On immigration, Scheer is trying to please two different audiences at once

Aaron Wherry’s take, noting his silence on the Conservative Party’s opposition to the global compact on migration :

Andrew Scheer’s immigration speech on Tuesday night rested its arguments on a debatable premise.

“With each passing day,” he said, “Justin Trudeau and the Liberals undermine” Canada’s “proud legacy” of immigration. “They have managed,” Scheer said, “to undermine the long-standing consensus that immigration is indeed a positive thing for this country.”

Public polling on this topic is mixed, but a recent survey by Environics suggested that general views on immigration have changed little over the last eight years. In 2011, 47 per cent of respondents said immigration made Canada a better place, while 16 per cent said it made Canada a worse place. In 2019, those numbers were 44 per cent and 15 per cent.

In 2011, 58 per cent disagreed with the statement that immigration levels were “too high.” In 2019, 59 per cent disagreed.

There’s a crucial partisan division in the 2019 numbers, however. On the question of whether immigration levels were too high, 75 per cent of Liberal voters and 70 per cent of NDP supporters disagreed. Just 44 per cent of Conservative voters disagreed.

It’s that breakdown of consensus that leaves Andrew Scheer trying to address two different audiences — to reassure the wide swath of voters who are basically happy with immigration, while also speaking to the sceptics who support his party.

The resulting tension was barely concealed in Scheer’s remarks on Tuesday.

How many is too many?

He expounded on the contributions that successive waves of immigrants have made to this country and explained the economic imperative for continued immigration. He promised that, if he becomes prime minister, his government would move to increase private sponsorship of refugees.

But Scheer made a point of declining to say exactly how many immigrants Canada would accept under a new Conservative government. He described the whole topic of setting a number as “a little bit of a red herring.” That seemed to be an excuse to avoid being pinned down.

Those calling for the current levels to be cut, he said, are making “rash promises.” But those who advocate for “high targets” are also doing so for political ends, he argued.

Scheer, apparently, would arrive at some kind of objectively correct number. But not unless or until he becomes prime minister. And even then, he said, “that number may change every year.”

The Conservative leader was more categorical in condemning racism and intolerance.

“I’d like to make something absolutely crystal clear,” he said. “There is absolutely no room in a peaceful and free country like Canada for intolerance, racism and extremism of any kind. And the Conservative Party of Canada will always make that absolutely clear.”

Polishing the party’s immigration image

That Scheer felt he needed to say so might be viewed as evidence of an image problem. If, for instance, he had not appeared at a protest attended by members of the so-called ‘yellow vest’ movement, and if his party hadn’t had to retract an attack ad about asylum-seekers that featured an image of a black man crossing into Canada, he might not have felt it necessary to clarify his position on racism.

But Scheer also condemned the Liberals for too harshly condemning their critics. “We should be able to have an immigration debate in this country without the government calling people who criticize its failure racists and bigots,” Scheer said.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen did once describe his Ontario counterpart’s language on the issue of irregular immigration as “not Canadian.” And Trudeau has challenged Scheer to condemn white supremacists.

But in the one case where Trudeau directly accused someone of racism, he was speaking to a woman in Quebec who had referred to “your illegal immigrants” and “Québécois de souche” — an inflammatory phrase that refers to the original descendants of French colonists. Scheer criticized Trudeau’s comments at the time.

On Tuesday night, Scheer dwelled on the issue of irregular migration along Canada’s southern border, just as his party has over the last two years. “The numbers are almost hard to believe,” he said of the more than 40,000 people who have come to Canada in that time.

Choosing to present that situation as a pressing problem might strike some as understandable. But it’s also a political choice — one that no doubt speaks to those who think Canada is currently accepting too many immigrants.

In that respect, Scheer’s speech was most interesting for what he did not mention: the UN’s global compact on migration.

Last December, Scheer publicly and prominently condemned the Trudeau government’s decision to sign the non-binding statement of principles that’s meant to frame an international approach to the emerging challenge of migration. Canada joined 151 other countries in ratifying the compact.

International opposition to the initiative was later traced to far-right activists. In opposing the pact, Scheer’s Conservatives found themselves on the same side with Donald Trump’s administration and several nationalist parties in Europe. Scheer said the compact was a threat to Canada’s national sovereignty. “It gives influence over Canada’s immigration system to foreign entities,” he claimed.

Chris Alexander, the former Conservative immigration minister, was moved to say that Scheer’s assessment was “factually incorrect.”

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called Justin Trudeau’s immigration plan “irresponsible” and “broken.” So what would his approach be? David Cochrane breaks down Scheer’s latest policy speech leading up to this fall’s election. 2:13

The Conservative party’s website still features a condemnation of the compact and an invitation for Canadians to add their names to an online petition opposing it.

But six months after saying he’d pull Canada out of the compact, Scheer gave a 3,000-word speech about immigration without mentioning it once.

Maybe Scheer is ready to forget what he said in December. But if he’s still opposed to the compact, it’s an odd omission.

