Delacourt: Canada’s federal leaders will defend your right to wear a poppy, Just don’t ask them to stick up for your freedom of religion

Nails the virtue signalling and hypocrisy:

The great furor over the poppy ban at Whole Foods lasted less than one news cycle last week, thanks to the full-throated outrage from political leaders all over Canada.

Imagine how long Quebec’s secularism bill — which bans a lot more than poppy-wearing — would have lasted with similar shock and condemnation from those same politicians.

Sanctimony is never in short supply in the realm of politics, but we seem to have entered the season for freedom-of-expression lectures in Canada.

Politicians have waded into the frays over saying the N-word in the classroom, wearing poppies in upscale supermarkets and the publication of religiously offensive cartoons in France. There’s no end of courage — almost no end — when it comes to standing up for the right to make a statement.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves François Blanchet has been the most strident, but by no means has he been the only one. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has put out videos proclaiming himself as a free-speech champion in the face of what he sees as worrying ambivalence by Justin Trudeau after acts of terrorism in France.

Funny, though, not one of them rushed to the podium over the stories being told in a Quebec court last week about the lives ruined by Bill 21’s limits on the rights of religious expression. Several constitutional challenges have been launched against that legislation, which bans the wearing of religious symbols in public, and one is now underway.

Even though it’s freedom-of-expression season in federal politics, not one party leader — not Blanchet, not O’Toole, not Trudeau or NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — has offered comment on the tales being told in the Bill 21 trial. There have been stories of teachers having to choose between their careers and their religion, and Muslims being targets of hate and bigotry because of the law. And from the selective free-speech champions in Ottawa? Silence.

Trudeau and Singh have said they don’t like Bill 21, but they’re going to let the courts do what they do. O’Toole has said the law is “difficult,” but he’s not touching it because he doesn’t think it’s any of the federal government’s business — unlike poppies in supermarkets or acts of violence in Europe.

Blanchet has said he supports Bill 21 because it has majority support in Quebec, even though allowing minority rights to be settled by majority opinion has always been a sketchy kind of argument when it comes to constitutional matters. Where do we get that idea? Oh yes, from Quebec.

To its credit, Whole Foods didn’t try that one with its poppy ban, though it’s kind of fun to imagine how over-the-top the political outrage would have been if the Amazon-owned outlet had said, “Most people who work for us don’t want to wear poppies.”

Let’s face it, though, it was pretty easy to be mad at Whole Foods. No one in politics wants to be associated with billion-dollar companies, tech giants or overpriced food these days, so it was simply a matter of hearing about the poppy ban and pressing “play” on the outrage tape.

It’s a little harder, apparently, to work up the nerve to say that Bill 21 is a flagrant slap in the face of freedom of expression and, worse yet, that it is inflicting real, not symbolic damage on real citizens.

It’s politics, naturally. No one wants to get on the wrong side of that majority opinion in Quebec, or worse, get accused of trying to interfere with provinces’ rights to make their own laws. We may be enthusiastic rights champions in Canada, but we are also very polite about poking our noses into constitutional-jurisdiction matters. See O’Toole’s arguments, above.

As for why politicians are suddenly falling over each other to climb aboard the freedom-of-expression these days, there may be an easy explanation: It’s the pandemic, and especially this second wave of COVID-19, which is proving to be a real freedom-wrecker.

People are angry, frustrated and fatigued with limits on their lives. The addition of one more constraint, even if it extends to their speech alone, gives the public and politicians a way to vent a little emotion about how unfree we’re all feeling behind our masks and closed doors.

But the sanctimony of the free-speech champions at the podium in Ottawa is a little hard to take while Bill 21 is sitting on the books as a stain on Charter rights in Canada.

These staunch champions of rights are of course free to proclaim they believe in freedom of expression day after day at their political pulpits. But we should feel free to take note of what freedoms — and whose freedoms — they are also failing to defend.

Source: Canada’s federal leaders will defend your right to wear a poppy, Just don’t ask them to stick up for your freedom of religion

Susan Delacourt: COVID-19 has made Canada wary of newcomers. So how can Ottawa make the case for the immigrants we so desperately need?

More on Minister Mendicino’s thinking:

On the fateful day in March that the COVID-19 virus officially became an international pandemic, Canada’s immigration minister, Marco Mendicino, was paying tribute to employers who hire newcomers to this country.

The ceremony was held at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on March 11 and, as the proceedings were getting under way, the host read aloud a bracing bulletin from German chancellor Angela Merkel. The virus, Merkel had just declared, could infect up to 70 per cent of Germans.

Mendicino was stopped in his tracks. A little over a week before, he had been sitting beside Merkel at an immigration-themed event in Berlin, where he had been invited to share stories of how Canada handled the integration of newcomers.

That event had been a big deal for a rookie minister, only sworn into cabinet a few months earlier. But this news from Merkel in Germany was suddenly a much bigger deal.

“That was the moment. That was enough to give me and everybody else in the room pause,” Mendicino said. “It was the moment that the world changed for me.”

What made this moment even more surreal is that it came only one day before Mendicino was due to make the annual announcement on how many immigrants would be welcomed to Canada in the years ahead — 341,00 for the coming year; 361,000 by 2022.

