Coyne and Yakabuski contrasting views on the CAQ and the notwithstanding clause in relation to religious symbols

Two very different takes, starting with Andrew Coyne:

Be careful what you wish for. Quebec’s election may have signalled a turning away from separatism — the mad, doomed project to wrench apart the country on linguistic and ethnic lines that consumed so much of the province’s energy and wealth over the last 50-odd years. But it has been accompanied by a turning toward other forms of zealotry and intolerance.

The Liberal Party and Parti Québécois may have gone down to their worst defeats in their respective histories, dispatched by voters tired of the ancient existential stalemate and the entrenched/corrupt elites that thrived upon it. But into the vacuum have surged parties peddling other fantasies.

Quebec Solidaire campaigned on a platform that might have been stolen from a student union at one of the less prestigious universities, and probably was. It was rewarded with a doubling of its share of the popular vote and a tripling of its seats in the assembly.

And the “conservative” Coalition Avenir Quebec surged to power on a mix of unfunded tax cuts, warmed-over 1970s-style dirigisme and enriched daycare subsidies. Oh, and beating up on immigrants.

The party will protest at that description, but it is not for nothing that they were feted with victory congratulations from Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader. The party vows not only to slash immigration to Quebec — this at a time of growing labour shortages, in a province where population aging is a particular concern — but to expel those who fail a test of “values” and French language proficiency after three years.

How it would do so, or where they would be deported to, or under whose constitutional authority are among the many questions raised by this odious proposal, to say nothing of the obvious Charter issues. Party leader Francois Legault struggled to explain it during the campaign. But when a voter in Rimouski asked him whether he would fight for “us” against “these immigrants who are erasing us,” Legault was quick enough to reply: “Bien oui!”

If deporting thousands of immigrants was too much for the other parties, on the other great question of the day, whether members of religiously observant minorities should be allowed to work in the public sector, the parties were more in accord than otherwise.

While the Liberals’ Bill 62 would have banned, in the name of “religious neutrality,” covering one’s face, not only for providers but recipients of public services — those wishing to attend school, say, or ride the bus — the other parties would in some ways have gone further.

The CAQ, for example, proposes to ban anyone in a position of authority — police officers, judges, even teachers — from wearing any “conspicuous” religious symbol at work. The party has been admirably clear about what this means: those whose faith requires them to wear such symbols will not only be precluded from being hired for these jobs, but dismissed from such positions as they currently hold.

So to go with mass expulsions of ethnic minorities, add mass firings of religious minorities: the platform, not of some creepy fringe party, but of the newly elected government of Quebec. If Canadians outside Quebec think they can look the other way at this latest manifestation of the province’s famous distinctness, as they did earlier measures banning the display of English in public, they should think again. For it is about to explode in all of our faces.

Bill 62 was already tied up in the courts, the ban on face coverings suspended while its constitutionality is under review. The CAQ’s more sweeping religious bar, should it be passed into law, will quite certainly meet the same fate. But while the Liberals had never indicated they would do anything but accept the courts’ findings, the CAQ leader has again been clear: it will invoke the notwithstanding clause to override any Charter objections.

Perhaps, in the event, we will be treated to the same circus as surrounded Ontario’s recent flirtation with suspending constitutional rights: squadrons of law professors explaining again that this latest demonstration of the clause’s malevolent potential should not be held against it; elderly veterans of the constitutional wars re-emerging to protest that this was not what they intended, either; people who’ve never liked the Charter pointing out, as if it were either new or relevant, that the Charter override is in fact part of the Charter; and so on.

But in one crucial respect this time cannot fail to be different. The federal government could afford to take a pass on the Ontario fight: the override threat came in response to a particularly wonky court decision, soon set aside by an appeals court, after which it was withdrawn; it was far from clear how far the law in question, redrawing municipal election boundaries, offended against rights, as opposed to common sense; and the use of the clause was opposed by every opposition party — and, polls showed, wildly unpopular.

