Chris Selley: Official nonsense on masks, travel bans is killing Ottawa’s COVID-19 credibility

From armchair generals to armchair public health officials. Given recent Ekos and Angus Reid polls, most Canadians appear overall pleased with the their federal and provincial government responses despite the delayed in response and the changing risk assessments and thus evolving measures.

As always, hindsight is 2020. And one of the benchmarks is with respect to how other countries have handled the pandemic where Canada lags of course South Korea but it ahead or in tandem with many European countries.

But I do think that Trudeau could be more open about acknowledging delays in hindsight, for both substantive and communications reasons:

On Saturday, the federal government announced passengers with COVID-19 symptoms would be barred from domestic air and train travel, effective noon on Monday. “It will be important for operators of airlines and trains to ensure that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not board,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

Does that make sense? It’s a question Canadians seem to be asking more and more about this country’s coronavirus response. And for governments and public health officials, it’s a dangerous one. All too often, the answer is “no.”

“What about buses?” many asked on social media of Saturday’s announcement. Buses are provincial jurisdiction, the feds noted. “What about ferries?” asked the Canadian Ferry Association. Good question. Ferries are Transport Canada’s business. No answer yet. Mind you, transport operators don’t yet have any guidance on how exactly they’re supposed to “ensure” symptomatic people don’t travel. It doesn’t make much sense.

Furthermore, we have been told over and over again that any measures carriers might implement — temperature sensors, for example — simply don’t work. “The positive predictive value of screening is essentially zero,” the authors of a widely cited 2005 study reported, based on Canadian airports’ experience with thermal scanners during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

One of the authors of that study was Theresa Tam, who is now Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. She’s the one doling out all the science that Trudeau insists underpins every single decision he and his ministers make: “Our focus every step of the way is doing what (is) necessary at every moment based on the recommendations of experts, based on science and doing what we can to keep Canadians safe,” the prime minister said Monday.

It’s more than a bit awkward — but not as awkward as federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s immortal March 13th dismissal of travel restrictions: “Canadians think we can stop this at the border, but what we see is a global pandemic, meaning that border measures actually are highly ineffective and in some cases can create harm.” Five days later, the border slammed shut.

We are to believe all of the positions above were supported by the same scientific experts. That doesn’t make sense. Clearly the experts supported the more lenient measures, and then politics intervened.

Clearly the experts supported the more lenient measures, and then politics intervened

Appearing before the Health Committee on January 29, Tam strongly dismissed the notion even of having all travellers from COVID-19 hot zones self-isolate for 14 days. She warned against “stigmatizing” communities. She very nearly suggested we couldn’t implement travel restrictions even if we wanted to. “Right now… (the World Health Organization) does not recommend travel bans,” she warned the committee. “We are a signatory to the International Health Regulations and we’ll be called to account if we do anything different.”

The WHO still recommends against travel restrictions, even to and from especially affected countries. No one seems to be “calling us to account.”

It could well be that by the time Canadians started calling for travel restrictions, it was already too late to implement useful ones. That’s what research generally concludes. But research also acknowledges the political inevitability of travel crackdowns. They just make too much sense to too many people. Federal ministers and public health officials recklessly undermined themselves by so forcefully rejecting measures that made so much sense to so many people.

“Security theatre can be dangerous — but the absence of security theatre can be dangerous too,” Martha Pillinger, an associate at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, wrote in Foreign Policy last month. “Apparent inaction (or insufficient action) erodes trust in public health authorities, which undermines response efforts.”

Indeed, Tam is asking a lot of Canadians to set aside a lot of common sense right now. There is ample evidence that face masks — even homemade ones— can provide significant protection to the uninfected. But Tam warns only of the potential pitfalls: Masks can provide “a false sense of security,” lead to more face-touching or make us forget to wash our hands. “Putting a mask on an asymptomatic person is not beneficial,” she said at her Monday press conference.

That makes sense to a lot of medical professionals. A lot of regular people, however, are pretty sure they know how to wash their hands and not touch their faces. When officials say “masks don’t work,” a lot of regular people hear “we have an inexcusable shortage of masks for frontline healthcare workers so please give us your masks.” When officials say “you don’t need to be tested,” they are likely to hear “we have inexcusably few tests available and not enough lab capacity to process the ones we have.”

Officials recklessly undermined themselves by so forcefully rejecting measures that made so much sense to so many people

On Sunday, Tam sternly advised Canadians against retreating to any “rural properties” they might own. “These places have less capacity to manage COVID-19,” she told reporters in Ottawa. That makes sense, as do concerns about straining off-season supply chains. But let’s say you’ve been extremely careful. You’re symptom free. You pack up a week’s worth of groceries, drive 90 minutes or two hours non-stop to your cottage, camp, farm or chalet, and don’t interact with a single other human being. How dangerous, how irresponsible could that really be? If the cottage is good enough for Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and the kids, who beetled off to Harrington Lake on Sunday, some people might conclude it’s good enough for them.

Public health officials want to prevent people from asking such questions, from making excuses for themselves, in hopes the maximum number of people will take the maximum precautions. They need smart people to forsake relatively low-risk things in order to counterbalance all the dumb people who do high-risk things no matter what they’re told. None of the measures will ever make perfect sense in every single situation. They are calls to collective sacrifice for the greater good. But they can’t keep changing on the fly, with no explanation other than “the experts got more worried overnight,” and remain credible.

On Monday, Trudeau declined even to say he regretted not moving quicker on measures he now insists are essential.

Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense.

