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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Wherry of Macleans provides comments by Conservative MPs:

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

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

Chris Alexander: The Conservatives’ golden boy falls

A good, and I think balanced account, of Minister Alexander’s rise and fall:

Alexander gained instant stardom when he was parachuted into this key riding just east of Toronto in 2011. His resumé made him sound like a political strategist’s dream: a young, esteemed diplomat who had worked in the Russian embassy in the early 1990s before becoming Canada’s first ambassador to Afghanistan, and then a UN representative. He was internationally lauded, having been named a “young global leader” by the World Economic Forum, and one of Canada’s “top 40 under 40” by the Globe and Mail; he was even voted “best rookie” by his fellow MPs in the Maclean’s Parliamentarian of the Year poll in 2011.

For a while, Alexander, who took on his Immigration portfolio in 2013, represented the Conservative party’s bright future. Now, at least for the moment, he represents its failures. His entire election campaign was marred by controversy after controversy: from the mishandling of the Syrian refugee crisis and the cuts made to refugee health care, to the vow to create a “tip line” for suspected instances of “barbaric cultural practices,” the campaign to prevent women from wearing a niqab during citizenship swearing-in ceremonies, and revoking the Canadian citizenship of terrorists, Alexander became the face of the Conservative party’s most divisive platforms.

Why would Alexander pursue this path? Some say he was too focused on accommodating Harper’s vision. “He wouldn’t be the first politician who tried to play the game just the way the coach wanted it played, no matter how poorly or well the coach was calling it,” says Tim Powers, vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, an Ottawa consulting firm.

Put another way, Alexander became the punching bag for the Conservatives, by his own choosing. “He decided to take up the role as a more forceful partisan, and I don’t know if that fits his character,” says Powers. “When you see a guy whose career has been built on diplomacy and a persuasive life in a pugilistic position, it can be a conflicting image.”

When Alexander first joined federal politics, many people anticipated a “moderate Ontario Tory,” and instead he “morphed into a Harper Tory in terms of aggression and the full-force assault of selling the message,” continues Powers. “It’s almost as if he had an out-of-body experience as a politician.”

In fact, even during the post-election scrum, Alexander stuck to the party line, telling reporters that the Conservatives have been “good and generous at resettling refugees … We have been ahead of the curve every step of the way.” On the niqab issue, Alexander insisted, “The rule that faces be uncovered is not yet fixed in law. We think it should be.” Right after the scrum, Alexander was rushed out of the Annandale.

There may be more than these polarizing issues at play, too. Some observers believe Alexander’s fall was an inevitable consequence of the “Liberal sweep” happening across the country. His opponent, Holland, has been a veritable force in Ajax, having held the riding for the three terms before the 2011 election—and he only narrowly lost to Alexander then.

This loss is all the more disappointing for the Conservatives because it reverses some of the inroads made by Jason Kenney and others in recent years to attract the votes of new Canadians. Some of the fiercest criticisms against Alexander and the Conservatives were of fear-mongering and of a concerted effort to pit Canadians against each other. In this way, Alexander’s loss comes as no surprise.

If Alexander is to resume a career in politics and, indeed, make a run at the Conservative leadership one day, he will first need to win back a lot of trust. But writing Alexander’s political prospects off, say insiders, would ignore his talents—and the “nine lives” nature of politics. “Here’s a guy who has served in Afghanistan, one of the hardest corners of the Earth, and accorded himself well. He [has] enormous potential,” says Powers. “He might get a time out. But I wouldn’t count him out.”

Source: Chris Alexander: The Conservatives’ golden boy falls

Mayors of the 905 weigh in on election, and the possible myth of ‘the big shift’

I always thought that Ibbitson and Bricker were premature in their assertion that there was a permanent ‘big shift’ to the Conservatives. The comments by Ajax mayor Steve Parish are particularly interesting, given that this is Citizenship and Immigration Minister Alexander’s riding:

The suburban area around Toronto, known as the 905 for its area code, has been one of the key battlegrounds in this federal election campaign. With 52 ridings, the electoral gold mine of double-income commuters, strip malls and hockey arenas amounts to the third-largest province after Ontario and Quebec in riding count.

