Andrew Coyne: It’s that time again, when Conservatives say anything to woo Quebecers

Typical acerbic Coyne commentary on CPC flirting with the Quebec nationalist vote:

Certain things recur eternally, in time with the rhythm of the seasons. Flowers bloom in spring. The swallows return to Capistrano. And the federal Conservatives prostitute themselves for the Quebec-nationalist vote.

Well, that’s a bit strong. Prostitutes, after all, expect to be paid. Whereas the Conservatives’ periodic efforts to sell themselves, their principles and their country to people with a proven lack of interest in all three are as notable for their unremunerativeness as they are for their self-abasement.

The Conservatives have been trying this same act now for several decades, most notably — and destructively, to both country and party — under Brian Mulroney, but in their different ways under Robert Stanfield (“deux nations”), Joe Clark (“community of communities”) and even Stephen Harper (“the Québécois nation” resolution).

Occasionally, they manage to attract some attention in the province that has remained largely indifferent to them since 1891. If they are particularly extravagant in their offerings, as under Mulroney, they may even win their votes — but only for as long as it takes to sink in that there is no support in the rest of Canada for what they are proposing, and no possibility of their being implemented.

At which point the whole exercise sinks in a heap of dashed expectations and accusations of bad faith, leaving the country divided and the Tories in ashes. Until, inevitably, some genius gets it into his head to launch the whole routine again.

As, indeed, some genius now has. There were early warning signs during the leadership campaign, with Andrew Scheer’s efforts to prostrate himself before the dairy lobby on the issue of supply management — a policy that is not explicitly about Quebec nationalism, but which only exists because it has been incorporated into the “Quebec consensus,” and is as such, like others of its kind, untouchable.

There were further hints in Scheer’s expressions of interest, as leader, in the Couillard government’s ruinous plan to leap again into the constitutional bog, this time with a set of demands that include entrenching “the Quebec nation” — not the Québécois, as in the Harper resolution, but the province entier, as national proto-state.

But it wasn’t until last weekend’s gathering of the party in Saint-Hyacinthe that we began to see just how far the Scheer Conservatives are prepared to go down this road. We now learn that among the proposals Scheer is considering including in the platform for 2019 is a federal retreat from responsibility for culture and immigration in Quebec, in favour of the provincial government: a longstanding nationalist demand, and another brick in the wall dividing Quebec from the rest of Canada.

As in a growing list of other fields, MPs from Quebec would be setting rules for the rest of Canada that did not apply to themselves, legislating for other provinces in areas over which Quebec reserved all power to itself. To now we’ve been able to paper over the inequities this implies: the levies Quebec MPs voted to impose on other Canadians under the Canada Pension Plan were until lately the same as those imposed under the Quebec Pension Plan. (They are now slightly lower.) But the principles of federalism can only be stretched so far. At some point they’re bound to break.

And there was this gem. In the name of preserving its autonomy, Quebec has long been the only province to force its long-suffering citizens to file their taxes twice: once to Ottawa and a second, entirely separate return to the province, with a separate set of deductions and credits. The Tories now propose to end this silliness — not, as you might expect, by the province agreeing to use the federal tax base in return for the feds collecting its taxes for it, as in the rest of Canada, but by the province collecting both sets of taxes, then remitting the federal portion to Ottawa.

Wonderful: henceforth, the federal government would be dependent on the grace and favour of the government of Quebec for a fifth of its income — even as the government of Quebec depends on federal transfers for about a fifth of its income. (Would it just subtract its share? Or would the two governments send each other cheques?)

And should there arise some dispute between them? That’s a nice little revenue source you have there. Pity if anything should happen to it.

There’s no actual need for any of this, you understand. There never is. The reason Quebec has its own pension plan is not because Quebecers age at different speeds, but because the government of Quebec fancied the cash — and because the Pearson government, with the Quiet Revolution then at its peak, was too unnerved to say no.

So it is with immigration and culture. Believe it or not, the federal government employs many francophone Quebecers. To the extent Quebec has special needs in these areas, they are quite capable of understanding and addressing them. Meanwhile, the province continues to enjoy the greatest degree of latitude in a country whose provinces generally have more powers than many sovereign states.

But then, the interest of Quebec’s political class in protecting the province’s jurisdictional turf seems to ebb and flow. At times, they are only too happy to have the feds intervene — for example, when it comes to covering the costs of the current influx of asylum seekers. Or, in perhaps the most brazen recent example of have-it-both-ways federalism, in the Coalition Avenir Québec’s suggestion that, should it form a government, it would exclude immigrants who did not pass its “values” test — but stick Ottawa with the job of kicking them out of the country.

I get why provincial politicians behave this way. I have no idea why their federal cousins are so eager to enable them. Or rather no, I know exactly why. Certain things recur eternally, after all.

