Sears: Where did Canada’s famed civility go?

Indeed:

At the beginning of this century, former senator Hugh Segal — one of the few politicians with genuine friendships across all party lines — made a plea. 

He called it “In Defence of Civility,” a book published in 2000. Segal is the classic Red Tory, fiscally somewhat conservative, socially somewhat liberal, always courteous.

His plea made the usual case for civility, especially in public discourse where its absence lets dangerous currents rise to the surface. Segal’s effort to put his finger in the dike came at a time when the decline in civility was still in its “Your mother wears army boots” phase. We had yet to fall to today’s depths, where a would-be prime minister once thought it was acceptable to attack a former Liberal party leader as the father of a policy “tar baby.” (Pierre Poilievre was forced to apologize.) 

Or when an MP can accuse Justin Trudeau of behaving like a “dictator,” although in his defence one must also note that Stephen Harper was regularly denounced as a “traitor” by opponents. 

This might all be dismissed as adolescent male schoolyard dissing, except for what comes in its wake. Some bewildered Canadians — like the man who rammed his pickup truck into Rideau Hall with the intention of killing the prime minister — decide traitors need to be “dealt” with. Or the vicious attacks on politicians — more often on women than men — on social media; attacks frequently include obscene death threats. 

Alberta MLA Shannon Phillips discovered that Lethbridge police officers had illegally surveilled her every move, stalked her into restaurants and then published covert photographs of her online, along with threatening commentary. All are still unpunished and on salary. 

Canadians used to be famous, even mocked, for our civility, tolerance and willingness to compromise, as in the joke: “How do you get a Canadian to apologize? Stomp on his toe.” 

It’s hard to nail down why a commitment to such an unusually mild public discourse emerged. 

It is certainly not part of the social DNA of Americans, Aussies or Brits, with whom we share so much common history. Traditional French incivility may be more elegantly framed, but no less wounding for all that. 

Perhaps it grew out of the need to pretend to show respect to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, so as to beguile them into suicidal concessions. 

Or as David Graeber and David Wengrow point out in “The Dawn of Everything,” their monumental study of how we made the societal choices we did, the influence may have been that of Indigenous peoples on Canadian settlers. Contrary to myth, most Indigenous peoples had deeply layered forms of courtesy and respect for each other and their enemies, communicating with eloquent formality on state occasions. It was part of how they kept the peace. 

Another thread in our effort to maintain a harmonious social tapestry must have been the often painful relationship between francophone and anglophone Canadians, and the need to manage mutual concessions on an ongoing basis. 

It is evident in our remarkable, if unfathomable, success at growing from an all-white, somewhat racist and socially rigid community to the most successful multicultural nation on earth. Surprisingly, we are in overwhelming agreement that adding nearly five million immigrants and refugees a decade — more than ten per cent of our population — to Canada is a good and necessary thing.

So why are we so frivolously throwing away the social civility that makes that possible? We can blame Americans, social media, too little civics education and more. More usefully, we might examine why over-the-top insults are so appealing to most of us, when directed at a hated target, or why Trudeau knows that when he uses insulting invective to attack his opponents, it’s a political plus for him. And then putting ourselves in the shoes of those under attack — especially the young and the vulnerable — before spitting a slur at someone who offends us. 

Perhaps even acknowledging that we are the masters of the fate of our civility, and that “ the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Source: Where did Canada’s famed civility go?

Sears: Canada faces great challenges. We needs more independent, creative policy thinkers to address them

Not quite as bleak as presented but does flag some real weaknesses including policy diversity:

Canada faces policy challenges today that are broader and more complex than perhaps ever in our history. Several are well-known: climate, health care and the next contagion, sliding productivity and widening inequality. Each will be expensive to tackle, and all will require great creativity to address.

In the U.S., the U.K. and Europe much of that thinking is done by an array of policy think tanks. We have a few, and some of those we have are far too predictable. One need not do more than read the headline on a C.D. Howe Institute economic report to know what the next 5,000 words of analysis and recommendations will be. The Fraser Institute’s views on private health care, climate change and lower taxes have been repeated hundreds of times with changes only to the names and dates.