While Stephen Harper’s 2011 majority was largely attributed to the Tories’ sweep of the 905, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have narrowed the spread this time to a horserace.

As of this last week of campaigning, Jeff Smith of EKOS Research Associates says their data shows the parties in the 905 are in a two-way tie as they are both averaging about 40 points each.

Journalist John Ibbitson and political commentator and pollster Darrell Bricker published the The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means for Our Future in 2013. The authors surmised that suburban areas in Ontario, like the 905, are making the country more conservative, because the immigrants — largely from Asian countries — who are settling there are conservative. They identified the Conservative surge in 905 in the 2011 campaign represented not a fluke but a permanent, demographically-generated shift.

With the constant scrutiny and nitpicking from pollsters, politicians and strategists on what could happen, iPolitics talked to the people who know 905 communities best: their mayors.

Ajax, according to Statistics Canada in 2011, is a city of almost 110,000 people in the eastern part of the Greater Toronto Area. Since 1995, the mayor of this growing and diverse city has been Steve Parish. A self-identified fiscal conservative who is socially progressive, Parish says the narrative of the “big shift” of the suburban areas around Toronto being a permanent stronghold for the Conservative Party is a bit of a generalization.

“I think generalizations are dangerous in politics,” Parish says.

Ajax — formerly known as Ajax-Pickering — went Conservative in the last election, to now Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander. Prior to the 2011 election, Ajax was a Liberal stronghold stretching back to the 1980s.

Parish says that his city has seen massive growth in ethnic diversity, which wasn’t there 10 to 15 years ago. With this diversity, many of his constituents he says are small “c” conservative — due to their religious or cultural beliefs — but that there is no broad stroke to define everyone.

“My theory is that even in the recent-Canadian category, there is a broad range of philosophies as to what the proper role of government is.”

One thing Parish says he abhors is wedge politics — like the issue of whether or not women can wear the niqab during the citizenship ceremony. It unnecessarily divides people, he says, and diverts their attention from bigger problems. He says trying to deny women the right to wear the niqab “rings hollow, and very opportunistic to me.”

Despite Parish’s thoughts on the niqab, a poll conducted by Léger Marketing, in March for Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, found of those polled, 82 per cent supported the requirement that women remove their niqabs or burqas during citizenship ceremonies.

With many of his constituents being from Middle Eastern countries, like Lebanon and Iraq, Parish says issues of immigration and refugees are important to them. “It strikes a chord in this community.”

“Residents are plugged into wide range of issues. I don’t know which issues will be ballot box question. It’s a diverse population, with people from a lot of diverse backgrounds who have different priorities.”

Mayors of the 905 weigh in on election, and the possible myth of ‘the big shift’

Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing: Globe article and response

Following this Globe story, PM Harper stated that:

… when it comes to admitting refugees, his government ensures the selection of the most vulnerable people while keeping the country safe and secure.

“The audit we asked for earlier this year was to ensure that these policy objectives are being met. Political staff are never involved in approving refugee applications,” Harper said. “Such decisions are made by officials in the Department of Citizenship and Immigration.”

No PMO vetting of refugees, say Conservatives

But it appears that it was not prompted by security:

Sources tell CTV News that a temporary halt to the processing of some Syrian refugees was ordered earlier this year to make sure the types favoured by the Prime Minister’s Office were being prioritized.

Department of Citizenship and Immigration insiders told CTV’s Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife that PMO staff went through the files to ensure that persecuted religious minorities with established communities already in Canada — ones that Conservative Leader Stephen Harper could court for votes — were being accepted. Insiders say PMO actively discouraged the department from accepting applications from Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Private applications, which are often from church groups, were allowed to continue while the rest were on hold.

Should this be true, it is highly inappropriate both in substance (taking identity and ‘shopping for votes’ politics to a new level) and in process (PMO directed rather than PCO directed), not to mention morally wrong given the impact on refugees and the delays incurred.