Two MPs are locked in a Twitter brawl over race and identity. Time to talk? | CBC News

Couldn’t agree more with Aaron Wherry (have argued this earlier myself: Maxime Bernier rejects Liberal MP’s apology over ‘check your privilege’ Twitter row):

For months now, two MPs — Liberal Celina Caesar-Chavannes and Conservative Maxime Bernier — have been locked in a very public Twitter battle over identity politics.

Liberal MP Greg Fergus thinks they should actually talk to each other. Face to face.

“It sounds really personal now. And they do work about five metres away from each other,” Fergus said in an interview earlier this week.

An actual conversation might not resolve their dispute. It probably wouldn’t do much to achieve social justice, or to settle the thorny questions about race, culture and identity the two MPs been hashing out in increments of 280 characters or less. But it probably wouldn’t hurt.

On Saturday, Bernier tweeted that Caesar-Chavannes, the Liberal MP for Whitby, believes “the world revolves around” her “skin colour.” That was in response to Caesar-Chavannes chiding him in an interview with the Globe and Mail.

Their mutual animus dates to March, when Bernier criticized the Liberal government’s promotion of funding for “racialized Canadians” and said he thought the goal of anti-racism policy was to create a “colour-blind” society.

Caesar-Chavannes fired back, suggesting Bernier “do some research … as to why stating colour blindness as a defence actually contributes to racism.”

“Please check your privilege and be quiet,” she added — provoking Bernier to invoke “free speech.”

Caesar-Chavannes subsequently apologized and suggested that they get together to chat. Bernier dismissed the idea.

Bernier rejects Liberal MP’s apology over identity politics flareup on Twitter
“We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish. And we should recognize that Canada is big enough to contain many identities. As a francophone Quebecer, I can understand this,” he wrote.

“But that doesn’t mean the gov’t officially defining us on the basis of ‘intersectional race, gender and sexual identities’ and granting different rights and privileges accordingly. This only creates more division and injustice and will balkanise our society.”

The Jordan Peterson factor

It’s not clear which “rights” and “privileges” Bernier thinks are being granted in this instance. But he is correct to note that, as a francophone Quebecer, he has some special insight into this topic.

As a minister in Stephen Harper’s cabinet, he supported a motion declaring that “the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada.” In 2015, he supported an NDP proposal that required officers of Parliament to be bilingual.

But this also is not the first time Bernier has recoiled from an attempt by the Liberal government to deal with a matter of social justice.

As a candidate for the Conservative leadership in 2017, he recanted his previous support for Bill C-16, which extended existing anti-discrimination protections to cover “gender identity” and “gender expression.”

Bernier said Jordan Peterson — the University of Toronto professor lionized by many on the political right as a courageous campaigner against the excesses of identity politics — had convinced him that C-16 would infringe on the right to free speech.

Asked by the Toronto Sun in March to comment on the latest Liberal budget — which made extensive use of gender-based analysis — Peterson lamented the Trudeau government’s approach.

“I think the identity politics is absolutely catastrophic … We will see a rise in racial tension and tension between the genders as a consequence of this,” he said. “It’s already happening. We’re introducing problems into a country.”

It’s not clear if Bernier objects to what the Liberal government is doing — or just to the words it uses to describe what it is doing.

But identity politics — focusing on the concerns and challenges faced by specific groups within the larger society — has also been critiqued by the American left in the wake of Donald Trump’s election — the theory being that the Democratic party has alienated white voters in explicitly addressing the particular interests of non-white voters.

For that matter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau referenced identity politics himself when he encouraged students at New York University to avoid falling into political or social tribalism.

Fergus’s call for a conversation has something in common with both the American critique and Trudeau’s call to voters to bridge the gap between political solitudes.

An ‘inclusive’ fight against injustice

“As we’re dealing with this issue … you have to make sure that you do it in a way that’s very inclusive,” Fergus said. “That people feel that they’re a part of the solution. The last thing I want people to do is to feel as if I’m pointing the finger at them saying that they are not part of the solution or that they’re part of the problem.”

That approach has its limits. (Some people actually are part of the problem.)

But people of goodwill who find themselves in such conversations might feel as if they are being personally accused. So it’s tempting to think that an actual, in-person conversation might do what an exchange of tweets cannot.

Maybe Bernier and Caesar-Chavannes can never convince each other. But for those calling for change — among them the representatives of a Liberal government that continues to push on issues like gender equality, diversity and systemic racism — there’s something to be said for bringing as many people along with you as possible.

“If you’re part of the groups that have been discriminated against systemically over time, how would you feel? You would want these issues to be dealt with because it’s been going on for such a long time and there’s nothing more frustrating than to feel that the cards are stacked against you,” Fergus said.

“But it’s also very important for people who are not part of those groups to understand what that feeling is like …

“We have to figure out a way to get along and understand each other. That’s going to be an imperfect and messy process, but we need to talk. And if people are uncomfortable with me talking about it, I want to know why they are really uncomfortable with it and let’s have that conversation.”