Even as Mendicino was gamely rolling out this plan on the Thursday of that week, however, the world was closing its doors. Donald Trump had shut down entry of all travellers from Europe the night before. Canada’s own prime minister, Justin Trudeau, went into isolation that day, after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.

Mendicino was asked at his March 12 news conference about how he could possibly be talking about welcoming more immigrants to Canada while borders were slamming shut all over the planet.

“We are at a moment where we are responding to COVID-19, but we also are planning for the future,” he said. “The future of this country depends on immigration. We need to continue to grow because we have an aging population, an aging workforce.”

Making the case for immigration in an increasingly insular, inward-looking world was already a hard sell. Mendicino says that he and Trudeau talked about this candidly when he was asked to take on the job after the last election. Canada is a lot more polarized over immigration today than it was in the heady days for Trudeau after the 2015 election, when one of the first big gestures of the new Liberal government was to welcome floods of Syrian refugees to Canada.

Since then, Trump has become president; Britain has voted to leave the European Union; and repeated polls in this country show that sentiments about immigration are hardening.

In the midst of this, COVID-19 has very conveniently handed a big win to all those political forces looking for larger walls between nations and stricter limits on who gets into their countries. Add to that the record unemployment the pandemic is causing and, one assumes, accompanying resentment at anyone coming to this country to do jobs Canadians could do.

It didn’t help fans of immigration either that in the early days of the crisis almost all the cases of COVID-19 had come to this country from abroad. Xenophobia, meet germophobia.

Where has that put Canada’s immigration minister in this crisis? I joked to Mendicino before interviewing him this week about whether he is now the Maytag repairman of cabinet, on lonely call, but presiding over a system that has effectively been shut down until further notice.

Mendicino emphatically disagrees with the premise of that joke. For the past two months, he’s set up his office in the basement of his home in Toronto and he hasn’t been short of things to do. While he remains vague on what’s happened to that 341,000 immigrants target — “we’ll have more to say in the fall” — Mendicino would say that people are still arriving here.

According to rough counts from Mendicino’s department, about 3,000 permanent residents arrived in Canada in April — a massive decline from the usual 25,000 or so who arrive as permanent residents each month during normal times. In the first three months of this year, Canada took in nearly 70,000 permanent residents, but the numbers started to tail markedly downward in the last half of March, once the pandemic hit. In addition, the immigration department was busy in April welcoming a little more than 20,000 temporary foreign workers into the country.

Canada still needs immigrants, maybe more now than ever before, Mendicino says, as the pandemic exposes just how dependent this country is on those who come here from abroad to work in essential businesses.

“The notion that somehow immigration has stopped doesn’t square with the reality that we are continuing to welcome temporary workers, international students and continuing to land those who wish to come to Canada, and lend their experience, their hard work to our country,” Mendicino says.

It should be said that for all the help that COVID-19 has given to arguments for closed borders, the pandemic has also forced Canadians to look at how much the economy depends on welcoming workers from elsewhere.

The havoc that the pandemic has been wreaking in long-term-care homes, for instance, has shone a light on how that whole sector is highly dependent on immigrants. Hospitals are similarly reliant. According to StatsCan, one in every four health-care workers in this country is a newcomer to Canada. More than a third of family physicians are immigrants; roughly the same proportions are seen in the fields of nursing, nursing aides and other related occupations.

Then there are the temporary workers in agriculture, urgently needed this spring when planting season was under way across Canada. Universities are already worrying about what will happen if they lose international students, whose high tuition costs account for about half of universities’ tuition revenue by some estimates.

Mendicino believes that all these facts are going to help make the case for immigration, once it’s safe to open the borders again. “Immigration has been a lifeline during the pandemic by safeguarding our food supply, recruiting additional support for our essential services on the front lines of our hospitals,” he says.

But here’s the blunt question: how do you get Canadians feeling good about opening up borders when they’re still extremely cautious about what’s going in and out of their own front doors? Two months of isolationism is going to be a hard habit to break, especially when it comes to envisioning thousands once again at Canada’s gates.

“We’ve adapted our immigration processes so that everyone is screened at the border, not only immigrants but returning Canadians too,” Mendicino says.

This still relatively new immigration minister refuses to be drawn into any questions about whether his job is tougher now or how he’s going to modify his arguments in favour of immigration in a world that has been locked down for two months.

“I have faith that Canadians believe in immigration,” he says. “That’s because they relate to it. It’s part of who we are. At its core, immigration is about people coming together to build a stronger country, which is what we’ve seen throughout our history, throughout this pandemic and, I’m confident, what we will see in the future.”

As with everything around this pandemic, though, no one knows whether this experience will make Canada more closed, or more aware of how much this country is connected to the world. Attitudes to immigration — and Mendicino — will be at the centre of that debate.

Source: Susan Delacourt: COVID-19 has made Canada wary of newcomers. So how can Ottawa make the case for the immigrants we so desperately need?

Delacourt: Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle

Couldn’t resist posting given its reference to my Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism with respect to Alberta Premier Kenney’s critique of Dr. Tam:

Sooner or later, someone was going to say it: Who made Dr. Theresa Tam the boss of all Canadians?

The fact that it was Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is not surprising, historically or politically.