During my time at PCO (1998-2000), when PMO had concerns about handling of files, PCO would play a strong policy coordination (and sometimes direction) to departments in close coordination with PMO. But the bureaucratic chain of command was respected.

This indicates a lack of confidence of CIC (and Minister Alexander’s ability to direct the department) to implement preferences for more vulnerable ethnic groups. Globe article that started it all below:

The Prime Minister’s Office directed Canadian immigration officials to stop processing one of the most vulnerable classes of Syrian refugees this spring and declared that all UN-referred refugees would require approval from the Prime Minister, a decision that halted a critical aspect of Canada’s response to a global crisis.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the Prime Minister intervened in a file normally handled by the Citizenship and Immigration department in the months before dramatic images of a dead toddler brought the refugee crisis to the fore. The processing stop, which was not disclosed to the public, was in place for at least several weeks. It is unclear when it was lifted. At the same time, an audit was ordered of all Syrian refugees referred by the United Nations in 2014 and 2015.

The Prime Minister’s Office asked Citizenship and Immigration for the files of some Syrian refugees so they could be vetted by the PMO – potentially placing political staff with little training in refugee matters in the middle of an already complex process.

PMO staff could have also had access to files that are considered protected, because they contain personal information, including a refugee’s health history and narrative of escape, raising questions about the privacy and security of that information and the basis on which it was being reviewed.

As a result of the halt, and the additional layers of scrutiny, families that had fled Syria and were judged by the United Nations refugee agency to be in need of resettlement had to wait longer to find refuge in Canada. It also meant there were fewer cases of UN-referred Syrians approved and ready for sponsorship when the public came forward in large numbers after the drowning death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi in August.

The Prime Minister’s Office did not directly respond to a request for comment, nor did it confirm Stephen Harper’s involvement.

A spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, however, said the government was concerned about the integrity of the system and ensuring that security was not compromised in any way.

“The processing of Syrian Government Assisted Refugees resumed only after there was confidence that our procedures were adequate to identify those vulnerable persons in most need of protection while screening out threats to Canada,” said Chris Day, spokesman for Mr. Alexander. He noted that processing of privately sponsored refugees, who are not referred by the UN but by their Canadian sponsors and who make up a growing portion of Canada’s refugees, continued throughout this period.

Critics have long complained about the centralization of decision-making in the PMO – and it would be unusual for a prime minister to sign off on refugee files that have already been vetted by the UN refugee agency, Canadian visa officials and in a small minority of cases by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the Canada Border Services Agency.

Source: Prime Minister’s Office ordered halt to refugee processing – The Globe and Mail

Conservatives crank up values clash by taking aim at ‘barbaric cultural practices’

Interesting that just two short years ago, Minister Kenney was accusing the Parti québécois of wedge and identity politics, and demonstrating  strong and principled opposition to the proposed Charter of Values:

“When Quebecers begin to actually contemplate the idea that provincial bureaucrats might be getting out a tape-measure to measure the size of people’s crosses, to see whether or not their earring is too obviously religious — this gets to a point of almost Monty Python-esque absurdity,” he said.
“And I don’t think the majority of Quebecers support will support that kind of overbearing application of power.”
Kenney noted that just a few decades ago, most of Quebec’s schools and hospitals were largely run by nuns “wearing headscarves and crosses.
“That’s the tradition of Quebec itself and I think it’s something that should be respected,” he said.
Earlier this week, Kenney said he will ask the Department of Justice to review the values charter if it becomes law in Quebec, to see if it violates the constitutional protection around freedom of religion in Canada.
Asked why Ottawa is wading into Quebec politics, Kenney said the federal government is prepared to mount a legal challenge against the plan because it’s a “clear effort to violate what are undeniably fundamental and universal rights, like freedom of religion.”
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has said she is “very proud of the charter,” and is looking forward to a debate on it.
“I think we need to set clear guidelines for how we live together,” she told reporters on Wednesday.
But Kenney said such guidelines are counterproductive to creating a harmonious Canada.
“At the end of the day, integration outcomes depend on immigration inputs and if you want people to become a part of your society and fully participate in it, then you have to create a space (and) send a message that people are welcoming (and) including.”

