Wells: Michael Wernick has some advice

Good and informative interview and comments:

Brian Mulroney was the prime minister the first time Michael Wernick sat at the back of a cabinet committee room, taking notes. One time the young civil servant found himself transcribing John Crosbie’s remarks as the powerful fisheries minister recited arguments Wernick himself had put into Crosbie’s briefing notes. That particular ouroboros of influence was “quite exciting for a young desk officer,” Wernick said in an interview shortly before the recent federal election.

The venue was my back yard. The occasion was the release of Wernick’s new book, Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics (UBC Press). Wernick was a senior official for decades in Ottawa, a deputy minister under Paul Martin and Stephen Harper. Justin Trudeau made him Clerk of the Privy Council, a position from which Wernick retired amid the SNC-Lavalin controversy in 2019, after Jody Wilson-Raybould released a surreptitious recording of a conversation with Wernick.

Wilson-Raybould, clandestine recordings, and the doctrines of independence for attorneys general are not topics of Wernick’s book, and he made it clear he preferred that they not figure in our interview. I relented, mostly. I’ve known Wernick for 26 years. He’s been learning how Ottawa works for longer than that. The lore he’s accumulated, poured between the covers of a slim volume aimed at students of political science, is a valuable contribution to Canadians’ understanding of how they’re governed.

“I didn’t want to write a memoir,” Wernick said. What came out instead is “a kind of an amalgam of many experiences with different ministers and three prime ministers that I got to work with reasonably closely. I was trying to capture those conversations—what it’s like to sit across from the new minister after swearing in, or some of the conversations that go on. Particularly in the early days of a government as they’re finding their feet or learning their skills.”

For the longest time he couldn’t settle on a format. He finally found a model in Renaissance Florence.

“I have a daughter who’s studying political science at U of T. She was doing a political theory course. And she was home for Christmas, but still working on a paper. And one of the things on that second-year political science course, that I took umpteen years ago, is [Niccolo Machiavelli’s] The Prince. It’s second-person advice on statecraft. It’s held up for a long time. And that gave me that sort of lightbulb moment. ‘Oh, I can do something that way. I could do it direct and second-person advice to somebody who’s coming into that position.’ That unlocked the whole thing for me.”

The resulting book is nearly devoid of juicy insider gossip—never Wernick’s style—but full of pithy advice to political leaders in general. “If you can end a meeting early and gain a sliver of time,” he tells prospective prime ministers, “get up and leave.” And, elsewhere, “It is rarely to your advantage to meet the premiers as a group.” And, ahem, “The longer you are in office, the more courtiers you will attract.”

From various perches in the senior ranks of the public service, Wernick watched three prime ministers land in the top job and try to figure out how to govern. “There is a skill set involved in governing,” he said. “We seem to expect people to learn that skill set on the job quickly, without a lot of help.”

And yet the days after a gruelling election campaign are nearly the worst time to be starting a new job. “One of the things I try to emphasize is the human element of it. People come in off an election campaign, exhausted. Physically exhausted. And in a state of considerable disruption. Often they’re new to being a minister. They’re also new to being an MP. They have to make decisions about their family, relocate or not to Ottawa. They’re changing locations. They’re changing careers, fundamentally. And I was always warning public service colleagues, ‘You have to allow for that. Allow for some of that exhaustion and shock.’”

New governments have only a few weeks to get up to speed. And habits that are formed early are not likely to be substantially revised later, with the benefit of hindsight. By then it’s too late. “The Prime Ministers I saw settled into the job very quickly. But then it’s hard to change. They get into a comfort zone or routines and patterns. It’s a very human thing to do. So part of my purpose in the book is just to say, ‘Pause and be a little bit mindful of the how of governing before it all gets locked in.’”

One of the recurring themes in Wernick’s book is how little time everyone has. A federal cabinet will have 100 hours in a year for all of its plenary discussions. Maybe 120. It’s never enough. “It’s overbooked from day one until the day they leave. And you’re always making choices: to do one thing means not doing something else. And mindful management of the allocation of time is really important. It can get away on you.”

The cabinet is going to need a lot of help. That was Wernick’s job, and that of all his bureaucratic colleagues, as well as countless political staff, operating with different aims and methods. “When it works well, you have a certain balance in what I call a triangle between the decision-maker—could be the PM, could be a minister—the support network they get from the public service, and the support network that they get from the political side.”

Sometimes the triangle gets out of balance. “The system gets into trouble when the public service tries to anticipate politics too much. And it clearly gets into trouble when the political side starts trying to run departments administratively. If people keep in their swim lanes and understand each other’s roles, each can add something. I always found it irritating when people chided ministers for being political. They’re supposed to be political in a democracy.”

I asked Wernick about a favourite Ottawa worry, that the public service is losing its ability to generate new ideas and policies. He didn’t bite. “I think there’s a little bit of a mythology that there was some other time when the great and good mandarins of the town—all white males, by the way—generated the ideas and pushed them towards the political system,” he said.

“I think there’s a competing narrative that the policy space is much more open and inclusive than it ever was. The costs of entry are much lower. Anybody with a laptop and a Google account can be a policy analyst. When I joined government, we had a quasi-monopoly on the ability to run big simulation models on income-security programs. Now many university professors can do it better.”

Besides, “I don’t think it’s really the role of the public service to be the originator of new ideas. Those usually come from democratic politics: ‘We wish to decriminalize cannabis.’ And then you work through the problem of how to do it competently.”

Governing Canada includes some pointed advice to cabinet ministers about the fact that they’re probably not going to get a chance to choose the date of their departure from politics. Prime ministers and voters have a way of making those decisions quickly and at inconvenient moments. Did I detect an autobiographical element to these passages?

“That’s largely true of clerks and public servants as well,” Wernick said. “Or hockey coaches. Like, there’s a lot of job jobs where you can’t arrange a perfectly-timed departure. I’m not the only person who’s been backed into a corner where it was impossible to continue to do the job. It’s unfortunate, but it happened.”

“But it’s happened to other people. Circumstances get away on people. People fall into all sorts of things that make it untenable for them to continue in the job.”

When things got weird for Wernick, did he draw any comfort from those earlier examples?

“No. I mean, that’s not the way I’d put it. I was conscious, during those last few months, that I was drifting towards a zone where I couldn’t do the job anymore. I was becoming part of the story. You have to enjoy at least some basic level of trust from the opposition leaders. I didn’t have that. And that just made it impossible to carry on.”

If he had a do-over, would he handle SNC-Lavalin differently? “That’s probably for another day, in another interview. I did not pick up on some of the warning signs about the trouble that was coming…. But I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. You work and live in the moment and you do the best you can at the time.”

I tried one more question that was a little closer to the concrete example of the current government than to the trends and aphorisms Wernick’s book prefers. In the book, he writes to a hypothetical prime minister: “You will not be successful if you hang on to the same closed circle of close advisors and confidants for your whole time in office. There is an inevitable drift into a comfort zone and a form of groupthink that can create blind spots and put you at risk.”

Gee, did he have anyone in mind?

Butter would not melt in Wernick’s mouth as he told me he had no examples from current events. “The example I was actually drawing on was Stephen Harper in 2011. You know, the opposition leaders [Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh, in the election that had not yet happened when Wernick and I spoke] probably have a transition team, who will give them some advice on how to set things up. And I worked with Derek Burney from the Harper team, and Mike Robinson from the Martin team, and Peter Harder from the Trudeau team.” Those new governments are always “very conscious and mindful about how they want to set things up.” But re-elected prime ministers “tend to just start up again, with the same people in the same processes. People have argued, and I think I agree, that Stephen Harper missed an opportunity in 2011, to pause and think.

“I would say to any Prime Minister, when they’re going into a second or third mandate: ‘You should pause. It’s going to be different. Think about the processes and the people.’”

Source: Michael Wernick has some advice

CPC Platform: Immigration-related plans and some missing parts

Will be preparing a comparative table when the platforms of other parties are out. While Conservatives have five priority themes: jobs, accountability, mental health, strategic stockpile of vaccines and PPE, and economy, the platform contains a myriad of commitments across most areas.

The immigration section is also detailed, covering the following themes: “addressing administrative backlogs, fixing a broken visitor visa system, innovation efficiency and cultural sensitivity, strengthening credential recognition, family reunification, super visas, pathways to permanence, advancing Canada’s interests, reforming Canada’s broken refugee system, and securing our border.”

Striking what is missing: no reference to citizenship and multiculturalism, racism reference pertain to Diefenbaker), no substantive references to diversity and inclusion, no reference to employment equity, no reference to antisemitism or Islamophobia, discrimination references limited to the CAF and (again) to Diefenbaker. Anti-Asian hate including in section “Standing up to China’s aggression.”

The other initial observation is the platform is silent on the question of levels, likely given that any suggestion of reduced levels would provide the other parties an opportunity to paint the CPC as anti-immigrant (unfairly, IMO).

Source: https://www.conservative.ca/plan/

Paul Well’s take:

Increasingly I think detailed campaign platform documents are terrible for governance.