But Kenney’s words on Monday were a crack in a wall of remarkable deference to the authority of Canada’s chief medical officer over a month of national lockdown. As we now head into month two, the question is whether Canadians more generally are starting to bristle at the doctor’s orders.

The federal government issued an emphatic “no” on Tuesday.

“Canadians have demonstrated that they have a tremendous level of trust and confidence in our public health officials and in our medical system,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “And we are going to continue work with top medical officials like Dr. Theresa Tam to make sure that we’re doing everything we need to do.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that Tam and other provincial public health officers have been conferred with the authority of “rock stars” in this crisis.

But Kenney’s remarks on Monday broke a united front of assent to Tam’s advice — not just as it applies to the future, but to the past as well.

The premier said that Alberta was going to seek out tests and medication to fight the pandemic without waiting for approval from federal Health bureaucrats. Then, in a bit of a drive-by swipe at Tam personally, he also threw doubt on the advice the doctor had already given in the early days of the virus outbreak.

“This is the same Dr. Tam who is telling us that we shouldn’t close our borders to countries with high levels of infection and who in January was repeating talking points out of the (People’s Republic of China)about the no evidence of human-to-human transmission,” Kenney said in an interview on CBC’s Power and Politics program.

There’s an old joke about how you get 50 Canadians out of a pool. You say: “Canadians, get out of the pool.” This pandemic, by and large, has made that joke feel a little too close to home, as a whole nation has put life as we know it on hold to comply with medical orders to contain the COVID-19 virus.

Deferential as we are, we likely wouldn’t have gone to these extraordinary lengths on the basis of political advice alone.

The federal government spent $30-million on a wave of ads with Dr. Tam as the sole spokesperson. (And no, that’s not the voice of Trudeau at the end of the ad, though it does sound an awful lot like him. I asked and the answer was no.)

Day after day, premiers and political leaders line up at podiums to give public briefings, backed by the latest information from the doctors in charge. Whenever a question is asked about what’s going to happen next, the unfailing answer is that governments will be heeding the instructions of the top doctors.

This in itself is evidence that we’re living in unusual times. We don’t always listen to doctors and medical experts, on matters of smoking, obesity, exercise or even climate science, for instance. Statistics aren’t always as persuasive as they are these days, when we’re all scouring charts for flattened curves.

Kenney, as mentioned earlier, has a long history of skepticism about stats and evidence as they’re used in the federal government. One of his own former bureaucrats in the citizenship and multiculturalism department, Andrew Griffith, has written some compelling work about how Kenney forced the public service to rebalance evidence and political considerations while he was minister.

The idea was that politicians are in government to weigh all kinds of public interests against the weight of impersonal numbers and charts, including the intelligence the political types gain from mixing with people outside the corridors of the civil service. So as I said, it’s not that surprising to see Kenney balking again at blind subservience to public servants’ advice, even from Canada’s top doctor.

Is that such a bad thing? Reasonable people might well agree, in fact, that while the medical health of Canadians has to be a priority in this pandemic, the economic health of citizens is owed some due deference too, especially as the financial devastation deepens.

Dr. Tam, for her part, stayed right out of the dispute on Tuesday when asked about Kenney’s remarks, saying only that it’s her job to take many things into consideration, including advice and insights from other countries.

It would be grossly unfair and probably unproductive to make Tam a target, even if Canadians are increasingly bristling at life under doctor’s orders.

But deference to authority in general is a fragile commodity, especially in a nation undergoing an endurance test of indefinite length. Canadians aren’t rebelling, at least not yet, but their deference has time limits.

Source: Susan Delacourt: Canadians aren’t rebelling against Dr. Theresa Tam’s orders, but they might be starting to bristle

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.

Meet Trudeau’s lead on multicultural communications, PMO press secretary Amreet Kaur

While much of the article is a personal profile, some interesting comments on ethnic media strategy and tactics:

Canadian political parties are increasingly emphasizing multicultural communications and outreach work, and as the Liberal government’s lead staffer focused on communicating with the country’s many multicultural communities and news outlets, PMO press secretary Amreet Kaur plays a “vital” role in the office.

“The component of multicultural outreach remains one of the vital components of any party’s outreach strategy, and Amreet, from her experience … really is singular,” said John Delacourt, a vice president at Ensight Canada who served as director of communications for the Liberal caucus’ research bureau on the Hill from January 2016 to January 2017.

“I think PMO relies on her [Ms. Kaur’s] working rapport with the multicultural outlets,” he said.

“She just has an intuitive ability to work with a full range of communities across the country, has a strong sense of regional issues, [and] knows the GTA and the 905 area and the Greater Vancouver area really well,” said Mr. Delacourt.

She also has a great “working rapport” across the Liberal caucus and with Canada’s various multicultural outlets, and keeps a political, “strategic lens on everything that she’s doing,” he said.

Ms. Kaur is one of four press secretaries currently working in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (Papineau, Que.) office—the others being Eleanore Catenaro, Chantal Gagnon, and Vanessa Hage-Moussa, all led by Kate Purchase as communications director—but is the only one focused specifically on multicultural communications and outreach for the office. She’s been in the PMO since January 2016, having arrived straight from a job with the Ontario Liberals at Queen’s Park.