Two of Canada’s political parties have policy think tanks that are aligned philosophically, but independent in their prescriptions. The Manning Centre (now the Canada Strong and Free Network) was an important ginger group of new conservative thinking in the Harper years, though it appears to have lost a great deal of energy since the departure of its founder Preston Manning.

Canadian conservatives desperately need a bold centre for testing policy if they are to return to being a party of government. It has long failed to elaborate a credible conservative agenda for action on any of the tough issues. Ken Boessenkool’s Conservatives for Clean Growth may be a valuable new player on climate, perhaps one that will inspire new groups on other priorities.

Curiously, the Liberal party has several times failed in its efforts to create a similar centre to feed its need for creative new centrist thinking. The gap is evident in areas such as security policy, wealth inequality and growth through innovation. The obstacle maybe the number of Liberal thinkers who are parked in the academy or in non-partisan centres such as the Institute for Research on Public Policy, who don’t fancy a new competitor.

The least likely of the three national parties, in terms of resources, has three policy centres. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives was created by New Democrats and labour more than 40 years ago, and regularly serves up new progressive policy proposals. The Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation, recently revived under former Jack Layton staffers Karl Belanger and Josh Bizjak, is plunging into new policy research. But it is the youngest of the three that shows the greatest strength and communications skill.

The Broadbent Institute is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. It staged its Progress Summit this week, returning to its regular cycle of policy conferences, training sessions and research. Alone among any of the big institutes, it also runs its own media business, Press Progress. Key to its success has been finding the right balance between being a forum for new and often dissenting progressive voices, and for party loyalty. New executive director Jen Hassum brings a formidable reputation as an organizer and communications strategist.

All governments need external nudges (and occasionally shoves) to keep them out of policy ruts, or from repeating the same mistakes. Our governments today need broader and richer sources of policy innovation than ever before. The academy is curiously weak in experts who bring creative thinking combined with an understanding of tough political realities. Too many of the civil society organizations who do sponsor research promote only their own agenda. Many of the health charities are especially guilty of this.

Source: Canada faces great challenges. We needs more independent, creative policy thinkers to address them

Sears: Ottawa is backsliding on refugees. We cannot return to the contemptible policies of our past

A bit over the top, as he should understand some of the operational and considerations, even officials are overly cautious in their approach.

And fair or not, the Ukraine invasion and refugee flows are more fundamental, in terms of world and Canadian politics, than Afghanistan, where unfortunately all countries failed in getting peoples out quickly.

But of course, more should be done, and more quickly:

Canada’s nakedly racist immigration policies are not ancient history. It was only in the 1970s that they were finally wound down as policy, though the colour blindness of some immigration officials was never believable. The department is currently under investigation for allegations of years of systemic racism.

Canada had a racist screening system that was thinly veiled as “geographic” quotas only 50 years ago. Our quotas in those days permitted 1,000 immigrants per year from Asia — and one hundred times that from Europe. In recent years, we have won a global reputation for the openness and fairness of both our immigration and refugee screening processes. We have the most successful record in the world at immigration integration. But, occasionally some of the old impulses appear to push to the surface again.

The Trudeau government pledged that we would admit 40,000 Afghan refugees after the fall of Kabul last August. In the months since, we have welcomed less than 20 per cent of that pledge. Various bureaucracies have erected their usual obstacles when they are determined to slow walk a policy to failure. First they claimed they could not admit more of the desperate because they did not have screening facilities in Kabul. The EU removed that excuse by offering to share theirs.

The Department of Justice threw sand in the gears, as government lawyers do, saying, “Here’s why you can’t do that legally, minister!” Incredibly, they cited the prohibition on aiding “terrorism” if assistance were given to refugee claimants. It is absurdly transparent nonsense that several more expert Canadian lawyers have laughed at. Global Affairs and Public Safety, two ministries one would have thought had an important role, have been nudged aside by the intransigent foot draggers.