They shackle entire governments, struggling with the unimaginable realities of life three years from now, to the best guesses a few campaign strategists were able to make last month. They crowd out the civil service’s policy-development function, because the first thing a new PM’s transition team says to the Privy Council Clerk who greets them is, “Shush. Do all of this.” They discourage agility amid changing circumstances because everyone’s busy ticking off stale boxes so they can run for re-election on “promise made, promise kept.” They practically guarantee fiscal trouble because who’d ever campaign on an appropriately pessimistic outlook for the economy?

Fie on the whole mess. The best way to run for high office would be to say, “You know me. Meet my team. Do we seem solid? Count on us to handle whatever comes our way.”

Of course I’m outvoted. Constantly. Whatever their worth as blueprints for government, thick platforms often work a charm in campaigns, especially if the goal is to rebut widespread worry that the leader in question is a lightweight or a nutbar. Modern campaign credibility-building was invented by Jean Chrétien’s Liberals in 1992 with Creating Opportunity: The Liberal Plan for Canada, instantly dubbed the Red Book. It transformed Chrétien from a yesterday’s man without a clue to a big thinker with an eye for detail. “It’s in there. Read it,” he’d say. Ontario’s provincial Conservatives under Mike Harris won power back in 1995, after a decade of Liberal and NDP governments, with the Common Sense Revolution pamphlet. And Justin Trudeau did a lot in 2015 to parry perceptions that he was a lightweight with Real Change: A New Plan For a Strong Middle Class (.pdf here). And even though each of those documents would have occasion to cause grief for its authors, they all worked, so they’ve spawned a hundred more or less successful imitators over the years.

This year the emerging novelty is a preference for early platform launches, a repudiation of the notion that you should dribble out your announcements for weeks on end, maintaining suspense and keeping campaign reporters from getting bored. Jagmeet Singh’s NDP went for a big bang last week with the release of the party’s entire platform, Ready For Better. And on Monday Erin O’Toole did the same, releasing the entire platform (Canada’s Recovery Plan) on the campaign’s first full day. Well, all of it except the costing: since it’s up to the Parliamentary Budget Office to check costing claims, and they couldn’t do that in a timely fashion because of the snap election, the costing will come later, Conservative campaign strategists told reporters on Monday. Meanwhile, apparently everything O’Toole is promising is free! I kid.

The problem O’Toole seeks to address is that, to borrow the language I used a few paragraphs ago, lots of people worry he’s a lightweight and a nutbar. A lightweight because a lot of his public pronouncements until now have been comically low on detail—Justin Trudeau got NAFTA wrong, we need a plan, the debate is over, whatever random combination of fridge magnets you want to assemble. A nutbar because he campaigned as a “True Blue” and then discovered his party doesn’t believe the Earth is round, or some such.

Canada’s Recovery Plan (rejected title: Erin O’Toole’s Hail Mary Pass) is an attempt to answer every question anyone will ever have about O’Toole and his party. Surely a doomed attempt—it’s always easy to come up with more questions, this week often featuring the words “nasal swabs”—but ambitious in the trying nonetheless. It starts out a little pre-school (Actual quote from the first page of text: “What is Canada’s Recovery Plan? It’s a plan. A very detailed plan.” Gee thanks, Einstein). But before it’s done it sprawls across nearly twice as many pages as Trudeau’s 2015 platform. The word “detail” and its derivatives appears 54 times, often in chapter titles that read like so much grim found poetry: “A Detailed Plan to Lift Up Working Canadians/ A Detailed Plan to Support Working Families/ A Detailed Plan to Lower Prices/ A Detailed Plan to Tackle Home Prices,” and on and frickin’ on.

Another word frequently spotted in the thing is “support,” also a favourite of the Trudeau government, especially since COVID-19. In Trudeauspeak, “support” means “give money to,” and I suspect O’Toole swiped it to convey the impression this year’s Conservatives are more spendy than previous generations. “Support” and its derivatives appear 190 times in the CPC platform, including a record 23 appearances over the four pages from 108-111. What’s the beneficiary of this four-page burst of support? I was surprised to discover it’s the rest of the world, for it’s in his platform’s foreign-policy section that O’Toole feels most, um, uplifting.

Among the very many things he wants to support: “Taiwan’s participation in multilateral fora”; “a climate-conscious, clean alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative;” “regional security” across “Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and beyond;” “Israel’s existence as a sovereign democratic Jewish state” and “the aspirations of the Palestinian people and a two-state solution leading to a Palestinian state;” and “East Africa with data and infrastructure development.”

So the gauntlet is thrown. If you don’t vote Conservative this year, I guess you just don’t want a digital East Africa. It’ll be interesting to see whether this brick dominates O’Toole’s campaign or whether, having dropped it, he never mentions it again. I’ve seen both happen in various campaigns. It’s a drag that the Parliamentary Budget Officer hasn’t checked the Conservatives’ math, though they swear they’ll fix that in future editions, once the PBO reports. It’s close to a sure thing that amid all these words, there’ll be something to upset Conservatives’ opponents and probably also some supporters. Whatever happens next, at least, O’Toole can tell himself he left everything on the field, and indeed that he put it out there early.

Source: https://www.macleans.ca/politics/ottawa/erin-otoole-fills-in-blanks/

Rosie Abella said she’d answer questions when she turned 75

Good long interview by Paul Wells.

Money quote regarding her 1984 employment equity report:

What Abella knew was that she didn’t much like examples from American jurisprudence. “It was based on the individual. No concept of membership in groups as defining identity, as defining equality.” The more she thought about it, the more Abella decided that one concept of equality—simply treating everyone the same—constituted a dead-end path. “I thought, equality, to me, is not sameness. Civil liberties are sameness. Everyone should have the same right in their relationship with the state to be treated as well as the leaders. There is no such thing as ‘more rights,’ vis-à-vis the state, for one individual over another.

“But that’s different from human rights, where you are treated a certain way because of the groups you belong to. So if you are a woman, if you are a Muslim, if you are Jewish, if you are disabled, people treat you based on your identity. And so I thought, you can’t say, ‘Treat everyone the same.’ If you treat everyone the same, the person in a wheelchair is treated like the person who’s able-bodied, and there’s no need for a ramp, if you’re going to treat everybody the same.

“So it occurred to me that what equality really was, was acknowledging and accommodating differences. So people could be treated as an equal and not excluded arbitrarily for things that had nothing to do with whether or not they could contribute to the mainstream.”

This philosophy is encapsulated in a quote from the French poet Anatole France that opens Abella’s commission report, which she has cited frequently in her work since: “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread.” She would define a different law, less majestic and more alert to nuance. She coined a new term, “employment equity,” to describe “programs of positive remedy for discrimination in the Canadian workplace.”

The first surprise was when Flora MacDonald, Brian Mulroney’s employment minister, called Abella and said the Progressive Conservative government would implement the report’s recommendations. Another surprise came when countries around the world began to adapt elements of the report to their local circumstances.

Source: Rosie Abella said she’d answer questions when she turned 75

Wells: Who should get a monument? Meet the Canadian man trying to answer the question.

Of interest and relevance given ongoing debates and discussions:

Circumstances have a way of giving meaning to seemingly odd choices. Ten years ago, Ken Lum was an important figure in the Vancouver art scene. Then, without much fanfare, he wasn’t around anymore. But when the long summer of 2020 turned into a global debate about race, memory and commemoration, it turned out Lum was in a vital, important place. In fact, he’d been getting that place ready for years.

In 2012, Lum and historian Paul Farber co-founded Monument Lab, a think tank in Philadelphia that asks what we’re trying to do when we build monuments in public places to historical figures and events.

In the United States in 2012, the political purpose of monuments was already a long-standing debate. It’s just that a lot of people hadn’t noticed. In the years that followed, as controversies over the Confederate flag and monuments to Civil War-era secessionist generals took centre stage in a succession of national controversies, it became harder to ignore the questions Monument Lab exists to raise.

“It started as a pedagogical project,” Lum says in an online interview from his home in the Philadelphia Main Line, a suburb where the 1940 Katharine Hepburn-Cary Grant comedy The Philadelphia Story was set.

“I was teaching a class on observations I had made on my first visit to Philadelphia as a new Philadelphian, regarding the unevenness of the monumental inventory, if I can put that way, of the city.”

Lum had moved to Philadelphia in 2012 to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania’s school of design. Over the course of his first summer in the city where the Liberty Bell resides, he had a chance to see many of Philly’s most famous monuments. Ben Franklin, William Penn, Commodore John Barry, all the greats.

Except maybe not all of them? “Philadelphia had over a thousand statues and, at that time, not a single officially sanctioned full-figure African American—in a city that’s 40 per cent African American,” Lum recalls. “And also in the city where John Coltrane, Marian Anderson, Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson”—the legendary jazz saxophonist and three singers, each among the greatest American artists, all Black—“grew up or spent a lot of time. So I became very interested in who gets heeded and who doesn’t get heeded.”

