Trudeau’s Senate representative slams ‘obstructionist’ Conservative delay tactics in new report [e.g., C-6]

The Conservative caucus use of procedural delaying tactics is certainly evident with respect to C-6 Citizenship Act changes:

In a scathing new document, the government’s representative in the Senate slams Conservatives for “zealously” delaying government bills.

In the 21-page “discussion paper,” Sen. Peter Harder says “obstructionist” senators are “time-wasting,” delaying the Liberal government’s agenda and blocking Senate modernization to score their own “partisan points.” He proposes an all-party “business committee” set schedules based on individual bills to ensure House business doesn’t indefinitely stall in the Senate.

The committee idea itself is a “very good” one, says Conservative senator Stephen Greene, but Harder “made the acceptance of the structure a bit difficult on our side because he took a few potshots at Conservatives, and the reaction on our side might not be too pleasant, to put it mildly.”

Greene said Conservatives are using tactics available to any opposition, and that Liberals have used in the past. “Filibustering and delaying tactics are not bad things in and of themselves, if they’re used with restraint,” he said. “From Sen. Harder’s point of view, it might look excessive, but from the Conservative point of view, it’s not.”

The paper, dated Friday, is being circulated to senators this week following further delays for the Liberals’ citizenship bill, C-6. The bill, which repeals major elements of Harper-era citizenship legislation (Bill C-24), has languished in the Senate since last June.

Voting on a third-reading amendment to the bill was delayed throughout the evening last Thursday by various adjournment motions from the Conservatives. It was a longer-than-average evening with lengthy waiting periods in between votes on the motions. At one point, the Independent Senators Group ordered pizza for itself. Greene called the session a “trainwreck.”

“The apparent strategy is to hinder the progress of government bills, even those that seek to enact clear election promises, for as long as possible,” Harder writes in his paper, listing other examples of delays.

“Some Senators would prefer for the Senate to remain stuck in time, available as a platform to advance partisan interests. … Sober second thought has become a game of procedural cat-and-mouse.”

Harder says a business committee would make collaborative decisions on time management with input from leaders of each caucus or group, the bill’s sponsor and critic, and the chair of the committee to which the bill would likely be referred.

Source: Trudeau’s Senate representative slams ‘obstructionist’ Conservative delay tactics in new report | National Post

Senators oppose ‘clunky, pedestrian’ gender-neutral changes to O Canada

I have some sympathy for the arguments of Fraser and MacDonald. Yet another example of the Senate exercising more independence:

Some members of the Senate are determined to stop Parliament from changing the words of the national anthem, with one senator deriding the late Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger‘s proposed amendments to O Canada as “clunky, leaden and pedestrian.”

Liberal Senator Joan Fraser, a self-described “ardent feminist,” said the new phrasing is both grammatically incorrect and a misguided attempt to make the song reflect “today’s values.”

“It’s a fine example of what happens when you let politicians meddle,” she said of Bill C-210 to amend the National Anthem Act. “Politicians are not usually poets.”

Bélanger, who passed away last summer after a battle with ALS, sought to make the anthem gender-neutral by removing the phrase “all thy sons command” and replacing it with “all of us command.”

The bill passed in the House of Commons largely along party lines, with all Liberal and NDP MPs voting in favour of the changes, while most Conservatives opposed. Some notable female Tory MPs, including Michelle Rempel and Lisa Raitt, backed Bélanger’s bill.

Nearly a year later, the bill is now in its last legislative phase — third reading in the Senate — awaiting a final vote.  As per the Senate’s procedural policy, debate on the bill can be continually adjourned by critics, punting a vote on the matter to a later date.

‘Sloppy’ legislation

The bill’s backers, including Liberal MP Greg Fergus, hope to see the bill passed into law in time for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations on July 1.

While others, including Conservative Nova Scotia Senator Michael MacDonald, have said the “sloppy” legislation should be defeated in its present form because it’s simply an attempt to sanitize a national symbol.

“If we are constantly revising everything because it was written in another generation, our national symbols will have no value. Our history means nothing in this country anymore, and it’s a shame that we’re doing this,” he said in an interview with CBC News. “The Senate should not be reticent in defending and preserving the heritage of Canada.”

Fraser, a journalist and editor appointed by former prime minister Jean Chrétien in 1998, said it is a dangerous precedent to start fiddling with lyrics written by a man long dead.

“If we are to become engrossed in the idea that we must at all times be correctly modern, we lose a part of our heritage,” Fraser said in a recent speech to the Red Chamber. “It may not be a perfect heritage — I’m not suggesting it is — but it is ours. I suggest that it deserves respect and acceptance for what it is: imperfect but our own.”