In her current role, Ms. Kaur tackles media relations work—drafting press releases, ensuring they’re disseminated and that outlets are aware of government announcements or other initiatives, helping plan events, and managing incoming media requests—and also does a “great deal” of stakeholder engagement and outreach, all focused on multicultural communities, explained Mr. Delacourt.

“She would cover it from the cabinet side. … All of the components that go into what we call the larger cabinet communications rollout,” said Mr. Delacourt.

The idea of pursuing specific multicultural communications outreach is one that’s been on the rise in modern Canadian politics.

It’s part of the “big shift” that pollster Darrell Bricker and columnist John Ibbitson explored in their 2013 book, The Big Shift: The Seismic Change In Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and What It Means For Our Future. And while the 2015 federal election results have since tangibly countered their argument that Canada’s immigrant—or ethnic—communities largely lean conservative, the electoral importance, power, and influence of these voting groups was borne out.

The vast majority of ridings with high immigrant or visible minority populations swung Liberal in 2015, and were key to elevating the party to its current majority government status. They’re expected to be equally important in 2019.

Of the 41 federal ridings in Canada with a visible minority population of 50 per cent or more, 27 are located in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area (one represented by a Conservative MP, the rest Liberal), nine are in Vancouver and its surrounding area (two represented by NDP MPs, one by a Conservative MP, and the rest Liberal), two in the Montreal area (both Liberal), and two in Calgary (now held by one Liberal, one Independent). Rounding out that list is Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux’s riding of Winnipeg North, Man.

By another indicator, based on the 2016 census, the top five largest concentrations of immigrant populations in Canada are located in: Peel region, at 51.5 per cent; Toronto, with 47 per cent; York region, at 46.8 per cent; the Greater Vancouver census division, with 40.8 per cent; and Montreal, at 34 per cent.

The Durham and York regions account for 15 federal ridings; Toronto has 25; Brampton, Mississauga, and Oakville have 13 ridings; Vancouver and the Lower Mainland include 15 ridings; and central Montreal contains 10, with another 13 seats in city’s suburbs and Laval—that’s 91 ridings, out of 338 federal seats in all.

Almost 23 per cent of Canadians’ first language is one other than French or English, according to the 2016 census.

“As the government gets ready for the next election, diverse communities are critical to their success—to any political party—so her [Ms. Kaur’s] role becomes even more important,” said Gabriela Gonzalez, a consultant for Crestview Strategy who previously worked alongside Ms. Kaur at Queen’s Park and described her as a friend.

While previously, the “mainstream media approach” largely defined “how media relations was done” in politics, a little over a decade ago—around the start of Stephen Harper’s first Conservative government—focus began to shift towards specific multicultural communications outreach, said Mr. Delacourt. He said in part, this shift was a result of Conservative polling on the question of same-sex marriage legalization in Canada in 2005.

“The Conservatives polled on it and realized that you could almost map, in terms of value questions, map [based] on [ethnic] communities across the country,” he said. “Jason Kenney was one of the key figures in this—they did extensive work with communities across the country.”

In short order, other political parties also came to realize that as multicultural communities evolved across the country, so too did “the opportunities for political engagement” and participation, and that they weren’t being “cultivated to the degree that they should be,” said Mr. Delacourt.

Plenty of ink has been spilled over the previous Conservative government’s multicultural communications and outreach efforts. That includes former citizenship and immigration minister Jason Kenney’s much-touted work to court various ethnic communities in Canada—leading some to dub him the ‘Minister of Curry-in-a-Hurry.’

By September 2014, a manager of cultural media was added to the Harper PMO’s communications team, in addition to a small team of regional communications advisers—and separate from the slate of other, general communications strategists and officers working in the office.

“Multicultural media didn’t really grow until I’d say the last eight years or so. It’s really taken on a life of its own,” said a Liberal source familiar with Ms. Kaur’s work for the party federally and provincially.

A directory developed by the Canadian Ethnic Media Association last year (which is locked to non-members) lists more than 1,200 ethnic media outlets, from print to radio to online to television, according to a piece from the Ryerson Journalism Research Centre last September. That includes the Sing Tao Daily, Radio Tibet, CHIN TV and Radio, OMNI-TV, PTC Punjabi, The Eastern News, New Tang Dynasty TV, among many others.

Currently in her late 20s, Ms. Kaur hails from Mississauga, Ont., and studied an undergrad in political science at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus. Her parents are originally from India….

via The Hill Times

The Rebel’s fast running out of friends. Better late than never, I suppose.

Great column by Susan Delacourt:

It’s been a remarkable few days for political penitence.

Just as Donald Trump finally got around to disavowing neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan (it only took him two days), the founders of Rebel Media in Canada also decided that now was the time to make a stand against racism.

Ezra Levant, one of those founders, declared that Rebel Media would have nothing to do with the alt-right, while Brian Lilley simply walked away from the online outlet, saying he could no longer put up with “a lack of editorial and behavioural judgment, that left unchecked, will destroy it and those around it.”

Was anyone else reminded of that scene in Casablanca where the police captain pronounces himself “shocked, shocked” to learn there’s gambling going on at Rick’s — just before the croupier hands him his winnings? Did it truly take Levant and Lilley this long to become troubled by the thought that that their online outlet — a bizarre spinoff of the defunct Sun TV — might be whipping up hatred toward other races and cultures?