In various ways, Lum has made a career of asking questions about who gets heeded and who doesn’t. If such things can be measured and quantified, Lum was one of Vancouver’s leading artists when he left for Philly. A soft-spoken man with a subtle but persistent mischievous streak, he grew up in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood and started studying art in his spare time near the end of a difficult undergraduate degree in other subjects. His early experience in art had not been encouraging. “I took art class from Grades 8 to 9 but stopped when the art teacher admonished me for making what he called ‘weird’ images,” Lum writes in the preface to Everything Is Relevant, an essay collection he published in 2020. His teacher “had very strong ideas about what art was and would criticize me harshly for not following his instructions to the letter.” Young Ken would have needed his teacher’s permission to study tenth-grade art, so he gave up.

Eventually he made a career doing the sort of thing that infuriated that middle-school art teacher. Lum’s art is, to some extent, a set of challenges to other people’s strong ideas about what art is. Uninterested in displays of technical skill, he hires tradespeople or buys commercial products to complete his works. His “furniture sculptures” are just that, arrangements of rented furniture. His best-known piece in his hometown is his 2010 Monument for East Vancouver, a neon cross in the form of an image from graffiti art that’s been scrawled on walls and underpasses in the city’s east side since before Lum was born. The A in EAST intersects with the A in VAN, as on a Scrabble board. For a decade the monument has served as a kind of gateway to the neighbourhood.

At times, Lum has seemed to be involved in the design of monuments even without meaning to. In 1990, he was invited to contribute to the opening exhibition of a new contemporary art centre in Rotterdam, Netherlands, the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art. One piece he contributed was billboard-sized, a photo of a young woman working an old-fashioned adding machine. The caption is as big as the photo and not subtle: “MELLY SHUM HATES HER JOB.” It was a wry commentary on contemporary workplaces, and its tenure in Rotterdam was meant to be temporary. The museum hung it on the street outside. When the exhibit ended, people called to complain that Melly had vanished. “Every city deserves a monument to people who hate their job,” one caller said. So the museum put Lum’s piece of art back up.

Then, quite recently, things took a surprising turn. The Witte de With Centre was named after the street it is on, which in turn was named after a 17th-century colonial Dutch naval officer who got rich ensuring the Netherlands could efficiently plunder various colonial territories. (As a grim bonus, his name translates as “Whiter Than White.”) The museum decided to change its name, and asked visitors for ideas. The winning suggestion was that it be named after Melly Shum. So since the beginning of 2021, it’s been called the Kunstinstituut Melly, or the Melly Art Institute.

While that entirely accidental process was playing out, Lum and Farber were setting up the Monument Lab. At first the organization was nothing more than a set of questions: what’s a monument? Who decides? Could it be done better? Farber is an academic historian; he wanted to write something. “I was more interested in, ‘Well, how can we make an exhibition out of it?’ ” Lum says. What would the venue be? Lum said the city of Philadelphia itself could be the venue.

In 2015, they set up an office outside city hall and asked visitors, “What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?” Eventually teams of volunteers fanned out across the city to ask the same question. Participants wrote their ideas on file cards. Eventually, more than 4,000 ideas were collected.

Eleven of the proposals were for monuments to soldiers of one kind or another. Sixty-eight proposed monuments to peace, and the word “peace” appeared in 168 proposals. Education was a topic in 173 proposals, the environment in 342. The proposals were sometimes highly specific, and suggested an idea of history at times starkly at odds with the one generations of Philadelphia city elders had promoted. Thirty-five people suggested a monument to commemorate the 1985 firebombing of MOVE, a Black separatist group. During an extended standoff, police helicopters dropped incendiary bombs onto the group’s headquarters. The resulting fire killed 11 people, including five children, and destroyed 65 houses.

To Lum and his colleagues, the desire for a MOVE commemoration suggested people wanted more than a procession of ramrod-straight soldiers in their public squares. “That suggested to us that the citizens, members of a public, which is heeded enough—they have longer memories and a greater sense of decency than the city itself, right?”

A man takes a selfie in front of Thomas’s sculpture of a 12-foot Afro pick, called All Power to All People, in view of a statue of Philadelphia’s former mayor and police commissioner Rizzo (Matt Rourke/AP/CP)

Monument Lab’s staff published the results of its inquiries as a report to the city. “The way we often talk about existing monuments and public history may severely limit our perception and reinforce the status quo,” they wrote. “We contend that it is not enough to simply say this knowledge is obscure or lost, or that it needs to be discovered or recovered by someone in the future. We must listen and take in what is already common knowledge: an expanded field of history that lives within people and places throughout the city.”

That’s one of the questions you can ask about monuments: who gets heeded, in Lum’s phrase. Another question is how. Big, realistic full-body statues sometimes make sense. There’s been one of those for Joe Frazier in Philly since 2015, an overdue real-life counterpart to the statue of Rocky, the movie boxer, that’s stood in various parts of the city since 1980. But sometimes the depiction can be more oblique or allusive. In 2017, Monument Lab invited 20 artists to build temporary new monuments around the city. Detroit artist Tyree Guyton put dozens of paintings of clocks around every side of a five-storey building: a meditation on time and its different meanings for different people.

Hank Willis Thomas, from Brooklyn, made a 12-foot Afro pick, the distinctive comb that became a symbol of Black pride in the 1970s, and stuck its tines into the ground in front of the Philadelphia municipal services building. For a time it stood within sight of a long-standing statue of Frank Rizzo, a brutal former police commissioner who was Philadelphia’s mayor through the 1970s. Running for a third term, Rizzo urged supporters to “Vote white.” In June 2020, the Rizzo statue came down; the current mayor, Jim Kenney, called his predecessor’s rule “among the worst periods” in the city’s history. Thomas’s giant Afro pick, meanwhile, is part of the permanent collection at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

The debates that fuel Monument Lab’s work have their parallels in Canada. As a Canadian, Lum follows these debates closely. Dundas Street and Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto are named for a Scottish politician who is viewed by many historians as having delayed the end of the British slave trade. James McGill owned slaves. Egerton Ryerson helped design the residential school system. “Canadians overestimate their benign circumstances,” Lum says, “but there’s a lot of pernicious harm that’s been done.” Should statues come down? Lum isn’t categorical on the question, but whatever happens in every case, there should at least be more discussion and fewer resorts to the notion that monuments, as “history,” are eternal and inviolate.

“I think it’s a testament to a country’s fortitude and character that you can actually say something that is actually true” about the checkered past of previously lionized figures, he says. “It’s not like it’s being made up, or we’re impugning a country for its own sake, right? It’s not like these facts are somehow contrived.”

As most historians would acknowledge, history is about the present as well as the past. Perspectives change. “The whole project” of Monument Lab “is to un-fix the monument, right?” Lum says. “The authority of the monument. I think that’s really important because we tend to bestow this authority upon monuments, as something consensually derived, when in fact it’s particular to certain interests over other people. It’s a reflection of the distribution of power.”

The post Who should get a monument? Meet the Canadian man trying to answer the question. appeared first on Macleans.ca.

Wells: Emmanuel Macron, l’ENA, and the old weird France

Interesting take by Paul Wells:

We haven’t updated you on French President Emmanuel Macron in a while. It’s not going great. The next presidential election is a year away and polls suggest Macron could lose to Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist Ralliement National, the successor to her father Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National. The older Le Pen made it to the second round of presidential elections in 2002, the younger in 2017. Each time respectable opinion told French voters they must vote against Le Pen to save the Republic; both times voters did as they were told. The second time the result was Macron’s presidency. He can’t be sure it will work again. He’d become France’s third consecutive one-term president. His successor would open a can of worms. A belated sequel to Trump and Brexit.

Macron needs to get his mojo back. His choice of project is surprising. Last week he announced the closure of France’s École nationale d’administration, or ENA. It’s a graduate school for the bright young men and women who will form the senior ranks of France’s public service. Four of its graduates have become president. Nine have been prime minister. Countless others run government departments, city halls, banks, retail giants, museums. Because énarques (as ENA alumni are called) are so superbly adaptable—super-generalists, the Swiss army knives of the country’s management apparatus—they tend to flit from one job to another, with little apparent connection between positions except that each is the sort of job an énarque would have.

L’ENA is also the school Macron attended. The school that made his presidency possible, certainly the only thing that made his presidency possible. There’s drama in this assault on what made him. Something almost oedipal. It’s like when Ralph Klein had the Alberta hospital where he was born demolished. It’s as if Justin Trudeau had closed McGill University, or some ski lodge at Whistler, or whatever made him what he is today. Twenty-four Sussex? Actually, come to think of it, he has closed 24 Sussex. Hey, wait a minute…

But I digress. To an outsider, it’s hardly obvious why a stalled politician would close a fancy school. The answer hardly seems to match the question. The explanation lies in the distinctive place l’ENA occupies in the French cultural myth. As for why Macron would be the guy who’d decide to pull the trigger… well, therein lies a tale. For one thing, his reform project goes back quite literally to the day Macron graduated from the school 17 years ago.