Of course we should open our doors to tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees as quickly as possible. However, where non-Muslim European refugees are concerned there appear to be different rules.

Ukrainians are being waved through because it is claimed they are “unlikely to stay.” Perhaps. But they will be welcomed into our vast Ukrainian Canadian community, and many may decide to stay. Many will bring skills and experience in high demand by employers. Few will need integration support, except perhaps in acquiring fluency in English or French.

But the stunning difference in political signalling by this government to one refugee community versus another is somewhat stomach turning. There have been half a dozen ministerial visits to Europe to ensure our aid flows in and their refugees can flow out.

The number of Canadian ministers who have gone to Pakistan to help speed up the transport and certification of Afghan refugees since the election? No prizes for guessing — none. The latest excuse for the tragic delay in getting Afghans who put their lives on the line to support Canadian soldiers, diplomats and journalists: “backlog.”

For decades, immigration departments have used the excuse that the years-long wait for refugees and immigrants to be processed is due to backlog. What would the response of a government be if, for example, the CRA said they could not get Canadians their tax reimbursement cheques out in less than 18 months because of backlog?

They would fix it: hire staff, whip the bureaucracy, and demand results or heads on a block. So why do we allow backlog to be the “dog ate my homework” excuse from immigration bureaucrats? Perhaps it’s because governments actually prefer their ability to choke the number of refugees — unless, of course, they’re from a country where millions of Canadian voters have roots and are demanding action.

So let us return to the days when ministers greeted refugees from war-torn hells at the airport, no matter which war had torn their lives apart. Let there not be even a scintilla of suspicion that we are sliding back to the contemptible refugee policy that we are so proud of having erased two generations ago.

Or we will wake up one morning to the news that the Taliban have murdered yet another Canada-bound refugee — one whose luck ran out after months of waiting for the silence from the immigration bureaucracy to finally end.

Source: Ottawa is backsliding on refugees. We cannot return to the contemptible policies of our past

Sears: Warning bells have rung for years over the risk of American money flowing into Canadian politics

Of note, and reinforcing the Marshall Fund analysis:

For decades now, Canadians have been proud at how effectively we have limited the influence of money in politics.

Arguably, there is not another G7 country with as clean a political culture as ours. It has been the hard work of two generations of campaign finance reformers. Those protections are now at serious risk, however, and our record on anti-money-laundering action has been frankly appalling. The issues are linked.

The attacks by small groups of truckers on several Canadian cities have revealed many things. That the Conservatives flirtation with anti-democratic militant groups continues. That our three orders of government are still dreadful at co-ordination. That Canadian intelligence and policing has not kept up with the “clear and present danger” represented by these well-funded groups of angry young men.

The most alarming revelation, though, is the large hole that has been blown in our walls of protection against foreign influence in Canadian political life. Conservative hysteria pre-pandemic about American environmental foundations’ funding of green groups here turned out to simply be that — hysteria.

In Alberta, the Kenney government spent millions of public dollars trying to find the secret bank accounts and found pennies. Conservatives’ reactions to the revelation that the militant truckers have access to millions of American dollars — with the promise of millions more from international neo-fascist allies — will be interesting. This flood of cash is a genuine threat to the sovereignty of Canadian democracy.

A chilling incident unfolded before my eyes this week, as I drove by the truckers’ Ottawa compound. Suddenly, two large black SUVs swept past me and turned into the protest command centre. They had New York state plates. Interestingly, they had no insignia, no flags and no slogans anywhere; they wanted to be invisible. It was an almost cinematic moment, with the bad guys surfacing at the scene of the crime.

We now need to reconsider how we prevent the flow of secret money from the U.S. into the hands of Canadian militants — or worse, from there into the war chests of the People’s Party of Canada, or even Conservative candidates. Our current election finance laws were not written to deal with this type of interference. Neither do we have the investigatory or prosecution expertise to track it being washed through third parties.