Source: Chris Selley: Official nonsense on masks, travel bans is killing Ottawa’s COVID-19 credibility

Delacourt: Are you a good Canadian? Justin Trudeau offers the coronavirus as a lesson in responsible citizenship

Good commentary and yes, a lesson in civic responsibility, one that the PM has had to personally demonstrate given his self-quarantine and cancellation of the FPT meeting given his wife having tested positive:

Ask not what the federal government is doing for you about the COVID-19 pandemic, but ask instead what you are doing to keep Canadians healthy.

Justin Trudeau didn’t exactly borrow from John F. Kennedy’s immortal lines about civic responsibility at his news conference on Wednesday, but the prime minister also, very deliberately, cast the virus crisis as a crash course for all of us in good citizenship.

“Often there are global crises or events when the average citizen does not feel particularly powerful to affect the fate of the economy. We are in a situation where the choices our citizens make will have a direct impact on the health of Canada and on the Canadian economy,” Trudeau said in French toward the end of his morning appearance in the National Press Theatre.

It was billed as a high-level update on what the Canadian government is doing for citizens as the novel coronavirus spreads its damage throughout Canada and the world. “We get it and we’re on it,” Trudeau said.

But slipped into all the talk of government having our backs — another new, favourite phrase from Trudeau’s team this year — was a gentle reminder or two that citizenship is a two-way street. The government is in a giving frame of mind, but a taking one too, in terms of what it’s asking of average Canadian citizens to keep the virus contained.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, spoke at the news conference of how citizens — not the state or even the health-care system — would ultimately determine the trajectory of this virus.

“The advantage of being in the Canadian system is that people will be supported to do what public health has asked them to do but everyone can change the dynamic of that curve,” Dr. Tam said. “That`s such an important message that I don’t want people to lose sight of. Individual physicians can’t do it, public health units on their own can’t do it. Everyone has to contribute.”

The prime minister followed up with reinforcement. “At this point our strongest recommendation is for Canadians to be involved in keeping themselves and their families safe,” Trudeau said.

Asking people to change their behaviour for the sake of the country is a very 20th century concept in North America, when war, duty and sacrifice were part of the political lexicon. In this century, political appeals to people’s selflessness is usually framed as: do it for your kids, or the next generation.

But governments are still keenly interested in what they can do to change individuals’ behaviour to align with national or state goals, especially when it comes to climate change, for instance. Britain set up its famous “nudge unit” within its cabinet office in the early 2000s to study how behavioural-economic insights could be turned into public policy. And Canada, for its part, has something called the “impact and innovation unit” inside government, inspired in part by the British example.

The COVID-19 virus, now a pandemic, could well become a laboratory into how governments nudge their citizens into different behaviour. Certainly that old British unit, now a separate company called the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) has been having thoughts in that direction.

In a recent blog post, BIT laid out some thoughts on “how do we encourage the right behaviours during an epidemic?” It’s not easy, BIT acknowledged: the incentives for changed citizen behaviour are neither clear nor immediate. “People have no way of knowing if taking preventive steps will actually stop them contracting the virus. You’ll never know what didn’t happen.”

The blog post talks about the importance of public-health officials being front and centre to cultivate trust and why governments should be transparent, but also sparing about details,

“In some cases, less rather than more information leads to more accurate judgments,” BIT’s blog post states. “Communicating simple instructions that are easy to remember makes it more likely that people will follow them.”

I don’t know whether anyone inside the government is reading the BIT blog, but Trudeau’s news conference on Wednesday revealed a high degree of interest in the social science — as well as the medical science — of managing a pandemic.

“This is on all of us,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters later on Monday.

Canadian citizens have been asking a lot of their federal government in the past few months — from requests to fix snarled train traffic to the rescue of Canadians in trouble abroad. COVID-19 has turned that equation upside down. As Kennedy might have put it, this pandemic is forcing citizens to ask not what the country can do for them, but what they can do for the country.

Black Canadian groups call on feds to address economic inequities facing community

Will be interesting to see what, if any, concrete initiatives emerge from this meeting. The Federation of Black Canadians was successful in securing funding for anti-racism programming:

A collective of Black Canadian groups is appealing to the prime minister to address the barriers that prevent the community from achieving economic parity with the rest of the country.

The Black Political Action Committee’s meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), Diversity Minister Bardish Chagger (Waterloo, Ont.), Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen (York South-Weston, Ont.), and Liberal MPs Greg Fergus (Hull-Aylmer, Que.) and Emmanuel Dubourg (Bourassa, Que.), on Feb. 3 is part of a long-running lobbying effort during Black History Month to engage the government and other Parliamentarians in its efforts to tackle anti-Black racism.

With this year’s effort focused on the theme of economic inclusion, the collective brought together several groups and individuals—including Arielle Kayabaga, the first Black city councillor in London, Ont., Dahabo Ahmed Omer of the Federation of Black Canadians, and Michael Forrest of the Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce—engaged in this field.

Economic inclusion is “the basis for all other aspects of what inclusion might mean,” said Tiffany Gooch, a Liberal strategist and principal consultant at Aurora Strategy Group, who spearheaded the effort for Black organizations to meet with Parliamentarians in Ottawa, which is in its fourth year. This year marked the effort’s first sit-down as a group with the prime minister, according to Ms. Gooch.

Among their asks was a call to increase Black representation across government and other arm’s-length institutions and to level the playing field in competing for federal procurement contracts. “We want it to be closer to the representation of Black Canadians in population,” Ms. Gooch said. “There’s often a lot of stages involved and red tape, and not a very large understanding of the processes.”