Sadrehashemi/Waldman: Four myths about Canada’s border crossings

While their arguments have a sound basis, I find them somewhat disingenuous.

One could, for example, designate Roxham Road as a port of entry, given that 91 percent come through there. Some would, or course, try other places to enter, and we may get into a game of “whack a mole”, but no need to patrol the entire border as in many places, geography still makes it harder.

And one could, as Howard Anglin has suggested earlier (How Canada can restore order to its immigration system –, have any increase in asylum seekers count against the total number of refugees rather than merely be additive.

Whatever the option proposed, or options being considered by the government, there are no easy solutions. But however and ultimately, as Andrew Coyne has argued, viability depends on cooperation with the US (Andrew Coyne: Asylum problem will only be fixed … – The Victoria Star).

While I agree that some of the rhetoric regarding the influx if overblown, similarly downplaying the risks to public confidence in immigration is equally unhelpful:

Michelle Rempel, Conservative immigration critic, tweeted recently that the media was finally writing about “illegal border crossings” after she had been raising it for a year. The problem is that several recurring myths are shaping much of the coverage. Here are four of them:

The first myth is that Canada could designate the entire border as a port of entry. This is not a viable option. The public safety minister cannot legally designate the entire border as a “port of entry.” Under our law, a “port of entry” is a place designated open by the minister based on a number of factors, including the anticipated frequency of persons arriving at a particular location. Border officials must examine and process people seeking to enter Canada at ports of entry.

Imagine that all 8,891 kilometres of our border with the United States were a port of entry. Even if we only had one officer every 100 meters, we would still need more than 270,000 new officers to cover the border 24/7. This is not a serious policy proposal and should not be treated as one.

The second myth is that refugee claimants who are crossing into Canada at non-official border crossings are entering illegally. Canada is a signatory to the UN Convention on Refugees. Under international law, a refugee claimant cannot be punished for the way they enter into a country to seek asylum. Our immigration law does not make it illegal to enter Canada using informal border crossings, as long as a person reports to border services without delay. There is no legal basis to insist, as some have, that those who cross at non-official border points should be summarily deported, or that their refugee claims should be expedited since they will be refused. Underlying these suggestions is the assumption that people who are entering are not “real refugees.” The problem is that you cannot tell whether someone is a “real refugee” simply by the way they enter your country. In fact, in 2017, 53 per cent of those who crossed irregularly from the United States were found to be refugees.

The third myth is that people who are crossing from the United States are taking the spots reserved for refugees Canada would bring from overseas, somehow displacing them from a “queue.” This is comparing apples and oranges. Canada has a quota for the number of refugees it brings from overseas, either through the private sponsorship program or the government assisted refugee program. The quota is not determined by the number of refugee claims that are made in Canada. A rise in the number of refugee claimants arriving at Canada’s border does not push out refugees that Canada would accept from overseas camps.

Fourth, the rush to extreme, unviable policy solutions is predicated on the most egregious myth: the federal government has lost control of the border. This is far from true. The vast majority of those crossing the border, 91 per cent, are coming through one place, Roxham Road in Quebec, and immediately declaring themselves to Canadian authorities. There is no pressure to go “under-ground”; instead, there is a fair process to ensure proper adjudication of refugee claims. Security checks are expedited for these claimants, ensuring those who enter in this fashion do not pose a security threat. The government has also increased the capacity of border officials and refugee adjudicators.

While some try to raise alarm about a “crisis” at the border, the number of refugee claimants in Canada has to be put into a broader perspective. It is true that the number of refugee claimants has risen over the last year, but we also saw similar numbers in 2001. And globally, the same number of refugee claimants who came to Canada over all of last year entered Bangladesh in a single day. This is not the time to ignore our global duties and hastily throw up new barriers. Rather, by treating those who have crossed from the United States fairly and with compassion, according to law, Canada will merely be complying with its obligations as a party to the UN Refugee Convention.

via Sadrehashemi: Four myths about Canada’s border crossings | Ottawa Citizen

Andrew Coyne: Problem with asylum seekers in Canada can only be fixed if U.S. decides to help

Coyne nails it. Any effective solution requires working with the Americans:

The frontier between the United States and Canada is often described as the “world’s longest undefended border.” This is untrue. It is defended by the United States, in both directions.

The Americans are certainly vigilant in defence of their own border, as anyone who has visited the United States lately could attest. But they are no less responsible, in a way, for defending Canada’s.

So far as the border goes undefended by Canada, it is because it is, as far as we are concerned, indefensible. We simply don’t have the resources to patrol a eight-thousand-kilometre border — still less tens of thousands of kilometres of coastline.

That a few million people, indeed, could lay claim to the entire northern half of the continent, without more than a fraction of the armed might needed to defend it, was always a bit of a con. It has relied, from the start, on our proximity to the United States.

