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

The curious career of the ‘taxpayer’ in Canadian public life: Delacourt

Good piece by Susan Delacourt on the use of the word ‘taxpayers’ vs ‘citizens’ (I prefer the latter):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not fond of the word ‘taxpayers’ as a synonym for Canadian citizens.

“Unless you say ‘service-receivers’ at the same time as you say ‘taxpayers,’ you’re only giving half the equation,” Trudeau said in an interview with me last week. “The idea of ‘citizen’ involves both benefits and responsibilities, and I like that a bit better.”

I can’t say I’d be unhappy to see a little less casual use of that word ‘taxpayer’ in politics. Bob Rae, the former interim Liberal leader, would occasionally ‘correct’ reporters in scrums when they asked how some policy would affect taxpayers. “You mean citizens,” Rae would say.

The idea of citizenship as a two-way relationship with government seems to have fallen out of fashion in recent decades. Whether it can be revived is an interesting question.

Seeing citizenship as a send-and-receive equation, for instance, also gives us another way to look at Trudeau’s conversations with 10 Canadians on CBC TV the other night.

While all the attention was on what Trudeau had learned from the questioners, I kept wondering how much the questioners themselves were learning about government. Did they come away with their views changed on what we require of political leadership?

CBC did a good job of choosing people with tough questions; not one of them was able to walk away from the Trudeau encounter with easy answers. The prime minister has taken a bit of flak in some quarters for offering too little in the way of comfort or solutions, but that’s an occupational hazard in modern politics. If the answers were easy or quick, wouldn’t someone have offered some by now?

One thing is certain — none of those people came to the Prime Minister’s Office simply asking for their “taxpayers’” money back.

There are all kinds of good reasons to keep reminding politicians that the money they’re spending is public money — a better term, it seems, than “taxpayers’ money”. And the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has served as a useful check on reckless spending over the years.

But taxing and spending are not the sum total of running a country, despite how that rather limited view has been hammered into popular political culture over the years. If they were, those ten citizens who met Trudeau the other night could have been sent away with a nice cheque as a parting gift.

Susan Delacourt takes us on an etymological tour of the word “taxpayer”

Ministerial Mandate Letters: Mainstreaming diversity and inclusion, and point of interest from a citizenship and multiculturalism perspective

With the Mandate letters now public, two good pieces by Susan Delacourt (You’ll be judged by how you treat others, Trudeau cabinet warned) and Paul Wells (Justin Trudeau repeats himself) on the template used to guide  Ministers on the government-wide priorities and the expected and broad code of conduct.

Delacourt notes:

Working well with others — including people in the media — is now officially part of the job description for Canadian cabinet ministers.

The “mandate letters” given to every minister are setting a new bar for co-operation in Justin Trudeau’s government, according to one letter obtained in advance of the expected public release.

In fact, if the sheer word volume in these letters is any indication, co-operation seems to be the top item on the to-do list of Trudeau’s team.

Ministers are being warned that they will be judged by how well they treat a whole raft of people — everyone from business to labour, stakeholders and citizens, and yes, the opposition and the media too.

“Members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, indeed all journalists in Canada and abroad, are professionals who, by asking necessary questions, contribute in an important way to the democratic process. Your professionalism and engagement with them is essential,” the letter states.

….One group of people is singled out as well in the mandate letters for special treatment from government. “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with Indigenous Peoples,” the letter states.

 The notable feature of these mandate letters, as mentioned, is the amount of words devoted to culture change of the kinder, gentler sort. “Open by default” is an operating principle.
 Wells analyses further:

Possible explanations for this outbreak of boilerplate include (a) a particularly wonky form of Tourette’s; (b) a desire to put most of the country to sleep before we get to the good stuff; (c) the PM and his advisers actually think the repetitive stuff is worth repeating. I’m going to go with (c). So while many colleagues will focus on what changes from letter to letter, let’s pause here to look at what doesn’t. 

  • “Real change—in both what we do and how we do it.” … Now, these letters come from Trudeau and his staff and appear over his signature, but it’s nearly a deadlock certainty that public servants were involved in the process, and one of them will have said: Prime Minister, if you evoke “a personal commitment” to this stuff and then tell ministers they “will be held accountable for our commitment,” you’re elevating it way beyond the realm of pious nostrum. You’re making it sound like you mean it. Repeating it 30 times in letters to 30 ministers is like tracing a line in the sand, then scraping it a yard deep.
  • “Track and report on the progress of our commitments.” …., idealism and political self-interest become nearly synonymous: Trudeau wants to be able to meet voters in, probably, 2019, with a bunch of check marks next to his 2015 promises. And again, by publicly repeating that goal, he is offering up a jumbo hostage to fortune if any promise proves impossible to keep.
  • “No relationship is more important to me and to Canada than the one with”— Actually, it’s interesting here to try to guess how this sentence ends. Important relationships. Hmm. The one with . . . the United States? The United Nations? Hard-working families? Nope. Again in every letter, Trudeau elevates the relationship with “Indigenous Peoples” above every other in his personal hierarchy of priorities…..
  • “Observe the highest ethical standards in everything you do.” …“As noted in the Guidelines, you must uphold the highest standards of honesty and impartiality, and both the performance of your official duties and the arrangement of your private affairs should bear the closest public scrutiny. This is an obligation that is not fully discharged by simply acting within the law.”Expect opposition members to quote that last sentence back to Trudeau and his ministers any time one of them lands in hot water. “It’s legal” is not, in Justin Trudeau’s own judgment, a sufficient defence for poor conduct.

