Immigration virtue signalling in both directions

My latest:

As discussions about immigration levels and issues such as temporary foreign workers are likely to increase post-COVID, it is important to appreciate that these will occur at a number of levels, ranging from factual, to the underlying values that inform and shape narratives, and to how the arguments are presented.

Selection of facts often reflects conscious and unconscious decisions, which in turn are influenced by our values and beliefs. Understanding these influences is helpful to discussion, as it allows one to engage at a deeper level, appreciate the basis of different perspectives and, hopefully, find some common ground for discussion.

After all, meaningful discussion and debate cannot happen within a bubble of the like-minded, but we all need to engage different viewpoints and perspectives. My personal journey to this realization occurred during my time working under former then immigration minister Jason Kenney on citizenship and multiculturalism issues, where I was regularly challenged with respect to my values, biases and orientations, as recounted in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias.

Taking a look at a number of immigration issues, it can be useful to try to identify the underlying meanings of common and current immigration “catch phrases.” The following seeks to unpack some of the narratives used by both sides:

What are the narratives behind asylum seekers?

Characterizing asylum seekers as “illegal migrants” fits into a law and order narrative, emphasizing controlled or managed immigration and fairness in that there is one process for all. It implies possible fraud or misrepresentation in their claims. It is a narrative that can appeal to immigrants and non-immigrants alike. But the managed immigration narrative downplays the humanitarian aspects of people, many of whom would be at risk if returned to their homelands, who are worried about their future in the U.S., particularly under the Trump administration.

Characterizing them as “irregular arrivals” fits into the welcoming or inclusive narrative that accepts that how people arrive is less important than giving them the chance to make their case before the Immigration and Refugee Board. Similarly, it downplays the management aspect of immigration and that these claimants are essentially exploiting a loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement. As the technical arguments “illegal or irregular” are not simple to explain, this tends to resonate more with those who favour a more open and inclusive approach.

What are the narratives behind ‘old-stock Canadian’ or ‘a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian?’

While the former can be used in a neutral message to indicate Canadians of three generations or more, its use more often suggests a more exclusionary narrative implying a citizenship hierarchy based upon the period of immigration, with earlier largely white arrivals more “Canadian” compared to more recent visible minority arrivals. Moreover, it reinforces concerns that more recent immigrants are not adapting to Canadian values.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” on the other hand, signals inclusivity, that no matter the time of arrival or their ethnocultural identity, all are and should be treated equally. At its extreme, it justifies citizenship rights as divorced from residency and connections to Canada, as seen in debates over birth tourism, voting rights, and arguments in favour of citizenship transmission beyond the first generation.

What are the narratives behind ‘extreme multiculturalism’ or ‘diversity is our strength?’

“Extreme multiculturalism” signals that the values and practices of immigrants and visible minorities are different and divisive, thus undermining Canadian society and consensus. It implies that multiculturalism is based on an “anything goes” approach, one that leads to “unreasonable accommodation” demands to the disadvantage of “old-stock” Canadians.

“Diversity is our strength,” on the other hand, welcomes diversity as a good in itself. By stressing inclusivity and flexibility regarding accommodation requests, it expands the space of Canadian identities to incorporate other identities. On the other hand, it can lead to downplaying the constraints to accommodation, whether legal, economic or social.

What are the narratives behind ‘social cohesion’ or ‘social inclusion?’

Social cohesion stresses common values and standards that all are expected to understand and comply with. While differences exist, these are portrayed as more cultural (language, food, etc.) than fundamental values. People need to “fit in,” with explicit or implicit limits on societal accommodation. Back in 2009 (the Discover Canada Citizenship Guide) and, again in 2015 (a tip line), the previous Conservative government’s use of the term “barbaric cultural practices” for “honour killings” and female genital mutilation can be seen in this light.