The country exists, it is not too far to say, because the United States agrees it should. The Americans could invade any time they liked; there would be nothing we could do to stop it. They simply choose not to. So, too, we would be powerless to prevent any serious power from invading from abroad. Our security depends instead on the Americans refusing to tolerate this.

Something of the same applies to those little “invasions” by thousands of desperate individuals who, to escape persecution and privation (for most, the motives are mixed), will cross whatever international borders they must: legally if possible, illegally if necessary.

Most western countries are grappling with this. That Canada has been relatively lightly affected is because we are bounded on three sides by thousands of kilometres of water — and on the fourth by the United States. The security of our southern flank has very little to do with the policies we enact. It depends rather on what the Americans do.

The Safe Third Country Agreement between our two countries that is the subject of so much recent controversy is an example of this. Negotiated by the Chretien government in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, it was essentially a favour to us, part of a larger package of border measures; Canada had indeed been seeking such an agreement for years.

Ostensibly, the accord is reciprocal: each country agrees to turn back refugee claimants from the other, since each agrees to regard the other as “safe.” Those seeking asylum are therefore obliged to make their claims in the first country they arrive in.

But who’s kidding whom? So far as the agreement was intended to prevent “asylum shopping,” the flow of claimants was only ever likely to be in one direction.

Few, after all, would turn their back on the relatively lenient Canadian system to take their chances on the relatively strict American system. It was done at our request, to limit the number of refugee claimants entering by our southern border — and with the understanding that their claims would instead by heard by the U.S.

Even at the time, it was widely predicted to fail. If it reduced the number of legal border crossings, it could only be at the cost of creating “an incentive for people to cross the border in illegal ways,” as the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Janet Dench, noted. “They’re going to come across fields and rivers, in the backs of trucks and cars,” said the organization’s vice-president, Nick Summers. “They’re going to take risks and there are people who are going to die.” I think we can now acknowledge he was right.

Those who are demanding, in response to the latest surge in illegal crossings, that Canada “get control of its borders,” are therefore talking through their hats. It’s not something we can do on our own.

For starters, any change to the Safe Third Country Agreement — extending its reach from a small number of official ports of entry to the entire border, as the Conservatives have demanded — could only be done with the Americans’ co-operation. We can’t simply turn back refugee claimants, unless the Americans agree to take them. That’s true not only as a matter of U.S. law, but of our international obligations, under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, not to mention Canadian law.

It seems unlikely, to say the least, that the current administration would accept such an amendment. Even if they did comply, that would still leave us with the task of policing 8,000 km of border. The more broadly we cast our net, the further afield the asylum seekers would be likely to go to evade it.

If we want to cut the flow of illegal border crossers, rather, we have to alter the incentives that encourage them to take this route. Right now they have every incentive to cross at irregular points, since that way they are guaranteed a hearing, in contrast to the official ports of entry, where they are turned back automatically.

What if we reversed that: enter by the lawful door, you get a hearing; enter anywhere else and you are sent back? But again, the U.S. would have to agree.

More broadly, we have to close the gap between Canadian and American practices, in reality or perception, that leads people to believe it is worth fleeing north. That’s not just a matter of reminding would-be claimants that acceptance is not automatic, that they may well be deported after their hearing. So long as their chances of being accepted are materially greater in Canada, the incentive will remain.

I suppose we could tighten our procedures to American designs. Or, if that’s intolerable to us, we can try to persuade the U.S. to be more liberal.

But one way or another, it is the Americans who will decide.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Problem with asylum seekers in Canada can only be fixed if U.S. decides to help

Andrew Coyne: The federal government can’t stand by when minority rights are being trampled

Coyne on Bill 62 and the need for a federal challenge (I understand the government’s prudence):

By now Quebec’s Bill 62 has been fairly comprehensively discredited, in all its nastiness, its contradictions and its dishonesties. A law passed in the name of the secular state would leave intact such overtly religious symbols of the state as the cross on Quebec’s flag, or the crucifix on the wall of the National Assembly. In the name of religious neutrality, it bans the wearing of some religious symbols — those that obscure the face, like the niqab or burka some Muslim women wear — while ignoring others.

At the same time, to avoid accusations of religious discrimination, it extends to other face-coverings, e.g. sunglasses, that have nothing to do with religion — though it is explicitly called an “act to foster adherence to state religious neutrality.” Yet for all its emphasis on the state, it applies not only to providers of public services, but also recipients, which is to say not the state or its employees but ordinary citizens.

Far from defending religious freedom, then, it would radically restrict it. Far from protecting women from oppression by their own religion, as its apologists argue, it not only limits what they may wear in public, but in so doing arguably makes them more vulnerable than ever. Perhaps some women who wear the niqab or the burka do so involuntarily, but if so it is hard to see how denying them access to such life-expanding options as going to school or even taking the bus will help.