Dealing with a problem is better than pretending it doesn’t exist. Talking is better than not talking — even if Bernier feels Liberals are sowing division, and progressives conclude that achieving a just society is more important than his feelings.

via Two MPs are locked in a Twitter brawl over race and identity. Time to talk? | CBC News

The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

Good piece by Aaron Wherry:

The Liberals want the Conservatives to watch their words. The Conservatives want a plan. They’re both right.

The debate over what to do about the asylum seekers crossing our southern border — revived this week after the Quebec government worried aloud about its ability to deal with a possible surge of arrivals this summer — is serious, tawdry and dangerous.

On Wednesday, for instance, Conservatives celebrated when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged in the Commons that crossing the border between official points of entry could be called “illegal.”

(The government typically refers to “irregular” border crossings. The Conservatives insist on calling them “illegal.”)

NDP MP Jenny Kwan later stood on a point of order to argue that, according to a strict reading of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the people crossing the border at places like Roxham Road in Quebec aren’t committing a crime.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel accused the NDP of quibbling over “semantics,” but the adjective “illegal” is obviously meaningful to the Official Opposition. And when applied to human beings with families and children who might have excellent reasons for fleeing their home country, “illegal” is at least a fraught term.

Playing politics

The Conservatives, who describe the ongoing border crossings as a “crisis,” would like the government to table a plan for resolving the situation. They went as far as tabling a motion in the House this week calling on the Liberals to do so.

But — in the classic style of opposition motions — the request for a plan was buried in text that would have had the government acknowledge its “failure to address the crisis” and “admit the Prime Minister’s irresponsibility of tweeting #WelcometoCanada to those seeking to enter Canada through illegal means.”

 

And so Liberal MPs declined to support the motion in a vote on Tuesday, and so Conservative MP Ted Falk stood in the House on Wednesday and lamented the prime minister’s refusal “to even commit to a plan.”

The Conservatives also charge that the irregular arrivals are “queue jumpers,” a description the government rejects.

The Liberals argue the Conservative and NDP proposals — respectively, to declare the entire border to be an official port of entry, or to unilaterally suspend Canada’s border agreement with the United States — are both irredeemably flawed. And the situation is certainly complicated, legally and practically.

But writing down and publishing a detailed plan could still be useful.

In the meantime, each side is warning the other about where all this might be headed.

‘The flames of fear and division’

“I recommend that my colleague choose his words carefully, because false information and incendiary rhetoric only fan the flames of fear and division,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Tuesday, scolding Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus.

“I’m worried that the dialogue in Canada is going to switch from ‘how we do immigration’ to ‘if we do immigration,’ ” Rempel told CBC radio’s As It Happens that same day.

On Wednesday, Trudeau said it was “completely irresponsible of the Conservatives to arouse fears and concerns about our immigration system and refugees.”

But Rempel contends that it’s the Liberals who could be inciting division.

“As someone who supports compassionate, planned, orderly migration, and sees it as a key to sustaining the Canadian economy over time when done properly, legally, and safely, I worry that by abdicating the responsibility to do this, it is actually the Liberal Party that is creating divisiveness in the country,” she told the House this week.

More than 6,000 people have crossed the Quebec border seeking asylum so far in 2018 and officials expect the surge to continue with the onset of warmer weather 7:34

Trudeau’s tweet and Trump’s edicts

Canada takes pride these days in not being the sort of place where such divisiveness dominates. But you don’t need to look far here to see how large-scale, unplanned immigration can trigger something ugly and destructive.

In the United States, migration has helped to inspire a nativist litany of grievances that is warping American politics. In Europe, it has helped to birth a new era of nationalism. All sides should be aware of the forces at play here.

However much the prime minister’s tweet on January 28, 2017 acted as a beacon to those seeking refuge, policy decisions in the United States are no doubt giving people good reasons to flee.

But that American approach isn’t likely to change soon. On Thursday, the Trump administration announced that 9,000 Nepalese immigrants will have to leave by June 2019. And even if Trudeau had never hashtagged a message of welcome to the world, the federal government would still bear the responsibility for managing the border.

Liberals can point to the emissaries they have dispatched to dissuade would-be travellers, but such efforts will be discounted if the rate of crossings doesn’t decline. The Trudeau government can point to the funding and resources it has committed to dealing with the new arrivals, but ultimately the Trudeau Liberals may find they have little room now to quibble with the premier of Quebec, or to suggest that it’s the province that should be doing more to accommodate asylum seekers.

If social services in Quebec are noticeably stretched, if immigration procedures bog down, if community tensions rise, Ottawa will be blamed.

Of course, all of this — the number of people crossing the border, the processing and integration of those people while they’re here, the language being used to talk about them — are ripe for political exploitation.

Responsible critics have a duty to avoid overstating the danger here. Responsible governments have a responsibility to limit the grounds for concern.