Social inclusion, on the other hand, implies a greater openness to accommodating cultural, religious or other practices and identities. While subject to Charter protections and the need to balance rights, the emphasis is more on accommodation of difference and a reluctance to state limits or qualifications. It can lead to silence on issues within communities about such real concerns as extremism, spousal abuse and female genital mutilation, and the resulting impact on women and other vulnerable members.

What are the narratives behind ‘anti-Muslim hate’ or Islamophobia?

Anti-Muslim hate allows those uncomfortable with the term Islamophobia to situate issues of anti-Muslim bias, discrimination, and racism in the context of individual rather than group rights and those of a religion, Islam. The focus on individual rights maintains some space for legitimate criticism of the religion or its practices (e.g., role of women, LGBTQ, etc.) and more explicit recognition of balancing religious and other rights.

Islamophobia, on the other hand, emphasizes the religion itself, with a greater focus on systemic racism and the rights of the religion as such in contrast to individual rights. Criticism of specific religious practices becomes more difficult as it is can be viewed as criticism of the religion and its institutions rather than criticism of the impact on individual rights.

What are the narratives behind individual acts of racism or systemic racism?

By stressing individual acts of racism, the emphasis is on the individual, the “few bad apples” in any organization or community, with government interventions more focused on education and enforcement of anti-hate crimes legislation. In so doing, it largely sidesteps issues pertaining to societal and socioeconomic barriers.

Systemic racism, on the other hand, situates racism in the context of societal and socioeconomic barriers that result in inequalities, intended or unintended. Individual practices and policies of governments and organizations can inadvertently make it more difficult for individuals and groups to have comparable outcomes to more established groups, as seen with respect to the economy, education attainment, incarceration rates, health and political representation.

What are the narratives behind multiculturalism, interculturalism or pluralism?

All three are “plastic” terms to describe civic integration that range from more integrationist to more separatist. All three can be used positively or negatively. Multiculturalism has been decried by European leaders as having failed at integration in contrast to how it is generally positively viewed by Canadian political leaders and society. It is important to note that what Europeans understand as “multiculturalism” may not be how it is understood in Canada. Interculturalism, while substantively comparable to Canadian multiculturalism with a stronger reference point of Quebec as a French-speaking society, is largely used to emphasize Quebec as a distinct French-speaking and identity-based society. Pluralism is broader in that it includes all forms of diversity (ethnocultural, gender and other) but with more emphasis on tolerance than integration.

Conversation not confrontation

Consciously or not, we all use narratives to drive our arguments and positions. The narratives we use reflect a mix of interests and values. Narratives have elements of identity politics (policies targeted to narrow constituencies) and virtue signalling (superficial support for positions) designed to target and attract individuals and groups.

When listening to discussions and debates, one needs to be alert to the interests, values and signals behind stated positions to improve understanding of them. In formulating our own arguments, one similarly has to “know thyself” and be more mindful of how our interests and values are shaping our positions and narratives. Greater awareness should allow for deeper conversations that either clarify points of divergence or, ideally, commonalities that bridge differences or at least improve civility.

Source: Immigration virtue signalling in both directions

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

Despite ministerial parity, women still underrepresented as senior cabinet, PMO staff

Nice to see this analysis being done by The Hill Times. Now they need to expand this to include visible minorities and Indigenous peoples:

Even though the Liberal cabinet was designed with gender parity in mind, women only represent 40 per cent of the senior staff supporting those ministers’ offices.

Those positions—made up of chiefs of staff and their deputies, directors of policy, communications, parliamentary affairs and senior advisers—are the gateways to ministers and the people who help shape political decisions, observers said.

“That’s where the primary influence is,” said Rachel Curran, former policy director to prime minister Stephen Harper. “Those are the people helping set the agenda in conjunction with the minister.”

While the Liberal government seems to have made more of an effort staffing women in political circles, Ms. Curran said having 60 per cent men in senior positions is “indicative that there is a problem there.”