This will take some telling. I’ve met a number of énarques. The school admits foreign students, so the odd Canadian gets in and graduates. French graduates sometimes find themselves posted to the stately French embassy on Sussex Drive, next door to 24. The current ambassador, Kareen Rispal, just won a prize for alumnae who dedicate themselves to advancing women’s rights. Énarques are, with no exception that I’ve met, cool, eloquent, poised in complex situations. Absolutely superb talkers, but not pushy. They know they’ll get their chance to shine. They always have. I once got invited to speak to alumni of the ENA and one of its main feeder schools, the Institut d’Etudes politiques de Paris, which I attended for a year on a lark ages ago. I’ve rarely been so nervous before a speaking gig.

To get into l’ENA, you have to pass a tough battery of written and oral exams on law, economics, public finances, current events, the European Union and more. Students typically study for a year at a prominent university simply to prepare for the exams. If you fail you’re free to try again the following year, but there is no other recourse or appeal. French higher education is bracingly unsentimental. One of Nicolas Sarkozy’s speechwriters famously failed the entry exam three times as a young man and has carried an epic grudge against the place ever since.

Students spend two school years at the school, divided between courses in Paris, courses at the seat of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and work terms in government departments. At the end, another brutal round of exams. If you finish in the top 15 of a class of 100-odd, you get to pick your spot in the most prestigious departments in government. Finish much lower and you may wonder whether l’ENA was worth the trouble.

The point of it all is that social connections are no help. You can’t survive all these tough exams because you come from the right family or you have the right accent. L’ENA was founded in 1945 as France crawled from the rubble of occupation and liberation. The old French civil service was like old bureaucracies everywhere: file clerks, stenographers and power brokers who landed jobs for life because they knew someone or had a cousin return a favour. A prewar minister of education, Jean Zay, came up with plans for a school to replace all this cronyism and inertia with something more merit-based. An elite public-service corps, chosen by merit and trained with care. But after the Nazi invasion Zay was arrested by the collaborationist Vichy regime for resisting the occupation and for being a Jew. In 1944 he was murdered by the Nazi-collaborating militia. Soon after France’s liberation Charles de Gaulle put Maurice Thorez, the former French Communist Party leader who’d become the minister for the public service, in charge of implementing Zay’s plan.

Within a decade the énarques were key to a highly-planned postwar economy. By the ’60s there were signs of resentment. For all its egalitarian inspiration, the school had a knack for collecting and promoting cohorts that looked a lot like the same old hereditary leadership class. In France as anywhere else, money buys tutors, quiet study time, and connections that shape your life before the entrance exam even if they don’t play a direct role after. That sense of resentment, of a reform that had entrenched privilege instead of erasing it, deepened over time.

Each graduating class at l’ENA holds a party early on to select a name for their promotion, or graduating class. It’s an emblem of the solidarity that comes from shared stress. The class of 1949 was the Promotion Nations unies, after the United Nations. Later classes named themselves after writers (Tocqueville, Proust) or politicians (de Gaulle, the ’70s West German Chancellor Willy Brandt). Some promotions achieve legendary status. The promotion Voltaire, class of 1980, was legendary: it produced a president, François Hollande; a presidential candidate, Hollande’s longtime partner Ségolène Royal; and a prime minister, Dominique de Villepin.

But then along came Macron, who arrived in 2002 and graduated in 2004. There were already magazine articles about Macron’s class at l’ENA before anyone suspected he would be a presidential candidate. The charming kid from the northern city of Amiens didn’t particularly stand out in a class of rapid climbers who moved into key posts in government and business soon after they graduated in 2004. Here’s the piece in French Vanity Fair from 2014. Twenty members of the class of 2004 were already chiefs of staff or senior advisors to government ministers, it says. Others ran insurance companies or worked at the United Nations. “Their names aren’t known to the general public but they constitute what must be considered a rising power network. And there’s no reason to think they’ll stop there, when it’s all going so well.” Much of the material for my own article, the one you’re reading, comes from Les Jeunes Gens, a book that the Vanity Fair article’s author, Mathieu Larnaudie, published after Macron’s 2017 election.

From their first days at l’ENA, the class of 2004 had a sense of themselves as a unique group, blessed—and tested—by their good fortune. Things were happening.

On April 21, 2002, Jean-Marie Le Pen had been one of two winners in the first round of the country’s presidential election. He soon lost big to Jacques Chirac in the run-off, but the unprecedented breakthrough by a far-right populist seemed an unprecedented challenge to France’s Republican values. This was also the first class at l’ENA after Chirac abolished compulsory military service for young French men. A double cohort, comprising returning conscripts and men who’d never have to serve, swelled the class’s ranks (134 French students aiming for choice spots in the civil service, plus 51 international students) and made it more lopsidedly male than usual.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2003, France’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin (ENA 1980, promotion Voltaire) gave his speech at the United Nations opposing the Bush administration’s plans for war in Iraq. Here was France carving its own path, standing against the tide, putting Anglo-Saxon noses out of joint.

All these events seemed to pose questions to the young classmates: what’s France for in the world? What’s the nature of public service? Who owes what to whom in this world? The questions were all the more pressing because, looking around, it was pretty obvious to the bright young kids that many of them were born lucky and that the hard work had come later. One was the grandson of a legendary cabinet minister. Most came from prominent families. Their school was France’s highest-pressure meritocracy, but it wasn’t only that.

The class gave a hint that it might have a rebel streak when it came time to name itself. On a long, boozy night, a few surprising names for the promotion were proposed. One was “Les Héritiers,” after a 1964 book that described how France’s higher education system reinforced privilege instead of  opportunity. The group finally decided their class would be known forever as the promotion Léopold Sedar Senghor, after a Senegalese poet who, educated in Paris and elected to the prestigious Académie Française, became Senegal’s first democratically elected president.

But that gesture was nothing compared to the coup de théâtre the class of 2004 pulled off on the last day of school. Here was the moment when students would learn how they scored on the exams and the top 20 would have their pick of civil-service jobs. The highest-scoring student in the class—the major, in the lingo—was Marguerite Bérard, daughter of an énarque and another énarque, living with a classmate she would later marry, on her way to jobs as senior advisor to Sarkozy and then as a bank president. She accepted a handshake from the director of l’ENA and then handed him a 20-page manifesto, ENA: The Urgent Need for Reform, signed by 132 of the class’s 134 students. Emmanuel Macron, 6th in his class, was one of the signatories.

The surprise was complete. The school’s leadership was humiliated. The students all received letters from a French cabinet minister berating them for their cheek. They also received the jobs they wanted and the future the ENA had been built to deliver. But 17 years later, the most relentless and seductive and unstoppable member of the promotion Senghor is implementing the reform they called for on the day when it seemed they really could write their own future.

Will it make a difference? It’s hard to say. Macron has already announced that ENA will be replaced with a new Institute for Public Service, with more entry paths than the single round of brutal exams, but with the same exit ranking as the old school. Instead of going to central coordinating agencies of government, the new school’s top grads will have to get out into the country and work in departments that actually deliver services to citizens. My hunch is that to the great majority of French citizens, it’ll be a distinction without a difference: a factory for producing a leadership class that, after it finishes its stint on the ground, will go on to run everything else.

The option of replacing ENA with nothing—leaving France without a dominant dedicated public-service school, an absence that would make it more like Canada and a lot of other countries—seems not to have occurred to Macron. Old habits die hard, even in people who think they’re dedicated to change. I do hope Macron, or some other politician who shares a certain idea of France, beats the latest Le Pen next year. For all its quirks, indeed in most cases because of them, it’s still a great country.

Source: Emmanuel Macron, l’ENA, and the old weird France

Wells: Another farce on Bill Blair’s watch

Hard not to read this column by Paul Wells and not be discouraged. Why launch a process, led by a well-known expert, and then not provide the needed data and cooperate.

And even more shocking that Correctional Services Canada does not have any of the requested data on hand.

Fortunate that with immigration, IRCC has an abundance of data, and with diversity and representation, as does TBS, even if I sometimes complain and want more.

The GiC appointments index, on the other hand, bears some similarity to the issues raised in the case of Correctional Services Canada, in that there is no integrated spreadsheet of all appointments, only separate tables by organization, as I discovered when doing my baseline analysis in 2016 (Governor in Council Appointments – 2016 Baseline):

I’ve got my journalistic obsessions, Lord knows. But the notion that Bill Blair, the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, is in way over his head was not something I brought to this game. It’s a learned response. Lately it’s kind of getting locked in.

First there was the federal government’s response to April’s mass murder in Nova Scotia, which amounted to three months of silence and stonewalling, a botched announcement of an “independent review” that would have no power in law to compel testimony, and a hasty retreat after three days because basically everyone in Nova Scotia was saying in the newspapers what hundreds of them had been trying to tell Blair in private for months.

The hallmarks of this farce were unfamiliar but, in hindsight, look characteristic.  A long period of bland assurance that all is well in hand. (“We’ll put the processes in place to make sure that those answers not only are obtained for Canadians, but done in a way which is trustworthy,” Blair told Maclean’s in June. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but that’s my job.” Nice touch, that last bit.) The belated realization that actually, freaking nothing is happening. And finally, the headline-driven climb-down, accompanied by assurances that the minister was on top of things all along.