Diversity and Inclusion commitments:

Turning from the general to the specific with respect to citizenship and multiculturalism, what is striking are the two paragraphs, again to all ministers, mainstreaming the Government’s diversity and inclusion agenda with a commitment to end divisive politics and practices and renewed emphasis on employment equity for women, indigenous Canadians and minority groups in political appointments:
Canadians expect us, in our work, to reflect the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians, and I expect you, in your work, to bring Canadians together.
You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.

The specific commitments for each Minister will, of course, be reflected in the performance management agreements of Deputy Ministers, which in turn will cascade down to all levels of management. Hence, these are the ones that will be met given their priority.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister

The specific commitments track the party platform commitments in immigration and refugees. On citizenship, the mandate letter expands on the platform by including repealing the revocation provisions of the C-24 Citizenship Act and the ‘intent to reside’ provision.

In other words, very surgical changes rather than more sweeping changes. For example, no mention of reversing the expansion of knowledge and language requirements from 18-54 to 14-64 year olds, nor reversing the sharp increase in citizenship fees (from $100 to $530), nor improvements in due process (oral hearings in cases of misrepresentation).

While not in the list of commitments, presumably the Minister will revise and rebrand the citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, with more inclusive substance and language, given the overall priority mentioned above.

The specific commitments are below:

As Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, your overarching goal will be to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to our country’s success. Canadians are open, accepting, and generous – qualities that should be reflected in Canada’s immigration policies and in our approach to welcoming those seeking refuge from conflict and war. Our communities are strengthened when we come together to welcome newcomers who want to build a better Canada and to help those in need.
In particular, I will expect you to work with your colleagues and through established legislative, regulatory, and Cabinet processes to deliver on your top priorities:

  1. Lead government-wide efforts to resettle 25,000 refugees from Syria in the coming months.

  2. As part of the Annual Immigration Levels Plan for 2016, bring forward a proposal to double the number of entry applications for parents and grandparents of immigrants to 10,000 a year.

  3. Give additional points under the Entry Express system to provide more opportunities for applicants who have Canadian siblings.

  4. Increase the maximum age for dependents to 22, from 19, to allow more Canadians to bring their children to Canada.

  5. Bring forward a proposal regarding permanent residency for new spouses entering Canada.

  6. Develop a plan to reduce application processing times for sponsorship, citizenship and other visas.

  7. Fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program that provides limited and temporary health benefits to refugees and refugee claimants.

  8. Establish an expert human rights panel to help you determine designated countries of origin, and provide a right to appeal refugee decisions for citizens from these countries.

  9. Modify the temporary foreign workers program to eliminate the $1,000 Labour Market Impact Assessment fee to hire caregivers and work with provinces and territories to develop a system of regulated companies to hire caregivers on behalf of families.

  10. Lead efforts to facilitate the temporary entry of low risk travelers, including business visitors, and lift the visa requirement for Mexico.

  11. Work with the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to repeal provisions in the Citizenship Act that give the government the right to strip citizenship from dual nationals.

  12. Eliminate regulations that remove the credit given to international students for half of the time that they spend in Canada and regulations that require new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.

Canadian Heritage Minister

Noteworthy for what is not in the letter: any mention of multiculturalism following its transfer back to Canadian Heritage after some eight years at the former CIC.

This will give the bureaucracy time to implement the machinery changes (time-consuming at the best of times) and re-integrate and rebuild policy and related capacity that was dispersed and weakened at CIC.

For better and worse, it will give officials a freer hand in this reintegration process and the more important policy reflections on how multiculturalism can better reflect the diversity and inclusion agenda, lost somewhat at CIC under then Minister Kenney.

This would start with a review of the priorities enunciated in 2010, where language (e.g., inclusion) and substance (e.g., employment equity, racism and discrimination):

  • build an integrated, socially cohesive society;
  • help federal and public institutions respond to the needs of a diverse society; and
  • engage in international discussions on multiculturalism.

The first opportunity to reflect this change will be the February tabling of the Annual Report on the Operation of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, with the Ministerial message and overview (the report will cover the 2014-15 fiscal year period and thus report on the previous government’s initiatives).

