The Use and Abuse of Diversity in Canada’s Foreign Policy | CIPS

Natalie Brender on diaspora politics, the risks involved, and the current approach of the Government:

What is surprising, though, is that the Ottawa Forum speaker who most explicitly mentioned Canada’s diversity as a foreign policy asset to be exploited did so ambivalently. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark challenged policy thinkers to see that Canada’s most valuable assets in today’s global environment are the ‘soft power’ capacities of our people, which enable us to influence other countries through leadership and advocacy. This capacity should be deployed, he continued, by using diaspora members as informal ‘diplomats’ representing Canadian interests and values to their countries of origin.

On the other hand, Clark also called it “seductive but dangerous” for Canada’s government to involve diaspora communities in foreign policy. The reason for this seeming contradiction was his concern about what happens to Canada’s social fabric when government uses foreign policy as a political tool for targeting the votes of specific diaspora communities. In the context of highly divisive international disputes, a government’s packaging of foreign policy with partisan politics conveys to Canadian diaspora groups on the ‘non-favoured’ side of disputes that they are not part of the government’s calculated ‘base’ of voter support. Effectively, such groups become—and realize themselves to be—discounted from the democratic calculus.

It’s no reach to see the current government’s targeting of diaspora groups through Jason Kenney’s outreach and John Baird’s foreign policy at the heart of such a worry. The Conservatives’ political stance on Middle East and security issues has effectively discounted the votes and standing of most Muslim Canadians—and has amplified the views of some by no means all Canadian Jews. It’s a dangerous manoeuver in light of its potential impact on Canada’s social cohesion.

ICYMI, my Shopping for Votes Can Undermine Canada’s Fine Balance takes a somewhat softer approach but largely agrees on the risks of the Government’s current approach.

The Use and Abuse of Diversity in Canada’s Foreign Policy | CIPS.

A bad month for diversity-focused fear-mongers | Toronto Star

Good piece by Natalie Brender on the fear mongers, citing the defeat of the PQ and its values charter, the Mosaic Institute’s study on imported conflicts (Do new Canadians leave old conflicts behind?) and the Pew Research study on how increased diversity tends to correlate with lower levels of violence (Countries With Less Religious Diversity Have More Faith-Based Violence):

Fear-mongers keen on stirring up angst about the increasingly diverse nature of Canadian society have had a bad month of it, on the whole. That’s because three recent sets of evidence suggest that really there’s not that much to worry about in face of a blossoming patchwork of religious headgear being worn, languages being spoken and national soccer teams being cheered for across the land. Such reassurances are relatively undramatic to report on — but it’s worth taking some sedate pleasure in a trio of dogs that didn’t bark alarms of warning in the past month.

A bad month for diversity-focused fear-mongers | Toronto Star.

Consular policy shift a solution in search of a clear problem

Good piece by Natalie Brender on the recommendation for a shift in consular policy to address “Canadians of convenience”, noting some of the practicalities and other issues involved (see also Doug Saunders’ Deny assistance to Canadians living abroad? It won’t work – The Globe and Mail):

This perspective would suggest, for example, that if there’s a major problem of expatriate “free-riders” reaping the benefits of citizenship without making equivalent contributions to Canada, it could be reasonable to square matters from a fiscal angle by imposing a higher charge for renewal of expatriate Canadians’ passports. The goal of limiting “free-ridership” would also support the government’s move in 2008 to restrict transmission of Canadian citizenship to one generation born abroad.

All parties involved in the ongoing discussion about Canadian citizenship — politicians, bureaucrats, citizens and the media — would help make the conversation about policy solutions more lucid if they began with a clearer focus on what the “Canadians of convenience” problem is really all about.

Consular policy shift a solution in search of a clear problem

Passports are powerful tools: Brender | Toronto Star

As the government prepares to table its revisions to the Citizenship Act, likely focussing on further improving the integrity and meaningfulness of citizenship, including making it harder to obtain, commentary by Natalie Brender on the realities of instrumental citizenship and passport, and how they should be part of the conversation.

One of the tensions all governments face is the balance between attracting the more dynamic and mobile economic immigrants through facilitating citizenship and making citizenship more difficult, which may make countries less “competitive” in attracting immigrants.

Is all this scheming and tit-for-tat a fair way for the business of citizenship to be run? Maybe not, but very little about passports and citizenship is fair in light of the dangers and protections they bring. It’s not fair that those in war-torn or dead-end countries who have the right cash and connections get to resettle abroad while their poorer compatriots are trapped in place. And which of us wouldn’t avail ourselves of any foreign passport we could if we lived in desperate conditions here in Canada?