Fraser said if inclusion is the primary goal, it makes little sense to leave overtly Christian references untouched. Former prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s government added the words “God keep our land glorious and free” in 1980, she noted, the same year the song officially became the country’s national anthem.

“Make no mistake about it, colleagues: we’re talking about the Christian god here, not just anyone’s god,” she said.

Since 1980, 12 private member’s bills have been introduced in the House to strip the gendered reference to “sons,” which some have argued is discriminatory. All attempts have failed.

“It is something that will make our national anthem more inclusive,” Independent Ontario Senator Frances Lankin said in defence of the bill last month. “This change might be small, but it may very well have a major impact on how the next generation views our evolving history.”

The song itself has been changed many times since the English version was first penned in 1908 by Robert Stanley Weir, a judge and poet. Indeed, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, Weir changed the line in question from “thou dost in us command” to “in all thy sons command.”

‘Social justice warrior seal of approval’

MacDonald is vehemently opposed to Bélanger’s wording because he believes the “politically correct” changes were rammed through the House despite little or no public demand for such a modification.

He said the Liberal government used Bélanger, a man who was near death, as a “vehicle” for the changes.

“That’s not the way to use Parliament. Everybody knows the tragedy of his circumstances, a very tragic thing — but, with respect, it’s the government that treated it like the Children’s Wish Foundation,” MacDonald said.

“This is just change for the sake of change, and just catering to a very narrow group of people who want to impose their agenda on everything,” he said. “Leave the anthem alone.”

The Cape Breton senator also takes issue with the bill because it only changes the English-language version of the national anthem, even though the French words would have a hard time getting the “social justice warrior seal of approval.”

“Why should one official version of the anthem be exempt from re-examination?” MacDonald said. “It is, without question, an ethnic French-Canadian, Catholic, nationalist battle hymn, certainly non-inclusive, yet I am not offended. It is just part of Canada’s history in song.”

MacDonald said he has consulted with English and linguistic professors about the wording change, and they agree that the bill’s authors “botched” the language.

“The proper and only acceptable pronoun substitution for the phrase ‘All thy sons command’ is ‘All of our command,'” MacDonald said. “This is not opinion. This is fact.”  (The full text of his speech can be read here.)

Source: Senators oppose ‘clunky, pedestrian’ gender-neutral changes to O Canada – Politics – CBC News

Senate staff diversity under a microscope #cdnpoli

The same study should be made with respect to MP and Ministerial staff (the latter, when I looked at in late 2015 and early 2016, showed considerable under-representation in Ministerial offices, particularly of visible minorities and Indigenous peoples):

Women made up 59 per cent of Senate administration staff as of March 2016, according to the Senate administration report tabled in December. That’s a bump of 10 percentage points from the same month a year prior, and the highest level since at least 2009.

That shift was enough to prompt Sen. Marshall to ask the subcommittee’s witness, Senate human resources director Luc Presseau, whether the Senate’s efforts to ensure equal representation for women had created an overrepresentation.

The Senate administration has been working for several years to ensure proper representation of women, aboriginal people, disabled people, and visible minorities.

“When you swing one way to fix something, sometimes you swing the other way a little too far,” Sen. Marshall told The Hill Times in an interview.

In this case, the large jump in representation seems more dramatic than it really was; there were actually six fewer women working in the Senate administration staff last year than the year prior, but the total number of Senate staff had declined by an even greater proportion over that time, from 437 employees (215 women) to 354 (209 women). The Senate administrative staff dropped by 83 people last year after the Senate Protective Service was merged into the Parliamentary Protective Service, which is now a separate entity.

Last year women represented more than half of the top-earning Senate staff—55 per cent of those making six-figures—and exactly half of those in senior and middle management.

The Senate administration report, the fifth of its kind, shows modest changes to representation of visible minorities (15 per cent last year), aboriginal peoples (3.4 per cent), and persons with disabilities (5.6 per cent) since 2009. The report did not cover staffers working in the offices of Senators, but included all components of the Senate bureaucracy.

Mr. Presseau flagged underrepresentation of individuals with disabilities as a problem, telling the subcommittee, “our numbers are not quite as good as what the availability of the population might be.” He also said that indigenous people, particularly from the North, continue to be underrepresented.

None of the Senate administration’s 30 managers identified themselves as aboriginal last year, according to the report.