Jason Kenney calls Quebec’s values charter ‘Monty Pythonesque

But he did support the requirement for citizens to show their faces when receiving government services:

He said that there “is an expectation that newcomers should make an effort to integrate successfully into Canadian society,” while adding that governments have “to be welcoming and to create equality of opportunity.” Mr. Kenney added that it is reasonable, as proposed in the charter, to call on all citizens to “show their faces” during interactions with the government.

Conservatives vow to challenge Quebec charter, should it pass

Today, the tone is different, and the Conservatives, as so many observers have noted, are aggressively playing the identity cart and the politics of fear. The latest summary of the culture wars and wedge politics of the Conservatives:

If it wasn’t clear already, the culture war is definitely on now  and the pollsters say it’s working,

With the polls moving the Conservatives’ way and sensing that a majority could yet be in sight, the Tory campaign is pressing hard on the hot button of identity politics, promising a new RCMP “tip line” to enable Canadians to report “barbaric cultural practices” such as sexual slavery or so-called honour killings.

On CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Liberal pundit Amanda Alvaro fumed that this was a “barbaric political practice” by the Conservatives.

A good line, but, hey, could two more weeks of cultural combat put the Conservatives over the top? Somebody seems to think so.

Even as two of his colleagues were promising the new tip line, Calgary Conservative Jason Kenney launched a fresh attack on the wearing of a niqab, or face veil, which he called “medieval” and “tribal.”

While he was at it, Kenney blasted the Liberals and the NDP — again — for opposing the revocation of citizenship for convicted terrorists.

Do we need a tip line?

Of course, Canadians can already call police to report any crime, at any time. It’s hard to see how calling a different number will make much difference. Besides that, the urgent need for a special tip line does not seem to have gripped the Conservatives during their 10 years in office — only now, in the final days of an election campaign.

One thing the tip line does, though, is enable them to keep talking about an issue that seems to be firing up the troops.

The Conservatives’ emphasis on the defence of what they call “Canadian values” is credited by pollsters with a significant uptick in their support, particularly in Quebec.

And it’s not a risky strategy: a poll done by the Privy Council Office in March of this year, paid for by taxpayers, found 82 per cent of Canadians in support of the Conservatives’ bid to ban the wearing of a niqab at citizenship ceremonies. In Quebec, that number was even higher — 93 per cent.

“We need to stand up for our values,” said Conservative candidate Chris Alexander, who is in a tight race for re-election in the Ontario riding of Ajax.

“We need to do that in citizenship ceremonies. We need to do that to protect women and girls from forced marriage and other barbaric practices.”

Joining him was Kellie Leitch, the Conservative candidate in Simcoe-Grey, who said the tip line would mean that “citizens and victims can call with information about incidents of barbaric cultural practices here in Canada.”

She did not say what, if anything, prevents Canadians from doing that now.

However, she did say there would also be a new RCMP task force to enforce the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act, which received royal assent in June. In addition, she promised a $12-million fund, over four years, to assist overseas aid groups to stop forced marriages of girls and young women in conflict zones.

“The Conservative government is not afraid to defend Canadian values and to be clear that these practices have no place in Canadian society,” said Leitch.

Kenney takes on the ‘medieval’ niqab

Kenney, simultaneously, was in Halifax to tout the Conservatives’ naval shipbuilding project. When asked about the niqab, though, he seized the chance — and denied that he was in any way demonizing Muslims.

“I think it’s completely wrong-headed to associate the niqab with Islam,” Kenney said.

“The niqab reflects a medieval tribal custom that reflects a misogynistic view of women.”

Kenney is correct that the vast majority of Muslim women, in Canada and worldwide, do not wear a veil and do not see it as a religious requirement. On the other hand, it just happens that those who wear it tend to be Muslims.