These aren’t comfortable realities to face. Many politicians and citizens alike would rather change the topic by hewing to a loftier notion of citizenship as a marker of loyalty, shared values and a common fate. We’re lucky that a passport is more than just a tool in Canada, where it also symbolizes shared values and reciprocal obligations between government and citizens. That said, discussions and policy-setting must take into account more than just the high principles of citizenship. Most of the hardest questions are bound up with the geopolitical realities, economic pressures and human strivings that make a passport one of the most prized commodities existing today.

These thoughts suggest that realism and sympathy are in order as the government proceeds with its citizenship review in 2014. There’s not much danger that the new citizenship rules will constrain Ottawa’s ability to extend Canadian passports as a tool for serving pressing economic interests. But in its zeal to defend “the value of Canadian citizenship,” the Harper government may depict that value in ways that obscure broader global realities and blunt our sympathies. Acknowledging clearly the many ways in which a passport is indeed a tool, as well as a political emblem, will make for a healthier national conversation about citizenship policy.

Passports are powerful tools: Brender | Toronto Star.

Will a new minister fix Canada’s ideas-free citizenship policy?:

Natalie Brender on the need for a broader review of citizenship policy, given the upcoming modernization of the citizenship act. My expectation is, however, given that recent changes to the citizenship application process (Discover Canada, more difficult test, more rigorous language evaluation, increased fraud prevention) have stressed integrity and meaningfulness, that the act will continue to emphasize meaningfulness, rather than facilitation.

However, that broader discussion on the balance between meaningfulness and facilitation in the context of mobile skilled workers is needed. One of the challenges is how to design policies that provide flexibility for skilled workers while excluding those who are abusing such flexibility with minimal or no attachment to Canada (e.g., expatriates in the Gulf, Lebanese evacuees).

Will a New Minister Fix Canada’s Idea-Free Citizenship Policy

When prodigal jihadis come home: Brender

Good piece by Natalie Brender on the issue of returning jihadis. Never easy, and touchy, but other countries have embraced finding such counter-narratives as one means to reduce potential future jihadis. I witnessed one of the UK initiatives in this area; while I cannot judge the results, the approach was interesting and appeared to engage youth at risk and have merit:

One means of creating “counter-narratives” about Islam and militant politics is by drawing on the credibility of those who once embraced those ideas and now renounce them. To this end, the brief [U.S.-based Council on Foreign Relations] urges, efforts at countering violent extremism should include “[e]ducating Muslim thought leaders in mosques and on university campuses through workshops and testimonies from former radicals about why Islamist hardliners threaten Muslim communities.”

Such efforts must originate within Muslim communities; they will not succeed if viewed as propaganda by Western governments. But Western governments can help by providing resources to enable Muslim-led counter-extremism activities to succeed. For that reason, Canada’s government, and Canadians, should keep an open mind to the possibility that some fighters returning to this country might now be ex-jihadists ready to support the anti-extremist cause.

When prodigal jihadis come home: Brender | Toronto Star.

Half a cheer for Jason Kenney’s revolution in immigration policy | Toronto Star

Natalie Brender in The Star on Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, focussing on the risks and limits of anecdotes for decision-making. Nice to see words like epistemological  (theory of knowledge – yes, I had to look it up too!) to capture the issues and dynamics.

In the end, I am more in the camp of anecdotes and evidence, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each one, but using both to ensure the best possible policy outcome.  Article as follows:

Andrew Griffith, a retired senior official at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, has just published a book about the tense period beginning in 2007 that saw minister Jason Kenney bring a tidal wave of change to two federal departments. Among the many virtues of Griffith’s book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, is a striking commitment to epistemological modesty and self-reflection.

Throughout his case studies of various policy issues, Griffith underlines how officials working on multiculturalism and citizenship issues under Kenney were forced to confront their own latent ideologies and grapple with challenges to their expertise under a regime that broke starkly from the approach of previous governments.

From vocabulary to policy priorities to the deepest questions of what counted as sound evidence for policy-making, the Conservatives upended decades of received wisdom. For instance, Griffith reports, Kenney and his staff held in particular odium the blame-laying perspectives taken by “downtown activists” and researchers in analyzing mainstream discrimination toward cultural minorities.

An organization’s use of terms such as “oppression,” “white power” and “racialized communities” became grounds for striking it from a pool of grant applicants. This aversion was part of the minister’s larger distaste for the issue of barriers facing visible-minority Canadians, and his desire to shift focus toward discrimination within and among minority communities.

Because Griffith writes as a consummately professional public servant, he doesn’t pass explicit judgment on the policy shifts effected during the Kenney years. As he notes, it’s the job of elected officials to decide government priorities, and the job of public servants to be loyal implementers of those decisions.

On the other hand, it’s also the job of public servants to provide expert insight and advice to their ministers, who are supposed to take that advice into account in making policy decisions. It’s on this score that some of the book’s most revealing insights lie, since there was an unprecedented parting of ways between Kenney and officials on the question of what counted as sound evidence.