Source: The political debate over migrants hasn’t turned ugly yet – but it could

ICYMI: How the federal government is slowly becoming as diverse as Canada

Good overview article by Aaron Wherry of CBC on diversity in government, both public service and political appointments. Some of my analysis quoted and used:

Campaigning in 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to “build a government as diverse as Canada.”

That job might’ve seemed nearly done on Day One. Of the 31 ministers sworn in on Nov. 4, 2015, 15 were, famously, women. Five ministers were visible minorities and two others were Indigenous.

A cabinet ratio of 48.3 per cent women, 16.1 per cent visible minorities and 6.5 per cent Indigenous comes close to matching a Canadian population that was 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities and 4.9 per cent Indigenous.

But a prime minister and his government are responsible for far more than a few dozen cabinet positions. The cabinet oversees more than 1,500 appointments, including chairs and members of boards, tribunals and Crown corporations, deputy ministers, heads of foreign missions, judges and senators.

On that much larger scale, progress has been made, but the ideal of a government that looks like Canada is still a ways off.

A new appointment process

When the government was sworn in, just 34 per cent of federal appointees were women, 4.5 per cent were visible minorities and 3.9 per cent were Indigenous.

Two years later, according to data from the Privy Council Office, 42.8 per cent of appointees are women, 5.6 per cent are visible minorities and 5.8 per cent are Indigenous.

In February 2016, the Liberal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown corporations. It specified diversity as a goal and opened applications to the public.

According to the Privy Council Office, 429 appointments were made via that process through Dec. 5, 2017. Of those, 56.6 per cent were women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities and 9.6 per cent were Indigenous.

A total of 579 appointments — including deputy ministers, heads of mission and appointments for which requirements are specified in law — were made through existing processes. Of those, 43.7 per cent were women, 3.8 per cent were visible minorities and 5.2 per cent were Indigenous.

“Mr. Trudeau has been more intentional on these issues than his predecessors and has made great progress in opening up the process. He has also clearly made great strides on gender,” says Wendy Cukier, director of Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute.

But, says Cukier, the government’s efforts toward transparency and equal opportunity need to be accompanied by “proactive outreach and recruitment as well as retention strategies” in order to “address some of the barriers historically disadvantaged groups have faced.”

Eleanore Catenaro, press secretary for the prime minister, says, “Our aim is to identify high-quality candidates who will help to achieve gender parity and truly reflect Canada’s diversity.”

She says, “We know there is more work to do to achieve these goals, and we continue to do outreach to potential qualified and diverse candidates to encourage them to apply.”

Rigorous reporting of demographic data across federal appointments could presumably drive change — or at least give the  government something to answer for — but most of these numbers have not been made public.

“It is crucial that the government tracks, measures and reports on diversity in all areas,” says Sen. Ratna Omidvar, the founding director of Ryerson’s Global Diversity Exchange. “By doing so, we are able to see where we are making progress and where we need to improve.”

Beneath those top-line numbers, there are a few other points of reference.

According to Global Affairs Canada, the government made 87 heads-of-mission appointments — ambassadors, consul generals and official representatives — in 2016 and 2017. Forty-eight per cent were women and 13.8 per cent were visible minorities. There were no Indigenous appointees.

Senate and court appointments

Andrew Griffith, a former official at the department of citizenship and immigration who has been tracking diversity in federal appointments, has counted 18 women, six visible minorities and three Indigenous Canadians among Trudeau’s 31 Senate appointments.

As a result of an initiative to track judicial appointees, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs has published a tally of court appointments from Oct. 21, 2016 through Oct. 27, 2017. Between those dates, 74 judicial appointments were made, of whom 50 per cent were women, 12.1 per cent were visible minorities and four per cent were Indigenous.

But that data also suggested the pool of candidates was limited: of the 997 applications received, just 97 applicants identified as a visible minority and 36 were Indigenous.​

At some point, it might be charged that diversity is being inappropriately prioritized ahead of merit or competency — as Kevin O’Leary once alleged of Trudeau’s cabinet. But such suggestions assume that achieving diversity must come at the expense of merit.

Ideally, diversity would also amount to more than a numerical value.

3 benefits of diversity

Griffith, for instance, suggests three potential benefits of diversity in appointments: that it allows Canadians to see themselves represented in government institutions, that it brings a range of experience and perspectives to government policies and operations and that it reduces the risk of inappropriate policies (for example, an RCMP interview guide that asked asylum-seekers about their religious practices).

“It has been proven over and over that more diversity in the workplace leads to better outcomes,” says Omidvar, who is also pushing to tighten the standards included in a proposed government bill that would require corporate boards to report on diversity.

But the most profound impact could conceivably relate to Griffith’s first potential benefit. A nation that values diversity and pluralism might want its institutions to reflect those principles — and institutions that reflect those principles might advance the building of a multicultural society.