None of these are likely to apply in the present case. The threat to rights is obvious, and serious; it involves no arcane dispute between different levels of government, but blatant discrimination against vulnerable minorities; and yet it is likely to have the support of at least three of the four parties — and perhaps a majority of the Quebec public.

Can the federal government stay out of this? The immediate response from the prime minister was not encouraging. Invoking the notwithstanding clause, he said, is “not something that should be done lightly.” To suppress “the fundamental rights of Canadians” is “something one should be very careful about.” Stop, or I’ll shout ‘stop’ again.

No, sorry, that will not do. The question he will have to confront, the question confronting us all, is this: do we want to live in a country in which people can be fired from their jobs because of their religious beliefs? In which important positions in the public service are off limits to members of religious minorities? How can we possibly?

Source: Andrew Coyne: Quebec situation is too serious for Trudeau to stay out of notwithstanding debate

In contrast, Konrad Yakabuski is downplays the initial language and says wait to see the actual legislation:

The international headlines referencing Monday’s Quebec election left little to the imagination.

In France, where Quebec politics get more attention than anywhere outside Canada, Le Monde spoke of a “crushing victory by the right.” At the more downmarket Le Parisien, the verdict was even more sensational: Quebec Elects a Nationalist and Anti-immigration Government.

The beleaguered Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s truly anti-immigration Rassemblement national, could hardly believe her luck. She tweeted that Quebeckers had “voted for less immigration,” demonstrating “lucidity and firmness in the face of the migration challenge.”

That is hardly the message premier-designate François Legault hoped his victory would send to the four corners of the globe. But Mr. Legault is learning the hard way that what he says now carries repercussions far beyond the tiny bubble of Quebec politics and can influence his province’s reputation not just in the rest of Canada, but around the world.

For a seasoned politician, Mr. Legault was shockingly undisciplined on the campaign trail. His daily press conferences could go on ad infinitum and Mr. Legault would venture answers to reporters’ questions that a more scripted politician would not touch with a 10-foot pole. It got him into plenty of trouble and, were it not for Quebeckers’ overwhelming desire to punish the Liberals and Parti Québécois alike, it might have cost him the election.

So, it is mind-boggling why Mr. Legault chose to waste his first postvictory news conference on Tuesday by answering a double-hypothetical question about what he would do if courts strike down a law that his government is in no hurry to pass. He should have known that nothing productive could come of his outburst, which left exactly the opposite impression that he intended to make.

While the official program of the Coalition Avenir Québec that Mr. Legault leads favours prohibiting persons in a position of authority from wearing conspicuous religious symbols, passing legislation giving effect to this policy is not high on Mr. Legault’s agenda.

Yet, on Tuesday, the premier-designate was already musing about invoking the notwithstanding clause to override a non-existent court decision that nullifies the currently non-existent legislation, whose shape and form remains a matter of pure conjecture.

This is not to say some form of legislation regulating religious symbols in the public sphere won’t eventually show up on the order paper of a CAQ government. The issue of religious accommodation has dogged successive Quebec governments for more than a decade, as rising Muslim immigration has forced the province to grapple with questions of religious diversity.

Francophone Quebeckers’ idea of state secularism may not correspond with the dictionary definition of the concept, given their desire to grandfather the blatantly Catholic symbols of their past, right up to the crucifix that hangs in the National Assembly. But that doesn’t mean the new CAQ government will be able to indefinitely ignore demands to regulate other religious symbols.

There is a large consensus among Quebec’s political class that the best way to settle the debate once and for all is to follow the recommendations of the 2008 Bouchard-Taylor commission on religious accommodation. The commission, led by sociologist Gérard Bouchard and philosopher Charles Taylor, concluded that “agents of the state” (such as judges, Crown prosecutors and police officers) should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols.

In 2017, Prof. Taylor dropped his support for the proposal, saying that it had been misunderstood. Indeed, the Bouchard-Taylor report explicitly excluded teachers, civil servants and health-care professionals from the list of public employees it said should be prohibited from wearing religious symbols. But that detail seemed to have been lost on many politicians.