Multiculturalism and citizenship officials had long been used to basing their insight on social scientific research such as large-scale surveys and data collection on a range of standard topics. In Kenney, they were confronted with a minister who took his bearing from first-person anecdotes gathered from tireless meetings across Canada. (Such a minister, in the words of another official quoted by Griffith, was “like Halley’s comet, only coming by once every 76 years.”) Through the nuggets of information gained from his unmatched ear-to-the-ground contact with the nation’s increasingly suburban ethnic communities, Kenney was confident in his knowledge of their realities and concerns.

That confidence accompanied what Griffith alludes to as “the minister’s (and the government’s) general skepticism about social policy research,” and their disdain for the “downtown activists” who had forged deep ties with multiculturalism staff. Two starkly different “evidence bases,” as he puts it, were being drawn on by the political and bureaucratic levels.

Notably, Griffith does not depict the outcome as an unmitigated disaster from a policy-making perspective. Kenney was indeed gleaning real insights into experiences and concerns within different communities, which could not be captured in large national surveys or data sets. He gathered anecdotal reports on topics it had never occurred to officials to investigate systematically – for instance, on violations of citizenship integrity within certain immigrant groups in matters such as cheating on citizenship tests or so-called “birth tourism.”

Expert officials sometimes found to their surprise that the minister’s revamped multiculturalism priorities met with approval among diverse communities in the department’s focus group testing. And in Griffith’s own judgment, the anecdotal evidence that Kenney gained sometimes did produce worthwhile new directions in policy and programming (such as initiatives to address discrimination within and among ethnic groups).

For these reasons, Griffith writes, “officials had to learn to listen to — and respect — the key messages and insights coming from the minister, reflecting his anecdotes and conversations from his extensive community outreach.” It was a wrenching adjustment for many to have their expertise challenged and world views dismissed. Eventually, though, most staff took on board the insights that anecdote could offer, and worked to incorporate them into programming and policy.

There is no indication that Kenney and his staff reciprocated in the epistemological modesty department. In one exceptional instance, Griffith reports, officials found studies that managed to persuade them that racism and discrimination indeed pose real barriers to the success of certain ethnic groups in Canada. But other than that, the learning and broadening of world views seems to have been entirely one-sided.

And in the bigger picture, even anecdotes reflecting a partial reality give precious little for policymakers to go on. Stories of fraud whispered in the minister’s ear don’t tell policy makers how widespread the incidence of citizenship-test cheating or birth tourism is. They don’t tell policymakers what the relative dollar costs of taking action or keeping the status quo will be; nor do they predict what side effects might come from dramatically changing current policy.

Only careful data collection and analysis can do that. And that’s precisely what the Kenney regime (and the Harper government) couldn’t be bothered with in their haste to get tough on “abusers of Canadians’ generosity.”

Writing as a loyal civil servant, Griffith doesn’t say it explicitly, but the lessons of his book are clear. Anecdote is a lousy basis for policymaking, and modesty and self-reflection are not virtues to be expected only on one side of the relationship between the public service and politicians. As Chris Alexander takes over these files as minister of immigration, he could get a fine start by bearing those truths in mind.

Half a cheer for Jason Kenney’s revolution in immigration policy | Toronto Star.

Laïcité – La CAQ s’estime moins «radicale» que le PQ | Le Devoir

Going further than Bouchard-Taylor with the extension to education. Not encouraging. NDP has staked out Bouchard-Taylor laïcité ouverte approach (only persons in position of legal authority) which is more reasonable than broader approach.

Laïcité – La CAQ s’estime moins «radicale» que le PQ | Le Devoir.

And on the lighter side, Natalie Brender’s ironic and satiric take on the Quebec Values Charter.

A modest proposal for Quebec and Canada: Brender | Toronto Star.

Immigration policy wasn’t always about economics alone: Brender | Toronto Star

Good reminder of some of the broader issues and objectives around immigration by Natalie Brender, along with the concomitant need for refugee and family class advocates to develop more rigorous reasoning and rationales.

Just saying that these categories are important and valuable is not enough. After all, even some of the economic arguments that everyone ‘accepts’ have also been criticized by some as simplistic (i.e., Collacott, Paquet) or wrong.

It should be possible for advocates for more refugees and family class to argue more convincingly on the comparative benefits between economic, family class and refugees, than stating what they believe to be an article of faith.

Immigration policy wasn’t always about economics alone: Brender | Toronto Star.

Real Women attack on Baird a lesson for multicultural Canada: Brender | Toronto Star

Another demonstration of how much gay rights are part of  mainstream Canadian political discourse, with a nice counterfactual of how these play out in multicultural Canada. With the sensible reminder to let such statements – and groups – hang by themselves, highlighting just how little support they have.

Real Women attack on Baird a lesson for multicultural Canada: Brender | Toronto Star.