Men held 98 of 162 positions, according to a Hill Times analysis using an October list exported from the government’s electronic directory services (GEDS) of all staff working for cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister’s Office, marked each by perceived gender, job title and cross-referenced with our records. While the public service annually reports staff numbers by gender, which is almost at parity at the executive level, no such data exists for political staff.

This is the second of a two-part series looking at women at senior political staff levels.

“Women still have a long way to go to be considered equal,” said Michele Austin, who was chief of staff to former Conservative minister Rona Ambrose, after reviewing The Hill Times’ staff lists. “Progress has been made, but certainly not in the senior staff rank.”

via Despite ministerial parity, women still underrepresented as senior cabinet, PMO staff – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Swing ridings with high visible minority populations will tilt 2019 federal election, says politicos

Based on my riding analysis. Interesting comments by MPs. For the complete riding list see C16 – Visible Minority – Ridings:

Some 41 “swing” ridings with visible minority populations of 50 per cent or more, including five constituencies in the Greater Toronto Area that have 80 per cent or more visible minorities, will be key battlegrounds for all major parties in the 2019 election, say politicos.

“These ridings will elect the next government,” said rookie Conservative MP Bob Saroya (Markham-Unionville, Ont.) in an interview with The Hill Times. “These are the swing ridings.”

Based on the 2016 census data, recently released by Statistics Canada, and a list compiled by author and multiculturalism expert Andrew Griffith, 27 of the 41 ridings are located in Ontario, nine in British Columbia, two each in Alberta and Quebec, and one in Manitoba.

Among the 41, there are five GTA-area ridings with visible minority populations greater than 80 per cent: Scarborough North (92.2 per cent), Brampton East (90.6 per cent), Markham-Thornhill (84.8 per cent), Markham-Unionville (84.6 per cent), and Scarborough-Agincourt (80.6 per cent). And there are 12 ridings in Ontario and British Columbia combined where visible minorities comprise between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of the population.

via Swing ridings with high visible minority populations will tilt 2019 federal election, says politicos – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Government missed the most important reform in amending citizenship legislation [fees]

Rob Vineberg and I on citizenship fees:

Recent amendments to the Citizenship Act rolled back many of the restrictive provisions introduced by the previous government. These include reducing the residence period to apply for citizenship from four out of the previous six years to three out of five years; allowing half of the time spent in Canada before becoming a permanent resident to count towards the residence period for citizenship; and, removing the provision that allowed dual citizens convicted of treason, spying or terrorism to be stripped of their Canadian citizenship and deported. Now, as before, they will face Canadian justice. In addition, the new legislation replaces the minister or his delegate—in practice, a mid-level official—as the decision-maker in citizenship revocation cases based on misrepresentation or fraud at the time of application. Once again, these cases will be determined by the Federal Court.

The government has, however, overlooked the biggest barrier to citizenship erected by the previous government: cost. Prior to 2014, an applicant for Canadian citizenship paid a $100 fee and adults paid an additional “right of citizenship” fee of $100. Thus, a family of four had to pay $600 for their citizenship applications. However, in February 2014, the previous government increased that fee to $300 and then, in 2015, increased it again to $530 plus the $100 right of citizenship fee for adults. Therefore, since 2015, the cost for a family of four applying for citizenship has soared to $1,460. The government of the time argued that this reflected the costs of processing applications.

In addition, in the Canada Gazette, the government argued, disingenuously or stupidly (take your choice), that “the fee increase will not impact the naturalization rate as the value placed on obtaining citizenship is very high and the benefits associated with obtaining citizenship far outweigh the fee increases. Thus, the number of applications expected per year is not anticipated to fall following an increase in the fees.”

Now anyone who has taken economics 101 knows that price affects demand. So what has happened in reality? In 2015, before the new fees took effect, there were 130,227 applications and 252,187 people received citizenship. However, in 2016, only 92,197 applications were received and 147,791 people received citizenship—a drop of 41 per cent. And in the first six months of 2017, the precipitous drop continued. Only 51,412 were granted citizenship as opposed to 98,418 in the first six months of 2016—a further drop of 48 per cent. So who was right, the previous government or graduates of economics 101? Clearly the outrageous new fees are a huge impediment for newcomers, often struggling to make ends meet.