The official CAQ policy would include teachers among those banned from wearing the Muslim hijab or Jewish kippa. But whether a CAQ government would legislate to include teachers in the mix remains highly speculative. What’s more, any legislation regulating when and where police officers or judges could or could not wear religious symbols would likely be limited in scope.

On Wednesday, the CAQ MNA who served as the party’s justice critic in opposition moved to clean up the damage Mr. Legault created on Tuesday. Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted that the new government intends to ensure that any future legislation on religious accommodation would stand up in the courts. He added that invoking the notwithstanding clause, while an option, would never be the CAQ’s first course of action.

The CAQ has brought in Carl Vallée, who served as a press secretary to former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, to help the new government find its communications footing. It likely signals tighter messaging and less freelancing by Mr. Legault in the future.

After all, those headlines outside Quebec can be killers.

Andrew Coyne: We have a problem with border crossers — but this is no crisis, John Ivison: The Liberals’ Band-Aid solutions won’t fix asylum seeker problem

Good and balanced analysis:

Bowing to the opposition parties’ demands, the Commons Citizenship and Immigration committee will hold special hearings this month on what Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel is calling the “border crisis.”

The notion that there is a crisis on the border — that Canada is being inundated by a tide of asylum claimants crossing the border in defiance of our laws — has been heard with increasing frequency in recent weeks, coinciding with the election of Doug Ford’s Conservatives in Ontario.

Last week’s meeting of federal and provincial immigration ministers broke up in acrimony over the issue, with the feds’ Ahmed Hussen decrying the Ford government’s use of the term “illegal border crossers” as “not Canadian” (Liberals prefer “asylum seekers”) while his counterpart Lisa MacLeod accused him of bullying her. Followed by the usual performative outrage online — he called her un-Canadian! she called them illegal! etc.

All of this mounting fury, while the number of people claiming asylum after crossing the border between regular ports of entry — the neutral and factual description — is in decline.

In June, the Immigration department recorded just 1,263 “RCMP interceptions” — for that is what happens to them after they cross — less than half what it was in April and barely a quarter of the rate last summer.

Still, the 10,744 such interceptions so far this year is two and a half times the number recorded by this point last year. Perhaps the rate will continue its recent decline. But even if the year-end total were the same as last year’s, it would still be considerably higher than has been the norm in recent years.

That’s a problem, no doubt. The monthly rate may be declining, but the accumulated total of more than 30,000 claims over the last 18 months is by all accounts putting a strain on refugee services in Toronto and Montreal. The growing backlog of unprocessed claims, moreover, now at about 43,000, leaves claimants waiting months or years to have their claims assessed: unpleasant for them, costly for taxpayers.

But a crisis? What distinguishes this from any of the many other pressing problems on the public agenda? What, in particular, justifies the kind of massive media coverage and opposition hyperventilating the issue has received?

It is, of course, entirely proper that the opposition should ask questions of ministers, and criticize the government’s response to the surge in claims as inadequate, botched or worse. It may even be fair to suggest the government shares the blame for precipitating it, notably via the prime minister’s notorious “Welcome to Canada” tweet.

But you can tell a lot about what a politician is up to by how much emphasis they put on an issue. It isn’t that what they are saying about it is necessarily untrue: it’s the lack of proportion, the fevered pitch, the exaggerated stakes.

It was perfectly legitimate, for example, for Dalton McGuinty to disagree with John Tory’s proposal to extend public funding to religious schools in the 2007 election, though the proposal would have affected roughly 50,000 of the province’s two million schoolchildren. But to elevate it to the central issue of the campaign, as if the province would dissolve into civil strife if it went through? That’s where the demagoguery lies.

So what is it about the prospect of roughly 60 asylum seekers a day crossing our border that is cause for such uproar? Yes, they are crossing “illegally,” even if the charge is stayed pending the hearing of their asylum claim: Liberal delicacy on this point is not helpful. That’s obviously not something we should wish to encourage.

But on the scale of illegal acts, doing an end run around a border post to get your asylum claim heard in Canada, rather than the United States — especially in its present state of mind — ranks somewhere between a traffic offence and listing a dubious expense on your income tax return. People shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it, and they aren’t: the first thing that happens after they cross the border is they are arrested.