The right to go to school or to take the bus: in the history of civil rights in North America, these have a certain resonance. For all the belated attempts by the province’s Liberal government to clarify — women would, it now says, only be required to show their faces when getting on the bus, not for the duration of the trip, while those wishing to attend class could apply for special accommodation, on a case-by-base basis — the stark reality is a bill that, at best, needlessly singles out members of a religious minority for petty harassment and humiliation. Members of the same minority, you will recall, were just months ago victims of a mass murder in a Quebec City mosque.

The bill has met with its share of opposition in Quebec, though for different reasons: while civil libertarians, civic leaders and university administrations have denounced its excesses, the province’s two main opposition parties, the Coalition Avenir Quebec and Parti Québécois protest only that it does not go nearly far enough. It seems unlikely, then, that the remedy for this injustice will be found in Quebec.

The question is what other means might be found. Are we content, those of us living outside Quebec, that our fellow citizens should be treated in such a demeaning fashion, on the grounds that what happens in Quebec is none of our business? Or does living in the same country imply certain common understandings, however few, among them basic guarantees of equal rights?

To be sure, the law will quite certainly be challenged in court, under both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its Quebec analogue, and will in all likelihood end up before the Supreme Court of Canada. It is difficult to see how it could withstand such scrutiny; whatever watery purpose might be conjured up as a rationale, it would be a challenge to show how the law was likely to achieve it, still less that it did so in the least harmful way possible.

Should it be left at that? Wait for some member of the public to object at her mistreatment, then wait years more while the case grinds through appeal after appeal? Or does the federal government have an obligation to intervene in some way? In the early years after Confederation, that was exactly how the federal government’s role was conceived: to protect minorities from local majorities, if necessary by setting aside provincial legislation, under a power known as disallowance.

It’s been a long time since any federal government has exercised that power, of course: the Charter and the Supreme Court might seem to make it unnecessary. Yet it was not only by the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court that minority rights were upheld in the southern states: the offices of the federal government also proved necessary.

The feds would not have standing to challenge the law directly in court, but they could join a case brought by a private citizen as intervenors. More aggressively, they could refer the law directly to the Supreme Court for an opinion on its constitutionality, as they did in the matter of a previous Quebec law claiming the right to secede unilaterally.

I understand the arguments against this: that it would inflame federal-provincial tensions, perhaps even revive separatist sentiment. But we should understand what it means when we invoke such fears as reasons for inaction, as we have in the past. We are saying that the rights of the minority can be sacrificed in the name of “social peace,” or “national unity,” or whatever other euphemism we might devise for “we haven’t got the stomach for it.”

And however much we might prefer the courts to do the heavy lifting for us, we might not have that luxury. Already the opposition is pushing the Couillard government to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the event the law is ruled unconstitutional; the government, for its part, has not ruled it out. And what would we do then?

Source: National Post

Coyne: Blame Trudeau? Blame Trump? Truth is there are no easy answers to asylum-seekers

One of the better and realistic commentaries on the current influx:

If you are on the right, the sudden flood of asylum-seekers crossing the Canada-U.S. border is easily explicable as the inevitable consequence of Justin Trudeau’s online recklessness.

“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war,” the Hippie King advised his followers in January, “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.”

Tory immigration critic Michelle Rempel was explicit this week that blame for the border “crisis” “lies solely at the feet” of the prime minister, whose “irresponsible” tweet had given “false hope” to asylum seekers in the U.S.

If you are on the left, the situation is just as easy to explain. It is all on account of Donald Trump, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric has left refugee claimants in the United States in terror that they will be sent back to their countries of origin. The Charlottesville rally of white supremacists, NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan wrote in a letter to Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, “further challenges simplistic notions that the United States remains a safe destination for asylum seekers.”

There’s some truth in both notions. Each leader has in his own way signalled a differing level of receptivity to refugee claims. And yet in substantive terms, neither country’s policies have changed much in the interim.

Trump may have imposed, or attempted to impose, a temporary ban on travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries, but as the prime minister himself has said, the U.S. domestic asylum system remains “safe, has due process, has appeal rights.”

Of course, if Trudeau believes that, it makes it odd that he should have so ostentatiously contrasted Canada’s “welcome” with Trump’s approach. Especially since it isn’t particularly true. Canada has not thrown open its borders. The rules are unchanged. Asylum seekers are promptly detained by the RCMP on entry; their claims are subject to the usual assessment process, with deportation awaiting those found to be without basis.

Indeed, if either explanation holds, it makes it odd that the “crisis” took so long to develop. You’ll recall when the first asylum-seekers started sneaking across the border in the dead of winter, at great risk to life and health, many people (including me) were concerned that this presaged an enormous, unmanageable surge once the temperatures began to rise. Yet it wasn’t until late summer that the asylum-seekers became a story again. As of June 30, only about 3,000 asylum-seeker had entered Canada from the U.S., not far off usual numbers.