Some of the reduction in applications is due to other factors. Lengthening residency requirements to four out of six years had a one-time impact as those meeting the previous three year minimum had to delay their applications. Similarly, the extension of language and knowledge testing to applicants aged 55 to 64 (about seven per cent of all applications) meant fewer applications from that age group. However, the greater part of the drop in applications is due to the fees increase.

Now, after two years of the higher fees, the number of applications has recovered slightly but remains far short of the historic average of some 200,000 annually. A further worrying fact is that applications from poorer newcomers, in particular refugees, have declined even more than for other immigrants.

Now you may ask, what difference does this make? It makes a huge difference. The entire Canadian immigration policy is based on the premise that it is a continuum, starting with a person applying overseas and ending with him or her becoming a Canadian citizen. It is critical that newcomers participate fully in Canadian civil society and feel part of civil society. And they cannot do so if they do not become Canadian citizens.

The benefit of newcomers becoming citizens as soon as possible vastly outweighs the government’s need to recover costs of processing. It seems paradoxical at best that’ at the same time the government promotes diversity and inclusion, and increases immigration levels, it retains a major barrier to immigrants wishing to participate fully in Canadian society.

The cost for adults applying for citizenship must be reduced to at most $300, including the $100 right of citizenship fee, and quickly.

via Government missed the most important reform in amending citizenship legislation – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

House more diverse, but still has a long way to go – The Hill Times Editorial

While hard to disagree with the overall tenor of this editorial, the more interesting aspects of Kai Chan’s in-depth work is less with traditional diversity – women, visible minorities, foreign-born, Indigenous peoples – is with respect to the lack of occupational, age, education etc where some of the differences between parties are striking.

Election 2015 - VisMin and Foreign-Born MPs.002

Note: Baseline for visible minorities is 15 percent, those who are Canadian citizens

The Hill Times conclusion only focuses on the former and is silent on the latter:

As The Hill Times reports in this week’s issue, this is one of the most diverse House of Commons in Canadian history, but it still has a long way to go to reflect Canada’s diverse population. More work must be done to elect more women, more indigenous peoples, more visible minorities, and more people with diverse educational and professional backgrounds. The House is still too white, too male, and too English.

According to research by Canadian expatriate economist Kai Chan, who has a PhD in economics from New Jersey’s Princeton University and is a self-described “data-junkie,”of 338 MPs elected in the last general election, the average group in the House is 50-59; the most common professional background is law; and the most studied subject is politics. Some 104 MPs, or 30 per cent of MPs, are bilingual; 47 MPs, or 13 per cent, were born outside Canada; and there are 88 female MPs, or 26 per cent of the House. Of the 47, or 14 per cent of MPs who were born outside Canada, 11 were born in India, six in the U.K., and four in Lebanon. Out of the 291 MPs, or 86 per cent of the House, born in Canada, 28 MPs were born in Montreal, 25 in Toronto, and 12 in Winnipeg.

According to the 2011 National Household Survey, of Canada’s 32.8 million total population, 6.2 million, or 19 per cent, are visible minority Canadians, including 1.5 million South Asians, 1.3 million Chinese Canadians and about 945,665 black Canadians. The Filipino population numbers 619,310, Latin American 381,280, Arab 380,620, Southeast Asian 312,080 and West Asian 206,840. And the total aboriginal population is 1.4-million.

“Canada is such a diverse country, it’s good to get all different voices,” Mr. Chan told The Hill Times. “It’s especially good because we live in a globalized world, and for Canada to really capitalize on its demographic dividend, we really should have all those people at the table.”

Canadians elected 60 lawyers, 47 consultants, 43 professors, 42 business people, and 41 executives. Some 63 MPs studied politics, 60 studied law, 27 studied business and 27 studied economics. Some 199 prefer English and 35 prefer French only.