They aren’t dodging any “queue,” because there isn’t a queue for refugees. You plant your feet on Canadian soil, you have a right to have your claim for asylum heard, period — not just under UN treaties to which we are a signatory, but under the Canadian Constitution. But that’s all you have a right to: a hearing. If your claim doesn’t stand up, you’re deported to your country of origin.

If that’s taking too long, that’s a good argument for spending more money on the process for assessing claims. It is not an argument for the kinds of wild, blunderbuss measures being tossed about, most of them illegal, unworkable or both: building a fence along one short stretch of road in Quebec, for instance, when claimants have 8,000 kilometres of border to choose from.

Or — the Conservatives’ favourite — declaring the entire border an official port of entry under the Safe Third Country agreement, as if we could impose our definition on the Americans, under an agreement we begged them to sign. Or “just sending them back” — as if, again, we could force the Americans to take them. To say nothing of the legal and moral implications of doing so.

To say nothing, again, of the logistical impossibility of patrolling an 8,000-km border. Right now, claimants willingly surrender at the border, even having crossed it illegally, because they know they’ll get a hearing. Were we somehow to deny them that — by invoking the notwithstanding clause, say — you’d have a lot more people arriving surreptitiously: not just crossing illegally, but living here illegally.

Sometimes, it is true, you have to do desperate things in a crisis. But this isn’t a crisis and, if it were, these wouldn’t solve it.

Source: Andrew Coyne: We have a problem with border crossers — but this is no crisis

John Ivison focuses on the IRB, the lengthy and almost indefinite processes and delays in removals for those found ineligible , and the recommendations of the Yeates report on possible solutions:

The Liberal government didn’t create the problem of floods of asylum seekers crossing the border illegally. Donald Trump did that when he signalled the U.S. would allow temporary protected status on significant migrant populations from countries like Haiti to expire.

But the Liberals can be fairly blamed for making decisions that have exacerbated the problem — and for fomenting the issue for political ends.

Gerald Butts, the prime minister’s principal secretary, tweeted on the weekend: “Enough is enough. It’s time to stand up to this divisive fear-mongering about asylum seekers. Let’s not allow the alt-right to do here what they’re doing elsewhere.”

But pointing out failures in the system is not an act of partisanship – it’s certainly not an invocation to bash people already on the bones of their arse. The numbers don’t lie and, by every metric, the system is under more pressure now than when the Liberals came to power.

The government is touting the fact that there were just 1,263 border crossings in June — “the lowest since June, 2017.” But 10,744 migrants arrived in the first six months of the year – more than enough to outpace the budgeted processing capacity.

The Commons Citizenship and Immigration Committee met Monday and agreed to produce a report on “irregular” (more correctly “illegal”) border crossings by Aug. 3, and to invite the ministers of immigration (Ahmed Hussen), public safety (Ralph Goodale) and families, children and social development (Jean-Yves Duclos) to appear.

Hussen boasted Monday the government “has a clear plan for managing asylum seeker pressures,” as the city of Ottawa suggested it will support Toronto and other municipalities facing temporary housing pressures (many migrants are housed in two college dormitories that they have to vacate before classes start). Toronto said it needs around $90 million; the federal government has, to this point, offered $11 million.

But whatever is offered is a Band-Aid – and a Band-Aid does not constitute a plan.

Before all sides engage in more pointless partisan point-scoring, they should sit down and read a report on the refugee system already made public.

Neil Yeates, a former deputy minister of citizenship and immigration, produced an independent review of the system that was released in April. It makes stark reading. The refugee determination system, he said, is “at a crossroads,” dealing with a surge of claimants that it is ill-equipped to manage. If not tackled promptly, a large backlog will build that will take years to clear.

The nearly 50,000 claims made in 2017 were mostly from people avoiding the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. that would likely have rendered them ineligible. By the simple act of crossing between ports of entry, they have been able to access Canada and its generous welfare provisions.

But sudden surges in migrant numbers is not a new problem.