For years, experts have demonstrated our record on money laundering is embarrassing. Meanwhile, CSIS has been focused on Islamic terrorism for far too long, and only last year did Public Safety Canada recognize white supremacists as among the top 10 national security risks. Our police and intelligence agencies will need to pivot from their outdated focus to our actual reality: the growing power of these insurrectionists and their political allies.

Source: Warning bells have rung for years over the risk of American money flowing into Canadian politics

Sears: Canada is still admitting Afghan refugees at a glacial pace. Justin Trudeau must set a fire underneath our immigration officials

Overly harsh on IRCC staff and under-estimating the issues and processes involved but valid critique of the pace of bringing them to Canada in a more timely manner. Risks feeding the “over-promise, under-deliver” government narrative:

I suspect being a senior immigration official is only marginally less boring than being a night watchman, and that might sour their view of the world. Nonetheless, on three continents over several decades it has been my experience that those who control the visa stamps are all conditioned to find a way to say “No,” or “Later,” or “We’ll get back to you” — and then don’t. Ours are no different.

A young relative of mine was denied entry into Canada, after an especially obnoxious senior Canadian immigration official declared to her mother that they were not convinced that this was a “sincere adoption” — the staggering assumption being, I suppose, that the new mother would sell her beloved infant on arriving in Canada. Serious political pressure was required to reverse the insulting judgment. Plenty of Canadians have similarly awful stories to tell.

This is the reality that too many terrified Afghan refugees are facing today. The Taliban threaten their lives and their families constantly; Canadian NGOs desperately struggle to find paths out for them; and our senior immigration officials are unresponsive or unreachable. This too will require serious political pressure to fix, from the prime minister.

The parallel with Syria is quite plain. There, our immigration officials also tried their usual delaying devices until two very determined ministers, supported by PM Justin Trudeau, said, “Enough! Get this done.” Thousands of Syrians were quickly welcomed to Canada. Though the Syrians were fleeing a war zone, the risks the Afghans face are far more specific, urgent and life-threatening.

A favourite blocage used today is, of course, national security. As in “Yes Minister,” a Canadian Sir Humphrey might ooze, “Well, minister, that would be very courageous, questioning the advice of our national security advisers. Highly politically risky, but courageous, ma’am!” I was not aware that we have had a rash of terrorist attacks in the six years since thousands of Syrians built new lives for their families here.

We had little previous knowledge of many of the Syrians we admitted then. But many of the Afghans desperate to be rescued from tyranny now are men and women who put their lives at risk assisting Canadian soldiers, diplomats, journalists and NGOs. Hundreds of Canadians know these Afghan families personally.

It is especially embarrassing that we promised safe havens to 40,000 Afghans and have admitted fewer than 7,000. The United States, who have not outranked us in our welcome for immigrants and refugees for many, many years, have admitted over 10 times as many.

At this rate of foot-dragging — fewer than 50 refugees per day — we will be approaching the end of 2023 before we have kept our promise. By then, many of these desperate families will have been tortured and killed. Are we really willing to risk the humiliation and international opprobrium of having their blood on our hands?

Source: Canada is still admitting Afghan refugees at a glacial pace. Justin Trudeau must set a fire underneath our immigration officials

Sears: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Couldn’t agree more:

The consensus about the English debate appears to be that Justin Trudeau’s snarling performance lost it for him, that Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh landed a few effective blows, that Annamie Paul was the winner but it doesn’t matter, and that Yves-François Blanchet won the gold medal for angry petulance.

But the real losers were Canadians, and the folks that should have been removed from the debate stage were the debate organizers themselves. Their “debates” more resembled a rigidly staged game show, with a little “Survivor” added in the form of nasty loaded questions, designed to throw you out of the game.

The blame for the embarrassing debate failures this year is widely shared. The networks push their journalists to become stars of the show, and several played almost partisan and celebrity-seeking roles. The moderator had great difficulty with her role, displaying the exasperation of a newbie teacher attempting to corral a careening group of sugar-high kids.