One proposal floated by the collective was to change the points system for awarding tenders, giving firms with a diverse workforce more points.

Black Canadians account for more than 3.5 per cent of the population and 15.6 per cent of visible minorities, according to Statistics Canada. The agency projects that, by 2036, the community might represent between five and 5.6 per cent of Canada’s population.

Public Services and Procurement Canada does not currently have disaggregated data that breaks down the contracts “awarded to specific groups, outside of Indigenous companies,” according to a departmental spokesperson. But the spokesperson noted its Office of Small and Medium Enterprises “is increasing activities across the country to diversify the Canadian bidders and suppliers represented,” and will be on hand at the National Black Canadians Summit in Halifax in March, organized by the Michäelle Jean Foundation, to offer workshops on the procurement process.

Anecdotally, Ms. Ahmed Omer said her organization has observed that Black businesses tend to employ two to three people. “If we’re able to increase that, from two to three, to four to five, that micro change would allow for a macro impact,” she said.

“We got a lot of time with the prime minister. We asked for a response on some of the metrics we’re looking to track the success in the work they’re doing,” Ms. Kayabaga said. “It was more than a photo-op.”

In 2019, the government committed to spend $25-million over five years “for projects and capital assistance to celebrate, share knowledge, and build capacity” in Canada’s Black Canadian communities. The previous year it also recognized the UN International Decade for People of African Descent, which wraps up in 2024.

Mr. Fergus pointed to the funding, and the creation of an anti-racism secretariat to oversee the culture in the federal public service, as an outgrowth of the Black Canadian community’s efforts to press the government to respond.

In explaining why he helped facilitate the meeting, Mr. Fergus said, he did not set out to become a standard bearer for the Black Canadian community in its push for equity when he was first elected in 2015. “But when you see this lack of representation, and you hear from communities, ‘Thank God you’ve made it,’ you feel a responsibility to try to open doors.”

Ms. Ahmed Omer said the task before the government now is to ensure programs and services established to help Black Canadians’ businesses scale up have adequate resources, noting that the UN decade, which Canada adopted, outlines a commitment to advancing economic equality.

‘Elephant in the room’ 

The meeting took place several months after news broke in the middle of the federal election campaign that Mr. Trudeau had worn blackface on more occasions than he could recall. While some members of the community believe Mr. Trudeau’s actions reflected a lack of education on racial issues, others argue that the prime minister should have resigned.

Though Mr. Trudeau’s history did not affect the tenor of the meeting, Ms. Gooch said, “it’s always going to be the elephant in the room.”

“The work they’re [Liberals] doing is going to need to speak for itself,” Ms. Gooch said. “Education is likely coming from all the conversations he’s going to be having across communities. The measure of him as a leader is how he grows from that.”

Though the committee does not purport to be fully representative of the Black community, the Federation of Black Canadians faced scrutiny a few years ago from other prominent Black activists, including journalist Desmond Cole, for being seen as cozy with the Liberals after news surfaced that the group was founded by a sitting judge, Ontario justice Donald McLeod, and counted the wife of then-immigration minister, Mr. Hussen, as its member. Both eventually left the group amid criticism.

“You can find a few well-connected Black people and get into a private meeting with them, where we don’t see what you talk about, where we don’t understand which Black people even informed the agenda,” said Desmond Cole in an interview with The Hill Times on the release of his book, The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power, in which he dug into the history of the Federation of Black Canadians. “The Liberal Party is completely capable of finding their handpicked, elite class to meet behind closed doors.”

Asked whether such criticism that their ties posed conflicts of interest, Ms. Ahmed Omer said she wasn’t a member of the federation at the time, but that one’s political connections should not bar him or her from participating in “civic duties.”

“We are Black Canadians; we all have a stake in this,” Ms. Ahmed Omer said, adding that the committee’s engagement extended to opposition parties. “I would not agree with the idea that we were too cozy with the Liberals.”

Mr. Fergus dismissed the notion that an individual’s political affiliation bears weight in deciding who he meets with. “I don’t see the relevance of that,” he said. “I have no idea who has ties to the Liberals. This is ridiculous.”

But Ms. Gooch acknowledged that her connections to the Liberal Party didn’t hurt in helping arrange meetings with Parliamentarians.

“All of our communities, political operatives have some sort of political partisan ties. … I try as much as possible to encourage all of these groups to have partisan ties,” she said. “My longtime volunteer and work with the party’s apparatus definitely means I have few numbers to follow up on the logistical side. But across parties, we’ve had a very wide interest in engaging [with us].”

Source: Black Canadian groups call on feds to address economic inequities facing community

Douglas Todd: We can stop typecasting Catholics and Sikhs — now the election is over

While Todd’s points, of course, about religious believers not being monolithic, Scheer was likely more hampered by his inability to articulate credibly his beliefs and how they would not impact his decisions should he become PM, not to mention his other credibility issues (insurance agent claims, dual citizenship etc).

Moreover, Canadian public opinion has shifted as Todd notes and leaders need to be attuned to that reality:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regretted in the fall that “divisiveness and disinformation were all too present features of this past election campaign,” in which he acknowledged he had become a polarizing figure.

What the Liberal party leader didn’t quite admit, however, is he played an oversized role in turning the October 2019 election, in which his party was reduced to a minority, into a toxic battle about, of all things, religion and sexual ethics.

Who would have thought it would come to this in multicultural, multi-faith Canada? We like to think it is only other countries, like the rivalrous U.S. or India, that are torn apart by religion-fuelled conflict.