“It normalizes diversity,” Omidvar said of public appointments. “At this point, diversity is still sort of not the norm, which is why we focus on it.”

via How the federal government is slowly becoming as diverse as Canada – Politics – CBC News

ICYMI: How do you screen beliefs? The troublesome task of testing for ‘anti-Canadian values’ – Wherry

Good overview along with good questions on how would you actually administer a values test by Aaron Wherry:

When Kellie Leitch, one of four candidates officially seeking the leadership of the Conservative party, was first reported to have asked her supporters whether immigrants to this country should be screened for “anti-Canadian values,” it was tempting to assume she believed that prospective citizens should be handed a cup of Tim Hortons coffee, sent to a professional hockey game and made to at least pretend that they were enjoying themselves.

But, as it turns out, the “anti-Canadian values” Leitch believes new immigrants should be checked for include “intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”

And this, Leitch explained in a statement on Friday, is “a policy proposal that I feel very strongly about.”

Indeed, she later enthused to her supporters that, “We are going to have an open discussion about what Canadian values are and what they are not.”

“If you are tired of feeling like we can’t discuss what our Canadian values are, then please help me to fight back by making a donation,” she added.

So as to assist those who feel like this can’t be discussed, let’s discuss it.

Precedents for a values test

Leitch’s proposal is not without precedents.

Two weeks ago, noted wall-enthusiast Donald Trump suggested that those hoping to become American citizens would undergo ideological screening, hearkening back to a Cold War policy that was meant to keep communists out.

“Those who do not believe in our Constitution or who support bigotry and hatred will not be admitted for immigration into our country,” he said. “Only those who we expect to flourish in our country and to embrace a tolerant American society should be issued visas.”

Belgium recently began to require that non-European migrants sign a pledge committing themselves to certain “values.”

In Canada, we do present potential citizens with a guide that explains our history and speaks of values, but we do not then check to make sure every newcomer believes fully and completely in each and every one of those ideals.

At the moment, it is not clear how Leitch imagines we should.

How would we screen for beliefs?

Would immigrants be asked to confirm their agreement with a series of statements about equality? How would we know they were telling the truth? Would we hook them up to a lie detector? Would we have public servants checking Twitter histories and Facebook profiles for evidence of intolerance or unacceptable views?

Are we comfortable with the idea of regulating beliefs? Who defines the values and how they will be measured? How specific would we get?

Would immigrants have to be fully supportive of same-sex marriage? (To pick a right that Conservative party members have only just come around to not opposing and which some current Canadian citizens still don’t support.) What about transgender rights? (To pick an issue that Parliament will soon be considering.)

What constitutes an intolerance for economic freedom? Would that rule out socialists? What about anyone with an inclination to vote for the NDP?

What great benefit would we derive from the effort? And what would be the effect of such a test?

We might, for instance, imagine that living in Canada could open the mind of a homophobe, or at least provide his or her children with a good atmosphere in which to grow up.

But, while we’re on the topic, what of the bigots and misogynists who were born here?

What problem does this mean to solve?

But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let us go back to the premise, or at least try to understand what it might be.

What problem does this debate over Canadian values mean to solve? Are great hordes of bigots and misogynists entering our country at present? Are their beliefs having some kind of deleterious impact on our society? Are we faced with some kind of threat that must be dealt with?

The implication that we are is inherent in Leitch’s idea: That immigrants with “anti-Canadian values” are coming to this country. That Canada is faced with a meaningful problem. That even though we have become a tolerant, pluralistic society alongside decades of mass immigration (and despite whatever prejudices were held by our naturally born citizens and new arrivals), we are somehow now in need of greater protection.

That is a troubling suggestion to leave hanging in the air as thousands of newcomers continue to try to settle into our country. We should not uncarefully implicate an entire class of people.

“This suggestion, that some immigrants are ‘anti-Canadian’, does not represent our Conservative Party or our Canada,” Michael Chong, a fellow leadership candidate, said in a statement on Friday. “The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper’s former director of policy, to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics.‎”

(Interim Leader Rona Ambrose has since joined Chong in questioning Leitch’s proposal, noting there are already criminal background checks for potential immigrants.)

Does someone wearing a niqab make us vulnerable?

The suggestion of a threat also suggests a vulnerability.

In this way, screening for anti-Canadian values seems similar to the previous government’s fretting about some women wearing the niqab during the citizenship oath.

We might not like what we imagine the niqab to represent, just as we might not like the idea of anyone with even a single misogynistic, bigoted or homophobic thought making a home in this country.

But we might believe that we are collectively strong enough to welcome a vast array of beliefs and practices without losing ourselves. That we are not so fragile or weak.

That, in contradiction to the implication found in Donald Trump’s proposal, our best and noblest ideas will prevail and win out. And that our values might indeed spread, as newcomers arrive and settle here.

If some of us are worried, we might try to understand why. But we might decide that a proper Canadian value is to not be fearful.