While it’s good to see MPs like Michelle Rempel and Lisa Raitt distancing themselves from the racist strain of modern conservatism, one really has to ask the question: Why now? Shouldn’t the last straw have come long before now — say (just to pick an example out of the air), when one of Rebel’s commentators, Gavin McInnes, went off the anti-Semitic deep end during a trip to Israel last spring?

Perhaps we should be relieved that events in Charlottesville this weekend are axing the connections between mainstream conservatives and the racists in the base. But a lot of damage had been done before last weekend, too. It’s a shame that the disavowals can’t be retroactive.

In one of her Twitter posts on Monday, Rempel stated: “Flirting with or giving a wink and a nod to Nazism and white supremacy for clicks and likes is disgusting.” Yes, that’s definitely true today. It’s been true for a while, actually.

Reminds me of another Casablanca quote: “Welcome back to the fight.” Once upon a time, conservatives and progressives could agree that racism was a blight on society and democracy. Now it’s a wedge issue. Worse yet, it’s a business model.

The worst kind of politics cuddles up to racists to get votes. The worst kind of business makes a profit from hate. Make no mistake: Rebel Media has been flirting with both practices for some time now.

Start with the politics. For an example of just how far some conservative politicians were willing to go to woo racist votes, take a look back to not so long ago — earlier this year, in fact, when Rebel Media was holding rallies against the anti-Islamophobia motion introduced in the Commons after the Quebec mosque massacre.

open quote 761b1bAppeals to the head and heart may not work on those who have calculated that there’s big money to be made in whipping up intolerance. Hitting them in the wallet might work better.

It is completely defensible in a democratic society to disagree with government motions in the Commons. But some of the stuff being uttered at these rallies was absolutely vile and racist — so disgraceful I wouldn’t repeat it here in this column.

Faith Goldy, the same Rebel Media personality who was at the Charlottesville rallies last weekend, was whipping up the crowd at a Toronto rally last February, mocking critics who called the rally racist, even as one woman in the crowd seemed moved to give a Nazi salute. No kidding. You can check it out on the Torontoist website, which called the rally “bonkers” and “chilling.” (Look at the raw video coverage and you might agree with that appraisal.)

I don’t recall much contrition from Rebel Media back then over that flirtation with Nazi symbolism, nor any official disavowals from many voices on the right at the time either.

In fact, Rebel Media was seen by many as an player to be cultivated during the Conservative leadership race. At that same Toronto rally, held at Canada Christian College, leadership hopefuls Kellie Leitch, Chris Alexander, Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux came to address the audience. Not one of these candidates acknowledged the racism elephant in the room.

“It’s good to be in a room with severely normal people,” Leitch actually told the crowd. None of these would-be Conservative leaders won the race, of course, though Lemieux and Trost, combined, did remarkably well with their armies of anti-abortion advocates.

Andrew Scheer won the leadership. His campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, was listed as a director on Rebel Media’s federal incorporation records. At a pro-Trump rally held on Parliament Hill, long after Scheer’s victory, Goldy proclaimed Scheer to be one of “our people.”

Perhaps it’s Scheer’s influence reining in the racism at Rebel Media now. One would think that anyone who wants to be prime minister in Canada wouldn’t want to be carrying that kind of baggage during the next campaign.

Optimists believe Trump’s approach to politics is still toxic here. Cynics might suggest that the business model for racist media outlets is crumbling. Is that why Levant and Lilley needed to clean up Rebel Media’s act?

As iPolitics’ own Bea Britneff has been reporting, an anonymous outfit called Sleeping Giants has been aggressively campaigning to stop firms from advertising on Rebel Media.

That’s a very good thing, because — and it’s sad to have to say this — the best way to fight the spread of this online toxin is to go after the money that fuels it. Appeals to the head and heart may not work on those who have calculated that there’s big money to be made in whipping up intolerance. Hitting them in the wallet might work better.

Rebel Media has been making serious money and gaining serious ground abroad. Take a look at this excellent piece by Jason Markusoff in Maclean’s from a few months ago, which shows how Rebel Media has been expanding its international reach by making its message ever more outrageous and unhinged.

The most lamentable thing about Rebel Media isn’t just what its commentators have said. It’s that it has shown there is a considerable market for racism in this country — money to be made, careers to be built, from sowing hate and intolerance.

So here’s the good news: The experiences of the past few days suggest the market has reached a limit. Or so we hope.

Source: The Rebel’s fast running out of friends. Better late than never, I suppose.

Why the ‘barbaric cultural practices’ debate won’t go away: Delacourt

One of the better commentaries on Kellie Leith’s “barbaric cultural practices” repeat performance:

The good news for Kellie Leitch — and she might need some right now — is that many Canadians believe this country needs young, female political leaders.

The bad news is that most Conservatives — the people who make up the party Leitch wants to lead — do not share that view.

These findings come from new research by Abacus Data. By sheer happenstance, Abacus and the Leitch leadership campaign were out in the field in late August, doing some survey work that touched on Canadian values. The two surveys dovetail in some fascinating ways.

The Leitch survey asked, controversially, whether respondents would support screening immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” This was quite the surprise coming from the MP for Simcoe-Grey, once the federal labour minister, who only months ago was apologetically backtracking for her role in the infamous “barbaric cultural practices” tip line proposal of the 2015 election campaign.