A new passport?

But, details, details. They don’t seem likely to interfere with the Conservative strategy. Kenney pressed on, repeating his attacks on those who differ with the cancellation of citizenship for Canadian convicted terrorists.

Kenney referred to the case of Farah Mohamed Shirdon, from Calgary, who was videotaped burning his Canadian passport while fighting with ISIS in June 2014.

“Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mulcair,” said Kenney, “think that if that fellow shows up at one of our embassies, we should issue him a new passport and welcome him back to Canada.”

Both the Liberal and NDP leaders have said terrorists who are Canadian citizens should be in jail. But Tom Mulcair, well aware of the erosion of his poll numbers in Quebec, seemed to want to change the subject when he appeared for a pre-debate interview on City-TV in Montreal.

Mulcair said he would counter the Conservative tactics “by making sure that we don’t let Stephen Harper hide behind the niqab.”

When the host asked, “Well, let’s talk about the niqab,” Mulcair responded, “Well, let’s talk about his balance sheet — about what he’s done to Canada.”

But the Conservatives do want to talk about the niqab. And passports. And barbaric cultural practices. And, if a majority is possible, they’re not going to stop.

Read more of this post

Highlights of Media Coverage of the Politics of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Canadians_divided_along_political_lines_over_whether_to_accept_thousands_of_refugees_in_current_crisis_-_Angus_Reid_InstituteMuch of the focus has been on Minister Alexander’s handling of the crisis. Starting with Calgary Mayor Nahid Nenshi:

“Minister Alexander should have been a star. He was an incredible diplomat. By all accounts he’s a brilliant man, but he’s also the minister behind Bill C-24, which I remind you means that me — born at St. Mike’s hospital in downtown Toronto — could have my Canadian citizenship stripped,” he said.

Calgary mayor lashes out at immigration minister on refugee crisis

Both Robin Sears and Scott Reid attribute his approach to the numbing effect of the overall Conservative party approach:

As one friend put it, he must have been given a Pierre Poilievre blood replacement treatment, so thoroughly have they crushed his humanity. Since becoming minister he has spoken in a wooden, angry snarl in interview after interview. Perhaps frustrated at the nonsense he has been instructed to deliver, he repeats it in a surlier tone. Few of us are able to be smiling, convincing liars in public. It is perhaps a testament to the angst he feels about the role he has been ordered to play that he does it so woefully.
The refugee story looks as if it might now become the pivot issue of the campaign. It speaks to the deep humiliation that many Canadians have come to feel about the harsh vision of Canada the Harper government flaunts to the world. (Alexander’s TV meltdown made the BBC’s front page online.) It speaks to their ferocious defensive attack in response to any criticism from any quarter. And it underlines how far their mean-spirited response to this crisis is from the values of a majority of Canadians.

Sears: The cost of mindless, heartless message control

But it’s not the first time he’s played the part of the unthinking partisan. Watching Wednesday night’s spectacle, one had to wonder what’s gone wrong. Where did that original Chris Alexander go? Up there on the screen that might as well have been Paul Calandra or Pierre Poilievre, government spokespersons that we’ve come to associate with transparent posturing.

That’s the really troubling thing. Alexander, a knowledgeable, talented and presumably well-motivated person, someone whose history and abilities once inspired sincere hopes for great things has allowed himself to become just another one of “them.” A snapping, snarling partisan.

Not because he’s a bad person. Not because he’s taken this particular stand on this particular issue. But because that’s what politics – specifically politics as it’s currently practiced on Parliament Hill – does to people. It brings them low.

If the Conservatives lose this election, don’t underestimate how much this sort of thing contributes to their downfall. When even the likes of Chris Alexander can be so diminished people can see that something about our politics simply has to change.

Reid: Chris Alexander the latest example of how politics debases even the best of us

Both Sears and Reid’s commentary recalls an early piece by Konrad Yakabuski on the almost Faustian bargain Alexander appears to have made (Chris Alexander balances his portfolio and power).