Source: How do you screen beliefs? The troublesome task of testing for ‘anti-Canadian values’ – Politics – CBC News

Paul Calandra says it was a ‘mistake’ to focus on niqab, barbaric practices

Interesting coming from Calandra, who was one of the more obnoxious practitioners of repeating inane and irrelevant talking points.

Yet he shows more awareness than defeated CIC Minister Alexander (see this short video Catching up with outgoing cabinet minister Chris Alexander).

Perhaps if he and his colleagues engaged in more discussion with Canadians before the election, allowing for a better balance of witnesses during committee hearings, rather than ramming through changes, a more solid basis would have been laid:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s handpicked parliamentary secretary says the Conservative Party’s focus on identity issues — the niqab, stripping citizenship from dual nationals and launching a barbaric cultural practices hot line — was a mistake that cost the party votes among new Canadians.

“There was a lot of confusion and a lot of first-generation Canadians said ‘OK, we’re not ready to endorse that,'” Paul Calandra said in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“Obviously, yeah, in retrospect [it was a mistake],” he said, and one that likely led to his defeat at the hands of his Liberal opponent, Jane Philpott, in the riding of Markham–Stouffville.

“We had our challenges, obviously, in the early goings — we had the Duffy trial, then the Syrian refugee crisis — but through it all we were still in a very good spot,” Calandra said.

Voters were responding to Conservative messaging around low taxes, the economy and public safety, he said, but then the party started to stray into identity politics, and doubled down on rhetoric about Islamic face coverings and homegrown terrorism.

The Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act was a particular sticking point. The Conservative-drafted law, known during the legislative process as Bill C-24, strips dual nationals of their citizenship if they are convicted of terrorism or high treason, among other serious offences.

It was not that voters disagreed with what the Conservatives had enacted, but that they were “confused” about how widely the law could be applied, Calandra said, and the Liberals pounced, shrewdly denouncing the policy as a slippery slope that created two classes of citizenship.

“‘What does it mean for me? How will that impact my family,'” Calandra said, reciting some of the questions he heard from voters at the door. “I had a call … ‘If I’m caught shoplifting does that mean my family has to go?'”

Source: Paul Calandra says it was a ‘mistake’ to focus on niqab, barbaric practices – Politics – CBC News

Aaron Wherry of Macleans provides comments by Conservative MPs:

C-24, the bill that allows the federal government to revoke the Canadian citizenship of dual citizens if an individual is convicted of treason or terrorism or takes up arms against Canada, was a similarly problematic issue, unexpectedly raising concerns for immigrants and their families. “Somehow we missed stuff, because I would have been one hundred percent behind it,” says [Brad] Trost [re-elected in Saskatchewan], “but for some reason people who should’ve understood that it wasn’t meant at them were a little bit insecure.” …
In Toronto, the Prime Minister made two appearances in the company of the Ford brothers, Rob and Doug, but, according to a national Innovative Research poll conducted shortly after the election, that did far more harm than good. Almost 10 times as many potential Conservative voters were less likely (49 per cent) than more likely (6.4 per cent) to vote Conservative because of Harper’s appearance with the Fords, who have practically become a worldwide monument to bad behaviour. “It’s hard to see a more self-destructive move by a campaign,” says Innovative Research owner Greg Lyle. This was a bigger turnoff for these voters than the trial of disgraced former Conservative Senator Mike Duffy (30 per cent), the party’s negative ads (26 per cent) or its anti-niqab stance (23 per cent.)

Source: How the Conservative campaign got it so spectacularly wrong – Macleans.ca

The niqab election: Commentary by Wherry and Hébert, past controversies

Aaron Wherry has the rights argument nailed down:

At the outset, it should be understood that the niqab debate, or at least this particular niqab debate, is not about the niqab. Whether you like or agree with the niqab is irrelevant. How you would feel about your daughter wearing the niqab is besides the point. You are entitled to your opinion and, given the fraught politics and cultural curiosity that surround the garment, there is a discussion worth having about the niqab, preferably including the voices of the women who wear it. But for the purposes of whether or not the niqab should be banned during the swearing of the citizenship oath by new Canadian citizens your opinion is of no applicability. Proponents of a ban might want to note that, according to public opinion surveys, a large majority of Canadians do indeed oppose the wearing of the niqab during the oath, but this is irrelevant unless you believe that the rights of individuals should be determined by majority rule, that the extent of minority rights are at the whim of the majority.

One’s rights are what is at issue here. And on that note it is fun to note that on Thursday morning, about nine hours before Stephen Harper made his declaration about a women’s sartorial freedom, the Conservatives announced that, if they continue to govern long enough to do so, they will have the federal government purchase John Diefenbaker’s childhood home and declare it a national historic site. Among the accomplishments the Conservatives recognized in explaining the reason for such an honour was Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights, which acknowledged, among other rights, the freedom of religion. “It will give to Canadians the realization that wherever a Canadian may live, whatever his race, his religion or his colour,” Diefenbaker said in 1960, “the Parliament of Canada will be jealous of his rights and will not infringe upon those rights.”