The set designers should be retired. Flashy, plastic and ugly, the set looked like it was designed to play a starring rather than a supporting role.

How did we sink so low? Well, Canadian political debates have been on a long, slow decline. The newly minted Leaders’ Debates Commission was created to address previous criticisms. It will no doubt give itself a firm pat on the back in its next report, pointing to what will no doubt be impressive viewing numbers. A more sober conclusion would be that it is absurd to think that little more than an hour of direct exchange between five leaders in each language for an entire election campaign is an adequate fulfilment of their mandate.

The commission said they had considered two debates in each language, but were concerned that might “dilute” the viewership. What specious nonsense. Every insider knows why they folded on that essential question: the networks are still really in charge, and they do not want to give up the airtime.

It is indeed ironic that some of the most iconic debates of decades past were moderated with great professionalism by the commission chair David Johnston. He and the other commissioners might want to have a viewing of those past debates together, and then consider whether the flashy game shows they have created are an improvement.

So, where to begin again? First, some basic principles.

Debates are ideally between two contestants, maximum three. Debates are not 45-second sound bites; nuanced messaging requires time, at least 90 seconds, with two minutes reserved for opening and closing remarks. Journalists should not be encouraged to compete with the leaders for airtime, nor should they number more than two. Citizens’ questions are a condescending distraction by the debate organizers. They pretend to be a “vox pop” compliment to Canadians. They aren’t. And two debates in each language is a minimum.

If the networks are not happy with those parameters, show them the door. There are many universities and citizens’ organizations perfectly capable of staging serious, professional political debates. Parliament should grant a new commission an annual budget to fund the debates themselves, granting those groups asked to host sufficient funds to produce an intelligent, informative program.

The Leaders’ Debates Commission is part of the problem. Some argued at its creation that it was Liberal-tainted. If that were true, then the Liberal Party of Canada must be fuming at this year’s series of gong shows. Their leader got hammered. No, the problem is not partisan bias — it is professional knowledge. Retired MPs and professors are excellent counsellors on many files, but television production is not among them.

As a reset, let’s lay out the criteria for membership clearly, and have professional recruitment conducted by an outside consultant, the way we do most major public appointments today. Then let’s have a parliamentary committee approve a granular set of expectations and goals, as a mandate letter to the new commission.

It is deeply ironic that in an election unique in its limitations on the ability of parties and candidates to reach out to meet voters — and the ability of voters to come to hear a leader in person — that one of the few tools left to help Canadians come to a voting decision was such a disaster.

Let’s start over one more time, and try to figure out how best to avoid another campaign of flops.

Source: Our election debates have become embarrassing failures. How did we sink so low?

Sears: Canadian Muslims’ anguished demand: how many more times?

Reads as overly “triumphant” given that the solutions are neither simple nor easy. But yes, the political presence of all major political leaders, the regrets of Conservatives regarding “barbaric cultural practices” are significant signals of changing social norms (even if not much evidence in right-wing media):

What a difference a year makes.

It seems unlikely that the massive nationwide reaction to the murder of a Muslim family in London, Ont. a week ago tonight would have been as deep and all-embracing before the death of George Floyd. His death, and the global revulsion to it, forced new lessons on all of us about the depths and costs of systemic racism.

This week, impressively, the majority of those demanding change were not Muslim. Also remarkable was the sight of every political leader from every level of government at the London vigil. They all underlined that there is simply no political space anymore for even dog-whistled racist tropes in our politics. Stephen Harper was the last politician to suffer for his 2015 campaign’s sleazy racist whispers. Premier Kenney, who blamed South Asians’ cultural practices for the spread of COVID in their communities, seems likely to be the next.

A European friend reminded me recently that we should be proud that we are the only nation in the developed world where there is zero traction for a racist or anti-immigrant political party. It is a feature of our politics that we should celebrate. We saw it again this week.