Now, we seem to be back in the middle of a debate we thought had been settled in the last election. Maybe it wasn’t.

The Abacus survey sounded people out on the traits and values they’re seeking in political leaders. Leitch and her supporters no doubt will be heartened to hear that 54 per cent of respondents to the Abacus poll said they would prefer a woman leader. Moreover, a whopping 65 per cent — nearly two-thirds — said they would rather have someone under 50 years of age. Leitch, 46, comfortably meets both criteria.

The problem for Leitch, however, is that her own fellow Conservatives aren’t as enthusiastic about young female leaders. Almost 60 per cent of Conservative respondents to the Abacus poll said that if they had their choice between someone over 50 and someone under 50 to lead a political party, they’d select the older candidate. Only 13 per cent said they would prefer a younger, female leader.

Those results are even more striking when compared to the views of Liberal and NDP supporters who participated in the Abacus poll. Nearly 70 per cent of Liberals and 77 per cent of NDP supporters said they’d opt for a woman leader given a choice between a man and a woman of equal qualifications.

The obvious conclusion, then, is that Leitch is running for the wrong party. Then again, she might have trouble selling Liberal or NDP voters on the idea of screening immigrants for potential anti-Canadian values.

Even some folks in her own party (her leadership rivals, anyway) are balking. Michael Chong called it “dog-whistle politics.” Maxime Bernier, taking a more practical approach, called it an “unworkable” idea.

open quote 761b1bClearly, Leitch’s campaign believes this issue taps into a rich vein of support, at least in Conservative circles. Which could explain why Bernier called the idea ‘unworkable’ rather than, say, ‘egregious.’

Abacus conducted its poll online in late August, asking 2,010 Canadians of voting age all kinds of questions about their ideal political leaders. When they got around to the subject of leadership qualities, the results turned out to be highly interesting.

The top two traits? “Understanding different parts of the world” and “thinking about what’s right for the next generation.” Respondents also placed a high value on leaders who “think a lot about the future of the world”, are “open-minded about different lifestyles” and “care about the poor.”

Buried in the list, however, is a possible rationale for Leitch’s controversial survey question.

Only 18 per cent of the respondents to the Abacus poll said that a leader must embrace the idea that “immigration is good for Canada.” Understanding different parts of the world is one thing, apparently, while welcoming them here is another matter entirely.

Nick Kouvalis, Leitch’s campaign manager, has said that the survey was based on what the campaign had been hearing out on the road over the summer. Kouvalis, for those who may have forgotten, has not been shy in the past about courting controversy with provocative survey questions. His firm, Campaign Research, was scolded by the Commons Speaker several years ago for polling Montreal residents about Irwin Cotler’s allegedly imminent resignation. (Cotler, then the MP for Mount Royal, protested in the Commons that the survey breached his parliamentary privileges, though he did eventually step down before the last election.)

Kouvalis, let’s also remember, was one of the early backers and staffers for former Toronto mayor Rob Ford (he was also one of the first to walk away when things started to go crazy in Fordland). Kouvalis was on John Tory’s team in the last mayoralty election in Toronto and helped B.C. Premier Christy Clark pull off an unexpected victory in 2013.

On Twitter, Kouvalis has been predicting that all the leadership candidates eventually will perform some “world-class gymnastics” to embrace Leitch’s views on screening immigrants for anti-Canadian values. Clearly, her campaign manager believes this issue taps into a rich vein of support, at least in Conservative circles. Which could explain why Bernier called the idea “unworkable” rather than, say, “egregious.”

Among the other admirable leadership qualities cited by respondents to that Abacus poll were the ability to “ask for help when you need it,” to “seek advice from smart people everywhere” and to “apologize when you make a mistake.”

One can’t help but notice that Leitch hasn’t apologized for this survey question — perhaps on the advice she needed from people she considers smart.

“Oftentimes, debating and discussing these complex policies requires tough conversations — conversations that go well beyond media sound bites and simplified labels,” Leitch wrote in an emailed statement after the controversy.

“I am committed to having these conversations, to debating theses issues, and I invite Canadians to give their feedback.”

So, like it or not, immigration may become a hot-button issue in the Conservative leadership race. Consider this an early warning — especially for those complacent Canadians who say that Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration couldn’t possibly work here.

The people in Leitch’s Conservative party may not be the biggest fans of female leaders under 50, but this particular candidate could be giving them the campaign’s sleeper issue. In other words, the debate about “barbaric cultural practices” didn’t die in 2015; it’s simply been slumbering, waiting for an opening.

Source: Why the ‘barbaric cultural practices’ debate won’t go away

Can Jason Kenney throw a rope around Alberta’s unruly Right? Delacourt

Good column by Susan Delacourt on Kenney’ s move to Alberta politics and his many strengths, with a nice shout out to my books:

One of the events obliged panelists to give quick answers to provocative questions posed by the audience. “Who’s the best cabinet minister in Ottawa right now?” someone asked. I didn’t even have to pause for thought: “Jason Kenney,” I said. Many others on stage and in the audience shared that view.