The Senate has been working to improve diversity among the ranks of its administrative staff for years. The Senate diversity subcommittee isn’t unprecedented either, as a similar subcommittee was set up in 2011 and tabled a report on the subject in 2012.

Mr. Presseau noted that the statistics included in the Senate report are based on individuals identifying themselves as belonging to a minority group—though that is not the case for gender—and said the numbers might look different if staff were reminded to self-identify.

Sen. Tannas, who also sits on the Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee, asked whether the Senate could track whether those who identify as aboriginal could be verified as having official status—registered with the government as “status Indians”—as a way to prevent false claims.

“It’s becoming a bit of an urban legend that if you want to get ahead in the civil service that you suddenly identify with your aboriginal roots. And we don’t want that,” he told The Hill Times, adding it seemed unlikely that the Senate would be able to meet that request.

Sen. Tannas also urged the Senate to focus on increasing regional diversity among its staff, suggesting a program to temporarily exchange staff with provincial legislatures, in part to combat the perception out West that the government is run by people from Central Canada.

“I think it’s important in the national Parliament that we don’t wind up with a perfectly sealed bubble, where everybody involved in the affairs of the country drives no more than an hour to work,” he told The Hill Times.

Senators on the subcommittee also stressed the importance of hiring more veterans to work in the Senate, and finding a way to guard against name-based bias, wherein job applicants are overlooked, consciously or unconsciously, because their name suggests they belong to a minority group.

Sen. Jaffer told The Hill Times she hoped the subcommittee could wrap up its work and put together a report before June.

Source: Senate staff diversity under a microscope – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Diversity in the Senate – My latest in Policy Options

My latest, analyzing the diversity of Senators. Intro teaser below:

With the large number of Senate appointments made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and a more independent role for individual senators, a look at the current level of diversity in the Upper Chamber is timely.

In essence, the Trudeau appointments have made the Senate more diverse in terms of gender, visible minorities, and Indigenous peoples and thus more representative of the people it serves.

However, when viewed from the perspective of education and occupation, there is less diversity: more senators with higher degrees, and more senators with an activist background and less with a business background.

Given the increased independence of senators, the increased ethnic and gender diversity and decreased educational and occupational diversity    may play a role in terms of how the Senate responds to legislation and plays its sober second thought role.

This analysis contrasts the various aspects of diversity between the 43 non-affiliated senators (33 form the Independent Senators Group, of whom 28 were appointed by Prime Minister Trudeau),  and the 41 Conservative and 21 Liberal senators (December 2016).

Source: Diversity in the Senate – Policy Options

C-6: My brief to the Senate on the declining naturalization rate

For those interested, my full brief to the Senate’s Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SOCI) that will be reviewing Bill C-6 changes to the Citizenship Act can be found here: C-6 Senate Hearings: Expected Impact on the Naturalization Rate.

The summary is below:

  • Bill C-6 appropriately maintains and strengthens the existing integrity and business process measures introduced in the 2014 major rewrite of the Citizenship Act (C-24).
  • Beyond the specific changes proposed in Bill C-6, there is a broader issue of fewer immigrants applying for citizenship, primarily a result of the steep increase in the processing fee (from $100 to $530 in 2014-15).
  • Five non-legislative recommendations are proposed to ensure that all immigrants have a more equitable opportunity to become citizens. One legislative recommendation is proposed to ensure a clear and transparent process for future citizenship fee changes:
  • Non-Legistlative
  1. Reduce the current citizenship processing fee of $530 to $300, abolish the right of citizenship fee of $100, with consideration for a partial waiver for refugees and low income immigrants;
  2. Review the impact of the additional cost of language competency pre-assessment (about $200) and develop lower-cost alternatives;
  3. Ensure that any revisions to the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, and related materials are written in plain language as close to the level required (CLB-4), and preferably focus-group tested;
  4. Consider dedicated citizenship preparation classes targeted towards those groups that appear to be having difficulty passing the test; and,
  5. Set a meaningful naturalization benchmark rate that 75 percent of immigrants will take up citizenship within a six- to eight-year period.
  • Legislative
  1. Repeal the exemption to the User Fees Act with respect to the setting of citizenship fees to ensure full public review and consultation for future changes.

More than 2,700 Canadians applied to be senators – diversity analysis

senate-working-deck-016For those interested in employment equity and diversity reporting, this first report provides a model for future reporting on judicial and other GiC appointments.

While I have some quibbles – the reference number for visible minorities should be the percentage of those who are also Canadian citizens (15 percent), not the age adjusted workforce population as they have appeared to use (17.8 percent), a breakdown of the ethnic/cultural groups self-identified would be helpful, along with some methodology notes – this is really a good and comprehensive report.