American politicians’ declarations of their nation’s “exceptionalism” cause many Canadians to twitch. Barack Obama’s bizarrely ignorant claim that his victory could only have taken place in one country made many of us shout “not true!” at our screens. So, it is with some trepidation I suggest that there are few places in the world where an entire nation will leap immediately to the defence of a wounded Muslim community and demand action from all their politicians.

What we cannot pat our collective back for, however, is success in fighting the visible rise in calls for violence from white supremacists. Incited from the depths of the social media swamp, we can no longer deny the cancerous growth of racial hatred. We find it in members of our military and police services, in too many hospital and LTC workers and on too many city streets. We cannot excuse our political leaders for their continuing incompetence and failure to take even the most basic steps to block racist attacks.

As one sign at the London vigil demanded, “How Many More Times?” Neither the prime minister nor Premier Ford embraced the call for an emergency national summit to create an action agenda, despite their powerful rhetorical performances that night. Nothing effective was done after the mosque murders in Quebec City. So far, the political response to the Afzaal family’s murder has been promises to write another cheque. A more severe application of criminal justice is not the answer. Harsh punishment following the next attack will do nothing for the dead victims.

The fundamentals to rolling back racism are well known. They start with frequent public acknowledgment of our reality by leaders in every institution. Delivering stories of the power of communities devoted to inclusion and diversity, beginning at the elementary school level. Heavy consequences for social media platforms that grant safe harbours to this poison on their sites. (Removing hate speech after an attack is not good enough, Facebook.) Every one of us confronting the slurs we see and hear too often. And yes, using the law to hammer the attackers.

Source: Canadian Muslims’ anguished demand: how many more times?

Robin V. Sears: How Jagmeet Singh can teach a lesson on tolerance

Interesting and credible advice, including how to handle Air India questions:

Next year, Canada may face a test of our national foundations, that is our commitment to social inclusion and tolerance. Will this fragile consensus survive the bloodletting of a national election when one of the leadership choices is an ambitious Sikh man, in a time when some partisans would stir the embers of racism?

In the naïve euphoria of a “post-racial Presidency,” how many Americans would have predicted an openly racist American president would follow? The Conservative Party has yet to be persuasive about how deeply it has learned the lessons of its disastrous flirtation with Islamophobic racism. The Quebec political elite still needs to acknowledge the black crow feathers dangling from their lips.

The ability to set these boundaries of acceptable discourse falls heavily on one man.

In 2019, Jagmeet Singh faces Obama’s choice. Obama did not run as a black candidate — to the chagrin of many black activists, like his hopeless pastor who almost single-handedly torpedoed his candidacy. He ran first as the candidate of “the outsiders” — by race, by ethnicity, and by class. Later, he became the candidate and the president, of social justice and race. The sequencing was essential to his success.

Jagmeet Singh might consider a similar story arc. He need not present himself as a Sikh candidate, or even as the champion of non-white Canadians: those credentials are given. Until now, even dog whistle racism gets slapped down here.

So Singh can frame himself as the champion of all that we have achieved, the defender of that edifice against any who would undermine it, and the advocate of what more remains to be done to build a discrimination-free Canada. He can be the candidate who frames the debate on these questions — helping to ensure no one is tempted to whisper against Canadian Muslims, or him, on the basis of his skin or his religion.

Those journalists tempted to use the tragedy of Sikh terrorism to humiliate him should remember this: Singh comes from one of the most persecuted, and discriminated against religions in the world. Thousands of young Sikhs have died in recent decades in circumstances that pass no credible legal test.

Some Sikh zealots, as a result, have taken up arms and dreamed impossible independence dreams. This has been a tragedy for one community, Sikhs themselves. There is virtually no sympathy for the Air-India bombers in the Sikh community here — after all, those who died were predominantly their own children and their parents.

What those journalists who taunt Singh, insisting on a condemnation they dictate, need to understand why that stand-alone demand is so offensive. If the question were, “Given the persecution of your community, the destruction of your temples, and the death of thousands of innocent Sikhs in civil conflict, do you understand why some are tempted by terrorism in response?” You would get a resounding, “No!” and then an explanation of why. Singh might want to deliver that cultural history lesson proactively.