But we had our own culture war in Canada in part because of the way Trudeau, and to some extent NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, hammered Conservative party Leader Andrew Scheer and even Green party Leader Elizabeth May, over two wedge issues with ties to religion — abortion and same-sex relationships.

These two ethical concerns were torqued so hard that most of the electorate likely lost track of any real sense of what Canadian Catholics and Sikhs actually believe about abortion and LGBTQ issues. The public might be surprised.

The Angus Reid Institute found Scheer, an active Catholic, suffered the most as a result of his religion. Commentators say it’s a key reason he announced last month he would step down as Conservative leader.

More than 51 per cent of Canadians told pollsters they developed a negative attitude to Scheer based on what they heard about his Catholicism and his beliefs.

A smaller proportion, 36 per cent, leaned negative about the religion of Trudeau, who says he is Catholic. Voters’ pessimism declined to 31 per cent for May, an Anglican who wears a small cross on a necklace, and to just 24 per cent for Singh, an orthodox Sikh who wears a turban and carries a ceremonial dagger.

Faith clearly remains combustible in Canada. Even though two of three Canadians believe having “freedom of religion” makes this a better country, more than one in five admitted they feel deeply “repelled” when a political candidate is a person of faith.

Scheer’s political opponents didn’t want voters to forget he is personally “pro life” on abortion. That lead to Scheer often saying “as leader of this party it is my responsibility to ensure we do not reopen this debate.”

Nor did Liberal or NDP campaigners want anyone to overlook that Scheer doesn’t attend Pride Parades. To which Scheer’s typical defence was, “I find the notion that one’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation would make anyone in any way superior or inferior to anybody else absolutely repugnant.”

But Scheer’s commitments to non-prejudicial behaviour did not assuage a suspicious electorate. Two of three Canadians said they don’t trust politicians to keep their personal views out of the public realm.

It’s possible, however, the public might have felt a bit more trusting of Scheer if they knew most of the country’s 13 million Catholics, many of whom are recent immigrants, are not nearly as uniform or doctrinaire as they are often portrayed.

Even though the Catholic church has long opposed any “direct attack on the fetus,” University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby and Angus Reid reveal in their book, Canada’s Catholics, that 85 per cent of Canadian Catholics approve of abortion when a woman’s life is in danger.

Illustrating striking variance among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, the book also shows half of Canadian Catholics believe “a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion for any reason.” That was the same pro-choice stand championed by Trudeau and Singh.

When it comes to same-sex relationships, Catholic authorities continue to formally oppose them, while urging compassion. However, Canada’s Catholics are much like the rest of the laissez-faire population: “Close to two in three approve both of same-sex couples marrying and their adopting children.”

Canada’s 13 million Catholics are hardly doctrinaire on abortion or same-sex marriage. (Source: Canada’s Catholics)

Contradicting the pundits, who said before the election that Singh would provide the strongest test of voters’ tolerance for religious diversity, Angus Reid Institute polls show he was harmed the least because of his religion, in which he often expresses pride.

It’s conceivable many Canadians were, through extroverted, upbeat Singh, getting more exposure than ever to a member of the Sikh faith, which is about 500 years old, rooted in the Punjab region of India, has about 27 million followers and more than 500,000 in Canada (mostly in Greater Toronto and in Metro Vancouver).

But just as Scheer does not come close to representing all of Catholicism, Singh does not represent all Sikhs. Nobody, especially a politician, can embody everything about a faith (and that includes the pope).

Sikh scholars make it clear that followers hold a spectrum of beliefs about abortion and homosexuality, most of which are more conservative than those promoted by the NDP leader.

In Sikhism: A Guide for the Perplexed, respected University of Michigan professor Arvind-Pal Singh Mandair says the “idealistic” position in the Sikh religion, which teaches reincarnation, is opposition to abortion.

“To terminate a birth through abortion would be tantamount to refusing a soul entry into a particular body and sending it back to the cycle of birth and deaths — a choice that is not ours to make,” says Mandair.

However, the professor says many Sikhs today feel “morally ambiguous” about abortion and are less “hard and fast” about it. Mandair says Sikhism’s ethical bottom line is abortion, though sometimes acceptable, should not be “driven by selfish motives.”

In a similar vein, Mandair points out many Sikh leaders have condemned homosexuality in recent years, leading to most members of the faith believing in a “hetero-normative model of sexuality” that discourages alternative forms of family.

“Such a process of forcing homosexuals to go underground, as it were, has led to a belief among many Sikhs that there are no homosexual Sikhs,” says Mandair. Despite it, the professor maintains the primary source of Sikh ethics, the Guru Granth Sahib, does not justify castigating homosexuality.

All of which should help demonstrate that followers of religions are not monolithic. So we can always hope next time an election comes along more voters will have a bit better understanding of people of faith.

In that way perhaps fewer politicians will try to twist religion-linked concerns into dangerous wedge issues.

Source: Douglas Todd: We can stop typecasting Catholics and Sikhs — now the election is over

Robyn Urback: Trudeau’s leadership stands out in a week of national pain and loss

Appears to reflect the general consensus:

Hundreds of people across Canada are rounding out the worst week of their lives. They are the friends and family of passengers aboard Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, who perished randomly and pointlessly because the Iranian military, by its telling, made a mistake.