Almost all of the roughly 7,000 asylum-seekers to have arrived since then are from one country: Haiti. The reason for this is quite clear. Allowed to remain in the U.S. on “temporary protected status” in the wake of the Haitian earthquake in 2010, they face probable deportation once the program expires next January.

That’s not unusual: Canada’s own program expired last August. Those who have not applied for permanent residency status have been deported by the hundreds; of those who have claimed asylum, the government reports, one-half to two-thirds have been rejected.

It may fairly be charged, however, that the Trudeau government has not done enough to advertise this to the Haitian community in the U.S., an error the government is belatedly and wobbily seeking to repair. Too late — the Haitians have adopted the same strategy followed by earlier asylum-seekers: crossing the border on foot, rather than by air or sea, and over open country, rather than the usual crossing points.

The explanation for this is by now familiar: were they to cross by the normal routes, they would be promptly returned to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country (STC) agreement between our two countries, which stipulates that refugee claimants must apply in the first country they enter. But that agreement only applies at the official entry points. By crossing irregularly — or illegally, if you prefer — they instead become subject to the usual strictures of Canadian refugee law, under which they cannot be deported without having their claim heard.

This confounding dilemma has prompted its own search for easy answers, none offering the promised escape. On the right, initial demands for the government to “enforce the law” (it is), or to physically stop them from crossing (an impossibility), or “send them back” (the U.S. won’t take them), have subsided into calls for the STC to be expanded, if not to the whole of the border, then to more entry points. But the U.S. would have to agree to that, and so far shows no sign of being amenable.

The left shows no more signs of realism. The primary proposal is for the STC to be suspended, so as to remove the incentive for border crossers to evade the official entry points. But suspending the STC would amount to an open invitation to try your luck on the Canadian refugee process. At worst, you’d spend a few months in the resulting backlog, with the right to work and obtain social benefits in the meantime. And the longer the backlog, the greater the incentive to jump in the hopper.

I don’t want to minimize the situation: there are other groups in the U.S. whose visas will also soon expire, meaning potentially thousands more asylum-seekers crossing the border in the months to come.

At the same time, we should not overstate matters. The country is not being overrun. Those entering are being screened. We can afford to put up a few thousand asylum-seekers until their claims are heard. And even if that sticks in your craw, there isn’t much we can do about it — not unless we are prepared to suspend our own constitutional protections, at risk of sending legitimate refugees to their deaths.

This is difficult to admit: those of us in politics and the media are in the easy answers business. But some problems cannot be solved. They can only be managed.

Andrew Coyne: Blame Trudeau? Blame Trump? Truth is there are no easy answers to asylum-seekers

Andrew Coyne: The answer to left-wing identity politics is not right-wing identity politics

One of Coyne’s better columns:
But if Conservatives think they can save themselves from going down with the alt-right just by pitching its most conspicuous names overboard, they are deeply mistaken. The damage the Republican embrace of Trumpism has done to that party will long outlast Trump, even if His Orangeness were to step down tomorrow. Similarly, it will not be enough for those prominent Conservatives who were so eager, not six months ago, to make time with The Rebel to now suddenly discover their dance cards are full. If they are ever to cleanse themselves of the association they must forcibly renounce, not only the movement’s standard bearers, but the underlying ideology — and more particularly, the extremism with which it presents itself.

Politics is too often analyzed along a single left-centre-right spectrum. Even as a matter of ideology that is too simple, but ideology itself is only one dimension of politics. What the populist surge ought to have taught us is that there is another, equally important: that of temperament. In ideological terms conservatism has little to do with populism: the former is about constraining government to abide by certain rules and norms, while the latter demands to be freed from such restraints in the name of saving The People from whichever force is said to be threatening it. And while modern conservatism is about a society unified around the principle of the equality of every individual, populism is very much about dividing society into Us and Them, or rather several Thems: elites, experts, globalists — or in its darker corners, immigrants, Muslims, blacks, Jews.

But the conflict is even more stark in temperamental terms. For among the norms Trump and his followers reject is the obligation to think through a position, to test it against the facts, to consider any possible drawbacks, to try to persuade the unpersuaded, or to listen to them in their turn. That is the true definition of extremist. It is not the same, though the two are often confused, as radicalism. It is quite possible to propose a radical critique of current policy — radical, in the sense of entailing fundamental change — without being extremist about it. Conversely, Trump’s positions, so far as he holds any, are often far from radical. They are, however, extreme, being advanced without evidence, thought, humility or attempts to persuade anyone beyond his base.

The Conservatives of the last decade, likewise, could hardly be described as radical: their policies were not just “incremental,” as the conceit had it, but incoherent, lacking any guiding principle but opportunism. Yet such was the tone and temperament with which these were advanced — the harshness, the secretiveness, the partisanship, the willingness to demonize certain groups — that many people were nonetheless persuaded they were “right wing” or even “far right.” They succeeded in discrediting conservatism, as I’ve said before, without practicing it.