Fast forward to the strange case of Anthony Doob, Emeritus Professor of criminology at the University of Toronto. He’s 77, he’s in the Order of Canada, he’s one of the most-cited criminologists in the field. Last summer Blair’s predecessor Ralph Goodale put Doob in charge of a distinguished panel to monitor changes to solitary confinement in Canada’s federal prisons.

The change was part of Bill C-83, and it amounted to replacing “segregation units,” where inmates could be holed up alone for up to 22 hours a day if they were deemed dangerous to other prisoners or if they were under investigation for disciplinary infraction, with “structured intervention units (SIUs),” where they could be kept for up to 20 hours a day. Under the new law, summarized with its limitations in this article, inmates would also be given regular “meaningful human contact” with a counsellor, elder or other helpful person.

It’s a very modest improvement to treatment that’s been found systematically damaging to inmates’ prospects of rehabilitation—and, in some cases, to their lives. A succession of courts have found disciplinary segregation violated inmates’ Charter rights. Finally a B.C. Supreme Court justice gave the feds a year to fix the system.

The stakes were high. Section B of the court’s decision begins with a long discussion of whether extended solitary confinement constitutes torture. The judge sounds inclined to conclude it does.

So Bill C-83 was the Trudeau government’s coerced response to a legal obligation, not a spontaneous decision for reform. But Goodale appointed Doob and seven colleagues because he wanted to make sure the reform was working. The SIU review panel “will play an essential role in ensuring that the new SIU system achieves our goal of humane and effective corrections,” Goodale said then. He told the panel to “give ongoing feedback” to Correctional Services Canada during its one-year mandate—and to “alert the Minister directly” about any “problems or concerns” with the new system.

On Tuesday of this week, Professor Doob announced the panel no longer exists and that it had achieved nothing because Correctional Services Canada gave it no usable information and Bill Blair did nothing to help when Doob tried to tell him what was happening.

Justin Ling has reported on this over at Vice, and it’s been reported elsewhere, but I want to emphasize the Kafkaesque absurdity of the situation.

Usually when this government screws up, its defenders look around for somebody they can designate an outsider, spoiler, saboteur or wrecker, somebody who doesn’t understand the Trudeau government’s beautiful mission and who seeks to discredit it. A Jody Wilson-Raybould, a Jesse Brown, a Postmedia. That’s hard in this case because every player in this drama was appointed by this government: Blair, CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly, Doob and his fellow panelists.

From Doob’s final report (“We have essentially not been able to examine any aspect of the SIUs during their first 7-8 months of operation”) and a telephone conversation I had with Doob on Friday, the short version of what happened is as follows.

In mid-November, the panel told CSC it would need a set of information on every inmate transferred to an SIU: the inmate’s case history, the reasons for transfer, the maximum number of hours in the SIU in a 24-hour period, the average number of hours of confinement per day over the length of the stay, and so on. It was a long list of indicators, but that’s why Doob sent the list to CSC before the SIUs even opened in late November, and it’s why he asked for the first batch of data to be sent in February. This would take time. Updates would follow every two months.

The information the panel requested was “all things that were administrative in nature,” Doob said. “It’s stuff that is almost certainly in their files somewhere.” If anything he asked for wasn’t available, he’d adjust. “I’ve been working with quantitative data for 50 years. This is the sort of thing that happens all the time. And you don’t worry about it.”

Correctional Services gave no hint that any of this would be a problem.

In mid-February Doob contacted the agency to begin figuring out how the data would be transmitted to the panel, how inmate confidentiality could be respected, and so on. This is three months after he told them what he wanted and five months after the responsible cabinet minister called his work “essential.” Doob’s contact at CSC said the agency hadn’t yet decided whether it would give the panel any of the information it had requested.

This turn of events “came to the panel as a complete surprise,” Doob wrote mildly in his final report. After some back-and-forth to insist on the importance of the panel’s request and gauge the agency’s willingness to block, he wrote to CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly in mid-March—and to Bill Blair at the end of March. From Kelly, he received no reply. Not until she saw her name cc’d on the complaint to Blair. That got a request from her for a meeting. But it took most of April for the meeting to happen. Finally in late May, CSC delivered data to Doob.

That data was unusable. Instead of a single spreadsheet with comparable indicators for every inmate, there were more than 900 spreadsheets. And Doob quickly discovered that depending on the criterion, the number of cases varied. Which meant that there was no way to compare among cases or between criteria. “It was a pile of crap,” he told me. Remember, this is a guy who’s spent decades in the field.

Doob’s dismayed response led to CSC, an organization with 18,000 employees, coughing up one (1) data analyst to work with him on cleaning up the data. His report is very complimentary about this data analyst, but after she’d worked for six weeks, he sent CSC a report advising the agency that he had no systematic analysis because he’d been given no useful data for most of his panel’s time on this earth.

CSC received that report on July 21. By an agreement Doob had reached with the agency when his panel was formed, it had three weeks to respond. After three weeks it hadn’t responded. After three weeks and six days, Doob received a letter from a senior deputy commissioner saying, in effect, sorry for the crummy data, we’re in the process of transferring our data collection from a platform that no longer works to one that doesn’t work yet. On the bright side, CSC promised monthly updates. On the downside, members of Doob’s panel were reaching the end of their one-year mandates, a couple at a time because they hadn’t even been appointed at the same time.

On Tuesday, Doob sent Ottawa reporters his final report with a cover-letter broadside, via the office of Kim Pate, a (Trudeau-appointed!) Ontario Senator with a long career in criminal-justice reform. “Our panel no longer exists,” he wrote. And it wasn’t just a problem that it wasn’t given the information it needed. It’s a problem because the agency that jails a huge prison population seems uninterested in how they’re doing. “CSC is telling us that it does not have systematic information on the operation of its Structured Intervention Units and apparently never made the gathering of this information a priority.”

Remember Bill Blair? Remember how he had nothing to say when Doob warned him through official channels in March? He did now, once Doob made his concerns public. “There have been news reports on the Correctional Services of Canada’s work with an Implementation Advisory Panel,” a statement from Blair’s office read.

“It is amusing to me that they don’t even acknowledge that these ‘news reports’ come from a report (from our panel) that CSC had for weeks,” Doob writes in an annotated version of Blair’s statement that Doob has been sending reporters.

The statement rehashes some of the background of the panel and adds: “We have dedicated extra resources to expedite this request.” Doob’s response: “CSC itself, for its own purposes, should want to know how the SIUs are operating. They shouldn’t have to be pushed into getting these data by an independent panel. They should want to know. Hence the implication that we are requiring them to dedicate ‘extra resources’ is, quite frankly, offensive.”

At midweek, Doob received a telephone call from Blair. “He said to me, ‘I’d like you to do this job,’” said Doob, who had written to Blair five months earlier warning that he was not being permitted to do his job.

Doob still thinks it’s worth knowing whether a court-mandated and hastily-developed reform is achieving its ends. He still thinks somebody should do the work he tried to do. Will he, now? “I told [Blair] that a necessary condition would be that I actually have the data in front of me,” he says. Promises of data later aren’t enough.

But that’s what Doob needs before he’ll even consider doing for Blair the work Goodale assigned him, the work he’s spent all of 2020 trying to do. “That’s the necessary condition. I don’t know what the sufficient conditions would be. If they even exist.”

A few concluding thoughts.

Once at a public event, I met a staffer from the Prime Minister’s Office I didn’t know yet. This person worked on files related to science and research policy, a longstanding preoccupation of mine. “When you tweet about science policy, I wind up working all weekend,” this person said. Sure, it was flattering, and I’m sure it wasn’t meant as a rigorously truthful or complete statement. But it also struck me as a little odd. I’m not smart enough to write anything on science policy that I haven’t heard from researchers. Why would my tweet be the thing that provokes overtime shifts? Why not the scientists?

I thought about this conversation when I learned that a report from a duly-constituted government-appointed panel isn’t enough to get the responsible minister involved in the file—but a headline in Vice is. Blair’s call was “a response to what’s in the media,” Doob told me, “not to what I’ve sent the government.”

This is what many people who work with this government tells me. Public servants, consultants, NGOs. Official channels are useless. Process is window dressing. This government consults but doesn’t listen, and whatever the plan is, it’s never as useful to know the plan as it is to have the personal phone numbers of a half-dozen senior staffers so you can text one of them and urge an improvised change of plans.

A couple of weeks ago Rob Silver, a supremely well-connected Liberal working for a mortgage firm, was in the news for his attempts to secure a legislative change that would benefit his company. Silver’s overtures were fruitless and I offer no opinion on their propriety, but he plainly knew what you need to do if you want to get something done in this town: Call Mike McNair, call Elder Marques, call Justin To. Write a letter to the minister? Don’t be old-fashioned.

When Anne Kelly became the Commissioner of Correctional Services Canada, Ralph Goodale wrote her a public mandate letter. “I encourage you to instil within CSC a culture of ongoing self-reflection,” he wrote, amusingly in hindsight. “This includes: regularly reviewing policies and operations to identify what works and change what does not… and welcoming constructive, good-faith critiques as indispensable drivers of progress.”