He could also deliver a hammer blow to anyone tempted to again try on a racist subtext by speaking out in Quebec. Attacking the slurs against that mostly progressive and socially inclusive community could be powerful. In preparation, quiet discussions with Quebec civic leaders about how to deliver the message, would be valuable in themselves and a powerful signal to Quebecers that he is listening, not lecturing, advocating not admonishing.

He could cite brave Quebec activists’ resistance to anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Duplessis era; the fight for civil rights for all Quebecers, by Lesage and Levesque. And he could celebrate the solidarity among Jewish and Catholic and Muslim leaders in Quebec City after the tragedy there. Tomorrow is the first anniversary.

Like Obama, he could acknowledge both the sins of the past, but also Lincoln’s “better angels” — our progress won by courageous Canadians in every generation. Underline the need to continue “bending the arc” of history toward justice.

He can remind Quebeckers and all Canadians of the personal bravery of Baldwin and Lafontaine staring down the Protestant and Catholic bigots among their own clans, creating the space that made a nation like Canada a possible dream.

The Canadian sanctimony that says there is no possibility of a racist nativism here is dangerous. The Ontario Human Rights Commission reported in December that nearly half of recent immigrants and refugees reported incidents of discrimination against them.

So, let’s pray that Jagmeet Singh and progressive Canadians can succeed in framing the discussion of inclusion versus racism as a path forward, not one sliding into Trumpian depths.

Source: Robin V. Sears: How Jagmeet Singh can teach a lesson on tolerance

Smothering the burning embers of terrorism: Sears 

Good and balanced commentary:

Canada had been astonishingly blessed to be mostly free of all but a few murders by angry young men mimicking serious terrorists — so far. But that is surely not a predictor of our future. Those more brutally stung by repeated attacks have moved far ahead of us in radicalization prevention, at-risk youth outreach, monitoring and countering incitement rhetoric online, in school, and in the community.

It is way past time that we made compulsory again the study of civics, in every elementary school year. A program of learning on the responsibilities of citizenship, on why a socially tolerant Canada is the only path to a safer Canada, on the story of the giants of our history on whose shoulders we stand, having been bequeathed this blessed, but always fragile, new nation.

This is not about attacks on other communities, other cultures, disguised as a “discussion about Canadian values.” Nor is it jeremiads like Supreme Court Justice Abella’s against “narcissistic populism” as powerful as they have been. It’s about demonstrating to everyone the meaning of the shared responsibilities of citizens in our democracy, and those we have to each other. What Toronto political sage Bill MacDonald has so elegantly dubbed the “Canadian culture of mutual accommodation.”

As we celebrate our 150 years of success in building a new form of nationhood, we cannot let our pride blind us to its perennial fragility. Canadian religious and public safety leaders, for example, need to deepen their conversations about the boundaries between acceptable and illegal hate speech, develop stronger models of shared engagement focused on mutual education and prevention, not merely surveillance and arrest.

Perhaps most important of all, Canadian business, civic, and community leaders need to make it clear to politicians and pundits who use racial, religious and ethnic divisions for votes or clicks, just how certain will be the destruction of their reputations and careers.

For it is not insensitive to the suffering of the Manchester families of the children who were victims of this latest atrocity to remember this: it is how we react to attack that is the path to less terror. We invest in prevention, we make punishment certain, and we double down on the peddlers of hate.

Perhaps with a deeper commitment to prevention our day will never come. But as the Japanese cliché has it, “People don’t learn from experience, only from catastrophe.” If, despite all our efforts, the one-time we fail leads to tragedy, we must ensure that our defiance in the face of attack includes a resolute commitment to the open inclusive Canada that so much blood was shed to build and to guarantee.