The government made significant reforms between 2010 and 2012 to address a similar increase. The Balanced Refugee Reform legislation was aimed at making sure bona fide claimants would be approved more quickly and failed claimants removed just as judiciously.

The goal was a system that was “fast, fair and final.”

Alongside the imposition of visas on Mexicans and Czechs because of concerns over bogus claims, there were structural changes that allowed public servants, rather than political appointees, to be the first level decision makers at the Immigration and Refugee Board’s Refugee Protection Division. There was also an increase in operating funds that allowed for the elimination of the backlog within two years. Stable funding was put in place to facilitate a system that handled 22,500 claims annually.

The numbers between 2010 and 2017 are instructive.

In 2010, before the changes, there were 52,023 pending cases; the intake was 25,783; and the output was 34,260.

In 2013, the corresponding numbers were 22,544; 10,227; and 21,091.

By 2017, those numbers were 47,209; 47,425; and 23,102.

A more streamlined system saw the backlog cut in half and bogus claimants dissuaded from trying to enter Canada – only 10,227 people claimed asylum here in 2013.

Since then, the backlog has more than doubled and claimants quadrupled, as visas were waived for Mexicans and Romanians, and floods of Haitians and Nigerians were attracted by word that the Canadian system is a push-over.

Part of the reason the backlog went down was that failed claimants were actually removed. In 2012/13, 14,490 failed claimants were returned to their country of origin. In 2016/17, that number was just 3,892.

The result is a refugee population that “significantly exceeds the funding capacity,” in Yeates’ words. “Resourcing and prioritization of refugee removals are not fully at the level envisaged under the reforms,” he said.

Hussen is right to say that providing asylum claimants due process is not a choice, “it’s the law” under the UN Convention on Refugees and the Charter of Rights.

But due process should not be indefinite. Yeates talks about a “failure of finality” that creates a “pull” factor for asylum seekers, increasing the likelihood they will find a pathway to stay in Canada.

He is critical of the Refugee Appeal Division, which was never intended to provide a new hearing for failed claimants. If they are refused at the appeal division, would-be refugees can then proceed to the Federal Court, meaning “final is a distant goal,” according to Yeates.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says the government “has a clear plan for managing asylum seeker pressures.”

If the system is not reformed to make it faster and more final, there clearly needs to be a significant increase in a budget that has averaged around $216 million in the past five years.

Hussen said there is a plan, but Yeates points out “there is no contingency framework to increase capacity.”

Any report by the immigration committee should lean heavily on the Yeates report, which suggests dozens of technical reforms that might improve the situation, such as creating a new agency to recommend an annual plan, establish operational performance targets and confirm forecasts. The plan should be tabled in Parliament, Yeates suggested.

But no amount of bureaucratic tinkering will compensate for lack of political will.

The government must get serious about removing claimants, particularly from countries that don’t normally produce refugees.

Alternatively, it must admit that it accepts the idea of the refugee system being used by people seeking a better economic life and allocate hundreds of millions of dollars to increase the capacity of a system creaking under the challenge of dealing with twice as many people as it was designed for.

Source: John Ivison: The Liberals’ Band-Aid solutions won’t fix asylum seeker problem

Andrew Coyne: Trump doesn’t deserve civility, but it’s the best weapon against him

Good arguments by Coyne on resisting descending to the gutter, even if hard to do so:

All in all it’s been a fine season for the tu quoque.

As America’s nervous breakdown continues apace, there has been a sudden outbreak of concern for the decline in civility, particularly among supporters of President Civility, Donald Trump.

The signs, it seems, are everywhere: the Homeland Security secretary was hounded out of a restaurant by protesters. The White House press secretary was asked to leave by management at another. Here in Canada, things have gotten so out of hand that several Ottawa dignitaries declined to attend this year’s 4th of July party at the US ambassador’s.

All of which has been fodder for yet more vituperation on social media, where incivility has been the norm since day one. Critics, particularly on the left, have scoffed at the suggestion there is anything particularly new or over the line about the insults lately offered members of the Trump administration, not least given the constant stream of insults spewing from the gold-plated spigot in the Oval Office.