But in a government in which only a handful of staffers can actually make a decision, very few people in any department have the kind of autonomy Goodale was hoping Kelly would exercise. When the decision-making pipeline is no thicker than the PMO, and every particle of communication is the product of a chain involving dozens of staffers and bureaucrats reaching across government, nobody has the right to decide. So nobody is accountable for their decisions.

I don’t just mean that in the negative sense that nobody is sanctioned for a bad decision. I mean nobody has the authority to make a good decision. Things just happen. Or they just don’t. In a real sense, we’re not governed. We’re just given a constant runaround by people who, in many cases, would prefer not to be part of the immense machine delivering the runaround. Which is how a panel appointed to answer a basic question — has Canada stopped torturing people yet? — could work for a year and find no answers. And somehow it’s nobody’s fault. Not even Bill Blair’s, I guess.

Source: Another farce on Bill Blair’s watch

Online registrar threatens to drop anti-immigration website

Of note.

Brimelow, if I recall correctly, was mentioned by Paul Wells in his The Longer I’m Prime Minister as having an influence in his decision to replace the 2011 Census with the less accurate National Household Survey:

An internet registrar is threatening to delist a website that is a leading promoter of white nationalist and anti-immigration views, a move that could make the site accessible only to diehard users willing to use a special browser to find it on the dark web.

Network Solutions’ parent company, Web.com Group, notified a civil rights group on Friday that it has “taken steps” to terminate the company’s account for VDARE.com, which would make it unreachable on the public internet unless it can find another provider willing to register the domain name.

VDARE remained online Monday. The website has until Thursday to transfer the domain before Network Solutions may delete its services, a parent company lawyer said in a letter to a VDARE attorney last week.

In April and in May, the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent letters urging Network Solutions to drop VDARE. Kristen Clarke, the Washington, D.C.-based group’s president and executive director, wrote that VDARE peddles “anti-immigrant and anti-Black hate,” spreads misinformation about the coronavirus and encourages violence against migrants.

“This is part of our ongoing work to confront the ways in which hate activity festers online,” Clarke said Monday. “We know that many white supremacists and extremists are not organizing in basements. They are using these platforms and websites to spread their dangerous ideologies, target victims and incite violence.”

In Friday’s response to Clarke, a company attorney said VDARE’s content “does not represent the values of our organization” and violates its “Acceptable Use Policy.” The policy bars customers from using its domains “to display bigotry, racism, discrimination, or hatred in any manner whatsoever,” the same company attorney said in a letter to a VDARE lawyer last week.

VDARE founder and editor Peter Brimelow said his site’s content hasn’t changed in the 20 years that it has been a Network Solutions customer.

“Censorship is just intensifying,” he wrote in an email on Monday. “We’re still working on a replacement, but there is certainly a chance we’ll have to go dark for at least a couple of days. And anyway we have no confidence that any US-based site will stand up to the PC lynch mob for long.”

Many websites that publish white nationalist, white supremacist or anti-Semitic material have struggled to stay online or been booted off mainstream internet platforms, often after violent attacks by far-right extremists.

Google and GoDaddy yanked The Daily Stormer’s web address after the neo-Nazi website’s founder, Andrew Anglin, published a post mocking the woman killed when a man drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Social media platform Gab, where the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre spewed anti-Semitic messages before the 2018 shooting rampage, was briefly knocked offline after registrar GoDaddy and others dropped the site. Gab returned after a Seattle-based company, Epik, agreed to register it.

Users spewed anonymous hate on 8chan, an online message boar d, until a string of mass shootings by gunmen who posted manifestos on the site led to it getting forced offline in August 2019. The disruption ended when the imageboard relaunched in November under the new name 8kun.

This isn’t the first time VDARE has been dropped by a technology company. Facebook announced last month that it removed accounts linked to VDARE and other groups, including pages devoted to the QAnon far-right conspiracy theory.

Brimelow sued The New York Times Company in January, claiming the newspaper defamed him by referring to him as an “open white nationalist.” The suit seeks at least $5 million in damages.

Last Thursday, newspaper lawyers urged a federal court in New York to throw out the lawsuit, accusing Brimelow of playing “word games about how his fringe views should be characterized.”

“Brimelow has promoted theories at the heart of white nationalism and white supremacy, including that certain races are predisposed to commit crime and that IQ is linked to race,” they wrote.

Brimelow has denied that his website is white nationalist but acknowledged it publishes works by writers who fit that description “in the sense that they aim to defend the interests of American whites.”

Brimelow also operates a Connecticut-based nonprofit, VDARE Foundation, which raised more than $1.8 million in tax-exempt gifts, grants and contributions between 2014 and 2018, according to an IRS tax filing.

Source: Online registrar threatens to drop anti-immigration website

Wells: Let’s reopen Ontario and Quebec. You go first.

I am always impressed by the sophisticated understanding of Paul Wells when it comes to how governmental decision-making and his avoidance of overly simplistic arguments of many commentators (he calls out some). Just as he did in The doomed 30-year battle to stop a pandemic, a welcome dose of reality and constraints, where governments have accountability unlike those writing opinion columns:

At last the day came when the politely populist premiers of Ontario and Quebec—the provinces where four-fifths of Canada’s COVID-19 patients reside—announced their plans to roll away their stone and step into the post-pandemic light.

The plans were nearly empty and the premiers looked terrified.

The Ontario document, A Framework for Reopening Our Province, has timelines that mention no date after April 27, which was the day the document was released. It listed three phases: “Protect and Support,” which is what’s been happening; “Restart,” which theoretically comes next; and “Recover,” which in theory will happen someday. The “Restart” phase is described in conspicuously belts-and-suspenders terminology: a “careful, stage-by-stage approach” during which “public health and workplace safety will remain the top priority” and “public health officials will carefully monitor” whether there are new outbreaks “for two-to-four weeks.” The big question: “whether it is necessary to change course” and essentially revert to the current cave days.

This next phase will kick in when cases are durably declining, hospitals can handle any influx of new cases, and public-health tracing can follow any new cases. The second of those boxes, mercifully, has probably already been ticked. The third may never be, because this is such a sneaky virus. Where is Ontario on the first? A reporter asked. Premier Doug Ford couldn’t say.

Quebec, the epicenter of the Canadian outbreak, has a slightly more concrete plan about which Quebec officials seemed commensurately less confident. “If we see that the situation isn’t under control, we’ll push the timetable back,” premier François Legault said. “The watchword will be prudence.”

Another watchword will also be regionalism. Montreal is in the very early stages of a decline in active caseload following what was, and in many ways remains, one of the worst outbreaks in North America. The rest of the province looks more like the rest of the country. So Legault is re-opening elementary schools and public daycares outside greater Montreal in two weeks, on May 11. In the Montreal region they’ll open a week later. High schools stay closed until September.

And even that timetable exaggerates the imminence of a post-COVID social era. Schools will reopen “if and only if” the situation doesn’t deteriorate from now to May 11, Legault said. And school won’t even be mandatory: “Parents who want to keep their children at home won’t be penalized in any way.”

It’s pretty easy to anticipate 72 hours of large-scale game theory beginning on May 9, as tens of thousands of parents use Facebook, Zoom and text messages to ascertain whether they’re better off sending the kids to school or keeping them home. Class sizes will, in any event, be capped at 15, essentially requiring some number of parents to keep their children out.

And after that? When does your local barber shop, dry cleaner, skate sharpener or driver’s license office open? We’ll see. It’s a far cry from the easy certainty of commentators like the  shock jocks on Quebec City radio and the more nuanced impatience of columnists in the Sun papers, which essentially delivered their readership whole to the Ford Conservatives.

It’s an impatience all of us have heard in family conversations. It’s an impatience most of us feel. You know the songbook as well as I do: Look, this is ridiculous, nobody signed on for global economic euthanasia, nobody was told in March that we’d still be here in May and maybe July and maybe January, everybody has to die of something, suicide and obesity and delayed surgery kill people too, and we’re pushing those numbers up as we try to tamp this one down. (Suddenly everyone’s a public-health ninja who knows more about all this than Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry.)

But it’s quite another matter to be the person in charge when the rubber hits the road. People are full of bravado for society and sometimes less so for their circle. Two weeks seems a reasonably manageable timeframe for a partial resumption of what was, after all, everyone’s everyday life until mid-March. But push it forward and make it personal: How do you feel about sending your own son or daughter back to school tomorrow? Are you ready for a family dinner this weekend? Everyone’s got to die of something, so how about Uncle Ned in late May by drowning in his own pulmonary fluids? That’s a harder call. It helps explain why the plans Legault and Ford released on Monday were, in Ford’s words, road maps and not timetables. And why it left some columnists, whose responsibility extends no further than their keyboards—I know, I live there too—righteously cranky.

The fact is, it’s hard to plan next steps because disaster continues despite the best efforts to contain it: 57 deaths in Ontario in one day, 84 in Quebec. Many more still to come. The closest parallel to this coronavirus in recent history was the 1918-19 flu outbreak, and that one was worse in the fall than it had been in the spring.