Politics usually doesn’t matter in the worst week of your life, when grief insulates you from the normal noise of partisan theatre and governmental affairs. The exception, however, might be when the worst week of your life is intrinsically political: When an American contractor is killed in Iraq, so air strikes are carried out in Syria and Iraq, so the U.S. embassy is stormed in Baghdad, so an Iranian military commander is killed, so a plane is shot out of the sky, so suddenly, you’re on the phone with your wife’s life insurance provider. The haze of grief might break for a few political observances in that case, even if it happens to be the worst week of your life.

To the extent that political gestures resonate in these situations, there are few “right” things a leader can do and just about an infinite number of wrong ones. The last time Canada experienced a crisis of this type and magnitude – the Air India disaster of 1985, when a bomb exploded aboard Flight 182, where a majority of victims were Canadian – Canadian leadership chose a number of wrong ones.

In the aftermath of that crash, prime minister Brian Mulroney phoned India’s prime minister to offer his condolences, as if the tragedy wasn’t a patently Canadian one. Mr. Mulroney’s government was slow to set up a hotline for victims’ families, slow to provide information and slow to connect personally with those who lost loved ones. “Mr. Mulroney has not sent condolences to the individuals [affected] by the crash,” a spokesperson for the families was quoted in The Globe and Mail nearly a month after the explosion. The article also noted that since Mr. Mulroney was on vacation, the families would likely meet with a senior adviser instead.

Since then, and particularly in recent days, the Canadian government has proven it has learned from the mistakes of the Air India disaster. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stood in front of cameras almost daily since Wednesday’s crash, and Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has been tweeting updates on visa approvals for Canadian officials seeking to go to Iran. A national hotline for relatives and friends of victims was set up within days.

Mr. Trudeau’s personal statements have also hit just the right notes; he has been outraged for those who need to see their anger reflected in leadership, and sorrowful for those who need to see their pain acknowledged and understood. Partisans have already chalked up Mr. Trudeau’s empathy to skilled acting on the part of a former drama teacher, which is a fine way for curmudgeons to console themselves while ignoring the actual impact Mr. Trudeau has had on affected individuals – which, based on their telling, has been profound.

The Trudeau government has had plenty of communications problems in the past, but it doesn’t appear to be suffering from those issues now. In his first address hours after the crash, when information was still scarce, Mr. Trudeau prudently said that he would not rule out the possibility the plane was shot down, even as the Iranians claimed a missile attack on a commercial plane would have been “impossible.” Even more prudently, Mr. Trudeau later declined to engage with reporters’ questions about whether to blame the United States for escalating the conflict by killing top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

No doubt the Prime Minister recognizes there is little to be gained, and a whole lot to lose, by taking too strong of a position in terms of blame at this point. While he remains wisely circumspect, the Iranian people, who bravely took to the streets by the thousands over the weekend, are clear about who they hold responsible. The chief executive of Maple Leaf Foods, meanwhile, posted a Twitter thread Sunday evening in which he condemned the “narcissist in Washington” for escalating tensions leading to the crossfire killings.

These are fair positions for individual citizens to take, and reckless ones for a political leader in the early days after a disaster. To his credit, Mr. Trudeau has resisted invitations to wade in, and has instead remained focused on the victims, their families and the profound loss for Canada as a nation. If nothing else, that has to make at least a small difference to the Canadians currently grappling with the worst week of their lives.

Source: Urback: Trudeau’s leadership stands out in a week of national pain and loss

Une touchante inquiétude

Interesting column and the irony of Premier Legault’s comments on national unity:

Après l’avoir vu souffler sur les braises du nationalisme durant toute la campagne, il était savoureux d’entendre le premier ministre Legault s’inquiéter des divisions reflétées par les résultats de l’élection fédérale de lundi et conseiller Justin Trudeau sur la meilleure façon de « garder le pays uni ».

Cette préoccupation pour l’unité de la fédération est touchante, même si on ne peut pas dire que M. Legault y a beaucoup contribué avec la loi sur la laïcité, que son vis-à-vis manitobain, Brian Pallister, a déclarée contraire aux valeurs canadiennes, ni avec ses propos sur « l’énergie sale » produite par le pétrole de l’Ouest, qui ont fait bondir l’Albertain Jason Kenney.

En réalité, s’il y a une chose sur laquelle le Canada anglais est unanime d’un océan à l’autre, c’est que le Québec demeure l’enfant gâté de la fédération, comme le premier ministre du Nouveau-Brunswick, Blaine Higgs, l’a encore déclaré cette semaine. Selon lui, le Québec constitue un facteur de division en profitant de la péréquation sans rien vouloir concéder en retour.

Le hasard fait bien les choses. En 2020, c’est M. Legault qui assumera la présidence du Conseil de la fédération. Du 22 au 24 juillet, il sera l’hôte de ses homologues provinciaux au Château Frontenac. Il aura là une occasion en or de leur expliquer à quel point il est désireux de favoriser l’harmonie au sein de la fédération et de leur exposer ses idées sur la façon d’y parvenir. La perspective de séjourner dans la « capitale nationale » du Québec doit certainement les combler de joie. Un coup parti, M. Legault pourrait les emmener à Baie-James pour leur montrer ce qu’est une énergie propre.

Cela dit, M. Legault a raison de penser que l’octroi d’une plus grande autonomie serait de nature à apaiser la frustration des provinces de l’Ouest. Un mégasondage pancanadien effectué en début d’année par six instituts de recherche dans le cadre d’une analyse sur la « Confédération de demain » indiquait que les Albertains (49 %), les Québécois (48 %) et les Saskatchewanais (44 %) étaient de loin les plus nombreux à souhaiter que leur province obtienne plus de pouvoirs.

