has to be a priority in this pandemic, the economic health of citizens is owed some due deference too, especially as the financial devastation deepens.

Dr. Tam, for her part, stayed right out of the dispute on Tuesday when asked about Kenney’s remarks, saying only that it’s her job to take many things into consideration, including advice and insights from other countries.

It would be grossly unfair and probably unproductive to make Tam a target, even if Canadians are increasingly bristling at life under doctor’s orders.

But deference to authority in general is a fragile commodity, especially in a nation undergoing an endurance test of indefinite length. Canadians aren’t rebelling, at least not yet, but their deference has time limits.

Source: Susan Delacourt: Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle

Double standards? PM and Scheer merit sympathy for wish to be with their families

At a time when the issues surrounding how governments and society should respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and the corresponding health and economic crisis, one can never underestimate the propensity for silly and shallow commentary.

And the media also pays far too much attention to these superficial issues.

I am sympathetic with political leaders who want to spend time with their families during these difficult times and do not find the actions by the PM and Andrew Scheer to be unreasonable.

As unfortunately to be expected, some Conservative commentators commentators can’t resist the temptation to take aim at PM Trudeau’s going to Harrington Lake to be with his family.

And also, as expected, no sooner than their commentary and tweets are out the corresponding story regarding Andrew Scheer travelling back to Ottawa with his family on a government jet along with two MPs in a confined 9 passenger jet.

Just as previous columns expressing outrage over PM Trudeau’s personal staff were undermined by revelations of Scheer’s excessive compensation for personal expenses (paid by the Conservative party).

As Norman Spector suggested in a tweet, the government could have reduced the risk by sending a separate plane for Scheer and his family despite the additional cost.

The more egregious examples are below, starting the Candice Malcolm:

While ordinary Canadians are facing hefty fines for breaking coronavirus-related public health orders, it appears that the same rules don’t apply to the prime minister and his family.

On Sunday Sophie Grégoire Trudeau posted pictures of herself with Justin Trudeau and their children on Instagram taking part in Easter festivities. According to the advice of public health officials, Trudeau violated the government’s social distancing rules.

“Even though families across the country are having to get a little creative and celebrate a bit differently this year, we’re all in this together,” Grégoire Trudeau wrote on Instagram.

Since March 29, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and their children have been living in Harrington Lake, Que. while Justin Trudeau has remained in Ottawa.

As Justin Trudeau and his wife and children now live in separate households, the family should be practicing social distancing.

Social distancing means that individuals should avoid contact with those that live outside their household, including family members.

On Friday Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told Canadians celebrating Easter and Passover to stay home this year.

“We need to not let down our guard. The safest plan for your holidays is a staycation for the nation,” she said.

Dr Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, added that celebrations should be limited to members of your household.

On April 1 the government of Quebec introduced strict travel restrictions across the province, including police checkpoints to prevent unnecessary travel in and out of Quebec.

Since the restrictions began, police have prevented 2,300vehicles from crossing the Ottawa-Gatineau border.

How Justin Trudeau’s trip to the family retreat in Harrington Lake would be considered necessary travel is not clear.

On Friday a family of four in Oakville was fined $880 for rollerblading in a parking lot of a community centre. The family says there was no indication anywhere that they were not allowed to be in the area.

In recent weeks hundreds of Canadians have also been fined for breaking public health orders, most of them for not following social distancing rules.

Source: Double standard: Trudeau violates social distancing rules

And the similar if not plagiarized one by Brian Lilley:

Justin Trudeau showed once again on Easter weekend that he doesn’t play by the same rules as everyone else, not even the rules he tell us to follow.

It was just last Friday that the PM was telling the whole country during his daily address that you couldn’t go see family for Easter.

“This weekend is going to be very different. You’ll have to stay home. You’ll have to Skype that big family dinner and the Easter egg hunt,” Trudeau said, standing outside of Rideau Cottage on the grounds of Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

That statement was followed up by this one.

“During the long weekend, we will all have to stay home. We cannot have gatherings for dinner and we’ll have to be creative to organize an Easter egg hunt inside the house,” Trudeau said.

So what did he do this weekend?

He got in his motorcade, with his full entourage, on Saturday afternoon and drove to the PM’s summer residence at Harrington Lake. From one cottage to the other, it is about 27 kilometers, it crosses a provincial boundary and goes through at least three municipalities.