Diefenbaker’s Bill of Rights was ultimately overtaken by Pierre Trudeau’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and it is those Charter rights that are relevant (even if a Federal Court judge actually overturned the government’s policy on the niqab because he found it contradicted the Citizenship Act). As Zunera Ishaq‘s lawyers argue in their factum for the Federal Court of Appeal, “The impugned Policy forces the Respondent into an impossible choice: violate a sincerely held religious belief in a significant and material manner, or give up obtaining the Canadian citizenship that she is otherwise entitled to. And it forces this choice on her for no good reason.”

There are no practical justifications for the ban. Confirming an individual’s identity can be done privately before the oath ceremony. Confirming that an individual has said the oath—the practical consideration that Jason Kenney first claimed when he introduced his ban—can be done by having an official stand within earshot.

Jason Kenney has asserted that, based on his consultations, the wearing of a niqab is not properly grounded in religious theology. But we should surely not wish for a country in which ministers of the crown are the arbiters of what constitutes a proper expression of faith. The Supreme Court has set out parameters for legally recognized religious belief (in Syndicat Northcrest v. Anselem and R. v. N.S), and if the case of the niqab ban ever has to be adjudicated on Charter grounds the sincerity of Ishaq’s belief could be tested, but I might suggest that a decent and confident country should give the benefit of the doubt to the claimant unless the welfare of others or the country is somehow threatened.

In Alberta v. Hutterian Brethren of Wilson Colony, the Supreme Court upheld a law that was being challenged on the grounds of religious freedom, but in that case the Court found a “pressing and substantial” goal—specifically, minimizing the potential for identity theft associated with driver’s licences. There is no such goal here. There is only symbolism.

Source: The niqab election – Macleans.ca

A timely reminder of Sikhs wearing turbans in the RCMP. Those who forget history …

The rhetoric over the niqab in the federal election campaign is proving reminiscent of another furor, more than 20 years ago, around the turban and its compatibility with Canadian values and the country’s dearest institutions.

What was allegedly at stake in that debate in the 1990s was the very fabric of the nation, and the sanctity and perhaps survival of an important historic symbol of the country — the Stetson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Baltej Singh Dhillon, a young practising Sikh, wanted to become a Mountie. But his application to the force led to a kind of turban turmoil and an eventual intervention in Parliament by the Progressive Conservative government of the day.

The debate was featured on newscasts and dominated the public conversation. Political parties took positions on it, including the Reform Party, which deemed allowing the right to wear a turban unnecessary, and went so far as to pass a resolution at its 1989 convention banning such religious attire for the RCMP. At the time, Stephen Harper was a defeated Reform candidate and the party’s policy chief.

Dhillon is now a staff sergeant in the RCMP. The force refused to allow him to speak to CBC News about the turban debate. But in a video story produced by Telus Optik in B.C. and posted online, Dhillon recalled the tone of the debate.

“It was vicious. It was angry. It was emotional. It had all the elements of racism in there. It was a disappointment is what it was,” he said in the video.

“The fear was that we would lose the symbols that defined Canadians and defined our culture and defined who we were and our branding with the rest of the world.”

“And that was the greatest irony: That on one hand, we need to protect our symbols, and in the same breath, we need you to not protect your faith or your religion or your roots.”

Source: Niqab debate recalls RCMP turban furor of the ’90s – Politics – CBC News

Lastly, Chantal Hébert on some of the debates that diverse societies will continue to have and the struggle for balance.

While her conclusion is right, the question is how to have such a discussion in an open and respectful fashion, not used as wedge politics but the Conservatives and Bloc:

And yet, under the guise of this discussion, voters are getting a taste of one of the fundamental debates of the 21st century. It revolves around how the increasingly diverse communities that make up pluralistic societies accommodate their cultural and religious differences and it is not going away after Oct. 19.

Source: Niqab debate leading to wider discussion on religious, cultural accommodation: Hébert | Toronto Star

Larry Miller and the case against the niqab – Wherry

Aaron Wherry’s two questions:

First, if the government wishes to see the niqab banned, why doesn’t it change the regulations to reflect that? I asked the office of Minister Chris Alexander that question and a spokesman responded, “We are not going to speculate on hypotheticals and we are going to make our arguments in court.” (In an op-ed published today, law professor Richard Moon suggests the government amend the regulations, though Moon notes that would trigger a Charter challenge, which the government would lose.)

Second, and more crucial, it seems to me, if the government adamantly believes the niqab should be banned during the oath, why did the government apparently tell the court that the directive was not mandatory, but optional? Here, again, are the first three sentences of paragraph 30 of Justice Boswell’s ruling:

The Respondent argues that this application is premature. In its view, the Policy is not mandatory and citizenship judges are free not to apply it. As such, there is no way to know what would have happened had the Applicant attended the ceremony and refused to uncover her face.