On a souvent du mal à prendre au sérieux les velléités indépendantistes dans l’Ouest. Pourtant, en Saskatchewan et en Alberta, à peine 33 % des personnes interrogées étaient d’avis que le fédéralisme comporte plus d’avantages que d’inconvénients, alors que cette proportion était de 46 % au Québec. Le PLC a été incapable de faire élire un seul député dans ces deux provinces. Cela n’améliorera certainement pas cette perception, même si des non-élus sont nommés ministres.

Vu de là-bas, un gouvernement libéral appuyé par le NPD était sans doute le pire scénario imaginable. La politique n’est pas faite pour les âmes trop sensibles, mais la civilité a quand même ses droits. À de multiples reprises, Andrew Scheer s’est permis de traiter ouvertement M. Trudeau de menteur et d’imposteur. On peut penser que cela traduisait les sentiments que le premier ministre inspire dans la province d’adoption du chef conservateur. Au Québec, où tous ne tiennent pourtant pas M. Trudeau en haute estime, on fait généralement preuve de plus de retenue.

M. Trudeau a confirmé mercredi que son gouvernement triplerait la capacité du pipeline Trans Mountain, tout en reconnaissant qu’il faudra faire davantage pour calmer la colère de l’Ouest. Jason Kenney tient toujours mordicus à un pipeline vers l’est, et c’est le Québec qui constitue le principal obstacle. Si M. Legault veut lui faire la leçon sur la façon de renforcer l’unité canadienne, M. Trudeau aura beau jeu de le lui rappeler.

Minorité oblige, le premier ministre a promis de faire un effort pour collaborer avec les autres partis représentés à la Chambre des communes et avec ses homologues provinciaux afin de mieux répondre aux préoccupations des Canadiens, mais il n’a pas donné le moindre signe qu’il envisageait de diminuer un tant soit peu le rôle du gouvernement fédéral au profit des provinces.

De toute évidence, il n’a pas tiré des résultats de l’élection les mêmes conclusions que M. Legault, selon qui les Québécois lui ont clairement envoyé le message de ne pas contester la loi sur la laïcité. M. Trudeau a refusé d’en prendre l’engagement encore plus fermement qu’il l’avait fait durant la campagne.

« Le message est clair : si vous voulez plus d’appuis la prochaine fois, soutenez la loi 21 », a déclaré M. Legault. Cela reste à voir. S’y opposer n’a pas empêché le PLC de demeurer le premier parti fédéral au Québec, aussi bien en nombre de sièges qu’en nombre de suffrages exprimés. La prochaine fois, M. Legault trouvera bien un autre grief à lui faire.

Source: Une touchante inquiétude

Trudeau’s weasel words on Bill 21 are more than his opponents can say

Indeed. Sad:

Jagmeet Singh felt that it was so plain where he stood on the ban on turban- or hijab-wearers in Québec’s public-service, he used “obvious” twice in a span of seven words. “It’s probably pretty obvious to folks that I am obviously against Bill 21.” He laid out his personal hurt, his sadness, his channeled frustrations that a Muslim in hijab cannot teach, or a Jew in yarmulke can’t be a judge.

Which is why, Singh eventually declared, he will … address affordability by taking on powerful corporations. This was, it bears mentioning, in response to debate co-moderator Althia Raj’s question on why he lacked courage to act in any way against the religious symbol law that so saddened him.

It’s not quite accurate to call the section on Bill 21 the most passionate part of the debate, but it was the segment with the most protestations of passion. The vigorously shaking heads of the leaders said no to the law. The lips curled into disapproving frowns. But the eyes of the leaders—unwilling, worried or merely politically calculating—told a different story: they were cast downward, in resignation.

For those who think climate change is this election’s great intractable issue, the broadcast consortium presented you Monday with the leaders’ filibusters on Bill 21. Andrew Scheer spent many of his ticking-down seconds praising Jagmeet Singh’s poise in the wake of the Justin Trudeau brownface revelation, before reassuring Quebec voters who like Bill 21 that he won’t intervene—and, while Scheer knows nobody was seriously worried about this, Canadians can rest assured that a Conservative government won’t pass a federal version of the law. (He did not assure us that the Québec’s French-only legislation will sweep the nation either, so now maybe we should wonder.)

Green Leader Elizabeth May latched on to Scheer’s great time-eater by praising Singh herself, with an odd little riff on white privilege, then added she doesn’t want Ottawa to step  into the debate Québecers are having.

Singh used his rebuttals to talk about “polarization”—not a segue to Bill 21, somehow! Instead, that became a way for him to key on his canned lines about housing costs and corporations.

Bloc Québecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet channeled the absent Premier François Legault and mentioned the don’t tread-on-us popularity of Bill 21 in the province—65 to 70 per cent, and nearly half the population “strongly” backs it.

Trudeau, the only person on stage who seemed to want to handle a Bill 21 question, carved into Singh for sounding like all the leaders onstage who haven’t lived a full life with racial discrimination.

“It’s a question of yes, it’s awkward politically, because as Mr. Blanchet says it is very popular,” the Liberal leader began. “But I am the only one on the stage who has said yes,” he paused on yes, to build up his grand crescendo… “a federal government might have to intervene on this.” Might? That’s his big zinger to defend minority and women’s rights?

Trudeau loaded up again for what seemed like another attempted sock-o against the NDP leader: “So why not act on your convictions and leave the door open to challenging it.” One of those old-timey revolvers in cartoons that actually produced a daffodil, not anything harmful.