In other words, Trudeau did exactly the opposite of what he, his own medical experts and the premiers of Ontario and Quebec have been saying. Ontario’s Doug Ford and Quebec’s Francois Legault have told people not to go to the cottage and to stay in our primary residence.

This is all part of flattening the curve we are told and making sure we don’t spread the virus. Quebec has even imposed travel restrictions within the province and for more than a week now, people trying to cross from Ottawa into Gatineau have been turned back unless they are essential workers.

No visiting the cottage, no shopping, no visiting family, no going on a drive through Gatineau Park. If you don’t live there, you are turned back.

Trudeau lives by different rules, though.

In normal times I would get this. I don’t begrudge him the fact that he travels with a big entourage; I get that being PM carries risks most of us can’t dream of. That said, these are not normal times.

Most of us would have loved to have visited family this weekend but we didn’t. We stayed home.

My parents are a short drive away and yet I have not seen them since they got back from Florida more than three weeks ago and I won’t see them soon.

Health officials warn against visiting anyone that you don’t already live with.

We are told time and again, including by Trudeau, that these are the sacrifices we have to make to fight COVID-19. On Saturday — just before he hopped in the motorcade and broke all the rules — Trudeau invoked the sacrifice of the men at Vimy Ridge to encourage us all to follow the rules.

Then he went to the cottage to see his wife and kids who have been living there for weeks and guess what, they had a big Easter egg hunt outside and posted it on social media.

At times like this, we need leaders who will lead by example; this weekend, Trudeau was not that leader.

He was showing he doesn’t follow the rules he sets for the little people and by posting the photos online, he and his family were openly mocking us.

Source: LILLEY: Trudeau’s cottage visit mocks us and the rules he sets

The one column by Ryan Tumulty who at least gives both equal treatment:

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer brought his wife, Jill, and five children to Ottawa aboard a small government jet, along with two other MPs, during a time when health authorities are encouraging people to keep socially distant.

The government has dispatched planes to pick up MPs in western Canada to allow them to attend the House of Commons in person for emergency votes that have taken place since the Commons stopped sitting in mid-March.

As the CBC first reported, the flight aboard the nine-seat Challenger jet picked up Green Party parliamentary leader Elizabeth May and Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough in British Columbia, before collecting Scheer in Regina along with his wife and children.

Public health officials across Canada have encouraged everyone to stay home due to the crisis and to avoid all non-essential travel and keep a two-metre distance from others.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also travelled over the weekend, heading to Harrington Lake, which is about 25 kilometres from his home, Rideau Cottage, in Ottawa.

Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, posted a photo online of the prime minister and his three children on Sunday at the cottage.

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has discouraged people from going to their cottage properties.

“Urban dwellers should avoid heading to rural properties, as these places have less capacity to manage COVID-19,” she said in early April.

Meanwhile, May confirmed every seat on the Challenger plane was full once Scheer’s family boarded, but she said everyone did their best to limit potential spread.

“I wore my mask. I kept the best distance I could keep under the circumstances,” she said.

May said she was extraordinarily grateful to be offered a seat on the flight, because otherwise, even after driving to Vancouver, she would have had to board multiple commercial flights.

“It was still going to be three airports going through Vancouver, going through Toronto to get to Ottawa.“

She said she was offered the flight by the government and initially told it would be her, Qualtrough and Scheer on board. May said afterwards she was given the chance to object when Scheer asked to bring his family, but she understood where they were coming from.

May said the deciding factor was knowing that if Mrs. Scheer and the children were not allowed onboard they would have had to make their way to Ottawa by commercial flights.

“It is a personal family decision. I am not going to put myself in their shoes,” she said.

Scheer’s spokesperson Denise Siele said the trip made more sense than other possible options.

“This one way trip resulted in less travel than Mr. Scheer flying back and forth every time the House sits, or flying the entire family on commercial flights through multiple airports,” she said in an email.

She said the Scheer family would now be remaining in Ottawa.

“After spending several weeks in Regina over the March break, Mr. Scheer and his family will be based out of Ottawa for the rest of the spring session.”

Simon Ross, a spokesperson for the Government House Leader, said the government has sent several flights to bring MPs and senators to Ottawa for emergency sittings.

“During these exceptional circumstances brought on by pandemic, when possible the Government has sought to accommodate government aircraft requests from MPs and Senators.”

May said she returned home on the government plane Saturday, after the house rose, with only her and Qualtrough on board.