The alternative to populism, then, is not to “move to the middle.” Conservatives were not partisan because they were ideological, but because they were not ideological enough: because partisanship filled the vacuum where ideology should have been. They pandered to populism because they had given up on conservatism. It is not radicalism, likewise, of which they must be purged, but extremism, of the kind encouraged by the Rebel — from hostility to Muslims to a blind rejection of any serious policy on climate change to an adolescent delight in saying or doing whatever shocking thing entered their heads as a badge of supposed “political incorrectness.”

What conservatism ought to be about — the conservatism that is urgently needed — is the defence, not only of traditional conservative principles of limited government and the rule of law, but of the values that have animated western societies since the Enlightenment: free speech, due process, equal opportunity, and underpinning all, treating individuals as individuals, to be judged on their own merits, rather than as members of this or that social group. Once the subject of broad consensus, today these values are under attack from both the identity-politics left and the populist right — the former, in the name of social justice, the latter, in the name of security and national identity; far from opposites, they feed off each other’s excesses.

The answer to left-wing identity politics is not right-wing identity politics, but a rejection of identity politics altogether, in favour of a renewed commitment to the ideal of a society of free and equal citizens. To defend that vision is the opportunity before conservatives now.

Source: Andrew Coyne: The answer to left-wing identity politics is not right-wing identity politics

Andrew Coyne: Politicians need to forget about polls and do the right thing

Great column by Coyne “rather trust the data:”

Liberals used to take a dim view of this sort of perception-based decision-making. When the Harper government claimed it didn’t matter if the official statistics showed crime rates falling to their lowest levels in decades, because people felt as if crime was rising, Liberals rightly scoffed. Now a similar fact-free feeling — the middle class is getting nowhere — is the foundation of their whole economic platform.

Liberals are by no means the only ones playing this game. Rather than answer questions raised by her signature proposal to subject every refugee, immigrant or tourist to a quiz on their belief in “Canadian values” — questions such as why this is needed, what it would accomplish, and what it would cost — Kellie Leitch refers to polls showing sizeable majorities of Canadians support the idea.

Likewise, those raising the alarm over Motion 103, unable to answer how a parliamentary motion with no legal force or effect could restrict free speech, have lately taken to citing polling data showing a majority of Canadians with varying concerns about the motion.

It’s easy enough to gin up a poll in support of just about anything, of course, depending on how you ask the question. The people waving them about today are in many cases the same ones who not long ago were railing ago about all the pollsters who failed to call Donald Trump’s victory (in fact, they called the vote to within a percentage point: Clinton beat him by two points, instead of the three points in the consensus forecast).

But let’s suppose these polls are genuine reflections of current public opinion. That’s a good answer to the question: what does the public think on these issues? It’s no answer at all to the question: are they right to think so? Yet that is how they are invoked: if that’s how the public feels, it must be true.

Skeptics are challenged, in tones of indignation: what, so you’re saying that millions of Canadians … are wrong?

Well, yes. What of it?

“Millions of people” are quite capable of believing things that aren’t true, particularly on matters to which they have given very little thought and with which they have little personal experience. The political science literature is filled with examples of people cheerfully offering their opinions to pollsters on entirely fictional events and people. As Will Rogers used to say, “there’s lots of things that everybody knows that just ain’t so.”

Climate skeptics rightly make the point that the overwhelming consensus of expert opinion on global warming is not enough, in itself, to prove it is right. Science is not a popularity contest: throughout history, individuals have stood against conventional opinion, and been vindicated, But let 1,340 randomly selected Canadians have their dinner interrupted to answer a question from a telemarketer about a subject they’ve barely heard of, and suddenly it’s gospel.

Experts, it is true, can sometimes be mistaken. But if experts can get it wrong, the public is at least as capable of it. And yet these days we are enjoined to reflexively reject the former, and just as reflexively to believe the latter. Perhaps we should rather trust the data.

A crisis is coming: If this many cross the U.S. border in February, how many will come by June? | Coyne

Another good column by Andrew Coyne, reminding that there is no easy solution for the refugees crossing the border, and the more realistic approach is a mix of measures:

I feel for Tony Clement. The Tory MP has been demanding the government “enforce the law” on the mounting numbers of asylum seekers who have been crossing the border from the United States, illegally, in recent weeks. But he found himself sputtering for air Tuesday when a CBC radio interviewer asked him what, specifically, he wanted the government to do, eventually hanging up in a snit.

It’s a good question, though: In what way are the police officers who have been arresting the would-be refugees as soon as they step on Canadian soil failing to enforce the law? The calls from Clement and other critics for a “crackdown” amount to a demand that illegal immigration should be made illegal, enforced by the arrest of all those who are currently being arrested.