Surely, they ask, the people first to decry the chilling effects of political correctness on free speech have not suddenly themselves turned into snowflakes? To which the right replies: wait, so now the left is in favour of free speech? You mean now it’s OK for a business to refuse service to someone on the basis of certain deeply held beliefs? To which the response from the left, inevitably, is: you mean you’re no longer defending their right to do so?

And everyone has had a perfectly marvellous time calling each other out for their hypocrisy. These days, that’s the only sin anyone bothers with, since it requires no judgments, but only comparisons.

It does seem a bit late in the day to be fretting about the absence of civility in American public life. Nor would rudeness, as such, rank among the more pressing of the Great Republic’s problems at the moment. Whatever discomfort the Homeland Security secretary might have endured on her night out, her critics are surely right to say it is nothing compared to the suffering the administration she serves has imposed on, oh, immigrant children, for example.

So no, I’m not particularly moved by sympathy for Trump officials. Nor am I of a mind to scold the protesters for their bad manners. I would only ask: what purpose are they trying to achieve? Because if the intent is actually to persuade anyone who is not already opposed to the president and his policies, this is the very worst way to go about it.

The argument for civility in debate is an old one, and not much heard these days. In the online world it tends to be regarded as an affectation, a luxury only the privileged can afford.

But the case for civility is not grounded in a concern for mere decorum. It’s really one of self-interest. Treating opponents civilly — listening to their arguments, rather than shouting them down; presenting them fairly, without caricature; addressing them squarely, without ad hominems — isn’t just good manners. It’s smart strategy.

Yes, much harm is done to the general climate of debate when it descends into shouting and name-calling. But the worst harm done by such behaviour, in my observation, is to the cause of those engaging in it.

Because if you want people who do not already share your views to listen to you — not your opponents, necessarily, but the broad mass of people who are typically somewhere in between — if that matters to you, they won’t do so if you’re shouting. And the louder you shout, the less they’ll hear you.

This isn’t just a matter of sticking to facts and arguments; as important as that is, it’s frankly secondary in the real world of how opinions are formed. Rather, people often judge matters of controversy in the light of their impressions of the combatants.

We are hard-wired to be more persuaded by people who themselves seem open to persuasion: who are led by facts rather than preconceptions; who have understood the opposing view and can rebut it, not in caricature, but on its most reasonable possible construction; and, perhaps most importantly, who treat us as if we were reasonable people ourselves — who talk to us as adults, rather than shouting or talking down to us.

The “rules” of debate, that is, are there for the disputants’ own good. When people don’t follow the rules, we tend to conclude, not that their position is so obviously superior as to absolve them of such petty constraints, but rather that they have something to hide — either that they haven’t fully understood their opponents’ arguments, or worse, that they have, and cannot answer them.

But, you’re saying, what has this got to do with Trump? This might be good advice in normal times, against a normal opponent, but these are not those, and he is not that. Aren’t I just “normalizing” Trump?

There is a danger of that, admittedly. Anybody in the persuasion game soon learns of the danger of being equally outraged by everything. You have to keep a “high C” in reserve that you can go to when things get truly outrageous.

The difficulty Trump presents is that he says and does about six things a day that would normally call for the coloratura treatment. Do so, and you risk people tuning out. But fail to do so, and you are effectively giving him a volume discount.

But you don’t escape this dilemma by ignoring it. The thing that would truly “normalize” Trump is if everyone got down in the gutter with him. The one true weapon that decent people have against him is decency, and the power of the opposite example.

It is the path not just of reason, but I dare say cunning.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Trump doesn’t deserve civility, but it’s the best weapon against him

Andrew Coyne: Without the Safe Third Country Agreement, we’d soon see how liberal on refugees we really are

Good assessment of some of the implications of the Trump administration and possible suspension of the Safe Third Country Agreement:

You must understand, there is never going to be a turning point. People keep expecting, even predicting one: the dramatic “have you no decency, sir” moment when Donald Trump at long last goes too far, even for his supporters, and begins his inevitable decline and fall. But life is not a movie, and resists our attempts to impose a narrative on it.