Turning to commentary on the Government and party leaders as a whole), Andrew Coyne calls for a combined non-partisan response by the three main parties (which has been echoed by Liberal leader Trudeau):

Into the void have stepped the country’s mayors. Toronto Mayor John Tory, in particular, has been attempting to organize some sort of coordinated municipal campaign, nationwide. The emphasis, it would appear, would be on encouraging private sponsorship. “I believe we should mobilize to sponsor Syrian refugees. This is who we are as Canadians,” he said Friday. “This will not happen by itself. It will happen when Torontonians step up.” Indeed, the mayor had reportedly already personally sponsored a refugee family, even before the events of recent days.

The thought occurs: what if our national leaders were to put themselves on the line in the same way? What if they were all to get behind the same campaign? What if they were to put politics aside, even for one day, and appear together on the same stage, exhorting the whole country to “step up”? What might we do then?

Andrew Coyne : It took a photo of a dead child to capture our attention. What matters is what we do next

One of the few to defend the PM and Government (silent on Minister Alexander) was Christie Blatchford:

Harper’s view is that only a three-pronged effort has a chance in Syria: accept more refugees and do it faster; give more humanitarian aid; continue to participate in the military campaign.

As he said once, “Laureen and I had the same reaction, but it doesn’t lead to the same conclusion. Our message is (also) we need to help people who are actually there, who can’t get away, and stop the violence being directed at them. I do not know for the life of me how you can look at that picture and say ‘Yeah, I want to help that family’ and say walk away from the military coalition. … It’s incomprehensible to me to see an image like that and conclude you do more of one thing and less of another.”

It wasn’t perfect, but it was a responsible, intelligent and reasoned response to that picture, and on a day when others took an easier path, the one strewn with flowers, teddy bears, balloons and sentiment. Alan Kurdi’s story certainly should galvanize the world, not only to be stricken and weepy, but to fury.

Blatchford: Alan Kurdi’s story should galvanize the world — but Harper can’t be blamed for this tragedy

Tasha Kheiriddin explains a likely factor in the Government’s reluctance:

Harper’s words reveal the unspoken subtext of fear in the Syrian refugee crisis: this new wave of migrants and refugees come from a country where the West is not only directly involved in a war, but in a war with an organization that threatens to take the fight beyond its borders, to our own shores. The fear isn’t simply that these refugees pose a security threat because there could be terrorists among them. The fear is that they pose a social threat — by bringing with them a worldview that could be at odds with the pluralist, secular and socially-liberal societies in which they seek sanctuary.
The fear is that even though the refugees are fleeing the depredations of ISIS, they will not integrate, but seek to change the fabric of their new societies against the will of the current citizenry. It’s a fear grounded in the experiences of European nations like Great Britain, France, the Netherlands and Sweden, which have witnessed social problems ranging from demands for gender-segregated swimming pools, to Islamic “takeovers” of local public schools in Birmingham, to riots in the banlieues of Paris.
It is grounded here at home in the debate over the former PQ government’s Charter of Values in Quebec, incidents of segregation at a Toronto public school and the federal government’s opposition to the wearing of niqabs during citizenship ceremonies.
No one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room, but if the Syrian refugees are to be saved, someone must. It would be fallacious to deny that practices such as gender segregation, the wearing of the niqab and the subordination of man-made law to that of the divine would make it difficult for any immigrant to integrate into mainstream western society. But it’s just as wrong-headed to assume that all Muslims live this way, or that other religious groups already established in our country, such as the polygamous sect members of Bountiful, B.C., don’t also hold beliefs that conflict with those of the majority.
The answer is not to turn our backs on refugees from Syria, or refugees from any Islamic country, but to impress upon them and on all immigrants that immigration is a two-way street. Newcomers have the rights to their religion, beliefs and practices — but not if those practices violate the norms of the societies to which they must adapt. Values such as equality of the sexes, equal treatment for persons of different sexual orientation, freedom of association, and separation of church and state are not up for negotiation. Any “reasonable accommodation” must be just that: reasonable.
It’s the task of a mature democracy — and compassionate leadership — to find a way forward in this and future refugee crises, and to re-establish Canada’s reputation as a haven for those who need our help.