Source: Smothering the burning embers of terrorism: Sears | Toronto Star

Dutch voters deliver a treat: Sears

Will share with some of my Dutch friends but interesting analysis of the results and possible implications for Canada:

The headline across the continent this week was, “Europe Breathes a Sigh of Relief.” Common sense and the ‘centrist’ Dutch prime minister had survived. But drill down just a little and a different picture emerges. Yes, conservative Mark Rute did survive, but he lost 25 per cent of his caucus. The biggest loser was the Dutch Labour party, which lost 75 per cent of its MPs.

The real winner, however, despite the media hysteria pre-election day was not Geert Wilders, who won only five new seats. It was the Green Left party, which tripled its caucus, D66, a liberal party, and the Christian Democrats, traditional progressive conservatives. Together these three doubled their size in the new Parliament.

What is the voters’ message to this complex collection of pizza slice parties? It’s very clear.

Those who indulged anti-immigrant, racist dog-whistle politics and more austerity — including PM Rute — were punished. Those who supported the EU, economic stimulus and a Holland open to immigration and the world were winners. Greasy Geert was the outlier for only the bewildered and angry.

This is a powerful message for progressive politicians. The giant of Dutch progressive politics, the Labour party, was decimated, after supporting austerity and flirting with anti-immigrant rhetoric. The Greens, in Holland as elsewhere, may be economically incoherent, but voters rewarded their toughness on austerity and immigrant bashing.

Of course, progressive politicians should never patronize the anger of working class white voters as “deplorable.” Their anger is well-founded and demands a response. But, no, those same politicians should never slime up to racist populists as a survival strategy. As my socialist grandmother used to say to right-drifting New Democrats, “There are two more believable capitalist parties than us, why would you think copying them will fool anyone?”

Wilders — a man who equates the Qur’an with Mein Kampf — is a long time former staffer in Rute’s party. His populist costume conceals a traditional conservative ideology. Why would any thoughtful progressive try to compete with his current poisonous politics by imitating him?

The great Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor observes that no one is borne racist, we learn it. Taylor cautions that each of us is genetically wired to be susceptible to a fear of “the other,” given the right fear-mongering baits. We have built a broad social consensus for an open, tolerant society here, but it is fragile. It can be fatally undermined by enough angry voices in hard times. This is what makes the dog-whistle racism of some Canadian Conservatives so despicable.

As Taylor puts it, each society has the ability to swing from a dark place to a sunnier plateau — and back again. Working in Egypt during the Tahrir Spring, my young Yemeni female colleagues sighed sadly, as they recalled pictures of their bathing-suited mothers playing soccer with their male friends on the beach in 1960s Aden. Many Arab nations have travelled toward openness and freedom and then slid back again.

Taylor reminds us that from the revolution in 1789 to the late 1950s France was the most welcoming and socially inclusive society in Western Europe, where thousands of Russians, Poles, Asians and North African refugees had fled. What Changed? The Algerian War, in part, and a quiescent leadership elite that first tolerated and then promoted racial division, exclusion and hate.

The real roots of populist anger — rising inequality and falling incomes, rising barriers to the newly arrived and those starting out, and falling standards of living for a new generation — must be addressed boldly and creatively. But let’s drop the flirtation with racist politics in doing so.

Imagine a different, more courageous response …

A pioneer such as Conservative leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai celebrating his success, his qualification to lead and, yes, his difference. Would it not be a proud Canadian moment, if Obhrai delivered a thundering endorsement of anti-racist, pro-immigrant politics — a strong Progressive Conservative tradition — and then got a standing ovation from party members?

Or imagine New Democrat Jagmeet Singh, speaking in French to a crowd at the Quebec City mosque, delivering a ringing denunciation of the racial, religious and ethnic provocateurs, and having the crowd — including niqab-clad women and pur laine Quebecers — rise to their feet.

Let’s hope the Conservatives have learned the lesson of their niqab humiliation and that they have the wisdom to smack down those who would play dangerous games with the hard-won harmony and social cohesion we have built.

And let’s ensure that any Canadian progressive tempted to play footsy with racism understands the certainty of their political humiliation.

Source: Dutch voters deliver a treat: Sears | Toronto Star