So yes, Trump has been forced to backtrack, a little, on the most indecent of his many indecencies, the forcible separation from their mothers and fathers of migrant children — some still babies, some kept in cages, some never to see their parents again. Henceforth, by the terms of Trump’s executive order, children and parents will be detained together, indefinitely, while their cases are heard: the “zero tolerance” policy that gave rise to the crisis, mandating that all asylum-seekers who arrive by other than the usual ports of entry be imprisoned, remains in place.

But there will be no agonized reappraisal among his supporters, just because a couple of thousand kids were traumatized, any more than there was after each previous episode when people said “this time he’s gone too far.” We have seen, instead, how it works. They simply lower their standards to meet him, invent more outlandish reasons to believe what they believe — the bawling infants, Ann Coulter suggested, were “child actors,” while the cages in which they were kept, according to Laura Ingraham, were like “boarding schools” — and move on.

If he is not going to change for all the outrage he has stirred up in his own country, he is certainly not going to change because of anything we in this country might say or do. It is probably to the good that the prime minister was shamed, belatedly, into publicly criticizing the Trump administration’s approach — it was “wrong,” he said — after days of dodging, but only for our own sense of self-respect. His failure to do so until now does not make him, or us, “complicit” in Trump’s policy, since whatever he said would have had no impact on it.

Where we are potentially complicit, rather, is in the matter of those thousands of asylum seekers arriving at the Canada-U.S. border every year whom, notwithstanding our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, we turn back without a hearing. We are permitted to do so, or have permitted ourselves to do so, by the terms of the 2002 Safe Third Country Agreement, on the premise that, as each country regards the other as a safe haven for refugee claimants, so they should be required to have their case heard in whichever of the two they first arrive in. If the United States under Trump can no longer be regarded as “safe,” many argue, we are obliged, morally and perhaps legally, to suspend the agreement, at least until circumstances change.

The criticism is not new: it has been said since before the deal was even signed. Indeed, the agreement is rooted, not in the similarity of the two countries’ systems, but their differences: Canada’s more liberal, America’s markedly less so. It was we who asked for it, not they, and it was because we feared being unable to handle the tide of asylum seekers flowing north, in the unwelcoming aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, from the United States.

Still, it is one thing to return claimants to the United States of Barack Obama or even George Bush, quite another to submit them to the mercies of the Trump administration. So there may well be a case for suspending the agreement. The courts may force the government to do so in any event, whatever it might prefer.

We should understand, however, what this means. There is one reason why Canada’s treatment of those who arrive at our border unannounced tends to be more liberal than America’s: because we get relatively fewer of them. They have Mexico on their southern border; we have the United States.

But another reason we have so few is because of the Safe Third Country Agreement. In other words, our more liberal system depends in part on being able to offload so many claimants on the less liberal American system. Were we unable to do so — because we suspended the agreement, or because the Americans pulled out of it altogether — we should soon see how liberal we really were.

Even with the agreement in place, we have been dealing with an unprecedented inflow of asylum seekers, driven in part by fear of what Trump had in store for them. Indeed, until now the debate has been over whether to expand the agreement, from a handful of official ports of entry to the whole border, in a (probably futile) bid to prevent asylum seekers from crossing at irregular points.

Suspending the agreement would relieve them of that obligation — but at the cost, most probably, of greatly increasing the number of applicants arriving at the official points. For we would not only have signalled they would not be turned back. We would have publicly declared they were not safe in the United States.

The longer the resulting backlog of cases, the greater the incentive for more to apply: guaranteed a hearing, they would also be permitted to stay in Canada while they waited. Of course, they’d need to first get past the lengthening lineups at the official border crossings — meaning a good many would end up crossing illegally again.

We may still wish to suspend the agreement. But if so, we had better be prepared to spend the money needed to process the increased numbers, or we might soon find our own record for detaining claimants rivalled that of the Americans.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Without the Safe Third Country Agreement, we’d soon see how liberal on refugees we really are

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