What’s holding us back from helping the Syrians? Fear.

Public opinion polling helps explain the different party positions.
Bogus_refugees_or_notAngus-Reid conducted a useful poll, breaking down opinion by party affiliation, showing the Government’s position is aligned to the Conservative party base and messaging of “bogus refugees”, with the overall key findings being (all parties):

  • Overall, most Canadians (70%) say Canada has a role to play in the migrant crisis, but are divided on increasing the number of refugees the government sponsors and resettles here, and on seeing government spend more to make it happen. (54% and 51% support each, respectively)
  • A significant gender difference exists on whether the people fleeing to Europe from the Middle East are seen as “genuine”: Canadian men are twice as likely as women to say the migrants are “bogus”
  • As to what exactly this country should do, Canadians are most supportive of sending medical and armed forces professionals into the affected European countries areas to assist refugees, divided on taking more refugees and least supportive of “doing nothing”

Canadians divided along political lines over whether to accept thousands of refugees in current crisis

Chris Alexander defends Canada’s refugee response, blames media

For those who missed it, worth watching Alexander defending the Government’s policy and actions with respect to Syrian refugees.

Sep 2, 2015 | 17:53Power and Politics Syrian refugee crisis Video

Unfortunately, he clumsily reverted to attacking the media and getting the facts wrong, which became the focus of Twitter and other commentary:

Alexander, who has served as immigration minister since July 2013 and is running for re-election in Ontario, accused CBC News of ignoring the Syrian refugee crisis.

“I’m actually interested in why this is the first Power & Politics panel we’ve had on this,” he said.

Alexander went on to say that “the biggest conflict and humanitarian crisis of our time has been there for two years, and you and others have not put it in the headlines where it deserves to be.”

Barton noted later the subject had been discussed at least 32 times on Power & Politics, including in interviews with Alexander. As a minister, Alexander was not allowed to appear on panels.

No wonder that he has had to suspend his campaign and return to Ottawa, especially given that the file for the dead boy’s family had apparently been handed to him personally.

Source: Chris Alexander defends Canada’s refugee response, blames media – Politics – CBC News

Slow start for Express Entry but new immigration system to pick up – Minister

Still early days so we should see the ramp up Alexander refers to:

Mr. Alexander said he doesn’t expect the new system to significantly alter the mix of Canada’s immigration source countries. India, China and the Philippines remain the largest sources for applications.

“We still see strong interest and immigration flows from Asia … but we also see some new markets responding to the prospects of a faster system,” Mr. Alexander said. “I know in France there’s a lot of interest in Canadian immigration and a lot of interest in Express Entry.”

In one round of selections, the top countries of residence were Canada (foreign applicants who are already in the country), the United States, India and England, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).

… “That is truly remarkable,” Mr. Alexander said. Under the old system, would-be immigrants could wait up to eight years to have their applications assessed, since it was run on a first-come, first-served basis. Now, the top candidates go to the front of the line right away, he said.

It’s a competitive system, but fair, he added.

Slow start for Express Entry but new immigration system to pick up – The Globe and Mail.

From Afghanistan to Iraq, the perils of overconfidence – Brian Stewart

Brian Stewart’s commentary on the recent audit on the aid program in Afghanistan and a reminder for the need for greater policy modesty:

My own view, shared by many others, is that central to Canada’s problem was an overconfident, relentless boosterism around this mission that was encouraged, even demanded, throughout by Ottawa.

“We went into a complex country without a proper strategy and this was a major problem. And there was over-optimism so we were not looking at the status of the insurgency,” Nipa Banerjee, who ran our aid there between 2003 and 2006, told Canadian Press this week.

In later years, the sunny Canadian outlook often astonished even NATO allies.