It wasn’t just his reputation for hard work, although that certainly was a factor. Kenney was everywhere in the old Conservative government, building his clout on the political front (with those cultural communities and others) but also on the policy front. I was told once that Kenney had a representative at every meeting in Ottawa, keeping tabs on all kinds of decision-making processes, even those beyond his ministerial brief.

open quote 761b1bKenney does have strong views (no one’s going to mistake him for a Red Tory) but the caricatures ignore his practical side. And party mergers need practical politicians.

For a sense of what kind of minister Kenney was, I tend to urge people to take a look at books published by Andrew Griffith, a former director general in Kenney’s old department of Multiculturalism. Griffith has written revealingly of a public service coming to grips with a minister who had definite ideas about how to blend policy and politics, evidence and anecdote.

And where many ministers hewed to the PMO diktat and avoided contact with the media, Kenney was eminently approachable. I don’t think he ever said no when I asked him for comment on one thing or another. (Though he hasn’t replied to a message I sent him today as I was writing this article.)

For years he held annual Christmas parties at which reporters were not only welcome, but positively encouraged. The reward for attending was getting to hear Kenney tell funny, behind-the-scenes stories about the Harper government — nothing headline-making, just anecdotes that presented his political workplace as a little less stuffy and aloof.

And it was never hard to find opposition MPs during the Harper years willing to say that Kenney (along with John Baird) was one of the more co-operative ministers in cabinet, willing to occasionally drop the hyper-partisan posture that characterized so much of that government’s style.

This version of Jason Kenney is at odds, naturally, with the caricature painted by his critics — of a rigid, even scary, ideologue. Kenney does have strong views (no one’s going to mistake him for a Red Tory) but the caricatures ignore this high-energy politician’s practical side.

And party mergers need practical politicians. Harper was a pragmatist when he set about uniting the old federal PC party with the Canadian Alliance back in 2003.

Still, I will concede that I’m finding it hard to square the more nuanced Kenney I saw with the politician who tweeted out his support for the Brexit vote a couple of weeks ago. Given that much of Brexit’s support came from hostility towards immigrants, it seemed odd, to say the least, to see a former immigration minister — a courter of cultural communities — on that side of the question.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, I noticed, also seemed at a loss to explain the support for Brexit from the likes of Kenney and Tony Clement in an interview last weekend on CBC’s The House — suggesting vaguely that it might have something to do with friendships they’ve forged abroad.

Perhaps it was just Kenney keeping things interesting, blurring the tidy lines of the boxes people want to throw around him. If he is going to seek the leadership of the Alberta PCs, that in itself is a bit of a surprise; many people expected to see him seek the leadership of the federal Conservatives.

It may not be a good sign for those federal Conservatives that Kenney sees his future elsewhere right now. He became pretty adept — as his old boss would attest — at figuring out where there was room for growth in the conservative movement.

Could he pull off a merger in Alberta? I wouldn’t put it past him. Kenney has developed a knack for doing — and being — the unexpected.

Source: Can Jason Kenney throw a rope around Alberta’s unruly Right?

How the Big Red Machine became the big data machine: Delacourt

As someone who likes playing with and analyzing data, found Delacourt’s recounting of how the Liberals became the most data savvy political party interesting:

The Console, with its maps and myriad graphs and numbers, was the most vivid evidence of how far the Liberal party had come in its bid to play catch-up in the data war with its Conservative and NDP rivals. Call it Trudeau 2.0. Just as the old Rainmaker Keith Davey brought science to the party of Trudeau’s father in the 1960s and 1970s, the next generation of Trudeau Liberalism would get seized with data, science and evidence in a big way, too.

And in the grand tradition of Davey, Allan Gregg and all the other political pollsters and marketers who went before them, this new squad of strategists set about dividing Canada’s electoral map into target ridings, ranked according to their chances of winning in them. In a 21st-century-style campaign, though, the distinctions would be far more sophisticated than simply “winnable” and “unwinnable” ridings. Trudeau’s Liberals divided the nation’s 338 electoral districts into six types, named for metals and compounds: platinum, gold, silver, bronze, steel and wood.

Platinum ridings were sure bets: mostly the few dozen that the Liberals had managed to keep in the electoral catastrophe of 2011. Gold ridings were not quite that solid, but they were the ones in which the party strategists felt pretty certain about their prospects. Silver ridings were the ones the Liberals would need to gain to win the election, while bronze ridings, the longer shots, would push them into majority government territory. Steel ridings were ones they might win in a subsequent election, and wood ridings were the ones where the Liberals probably could never win a seat, in rural Alberta for instance.

The Console kept close track of voter outreach efforts on the ground, right down to the number of doorsteps visited by volunteers and what kind of information they had gathered from those visits — family size, composition, political interests, even the estimated age of the residents. By consulting the Console, campaigners could even figure out which time of day was best for canvassing in specific neighbourhoods or which voters required another visit to seal the deal.

When the Liberal team unveiled the Console to Trudeau, he was blown away. He told his team that it was his new favourite thing. He wanted regular briefings on the contents of the program: where it showed the Liberal party ahead, and where fortunes were flagging and volunteers needed to do more door-knocking. Actually, he wondered, why couldn’t he be given access to the Console himself, so that he could consult it on his home computer or on his phone while on the road?