The Liberals triumphed in Québec last time as the one party taking a firm stand against a Harper measure on niqabs, when others were squishier in deference to sentiment among Québec voters and caucus members. The field is so much more mealy-mouthed on Canada’s most racist legislation in recent memory that even by standing for not much, Trudeau stands clearly on his own on this one—for non-Quebecers and the minority of people within the province who despise the law.

Trudeau managed to get out his mini-jab about Singh’s convictions while the two were cross-talking, and as the Liberal leader’s words ended, the NDPer finished his own point. To be sure, his final phrase wasn’t directed at Trudeau. Yet it seemed, in a strange way, to be Singh’s way of admitting that he has put political triangulation ahead of principle: “I want to be your prime minister.”  

Source: Trudeau’s weasel words on Bill 21 are more than his opponents can say

Trudeau ‘blackface’ discussion surged online and then waned after 3 days, report finds

Like so many issues, real or not:

The day Time magazine published its report on a photo of Justin Trudeau wearing blackface, discussion exploded online. But less than a week later, online posts about the scandal had all but disappeared, according to new research from McGill University.

In fact, the online discourse around Trudeau’s history of wearing blackface dropped off dramatically within three days, according to an analysis of social media posts published today by the Digital Democracy Project, an effort led by the Public Policy Forum and the Max Bell School of Public Policy at McGill University.

“The story breaks and within a couple hours is trending on Twitter, there’s a massive amount of coverage,” said lead data analyst Aengus Bridgman. “By the next day, it’s about half. By the third day, it’s about a quarter and it goes down from there to very little discussion by the end of the week.”

The findings are based on a dataset of 3 million tweets from the general public from Sept.17 to Sept. 28. A separate dataset of Facebook posts that mention Trudeau and blackface or link to a story covering the issue showed a similar sharp decline in just a few days.

Journalists and politicians on Twitter also followed a similar pattern, with a high amount of tweets about blackface in the first few days that dropped off significantly toward the end of the week.

“We think that the brownface/blackface story offers a pretty unique research moment in an election where an unexpected discourse emerges that nobody could have planned for,” said Taylor Owen, the director of the Digital Democracy Project.

The researchers also took a look at accounts that are likely partisan based on the politicians they follow from each party. This showed that, while partisans of all stripes tweeted about the story, it was largely pushed by Conservative supporters.

An analysis of the hashtags used by accounts from these groups, however, show that most likely they were circulating among like-minded people: most of the blackface-related tweets coming from Conservative partisan accounts, for example, were only seen by other Conservative partisans, the report found.

“Among partisan Twitter users, Conservatives are driving the conversation about the controversy,” the report found. “The blackface-related hashtags are disproportionately populated by right-leaning partisans who are largely speaking among themselves.”

Source: Trudeau ‘blackface’ discussion surged online and then waned after 3 days, report finds

Quebec’s Bill 21 should also stir anti-racist outrage among party leaders

Good column by Jack Jedwab:

Somewhat unexpectedly, the issues of discrimination and racism have moved to the forefront in the federal election. At the start of the campaign, answering a journalist’s question about Quebec’s secularism Bill 21, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau left open the possibility of some eventual legal intervention on the legislation. Predictably, there was an almost immediate response from Quebec Premier François Legault, asking all federal leaders to make a pledge to stay out of the matter. With the exception of Trudeau, the other federal party leaders quickly complied. Bill 21 prohibits the wearing of religious symbols by Quebec public school teachers, judges, police officers, prison guards, Crown prosecutors and other public servants in positions of authority, as a way of enshrining the concept of state secularism.

And then, just as the campaign’s attention on Bill 21 waned, some very distasteful photos of a younger Trudeau in brownface and in blackface hit the national and international media. Trudeau apologized many times for his past behaviour and correctly acknowledged that it was highly offensive.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer insisted that the blackface pointed to Trudeau’s lack of judgment and as such raised questions about his ability to govern. During a September 20 campaign stop in PEI, Scheer said all levels of government need to address the types of issues raised by such conduct. He said that “Conservatives will always support measures that tackle discrimination…We’ll always promote policies that promote inclusiveness and equality throughout our society.” Ironically, that’s precisely what needs to be said in addressing Bill 21.

For his part, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made an impassioned plea to all Canadians who were offended by the images of Trudeau in blackface. He chose to speak to those people who have felt the pain of racism and urged them not to give up on themselves, adding that they have value and worth and that they are loved. But that message does not appear to apply to those persons affected by Bill 21. Singh seems unwilling to defend those Quebecers who wear a turban, hijab or kippah and want to teach at a public school in their home province. Paradoxically, while Singh can become prime minister of Canada, he would be unable to teach at a public school in Quebec under Bill 21. By insisting on the need to respect provincial jurisdiction, Singh implies that members of religious minorities need to give up their hope of seeking a career in public service.

Both Scheer’s and Singh’s criticisms of Trudeau and the related concerns about the spread of racism would be more credible if they denounced the discriminatory aspects of Bill 21 rather than bowing to the Quebec Premier’s demands and looking the other way on what Legault insists is a strictly provincial matter.

Perhaps, like many observers, the federal party leaders don’t see any connection between blackface and a state prohibition against educators wearing hijabs, turbans and kippahs in public institutions. Yet the case can surely be made that both arise from subconscious or overt feelings and/or expressions of prejudice that are, regrettably, deemed acceptable by far too many people. The difference is that Trudeau’s use of blackface occurred two decades ago, while the legislation banning religious symbols is the object of current debate.