But as I say I feel for Clement. Like him, I have no easy answers to this dilemma. Unlike him, however, I’m willing to admit it. The migration of peoples is one of the great motive forces of human history; when large numbers of people are determined to pick up and move somewhere, there isn’t a force in the world that can stop them.

That does not relieve us of the need to address what seems likely to grow into a considerable problem, if not a crisis. We Canadians have been congratulating ourselves at our greater tolerance as we watch Europe struggling with the sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East, or the United States with the accumulated backlog of millions of illegal immigrants from Mexico and points south.

….That leaves … whatever it is the Tories are proposing. But what is that? The police are not empowered to arrest people until they are on Canadian soil — and the minute they do set foot, as asylum-seekers, they have rights, including the right to a hearing to adjudicate their claim.

Perhaps you believe they should be sent back without a hearing. But that is not Canadian law, and given Supreme Court rulings on the matter is unlikely to become law. And there is the little matter that in some cases this really would amount to condemning people to persecution, even death. A decent country — and a signatory to UN conventions — does not do such things.

The easiest of all answers — build a wall — would not just be expensive folly, as in the U.S.-Mexico example: it isn’t even a practical possibility. This is not a problem we are going to solve, but manage, by a combination of measures: by increasing our intake of immigrants and refugees; by adding more staff and resources to border control points; by prevailing upon the Americans, if we can, to preserve a humane and law-based immigration and refugee policy; and by turning back many of those who do apply, perhaps under a revised and extended Safe Third Country Agreement.

Andrew Coyne: Free speech needs to be guided by judgment and conscience, not rules

Another thoughtful column by Coyne:

It is common among some clear-thinkers to reject any allegation of speech suppression — a speaker being shouted down on campus, a boycott of an offending corporation, a Nazi getting punched — unless it involves the explicit use of the coercive power of the state. Anything else is merely the “consequences” of speech, for which one should accept “responsibility.” Suck it up, snowflake.

In a sense, of course they’re right. The obligations of the state are of a different order than private individuals or groups, because of its unique powers of coercion, and because coercion — the power, not merely to punish speech, but to actively prevent speech — is of a different order than mere disapproval, say, or shunning.

But the difference is not so absolute as all that. It is more of degree than kind. As private individuals, we may not be under the same obligations and constraints as the state, but that does not mean we are under none. We have still the obligations of judgment, of conscience, and of respect — for the spirit of free speech, if you will, rather than the legal letter.

At one extreme it is easy to see this. If a mob were to burn down the local newspaper and hang its editor, it is of no use to say, well, it wasn’t the government that did it, so no chilling of speech is involved. One should not have to factor in, among the “consequences” to be expected of speech, the chance that one might be murdered — or punched, for that matter.

Short of actual law-breaking, things get trickier. There is no violence in shouting down a speaker, you may say; neither is a university, as a private organization, obliged to provide a platform for opinions of which it, or a section of the university community, disapproves. No, indeed. But free speech exists, as a legal guarantee, in part because of the foundation of social values in which it is embedded.

The spirit of free speech, that is, is as important: the notion that none of us is in absolute possession of the truth; that the route to truth is through the exchange and conflict of ideas; that the rights we each enjoy are guaranteed only so far as they do not intrude upon another’s; and that, in particular, we do not have a right not to be offended, or to be spared any encounter with disagreeable words, images or ideas. If we do not live by these principles ourselves, we will shortly find neither will our creation, the state.

So far so good. But what of the more benign ways of expressing collective disapproval: boycotts, online campaigns, or Parliamentary motions? Are these mere consequences of speech, or constraints upon it?


Answer: It depends. Anyone who has been the subject of a Twitter mobbing can attest it can be deeply unpleasant, and quite intimidating, even without overt threats of violence. The harm to reputation, for example, of having one’s name broadly associated with sexism, racism — or “Quebec-bashing” — can be a significant deterrent to speaking freely.

Taboos, shunning and other mechanisms of social disapproval, in other words, can raise the “price” of speech to intolerable levels. On the other hand, some things are taboo for a reason. We should not feel censorious for shunning or denouncing someone who expresses hateful or noxious opinions.

Neither should we hesitate to call them what they are. A good many of the participants in the present debate seem to think their freedom to say the most virulently and prejudicially anti-Muslim things should also protect them from being accused of prejudice against Muslims — or Islamophobia — in return. Well, no. That is simply logical, as is the denunciation in the motion before Parliament.

Where do we draw the line, then? Again, it depends. It requires all of us to use our judgment. People should not be labelled bigots or hate-mongers merely for offering an unconventional view on a controversial topic. A reasoned critique of Islam’s teachings on women is not to be treated the same as, say, a blanket claim that Muslims, as a group, are “unintegrateable.” But neither should actual bigotry be excused as merely being “un-PC.”