Of course, this report does not include other aspects of diversity such as education, work and the like.

By way of comparison, the 28 Senate appointments of PM Trudeau were comprised of 16 women (57 percent, higher than the 40 percent of applications), six visible minorities (21 percent, slightly lower than the 25 percent who applied) and two Indigenous persons (7 percent, twice that percentage of those that applied).

Hopefully, this will serve as a template for future reporting on the diversity of GiC appointments, including judges:

The independent board that advised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on a recent round of Senate appointments says 2,757 people applied to be senators when the Liberal government went looking to fill vacancies for seven provinces.

Canadians were invited to apply when nominations were opened in July to fill 21 spots in the upper chamber. The independent advisory board that reviewed the applications is part of Trudeau’s plan to reform the Senate.

According to the advisory board’s first report, 60 per cent of applicants were male and 68 per cent selected English as their first language.

Twenty-five per cent identified as a visible minority, 13.6 per cent described themselves as indigenous and four per cent as LGBT.

“We were very pleased with the number of applications received, as well as with the calibre of individuals who put their names forward as part of the open application process,” the board writes.

The board says that “nearly 750 national, provincial and local organizations” were also contacted to encourage applications.

Applicants were screened by board members to identify “a list of priority candidates who … best met the merit-based criteria.” The prime minister was then provided with a list of five candidates for each of 20 vacancies, with additional names passed along to fill an unexpected opening for Manitoba.

“Recommended candidates were not prioritized; the proposed candidates were listed in alphabetical order,” the board explains. “The advice to the prime minister included a short synopsis to highlight the merits of each of the recommended candidates, as well as more detailed information from their candidacy submission.”

The board also clarifies that the prime minister’s choices for appointment came from their recommendations.

“We were very pleased that the prime minister made his recommendations to the Governor General from the list of candidates that we had provided to him,” they write.

The total cost for the advisory process so far is estimated to be approximately $900,000.

Maryam Monsef, minister of democratic institutions, also announced on Wednesday that the federal government has opened applications to fill another six vacancies: three in Nova Scotia, two in Ontario and one in New Brunswick.

Source: More than 2,700 Canadians applied to be senators – Politics – CBC News

Report of the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments – Permanent Process (July to November 2016)

‘We can’t abandon them’: Senators urge more language, mental health supports for Syrian refugees

Sensible set of recommendations:

One year after the first wave of Syrian refugees arrived in Canada, the Senate’s committee on human rights is urging the federal government to boost language training, mental health services and financial supports to ease the next phase of the resettlement process.

Releasing a report called “Finding Refuge in Canada: A Syrian Resettlement Story,” committee chair Jim Munson said while the program has been a Canadian success story, the government and citizens must not be complacent.

“We can’t abandon them. We can’t let indifference set in. We need to do more to help them in their next resettlement steps,” he said during a news conference in Ottawa Tuesday.

The report recommends:

  • The minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship set and meet specific standards for processing times.

  • Improving the flow of information to refugees on the status of applications.

  • Connecting refugees with networks of supportive individuals in their communities.

  • Ensuring the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) maintain timely processing for disbursement of the Canada Child Benefit.

  • Replacing immigration loans for transportation expenses with a grant.

  • Increasing funds for language training, and providing accompanying child care to improve access for women.

  • Working with provinces, territories and community groups to enhance programming for youth.

  • Improving culturally appropriate mental health programs.

  • Identifying possible changes to facilitate timely family reunification.

Source: ‘We can’t abandon them’: Senators urge more language, mental health supports for Syrian refugees – Politics – CBC News

And The Globe has a good profile of how some schools are integrating Syrian refugee kids:

 Finding sanctuary: Why education is challenging but crucial for Syrian refugees 

Senate could get rid of law threatening to strip Maryam Monsef’s citizenship

Needed: the removal of the previous procedural protections for citizenship fraud and misrepresentation without any effective replacement was over-reach:

The Senate could come to the rescue of Canadians who are being stripped of their citizenship without a hearing.

Independent Sen. Ratna Omidvar, who is sponsoring another citizenship-related bill in the upper house, says she’s hopeful the Senate will amend the bill to do away with a law that allows the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone deemed to have misrepresented themselves.

It’s a law that could potentially ensnare Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef, who revealed last week that she was born in Iran, not Afghanistan as she’d always believed.