Legault and Ford aren’t even leading the process of deciding what happens next: like good populists, they’re being led by it, and if they looked worried on Monday it’s because they’re well aware there’s a shift change underway in the reopening debate. The debate was led until now by people who gain by sounding bold. They’re finding themselves outnumbered by people with everything to lose. Suddenly waiting doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

The battle against Quebec’s Bill 21

Good article by Paul Wells:

Sure, the leaders of Canada’s federal political parties didn’t have much to say during the election campaign when reporters asked what they planned to do about Quebec’s Bill 21. The law, which prohibits public servants in the province from wearing religious headgear and other symbols, is so popular politicians are reluctant to challenge it directly.

But that doesn’t mean nobody is challenging the law. Controversial laws usually find their way into a courtroom. One of the most pointed legal cases has been filed by the English Montreal School Board (EMSB), which released the text of its Quebec Superior Court challenge three days after the federal election.

Unfortunately, lately the English Montreal School Board is a bit of a mess. On Wednesday the Quebec government placed the board under trusteeship. Education minister Jean-François Roberge appointed Marlene Jennings, a former federal Liberal Member of Parliament, to take over the board’s management.

As further reaction to “an appalling situation” that included apparent contracting irregularities and the use of taxpayer money to buy alcohol and jewelry, Roberge handed the board’s financial statements over to the anti-corruption unit of the Sûreté du Québec.

This is all a handy reminder that history sometimes rests on unsteady shoulders. But the Quebec government is allowing the board to proceed with its Bill 21 challenge, which these days is just about the most popular thing the EMSB does.

Bill 21, “An Act Respecting the Laicity of the State,” was one of the first laws passed by the government of Quebec premier François Legault, the founding leader of the popular, centre-right Coalition Action Démocratique (CAQ) party. It sets out a long list of government-affiliated jobs—certain members of the legislature, police, prosecutors, teachers and others—whose holders are henceforth banned from wearing “religious symbols” on the job.

The law defines a “religious symbol” as “any object, including clothing, a symbol, jewellery, an adornment, an accessory or headwear” that is “worn in connection with a religious conviction or belief” or that is “reasonably considered as referring to a religious affiliation.” That’s really broad, but in practice it will most often be a device to keep female Muslim clerks, cops and teachers from wearing headscarves or veils at work.

At the end of October, before the government took most of the board’s powers away, I visited Montreal to discuss the impact of Bill 21 with EMSB officials. Angela Mancini, the board’s chairwoman, met me for breakfast.

Mancini said the board has had to turn down three teacher candidates it would otherwise have hired because Bill 21 doesn’t permit them to teach while wearing a headscarf. She worries about the message the law sends to students.

“When you tell a student that a teacher can’t wear her veil, or his kippa (a Jewish head covering for men) because it’s wrong, it’s almost like you’re telling them that when they wear those religious symbols, it’s a wrong thing. So we risk having a generation of students grow up thinking, if you wear a religious symbol, there’s almost something wrong with it,” she said.

Bill 21 is broadly similar to bills that were introduced by Quebec’s short-lived Parti Québécois government, led by then-premier Pauline Marois, in 2013 and, in milder form, by the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard in 2017. Defenders of such measures say it’s important for the Quebec government to show no religious preference in its relations with citizens. It’s often said to be justified by the fact that, until a half-century ago, Quebec was in many ways a Roman Catholic theocracy. The text of the law says it is “important that the paramountcy of State laicity”—an absence of religious affiliation—“be enshrined in Quebec’s legal order.”

The EMSB’s Mancini isn’t impressed. “I think the separation of state and religion has been going on for a while, regardless of whether teachers wear symbols in a classroom,” she said. “In my mind it goes back to fundamental rights. People are allowed to wear the symbols that they choose to wear.” In a school setting, parents and students should rest easy, she said. Wearing a headscarf or a crucifix “doesn’t mean teachers are going to impart” their religious convictions to their students, she said.

The board has retained the services of Power Law, a prominent Montreal firm, to challenge Bill 21. The lawyers’ argument is novel and promising, as we’ll see. And it’s probably for the best that the file has been turned over to outside experts, because Mancini and her colleagues have a lot of other concerns on their minds these days.

In January the majority on the board voted to cut Mancini’s pay from $38,000 to $10,000 after she missed a series of events in preceding months. She is unapologetic. “I’ve gone on record as saying I feel intimidated and harassed by certain members of the board,” she told Maclean’s.

The board was created in 1998 after a constitutional amendment replaced Catholic and Protestant boards in Quebec with French- and English-language boards. With 42,000 students, the EMSB is the largest English-language board in Quebec. Under Quebec’s language laws, only students whose parents were both educated in English in Canada, or the children of foreign professionals on short-term postings in Quebec, are permitted to receive an English-language education.

The EMSB’s administration has been factious for as long as the board has existed. In 2000 one commissioner attacked another, who had to be carried out on a stretcher and sent to hospital. But the board delivers results despite the fireworks, Mancini said. At 92 per cent, it has the province’s highest share of students who complete high school within seven years of beginning. The province-wide seven-year success rate is 79 per cent, well behind.

That record of school success despite distractions might bolster the board’s case in challenging Bill 21.

The board’s lawyers, Perri Ravon, Mark Power and Giacomo Zucchi, face a substantial obstacle: the law invokes the controversial “notwithstanding” clause of the 1982 Charter of Rights to affirm its effect despite the protections of Sections 2 and 7 through 15 of the Charter. Those are all the big Charter rights. Section 2 lists “fundamental freedoms” including freedom of conscience and religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, and free association. So you can’t tell a judge the law defies freedom of religion. The Quebec government has already made full use of its ability to say, “We know, but we’re doing this anyway.”

Ravon, Power and Zucchi need to shop further down, in more obscure regions of the Charter that the “notwithstanding” provision can’t reach, for support. They’ve settled on two paragraphs. Section 23 guarantees minority-language educational rights. The EMSB’s lawyers argue that Bill 21 “impermissibly infringes” the delivery of an education under Section 23, because it limits whom the board can hire and promote.

The lawyers’ second line of attack is more novel and promising. They point to Section 28 of the Charter, which demands that rights be delivered equally to both men and women. It’s a short paragraph: “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”

In the Charter’s 37 years, very little jurisprudence has built up around Section 28. Most of the action has been around Section 2, the sweeping guarantee of fundamental rights. And when Section 2 isn’t swept aside by the “notwithstanding” provision, which it almost never is, courts don’t need to consider Section 28. But in the case at hand, Section 28’s guarantee of gender equality may prove powerful indeed.

Ravon and her colleagues point out that 88 per cent of preschool and elementary teachers in the EMSB are women and that 53 per cent of all Muslim women in Canada, according to some public-opinion surveys, wear headgear. They further note that Simon Jolin-Barette, the cabinet minister who steered Bill 21 through the National Assembly, specifically restricted the law’s applicability to men when he said facial hair, such as the beards of Jewish or Sikh judges or police officers, is exempt from the law.

The government’s repeated assertion, the board’s lawyers write, is that Muslim women are “subjugated” into wearing religious garb. “No consideration is given to women’s agency and autonomy”—to the possibility that they simply want to dress as they do, the lawyers write.

The first two words of Section 28 are “notwithstanding anything.” Kerri Froc, an assistant law professor at the University of New Brunswick who’s made a career out of studying the parts of the Charter everyone else ignores, wrote her doctoral thesis on Section 28. She notes that it almost certainly trumps Section 33, the “notwithstanding” clause. A 1982 federal government guide to the charter calls Section 28 “one guarantee that cannot be overridden by a legislature or Parliament.”

What judges will do with all this, we’ll have to wait and see. To add to the EMSB’s internal struggles, there’s a government-imposed, potentially existential problem. Bill 40, another proposed law introduced by Legault’s CAQ government and making its way through the legislative process, aims to eliminate school boards in Quebec altogether. It’ll probably be law early in the new year.

Can the EMSB’s challenge to Bill 21 continue past the legal demise of the board that launched it? “Short answer: We don’t know,” an EMSB spokesman said when I asked.

Meanwhile, Bill 21 contains sunset provisions that protect the jobs of public servants who were already in place when the bill became law. In the school-board setting, that means teachers who wear headscarves can’t be hired (or promoted), but they can keep the jobs they already had.

On my visit to Montreal I visited Carlyle Elementary School, a richly multicultural school in the leafy northwestern Montreal suburb of Town of Mount Royal. I met Haniyfa Scott, a kindergarten teacher. She grew up a few kilometres from the school. She and her husband converted to Islam in the 1970s. She has adult daughters who were raised in the faith until they were 18, after which they could make their own choices. They have continued as observant Muslims.

Scott showed me an agenda she uses to keep track of plans and appointments, the sort of richly-decorated spiral-bound thing you see in schools all over. This one contains a note on one page which she read aloud to me. “Canada is multicultural. In 1971 we made a rule to be multicultural. People come here from the whole world. In Canada, we like to respect everyone.”

Scott looked up from the page. “Did the CAQ not read that? Did they not understand that?”