There are no simple rules to guide us. There are only mutual obligations: not to give offence needlessly, but also not to take offence lightly; not to round up a mob every time someone’s views offend us, but neither to be intimidated by the mob when it is necessary to offend.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Free speech needs to be guided by judgment and conscience, not rules | National Post

Andrew Coyne: Hysteria from Conservatives over harmless motion on Islamophobia

Andrew Coyne calls out the Conservatives in their opposition to M-103. Again, the hypocrisy given the extent that the Conservative government singled out antisemitism.

Particular anti-racism and discrimination messaging and programming is not in conflict with general messaging and programming, as long as the link is made clear (which M-103 does). Some of the previous government’s messaging on antisemitism was less clear in that regard:

Conservatism used to have some claim to being a coherent political philosophy. Of late it has become a series of dares. The most extreme voice will lay down the most extreme position, then challenge others to endorse it.

As often as not this has nothing to do with conservatism. It is rather a kind of moral exhibitionism, populist virtue-signalling, in which the object is to say and do the most intolerant or ill-considered thing that comes to mind — anything that might attract the condemnation of bien-pensants in the media and elsewhere, whose opposition becomes proof in itself of its merits.

The willingness to court such controversy in turn becomes the test of political purity. To demur, conversely, can only be a sign of cowardice, or worse, liberalism, a heresy that would seem to have overcome much of the conservative movement, to judge by the ever-lengthening list of the excommunicated.

So we come to the latest of these blooding exercises, the “debate” over Motion 103, a private member’s motion introduced by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid. In the fevered imaginings of its online discussants, #M103 is decried as a bill that would forbid any criticism of Islam, if not the first step towards imposing Sharia law. I only wish I were exaggerating.

This hysteria campaign has been whipped up by exactly the people you’d expect, and pandered to by people of whom you might have expected better, including several Conservative leadership candidates. Pierre Lemieux has denounced it as “an attack on free speech.” Maxime Bernier asks whether “it is a first step towards restricting our right to criticize Islam.” Lisa Raitt, Andrew Scheer, and Erin O’Toole have all come out against it, while Kellie Leitch, bless her heart, has set up a petition to “Stop Motion 103,” complete with a blue-eyed model with a gag over her mouth.

The only candidate to say he will vote in favour of the motion is Michael Chong. For this he has been excoriated as a sellout; it rather confirms him as a man of judgment and conscience. There is simply no reasonable construction of the motion that can support the claims made of it. It is not a bill, for starters: it is a simple motion, an expression of opinion, of no legal force or effect. It does not call for any ban or restriction on speech of any kind.

It merely asks the government to “recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear,” condemns “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination,” and instructs a committee of Parliament to study the matter. Yes, the motion is clumsily worded, and yes, it specifically mentions “Islamophobia.”

But the notion that this amounts to “singling out” one religion for “special privileges,” as some have claimed, is specious.

Yes, of course, all religious groups should be free of discrimination and hatred. But it does no disservice to the others to pay particular attention to one, at a time when that group is particularly exposed to both. After the slaughter of six Muslims at prayer in Quebec City, people of goodwill, not to say common sense, would understand why it might be timely for all of us to offer some assurance to members of that community.

It is, at the same time, understandable why there would be some nervousness around this subject. There is a certain school of Islam that would indeed place severe legal constraints on the right to criticize or ridicule the faith, just as there are lots of people, especially on the left, who would eagerly censor all sorts of “insensitive” speech.

This is what makes these issues so maddeningly elusive of resolution: it is not one thing or the other, but both at the same time. We live in a time both of much more widespread and open expressions of racism — thanks, internet — and of acute hypersensitivity to rude or even frank speech of all kinds. Each feeds off the other. But the alternative to “political correctness” is not bigotry and intolerance, and the answer to racism is not censorship. Indeed, we have too much of that already.

I’m not sure how many of those either praising Chong or denouncing him for his stand on Motion 103 are aware that he has at the same time proposed repealing Section 319 of the Criminal Code: the “hate speech” provision. But he is as correct in the latter stance as the former. Even a free society allows some exceptions to the liberties it enjoys — but a free society always insists that any such exception be, to borrow the language of our Charter, “demonstrably justified.”

The burden of proof is always on those who wish to restrict freedom to show why they must. At the very least they must show what harm it is they wish to address. In the case of “hate speech,” the harm is supposed to be the violence towards its objects that might ensue. But the Criminal Code already contains provisions against incitement to violence: that is, where the connection between the speech, and the violence that might reasonably be expected to result, is so immediate, so direct and so clear as to be “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

With the hate speech law, on the other hand, the fear is more generalized, more vague, more dubious: somebody somewhere might read this who might someday then be motivated to attack … someone. That is no basis for any kind of law, let alone one that would restrict something so vital as speech. If the other Conservative candidates want to fight censorship, let them join Chong in that cause, rather than this shameless demagoguery over a harmless motion.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Hysteria from Conservatives over harmless motion on Islamophobia | National Post