The law, part of a citizenship bill passed by the previous Conservative government, was denounced by the Liberals when they were in opposition but lawyers say they’ve been aggressively enforcing it since forming government.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers on Monday launched a constitutional challenge of the law, which they argue violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Liberal government chose not to deal with the issue in Bill C-6, which repeals other aspects of the Conservatives’ citizenship regime, including a provision empowering the government to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who are convicted of high treason or terrorism.

During study of C-6 at a House of Commons committee, the NDP attempted to amend the bill to repeal the power to revoke citizenship without a hearing. But that was ruled by the committee chair to be outside the scope of the bill.

Omidvar, who moved the second reading of C-6 on Tuesday in the upper chamber, said Senate procedural rules are different and she’s hopeful the upper house will be able to do what the Commons could not.

“I would like to see this question addressed,” said Omidvar, a longtime advocate for immigrant and refugee rights.

“I think it’s a very important question because, as BCCLA has pointed out, even if you get a traffic ticket, you get a hearing or an appeal and here your citizenship is being revoked and you have no avenue for a hearing and appeal.”

Omidvar said she’s spoken about the matter with Immigration Minister John McCallum and “he’s open to an amendment” from the Senate.

“He understands that this was an oversight.”

Source: Senate could get rid of law threatening to strip Maryam Monsef’s citizenship | Toronto Star

Extremist literature common in many mosques and Islamic school libraries in Canada, study says

Old story, but one that raises interesting issues:

One year ago, the Senate defence and security committee issued a report saying some foreign-trained imams had been spreading extremist religious ideology and messages that are not in keeping with Canadian values, contributing to radicalization.

The committee has urged the government to explore imam training and certification in an effort help curb radicalization, one of 25 recommendations it made in the interim anti-terrorism report.

When the report was released, an Ottawa imam, Mohamad Jebara, raised questions about its key recommendation.

“Who is going to do the certifying?” asked Jebara. “Islam is so diverse, like many religions. So what sect or school of thought are you going to certify?

“It is extremely complex,” he said. “It’s like having certification for Christian clergy. The question is: Would the Catholics, Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons agree on requirements for certification? Obviously not.”

Targeting Muslim clergy exclusively could backfire, said Jebara, and result in further marginalizing Muslims.

The committee report called on the government to work with the provinces and Muslim communities to “investigate the options that are available for the training and certification of imams in Canada.”

The report was not supported by Liberal senators on the committee. It was denounced by the National Council of Canadian Muslims as stigmatizing and failing to offer effective solutions to the challenge of violent extremism.

Source: Extremist literature common in many mosques and Islamic school libraries in Canada, study says

Liberals edge closer to repealing Conservative citizenship changes, though Senate remains a wildcard

Will indeed be interesting to see how the Senate handles C-6, as will also be for C-14 (assisted dying):

The House Immigration Committee completed its study of Bill C-6, sending it back to the House with a pair amendments on May 5. The committee heard from 27 witnesses during five meetings devoted to studying the bill.

Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj (Etobicoke Centre, Ont.), who chairs the committee, said in an interview that while it was “hard to predict” what would happen once the bill reached the Senate, he was “cautiously optimistic” that “by the time we rise for the summer…we’ll be able to say that once again in Canada, ‘A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.’”

The office of Government House Leader Dominic LeBlanc (Beauséjour, N.B.), who shepherds government legislation through the House, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Mr. McCallum told the House Immigration Committee last month that the implementation of C-6 would likely be delayed once it passed into law, “in order to prevent the buildup in [citizenship application] backlogs resulting from this change.”

Mr. McCallum also said that it would be “difficult to predict” how the Senate would handle the bill. There are more Conservatives in the Senate than either Liberals or independents, though Liberal and independent Senators have a narrow majority if they vote as a bloc.

The Senate Social Affairs, Science, and Technology Committee typically handles immigration-related legislation, and in the previous Parliament reviewed Bill C-24. The Conservatives currently have a majority on that committee.

None of the six Conservative Senators on the Senate Social Affairs Committee agreed or were available to be interviewed about Bill C-6. Conservative Senator Kelvin Ogilvie, the committee chair, declined through an office staff member, citing his role as chair.

Conservative Senator and committee member Judith Seidman also declined through a staff member on the grounds that the bill was still before the House.

Conservative Senator and committee member Carolyn Stewart Olsen wrote in an emailed statement that she would not comment on Bill C-6 or make up her mind about it before it was put before the Social Affairs Committee.

Source: Liberals edge closer to repealing Conservative citizenship changes, though Senate remains a wildcard |