However, there is a risk that the lack of political direction (and ‘supporting minister’) will undermine the ability for the multiculturalism program to play an effective policy role in the government’s overall diversity and inclusion agenda.

The overarching  commitment in the mandate letter:

As Minister of Canadian Heritage, your overarching goal will be to implement our government’s plan to strengthen our cultural and creative industries. Our cultural sector is an enormous source of strength to the Canadian economy. Canada’s stories, shaped by our immense diversity, deserve to be celebrated and shared with the world. Our plan will protect our important national institutions, safeguard our official languages, promote the industries that reflect our unique identity as Canadians, and provide jobs and economic opportunities in our cultural and creative sectors.

The one commitment related to, but much broader than multiculturalism, is with respect to reinstating the court challenges program (it provided funds to groups that need funding to contest specific policies):

  1. Work with the Minister of Justice to update and reinstate a Court Challenges Program.

Roles of Other Ministers

The Minister of Justice is expected to:

  1. Review our litigation strategy. This should include early decisions to end appeals or positions that are not consistent with our commitments, the Charter or our values. [e.g., the citizenship niqab case, cuts to refugee healthcare]

  2. Support the Minister of Canadian Heritage to restore a modern Court Challenges Program.

  3. Work with the President of the Treasury Board to enhance the openness of government, including supporting his review of the Access to Information Act to ensure that Canadians have easier access to their own personal information, that the Information Commissioner is empowered to order government information to be released and that the Act applies appropriately to the Prime Minister’s and Ministers’ Offices, as well as administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.

The Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness has no commitment with respect to softer approaches to countering violent extremism (e.g., research, working with communities, deradicalization) although this can be implied from the overall inclusion messaging.

Link to all mandate letters:

ministerial mandate letters

The Conservatives’ veiled pitch for the anti-Muslim vote: Delacourt

Delacourt has it right, both in terms of substance and politics:

What we have here is a textbook case of saying one thing and doing another in politics. The ‘saying’ part is for all the wrong reasons — the ‘doing’ part is for the right ones.

I suspect the Conservative government realized several years ago that it was legally impossible to ban veiled voting. Two attempts were made between 2007 and 2011. Both quietly died on the order paper.

Here’s why: It would amount to singling out certain members of the population for restricted rights. We do allow people to vote in Canada without showing their face at the ballot box — through proxies, or mail-in special ballots. How do you write a law that says some people don’t need to show their faces, but others do?

Moreover, a special law to prohibit the niqab would stomp all over Canadians’ rights to religious expression. That’s probably why the Justice Department lawyer felt he had to point out the non-mandatory aspect of the legislation in Federal Court.

Rather than explain this to Canadians, though, the Conservatives took the path of blustering about niqabs and sending dog-whistle signals to people uncomfortable or fearful about Muslims. Bad statesmanship. Easy politics, though.

We saw that earlier this year, as well, when the Conservatives sent out a fundraising email asking supporters to sign up if they agreed that it was “offensive” to wear a niqab or a hijab at citizenship ceremonies. The email left little doubt that the Conservatives were whipping up these sentiments for reasons of purest electoral politics.

The note was signed by Immigration Minister Chris Alexander and stirred up some controversy with his interchangeable use of ‘niqab’ and ‘hijab’; one is generally associated with full-face coverings, while the other, the hijab, is commonly used to describe a head covering.

To make things even more confusing, not all Conservatives have been using the word “offensive” when it comes to garments of religious expression. Kenney, for instance, said on Twitter in 2013: “A child is no less Canadian because she or he wears a kippa, turban, cross, or hijab to school.” Kenney sent out that missive in the midst of the Quebec debate over the wearing of religious symbols in public.

There’s still a month left in this election and it’s entirely possible that one of the eleventh-hour Conservative campaign promises will revolve around banning veiled voting — again. It would fit well with this week’s bluster on citizenship ceremonies.

This time we might ask them: Why did the last two attempts quietly die? Are they serious this time, or is this just another attempt to whip up some good old-fashioned intolerance?

What’s really being veiled here by all this talk about the niqab?

Source: The Conservatives’ veiled pitch for the anti-Muslim vote

Veiled voting furor’s unlikely ending: Delacourt | Toronto Star

Good piece on evidence vs anecdote with respect to Elections Canada and the veiled voting controversy. Also nice mention of my book:

It should remind us of the push and pull that former bureaucrat Andrew Griffith has described in his book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, about his experiences at Citizenship and Immigration when Jason Kenney became the minister.

Griffith writes of how the public servants came to the table with reports and research, only to be met with anecdotes from the minister’s many, many meetings with cultural communities.

“While anecdotal in nature, the scale of ministerial outreach meant that public servants could not ignore what he was hearing from his ‘practicum,’ as he called it,” Griffith wrote.

Veiled voting furor’s unlikely ending: Delacourt | Toronto Star.