In the education category, a total 136, or 40 per cent of MPs, have bachelor’s degrees; 75 MPs, or 22 per cent, have master’s degrees; and 30 MPs, or eight per cent, have PhDs. And 81 MPs have secondary or lower levels of education. The Liberals lead the pack with 22 MPs who have doctorates, followed by the Conservatives with five MPs who have doctorates, the NDP two and Bloc one MP. Of the MPs who have secondary or lower education, the Conservatives have the highest with 42 MPs, followed by the Liberals with 27, the NDP eight and the Bloc four MPs. The Liberals are far ahead of other parties when it comes to MPs who have master’s or bachelor’s degrees with 47 and 82, respectively. In the Conservative caucus, 14 MPs hold their master’s and 31 their bachelor’s. On the NDP side, 12 MPs have their master’s and 19 MPs have their bachelor’s degrees. Some 32 MPs attended the University of Toronto, 22 McGill University in Montreal, and 16 went to Queen’s University in Kingston.

Hopefully, all political parties will make a much stronger effort to recruit more candidates who are underrepresented in the House right now, including more visible minorities, more women, more indigenous peoples to run in the next election. Canada is a diverse country. It’s time that diversity was better reflected in the House.

Source: House more diverse, but still has a long way to go – The Hill Times – The Hill Times

Diversity in political backrooms still lacking

My piece in The Hill Times:

The Liberal government included in its mandate letters to all ministers a “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.”To recall, the Prime Minister appointed a Cabinet with gender parity (15 each of men and women) and almost 17 per cent visible minority ministers (four Sikh and one Afghan Canadian).

Gender parity was not attained for parliamentary secretaries (12 positions out of 35 or 34 per cent) or other leadership positions such as whips and House leaders, visible minority parliamentary secretaries are over-represented (nine positions or 24 per cent) in relation to their share of the voting population (15 per cent).

Given this commitment and action, is the Liberal government also applying diversity and inclusion to its hiring of political staff? What about the official opposition?

To assess this, I looked at the Prime Minister’s Office (59 total positions and 12 senior staffers), the Leader of the Official Opposition’s office (OLO, 23 positions), and ministerial offices (senior staff defined as chief of staff, directors of communications, policy, issues and parliamentary affairs, along with press Secretaries, total number of 101 positions filled at time of writing).

Sources for the data include the regular ‘Hill Climbers’ updates in The Hill Times, other relevant press articles, and the imperfect Government Electronic Directory Services (GEDS). Gender and visible minority status were identified through names, LinkedIn profiles, biographies and photos where available.

From a gender perspective, women are under-represented at the senior level in PMO (one-third), but close to 40 per cent for all 59 PMO staffers. OLO has slightly lower representation of women (30 per cent). For minister’s offices, the percentage of chiefs of staff is slightly less than the overall per cent of close to 40 per cent who are women.

Visible minorities are consistently under-represented, save for the overall numbers in PMO (15 per cent). OLO and senior ministerial office staff all range between four to seven per cent, less than half of the percentage of visible minority Canadian citizens, with chief of staff visible minority representation slightly higher at 10 per cent.

While I have focused on gender and visible minority status, diversity includes of course other dimensions such as regional diversity (many, if not most Liberal staffers come from, or have worked in, Ontario and Toronto), sexual orientation, religion, education etc. R. Paul Wilson’s A Profile of Ministerial Policy Staff in the Government of Canada provides the best most recent analysis of the different aspects of diversity among staffers under the Conservative government October 2012 to June 2013.

Does this matter? In many ways, it does not. Gender parity in Cabinet and relatively strong Parliamentary Secretary representation set the tone for the government and Parliament.