Chris Alexander, then our senior diplomat in Kabul and now the minister of citizenship and immigration, is remembered in one British memoir as “among the most persuasive of the optimists, and in many ways the golden boy of the effort in Afghanistan … a formidable operator who never let much check his unquenchable optimism.”

For many of Canada’s allies, our military and aid officials in Afghanistan simply ignored a trilogy of inconvenient facts: that the West didn’t have the military or civilian capacity necessary for the challenge at hand; that the Afghans were in no position to take over any time soon; and that the Taliban grew stronger thanks to sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan.

Some may be asking themselves if these elements, including overconfidence, apply to what looks to be our expanding war against ISIS in Iraq and possibly Syria.

One dark irony of this period was that the Conservative government and other ardent supporters of the war often criticized the media for being too pessimistic in its Afghan coverage.

The reality is most media were far too pliant and unquestioning of a military-civilian mission that, with rare exceptions, hid behind the false-confidence curtain dictated by Ottawa.

Understandably, many Canadians want to put that far-off war behind us and forget. But we simply can’t ignore the lessons learned about the cost of our simplistic over-optimism if we’re to avoid similar mistakes in Iraq or other campaigns to come.

From Afghanistan to Iraq, the perils of overconfidence – World – CBC News.

At Malala’s citizenship ceremony, will she be forced to bare her head? – Sheema Khan

Sheema Khan makes the point regarding the wedge politics of the PM and Minister Alexander regarding the niqab, and in Minister Alexander’s case, the hijab (from someone who should and does know better):

… A few weeks ago, a federal court agreed with Ms. Zunera. However, our Prime Minister, who is campaigning for re-election, said that it was “offensive” to hide one’s face while joining “the Canadian family”. These comments were made in Quebec, where there is strong opposition to the niqab and increasing Islamophobic sentiment. Our Prime Minister chose to pander to these fears.

Citizenship Minister Chris Alexander went further, and tweeted “niqab, hejab, burqa, wedding veil – face coverings have no place in cit oath-taking”. He explained that a hijab can be used to cover the face.

Regarding the burqa issue in the U.K., you have told The Guardian: “I believe it’s a woman’s right to decide what she wants to wear and if a woman can go to the beach and wear nothing, then why can’t she also wear everything?”

Please Malala, ask Mr. Alexander if you will be required to remove your head-cover at your ceremony. And ask Mr. Harper and Mr. Alexander why Ms. Zunera should remove her niqab. Your carry great moral authority and your words will assist Muslim women who are being used as cheap political fodder. We know that you will stand by your principles.

At Malala’s citizenship ceremony, will she be forced to bare her head? – The Globe and Mail.

And Geoffrey Hall’s commentary on the risks the Government is taking:

A sizeable number of Canadians have genuine concerns about Islam. Some may even view certain of its manifestations, including the wearing of a niqab, as un-Canadian. Sure, the Conservatives may be playing on fears and unstated prejudices. But there’s a political risk inherent in dismissing those fears and prejudices without confronting them — in allowing ignorance to fester below the surface and voice itself in chauvinistic bumper stickers.

What happened with the values charter in Quebec? Remember, the Marois government introduced it because it thought it had a winner — and in the early stages of the election campaign, that’s what it looked like. But then something happened: The discussion, dialogue and opposition it provoked brought together individuals and groups from diverse cultural backgrounds — all rallying around the shared value of tolerance. Intended to draw neat lines around what is and isn’t Quebec culture, the charter managed to unite a plurality of Quebecers against it.

Which is what happens sometimes when unspoken prejudices are uttered aloud — people are forced to confront what they think in the daylight of community opinion. Right now, the federal parties are road-testing their messages for the election campaign. The Conservatives, like all the parties, always need issues they can exploit to fire up their base — and going after un-Canadian outliers has worked for them in the past.

But a message intended for core or regional audiences can linger, and turn into a liability in the heat of a campaign. The question now is how far the Conservatives can push the “I love Canada — fit in” slogan before voters tell them to f@*k off.

The risks and rewards of identity politics (pay wall)