That’s actually the crux of the controversy, I reminded her. Supporters of Bill 21 intend it precisely as a rebuttal to multiculturalism “à la Trudeau,” a reference to the belief, widespread in Quebec nationalist circles, that Pierre Trudeau introduced his multiculturalism policy as a way to contain Quebec nationalism. The state has no religion, the argument goes. Multiculturalism’s prerogatives end, or should, where Quebecers’ collective right to define the terms of their distinct society begin.

Haniyfa Scott is skeptical of such claims. “I’m listening to you,” she said slowly as I repeated these arguments, then paused. “I don’t know. Talk is cheap. I don’t know.” She says she has a daughter with two young children, one of them a four-year-old girl. “She dresses just as I do. She goes on the bus or Métro every day, and she is never offered a seat. Never offered a seat. Doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? And it brings me to tears.”

As an emissary of the Quebec state, shouldn’t she be religiously neutral? “I don’t think I’m going to persuade anybody in my classes to become a Muslim. I don’t think I have that much influence. I might influence them to do better in their math or their language or study science, that’s what I would aspire to, but my job is not to convert anybody.”

I followed Scott into her classroom, where she quizzed a roomful of 5-year-olds on the sound the letter U makes. Some of them were mightily distracted by the presence of a Maclean’s photographer. None remarked on the wardrobe choices of their teacher, whom they’ve never seen dress otherwise. Around them, all unseen, swirled a political, social and legal controversy that won’t end anytime soon. The kids paid all of it no mind. Does the word “cup” have a U sound? Yes, they agreed solemnly, it sure does.

Source: The battle against Quebec’s Bill 21

Why Quebec’s Bill 62 is an indefensible mess: Wells

Another great analysis and critique by Paul Wells, going through the issues one-by-one:

Before we begin: Look, I’m one of the good anglos, the ones who’ve lived in Quebec (largely in French) (and enjoyed it), understand at least some of its distinct ways and can recite at least some of the catechism by heart. In this July column I walked readers through the Quiet Revolution and its revolt against the dominance of the Roman Catholic church, to help explain why attitudes toward so-called ostentatious religious signs are often different there. “The Quiet Revolution in Quebec was specifically a rebellion against religious influence,” I wrote then. “Progressive politics in many other parts of the country has been a politics of generalized tolerance; in Quebec progressive politics was often a politics of specific resistance.”

That column won respectful comments from many in Quebec and a long Reddit thread of the imagine-finding-something-so-reasonable-in-Maclean’s-of-all-places variety, along with heaps of scorn from some anglophone colleagues. Chris Selley at the National Post is still subtweeting.

Anyway, having thus re-established my credentials, I’m here to tell you that Bill 62, the so-called “Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality,” is a ludicrous claptrap that the government of Philippe Couillard should withdraw before it collapses in court under the weight of its own absurdity. Here’s why.

The bill ostracizes behaviour that isn’t religious. Obviously inspired, or provoked, by the face coverings worn by a tiny number of women in Quebec who profess the Muslim faith, the bill hasn’t the guts to say, “Muslim women shouldn’t cover their face.” So it says instead that nobody may cover their face. “Personnel members of bodies must exercise their functions with their face uncovered, unless they have to cover their face, in particular because of their working conditions or because of occupational or task-related requirements,” the bill says. “Similarly, persons receiving services from such personnel members must have their face uncovered.”

This means, as we’ve seen, that if you cover your face for any reason except workplace safety, you can’t do work for the Quebec government—or receive its services—for the duration of the covering. The justice minister, Stéphanie Vallée, has said that this extends to sunglasses. Surely scarves, ski hats and beards are a no-no too. All of which is odd, because this is supposed to be about religious neutrality—it says so right there in the bill’s title—and yet no provision restricts any specifically religious behaviour or garb.

It permits all sorts of religious behaviour. Since the bill limits only face covering, it establishes no prohibition against public servants wearing crucifixes, turbans, kippehs or indeed any Muslim-associated garment short of a veil. So in seeking to establish “religious neutrality,” it forbids things that aren’t religious and has no effect on a wide range of things that are. Faut le faire, as we say.

It tells a lie about Quebec. The bill’s tiny number of supporters—almost all of whom say it is insufficient in itself but that it serves as a kind of handy limbering-up exercise for the really repressive anti-headgear measures that must follow—purport that it is valuable because it reminds everyone that state actors must refrain from identifying their religion, because “the State has no religion.”

But the State isn’t Leviathan, the aggregate total of all human activity on its behalf. In a modern democracy, the State is plural. The state isn’t colourless: it has the skin of whichever bus driver or file clerk you’re talking to at the moment. It isn’t dimensionless: it is as tall or short as the judge or cop you’re facing. It isn’t even devoid of political opinion, for its members are free to vote. And it isn’t faithless in retail, only wholesale. While the Quebec government has no established religion—never mind the crucifix over the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly, it’s just there for dramatic irony—its employees are, of course, free to turn toward whatever deity they dread or cherish, or to ignore them all.

What they aren’t supposed to do, of course, is impose their religion on others. But that leads me to the bill’s worst outrage:

It reintroduces the coercive State. If the best (and still none too good) argument for Bill 62 is that “the State has no religion,” then it is absurdly out of bounds for the bill to dictate how the citizen must behave in her interactions with the government, on vaguely, passively-aggressively half-assed religious grounds. Even if every public servant in Quebec were made to read the collected works of Richard Dawkins, spayed or neutered, chopped or stretched to measure, issued the regulation skin tone, accent, wardrobe and whatever else were necessary to telegraph the State’s neutrality on a hundred relevant axes of faith, appearance, socio-economic status and whatnot else—even if you stipulate that the State may do that to its own emissaries, then it’s still really weird for the State to require an equivalent neutrality of the citizen.

Here we see Bill 62 dipping into the territory Richard Hofstadter described in his classic essay The Paranoid Style in American Politics: the odd propensity of groups to imitate, unconsciously, the behaviour they most despise in the opposing groups they fear or target. Hofstadter was describing anti-Communist groups in the Cold War United States, imposing the same secrecy, rigid organization and even penchant for falsification that they feared in Stalinism. But Hofstadter specified that the instinct was owned by neither the left nor the right, and that it wasn’t restricted only to Cold War contexts. The paranoid style is easy to spot in all kinds of contexts where people worry too much.

What’s wrong with Islam, after all? The Couillard government’s response comes in layers: (i) nothing, which is why the bill doesn’t name Islam; (ii) terrorism, though of course, most Muslims shun and hate terrorism, and at any rate, wearing a niqab on the bus has nothing to do with terrorism, so never mind; (iii) coercion—in this case, the belief that some women wear certain clothes because they know men who require it. Well, ain’t it the damnedest thing, then, that Bill 62 seeks to fight coercion with coercion. A singularly time-limited, bashful, unevenly applied, hypocritical coercion, but coercion all the same. Orwell said some things are so stupid only an intellectual could believe them. Similarly, some things are so reminiscent of the overweening Catholic Quebec state of the mid-20th century that only in the name of purging such authority could anyone dream them up.

The fear at the root of bills like C-62 and the substantially more odious Parti Québécois Charter of Quebec Values is that noxious ideas will spread: that the most backward and extreme interpretations of Islam will win converts simply by being permitted to exist. But that’s silly. There’s no perceptible rate of conversion to Judaism in Outremont simply because a lot of Hasidim live there. Muslims don’t make me Muslim by standing near me.

If the State has no religion, then the simplest way to express this principle—after unscrewing the crucifix from the National Assembly’s rear wall—is to forbid the active promotion of religion while on the taxpayer dime. Proselytizing, in other words. If the guy at the SAQ folds religious tracts in with your wine receipt, it’s okay for the government to say that’s a no-no. If your Jewish or Muslim doctor tries to trade a hernia operation for a conversion, that could be seen as going a step too far, and appropriately sanctioned. That all of this sounds ridiculous, because of course there is no doctor or liquor sales clerk who acts like that, is simply further evidence that there is no real problem here to solve.

The Quebec Liberal Party could have been the one to say so. But a characteristic of the Quebec Liberal Party, going back decades, is that it keeps forgetting that a “Quebec consensus” exists only to the extent that every player in the society’s elite chooses to play. On religious accommodations as on various elements of the national unity debate, if courageous leaders would simply say, “I disagree,” there would therefore be no consensus.

The Couillard government having failed to do so, it has fallen to just about every serious commentator in Quebec to point out Bill C-62’s obvious incoherence.  Many are doing it in a curious two-step: the bill is terrible, but isn’t it awful that those obtuse anglophones outside Quebec, with their worship of multiculturalism, don’t understand it. We are reminded that France has laws similar to Bill C-62. As if comparison were justification. As if any element of France’s relations between Muslims and the non-Muslim majority were worth copying. The enclaves where communities rarely mingle? The very low rate of integration?

Bill C-62 deserves criticism because it is a terrible bill. Its title doesn’t match its contents, it permits and forbids things with no logic, it would lead to a government whose actions would be less just and less coherent than they already are. I don’t associate sloppy work with any ideal of Quebec, and I’m surprised that some of the province’s politicians and commentators think anyone should.

Source: Why Quebec’s Bill 62 is an indefensible mess – Macleans.ca