In the aftermath of the Trudeau blackface incidents, there have been calls for a national conversation about racism. But the tone of this election campaign does not allow for a thoughtful discussion about the ongoing challenge of eliminating racism and discrimination. Ideally, all federal party leaders should work together to combat racism and discrimination, whether it appears in Quebec or anywhere else in the country.

Source: Quebec’s Bill 21 should also stir anti-racist outrage among party leaders

In court documents, Trudeau defends decision to call out Quebec heckler for ‘racism’

Interesting case. PM comments come across as reasonable and thoughtful:

In the wake of Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal, his comments in a recent lawsuit give an illuminating insight into how the prime minister thinks about racism.

In August 2018, Trudeau made headlines when he called out a woman for “intolerance” and “racism” after she heckled him at a rally in Quebec and asked him about “illegal immigrants.”

That incident led to an ongoing lawsuit that has received little public attention since it was filed by the heckler last December. In July, Trudeau was questioned in Montreal as part of the lawsuit.

In the court documents, obtained by the National Post this week, Trudeau said he believed the intolerance had to be addressed clearly and also pointed to a particular brand of Quebec nationalism he found troubling.

In videos that circulated widely of the altercation — during a speech Trudeau gave to Liberal supporters at an event in Sabrevois, Que. — the prime minister can be seen telling the heckler that “this intolerance regarding immigrants does not have a place in Canada,” and later that “your racism has no place here.”

At the time, commentators and Conservative politicians were quick to accuse the prime minister of berating an elderly woman without justification, a narrative that changed somewhat after it was revealed that the woman, Diane Blain, had connections to far-right nationalist groups.

In December, Blain filed a defamation lawsuit against Trudeau, demanding $90,000 for psychological distress and damage to her reputation and her right to freedom of expression.

Trudeau’s defence argues that it was “perfectly legitimate” for the prime minister to “note the intolerance expressed by the terms used by Ms. Blain.”

During his examination, Trudeau told Blain’s lawyer the context of her comments made it clear she was intolerant. But he also said he doesn’t believe Blain was a racist, despite having accused her multiple times of racism.

At the event, Blain called out multiple times from the crowd, asking, “When will you give us back the $146 million that we paid for your illegal immigrants?” Her question was in reference to the Quebec government’s demand at the time to be reimbursed for costs incurred by the influx of asylum seekers entering Quebec at Roxham Road, between official entry points.

In examination, Trudeau said he didn’t initially understand Blain’s question, but realized what she was asking when he heard the words “your illegal immigrants.” He told Blain’s lawyer that the way she asked the question, referring to “your illegal immigrants,” proved it was not in good faith. “It was a context in which the goal was to disrupt and push an agenda that was either anti-immigrant or that simply wanted to spark fear and concern about immigrants,” he said. “So for me, it was important to respond firmly and clearly.”

He also said he felt it was necessary to speak out swiftly because the crowd was very diverse and many of his supporters at the event were immigrants.

He went on to discuss Quebecers’ concerns about asylum seekers at Roxham Road, saying there are “very reasonable people” who worry about illegal border crossings. “But there’s a point where it goes beyond concern and (becomes) a desire to preserve a historic Quebec identity against immigrants,” he said. “And unfortunately, it’s not something we hear often, but it’s common enough to be part of a pattern.”

At the August event, Blain asked Trudeau if he was tolerant of “Québécois de souche,” a term that refers to white Quebecers who are descendants of the original French colonists. He responded by saying he was tolerant of all perspectives and accused Blain of being intolerant. Later, when she confronted him again as he was moving through the crowd, he told her, “Your racism has no place here.”

Blain’s lawyer, Christian Lajoie, asked Trudeau during the examination about Quebec nationalism, after Trudeau said he didn’t like the term “Québécois de souche” because of its “connotations of intolerance.”

Trudeau referred to René Lévesque, the founder of the sovereigntist Parti Québécois, saying the former premier envisioned a “civic nationalism,” not one based on ethnicity. “I think a little bit for some people in recent years, we’ve been missing that desire to bring people together that Mr. Lévesque had,” he said.

Still, asked directly if he believes Blain is a racist, Trudeau said no. “I was speaking about her comments… that I associated with intolerance,” he said. “There’s a wave of thinking that has racist elements.”

In the days after the altercation, Trudeau stood by his response to Blain’s questions, telling reporters that “Canadians deserve to know that they have a prime minister that will always underline when these dangerous tactics are used in politics.” At the same time, media reports revealed that Blain had connections to far-right nationalist groups Storm Alliance and Front Patriotique du Québec and that she had once refused to be served by a Muslim woman at a dental clinic in Montreal.

In her lawsuit, Blain claims the event and subsequent media coverage caused “serious damage to her dignity, honour and reputation,” and that her family has been divided by the incident. She is asking for $90,000 in damages. She initially wanted an additional $5,000 for the pain caused by an RCMP officer grabbing her arm, but that has since been dropped. Blain did not respond to the Post’s request for an interview, and her lawyer declined to comment.

Trudeau’s defence claims that Blain came looking to confront him and his responses to her questions were reasonable under the circumstances. It points out that Blain identified herself as the woman in the videos after the fact, and has given several interviews about the incident. A spokesperson for Trudeau declined to comment.

During his examination, Trudeau indicated he believed his lawyer had approached Blain to try and reach a settlement. Blain recently told right-wing news site The Post Millennial, which has reported on the examination, that no settlement has been reached. According to court documents, preparation of the file will not proceed until November, after the Oct. 21 election.

Source: In court documents, Trudeau defends decision to call out Quebec heckler for ‘racism’