Source: Government’s COVID-19 rules don’t seem to apply to Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau

You don’t stop a virus by bleeding democracy

Why is it that governments, no matter their political stripe, cannot resist the temptation to over-reach and reduce oversight, whether with respect to bloated omnibus budget bills or during the current COVID-19 pandemic?

And while the federal Conservatives, supported by the NDP, correctly forced the Liberals to back down given a minority government, in Alberta, there is no such check on the UCP government as this Globe editorial details.

Even more shameful than the attempted federal Liberal element given the UCP’s majority and its disregard for parliament (ironic, given that Premier Kenney was an effective parliamentarian at the federal level).

Hopefully, the same conservative-leaning pundits that rightly condemned the Liberal attempted power grab will also call out the Alberta UCP power grab (the first one to do so, John Carpay: Alberta’s Bill 10 is an affront to the rule of law):

Three weeks ago, the Trudeau government tried to use the cover of the coronavirus crisis to give itself unchecked powers once enjoyed by 17th-century European monarchs.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had recalled the House of Commons on March 23 to debate and pass emergency measures to shore up the economy and help Canadians who were losing their jobs.

The opposition were willing to back the minority government’s economic measures, but once they saw the draft bill, they realized the Liberals had something more in mind.

Along with tens of billions of dollars in aid for Canadians in need, the bailout legislation also included clauses that would have given the government the power to raise or lower taxes, and to spend money, without going through Parliament. These extraordinary powers were to last until Dec. 31, 2021.

The opposition, along with many in the media, this page included, were having none of it. By the end of the day on March 23, the government relented. It removed the offending clauses, the opposition offered its backing and, the next day, the bill became law.

Team Trudeau has not explained its attempted end run around democracy, probably because it can’t. There is never any reason to usurp Parliament’s critical role as overseer of government and keeper of the public purse. Every Canadian government, provincial or federal, should get that.

And yet, barely a week later, it happened again.

In Alberta, the United Conservative Party of Premier Jason Kenney used its overwhelming majority to push through a bill on April 2 that gives cabinet ministers unilateral power to write and enact new laws in public health emergencies, with zero oversight by the provincial legislature.

Under Bill 10, the only requirement for enacting a new law is that the relevant minister “is satisfied that doing so is in the public interest.” The only limit on that power is that a new offence cannot be applied retroactively.

It is utterly wrong for democratic governments to seek unilateral powers under the cover of an emergency. It is also unnecessary. There is no justification for it – especially not the one that says governments need to move quickly in a crisis.

Alberta passed Bill 10 in less than 48 hours; the Trudeau government, having secured the support of the opposition, passed its original bailout measures in the same short period. Last weekend, it took less than a day for Parliament to adopt a wage subsidy package. The government shared the legislation with the opposition in advance and made changes to ensure it would pass.

Giving legislators the chance to study, debate and vote on bills doesn’t result in unacceptable delays – if anything, as shown time and again, it improves legislation. More importantly, the transparency and accountability that comes from having to pass a bill through Parliament is the foundation of our system of government.

The Liberals and the opposition parties are now arguing about how often the House of Commons should sit during the remainder of the crisis, and whether sessions should be held in person with a skeleton crew of members, or with all MPs, via teleconferencing.

However it does so, Parliament must sit. Committees, too. And Question Period must happen, so that the government remains answerable to the House and to Canadians. That holds in Ottawa and in each of the provinces. It goes for both minority and majority governments.

Under no circumstances should any government see this emergency as an excuse to sideline the elected representatives of the people.

Thanks to their daily crisis briefings, government leaders are dominating the news coverage. Opposition voices have been sidelined, but they must be given their due in order for our democracy to function properly. That happens best in Parliament.

This crisis is demanding a lot of Canadians. They are self-isolating at home with their families. Many have lost their jobs, or are watching their businesses teeter on the precipice.

They will be able to decide for themselves whether federal and provincial opposition parties have helped the situation, or simply been a partisan nuisance. But Canadians must not come out the other end of this only to discover that their institutions and rights have been compromised by governments that grabbed for powers they were not entitled to.

Source:    You don’t stop a virus by bleeding democracy Editorial <img src=”https://www.theglobeandmail.com/resizer/p5aED50QGxv9DJSWx6332Wy7vT0=/163×0:4746×3055/600×0/filters:quality(80)/arc-anglerfish-tgam-prod-tgam.s3.amazonaws.com/public/5D7WOGR7DNNH3AJ33H42OZMKTU.jpg” alt=””>