And that, Trudeau would say later, was the last he ever saw of the Console. “My job was to bring it back, not on the analysis side, but on the connection side — on getting volunteers to go out, drawing people in, getting people to sign up,” Trudeau said. Clearly he was doing something right on that score — Liberal membership numbers had climbed from about 60,000 to 300,000 within Trudeau’s first 18 months as leader.

Volunteers for the party would learn — often to their peril — that the leader was fiercely serious about turning his crowd appeal into useful data. Trudeau wasn’t known for displays of temper, but the easiest way to provoke him was to fall down on the job of collecting data from the crowds at campaign stops. Few things made Trudeau angrier, for instance, than to see Liberal volunteers surrounding him at events instead of gathering up contact information. “That was what I demanded. If they wanted a visit from the leader they had to arrange that or else I’d be really upset,” Trudeau said.

Source: How the Big Red Machine became the big data machine | Toronto Star

How the parties collect your personal info — and why Trudeau doesn’t seem to mind: Delacourt

Great piece by Delacourt:

Numbers are definitely in fashion in the new Liberal government at the moment — and not just because the budget is landing next week.

A first-ever session on “behavioural economics” for public servants was filled to capacity last week, according to a Hill Times report. “Combining economics with behavioural psychology,” said PCO spokesperson Raymond Rivet, “this new tool can help governments make services more client-focused, increase uptake of programs, and improve regulatory compliance.

Better government through behavioural economics — the idea was popularized by the 2009 book Nudge and almost immediately adopted through the establishment of a “nudge unit” by the British government in 2010. Justin Trudeau’s government is already borrowing the concept of “deliverology” from the Brits, so the ‘nudge’ was never going to be far behind. President Barack Obama, Trudeau’s new best friend, also has taken steps to introduce nudge theory to the U.S. government in recent years.

But the real motivation for data-based governance in the Trudeau government may have come from a source much closer to home — the recent election, specifically the Liberals’ extensive use of big data to win 184 seats last fall. Make no mistake: Trudeau’s Liberals may have won the election by promising intangibles like ‘hope’ and ‘change’, but they sealed the deal with a sophisticated data campaign and ground war.

So now that the Liberals have seen how mastery of the numbers can help win elections, we probably shouldn’t be too surprised that they see those same skills as useful for governing as well. Big-data politics is here to stay.

What’s missing from that equation, however — at least on the political side — is privacy protection. Late last week, while everyone’s attention was fixated on Washington, federal Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien reminded a Commons committee that all the political parties are amassing data on voters without any laws to guard citizens’ privacy.

“While the Privacy Act is probably not the best instrument to do this, Parliament should also consider regulating the collection, use and disclosure of personal information by political parties,” Therrien told the Commons committee on access to information and privacy.
A little more than a year ago, it seemed that a new Liberal government could be expected to agree with the privacy commissioner.
Recall last year’s conference on “digital governance” in Ottawa; on stage for one panel discussion were key strategists for the three main parties — Tim Powers for the Conservatives, Brad Lavigne for the New Democrats and Gerald Butts for the Liberals. Mr. Butts is, of course, now Trudeau’s principal secretary.

Fielding questions from the audience, the three were asked whether political databases should be subject to Canadian privacy laws. Powers and Lavigne demurred; only Butts seemed to be saying ‘yes’.

Here’s his lengthy quote, which appeared a few weeks later in an iPolitics column by Chris Waddell:

“Let’s not kid ourselves, political parties are public institutions of a sort. They are granted within national or sub-national legislation special status on a whole variety of fronts, whether they be the charitable deduction, the exemption from access to information — all those sorts of things,” Butts told the conference.

“We have created a whole body of law … or maybe we haven’t. Maybe we have just created a hole in our two bodies of law that allow political parties to exist out there in the ether. I think that is increasingly a problem and it is difficult for me to envision a future where it exists for much longer.”

That was a year ago. And unless I missed it, there’s nothing in any of Trudeau’s mandate letters to ministers about new privacy laws for political parties. And without giving away too much about the new chapters of my soon-to-be-re-released book on political marketing, I didn’t get the impression during our recent interview that Prime Minister Trudeau was greatly troubled by the collision between privacy protection and political databases.

It seems odd to me that citizens can get (often appropriately) worked up about “intrusive” government measures, whether it’s the census or the C-51 anti-terrorism law, and yet be mostly indifferent to what the chief electoral officer has called the “Wild West” of political data collection.

Even Conservatives who resented the gun registry didn’t seem to mind that their own party was keeping track of gun owners in its database, so that it could send them specially targeted fundraising messages from time to time. That’s just behavioural economics, applied to the political arena.

So far, British Columbia is the only province to take steps to put political databases in line with privacy protection. The provincial chief of elections in B.C., Keith Archer, notified political parties that they would not get access to the voters’ list — the raw material of any political database — if they failed to comply with privacy laws.

That step could — and should — be implemented in Ottawa, too. We’re in the era of big-data politics and behavioural-insight governance, and Canadians are entitled to some accountability about the data the governing party is collecting and using on them.

Not so long ago, one of Trudeau’s most senior advisers agreed with that idea. Maybe all it takes is a little nudge.

Source: How the parties collect your personal info — and why Trudeau doesn’t seem to mind – iPolitics