So it would seem that while the government is publicly declaring that wearing the niqab during the oath is unequivocally not something that should be allowed, it has otherwise defended the policy as quite open to equivocation. Beyond the legal arguments here, that seems to my untrained eye like a serious complication for the government’s political argument.

Whatever Larry Miller’s views of where the hell one should situate oneself, the government’s basic argument would seem to amount to this: that a citizenship ceremony is of a particular nature that the government should be able to impose a standard of dress for it, regardless of an individual’s claim to religious freedom, so far as the niqab is concerned. In light of all else—and, I might add, the Supreme Court’s ruling on when a niqab should be removed during a trial—it remains a weak and uninspiring argument. It is a principle without a practical basis that would have the government dismiss a fundamental right. It is to presume that the state can, without substantial cause, dictate attire and place a limit on one’s religious freedom.

Larry Miller and the case against the niqab – Macleans.ca.

Michael Den Tandt: Justin Trudeau’s manifesto stakes a claim for pluralism and liberty

By far, the best commentary on Trudeau’s Toronto speech on the politics of fear and the reaction:

What’s most novel about Trudeau’s thesis, at root, is the claim it lays to upholding individual freedom against the encroachments of the state. It’s intellectual ground the Harper Conservatives have been pleased to occupy, virtually without competition, since their Reform Party days in the early 1990s.

Most curious of all: Monday’s speech and the strategy underlying it have been in the works for months, according to Liberal party sources. But the hook was a series of recent Conservative missteps — ­from a Facebook post caterwauling about a non-existent imminent attack on the West Edmonton Mall, to Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s conflation of the hijab (headscarf) and the niqab, to Conservative MP John Williamson’s facepalm-inducing recent musings about “whities” and “brown people” –­ that together convey the impression that, contrary to all its careful messaging of the past two decades, this Conservative party may not be friendly to minorities, after all.

Clearly, the PMO now perceives some peril here: Late Monday, staffers sent out an email reiterating past assertions by Jason Kenney and by the PM of warm support for Canada’s million-strong Muslim community.

The question is whether it will be enough. Intolerance of minorities is a 35-year-old chink in the Western conservative movement’s armour, which long held it back in Ontario. It’s odd indeed to see this dialectic re-emerge now, long past the time when most had thought it dead and gone.

Michael Den Tandt: Justin Trudeau’s manifesto stakes a claim for pluralism and liberty

Other interesting commentary by Aaron Wherry, notes the contradiction between the public position and the one argued in Court:

It would seem useful here to turn to the actual ruling of the Federal Court, in the case of Zunera Ishaq, that overturned the government’s attempt to ban the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship oath. What undid the government’s position was simple incoherence—the policy directive by the minister, Jason Kenney in his previous portfolio, conflicted with the regulations that govern the citizenship process. So while the directive demanded that the niqab be removed during the saying of the oath, the regulations instruct the citizenship judge to allow “the greatest possible freedom in the religious solemnization or solemn affirmation thereof.” The regulations also do not require visual confirmation that an oath has been sworn—only that the applicant sign their name to a certificate bearing the oath. In the case of a discrepancy between the minister’s directive and the regulations, the judge ruled that the regulations took precedence.

And then there is paragraph 30 of the ruling: ”The Respondent argues that this application is premature. In its view, the Policy is not mandatory and citizenship judges are free not to apply it.”

Unless the judge has misunderstood the arguments, this seems a remarkable concession by the government. One imagines the government’s lawyers might’ve thought they had a novel argument for the case’s dismissal—that the ban on the niqab was not mandatory and therefore “there is no way to know what would have happened had the Applicant attended the ceremony and refused to uncover her face.” But, as the judge noted, this clashed with both the public statements of the minister and private statements of government officials.

On those grounds, the government’s claim of an option was dismissed by Justice Boswell. But that doesn’t quite absolve the government of the contradiction. In the House today, the Prime Minister said, “We do not allow people to cover their faces during citizenship ceremonies.” But in the court the Prime Minister’s government would seem to have argued that we do allow for people to cover their faces, so long as the presiding citizenship judge agrees. So which is it? And if it’s the former, why were the government’s lawyers arguing the latter?

(I’ve asked Immigration Minister Chris Alexander’s office for an explanation on this point and will post what I receive.)

Justin Trudeau and the niqab What Justin Trudeau says and what the Federal Court said

Terry Milewski of the CBC provides the play-by-play of  the political jousting back and forth over Trudeau’s remarks:

Niqab controversy: Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau wade into culture war over the veil

The government doesn’t know how many jobs the small business job credit will create

The depths that the Government and public service have descended to:

The federal government has put forward a new policy, but it has not released its own analysis of the policy’s impact. An official with the relevant department says an estimate of the number of jobs expected to be created by the policy was not calculated and that calculating the number of jobs produced by a single measure is difficult. Nonetheless, the minister touts the estimate of a business association, but the finance department has not done its own analysis of the methodology behind that estimate.

The government doesn’t know how many jobs the small business job credit will create – Macleans.ca.