Being a political staffer may not necessarily lead to a direct path to becoming a future MP. Staffer experience is not necessarily perceived as an asset in local riding associations or to the broader public. Staffers may be asked by the party to be its flag-bearer in unwinnable ridings. The most famous example of a staffer becoming an MP is, of course, former Prime Minister Harper, who was a staffer to Reform Party leader Preston Manning among other positions.

All three major parties were able to recruit an impressive number of visible minority candidates (women less so).

However, staffers play an important role in government (and opposition) decision-making. Having a diversity of backgrounds and experience generally helps inform decision-making.

The Liberal government’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, so well executed at the public level for both women and visible minorities, is lacking in the backrooms, particularly for visible minorities. Given the role that staffers play in preparing ministers for debates and discussions, this may impact on the degree to which the overall diversity and inclusion agenda is implemented. 

Trudeau Cabinet takes diversity, inclusiveness to an unparalleled extent |

My piece in The Hill Times:

The Liberal government has emphasized its diversity and inclusive language in speeches, in Cabinet, in Cabinet committees, and in Cabinet ministers’ mandate letters. This emphasis has been reinforced by the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage. All together, these initiatives represent the mainstreaming of diversity, inclusiveness and multiculturalism to an unparalleled extent.

It starts with the language of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who regularly emphasizes that: “Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded—culturally, politically, economically—because of our diversity, not in spite of it.”

It continues with the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with a strong inclusion mandate for indigenous and new Canadians: “Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.”

It is reflected in his choice of ministers: 50 per cent women, 17 per cent visible minority. And is further reinforced in the shared mandate letter commitments for all ministers with two strong multiculturalism-related commitments: “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.”

Holding all ministers to account, with PMO tracking of these and other shared commitments (in addition to minister-specific commitments), should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism:  recognition and equality.

It will take some time to see how well these commitments are implemented.

Equally important, the previous government’s weak record on the diversity of judicial appointments (less than two per cent visible minority) will start to be addressed.

Overall, the new government made few changes to how government is formally organized (machinery changes). This was wise given the disruption and turmoil that such changes can entail (e.g., the Martin government’s splitting apart Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2004, reversed by the Harper government in 2006).

This makes the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage all the more striking, after some eight years at Citizenship and Immigration (now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship or IRCC).

The original transfer to CIC was largely driven by political reasons given then Immigration minister Jason Kenney’s political outreach role with ethnic groups. However, there was also a policy rationale. Multiculturalism deals with longer-term multi-generational issues (along with ‘mainstream’ visible minority relations) in contrast to the newcomer focus of the immigration, integration and citizenship programs, and multiculturalism could be seen as a logical extension of CIC’s mandate, and was portrayed as such in one of CIC’s strategic objectives, ‘building an integrated society.’

In practice, however, the multiculturalism program withered away at CIC.

When the program moved to CIC in 2008, it had a $13-million budget: $12-million for grants and contributions and 73 full-time positions. The last departmental performance report (2013-14) showed 29 full-time positions (a decline of 60 per cent) with a $9.8-million budget. Money for grants and contributions fell to $7.9-million.

Negotiations over the resources to be returned to Canadian Heritage will be challenging, given the impact may be felt in other program areas in IRCC that benefited from the redistribution of Multiculturalism funds. Moreover, the weakened capacity will require a major rebuilding and restaffing effort.

From a policy perspective, the return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as the Canadian identity agenda, which fits nicely with Canadian Heritage’s overall mandate.

However, Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly’s specific mandate letter commitments make no mention of multiculturalism. This apparent oversight may just be to provide the public service time to manage the return of multiculturalism and reintegrate within Canadian Heritage. Furthermore, the lack of a junior minister may make it harder for the multiculturalism program to define its new role within Canadian Heritage and, more broadly, across government.

Joly’s public statements to date have not included any significant references to multiculturalism. Her general orientation, however, has been clear: to promote the “symbols of progressiveness. That was (sic) the soul of our platform.”

Overall, the commitment to a diversity and inclusion agenda, supported by a Cabinet committee and shared ministerial mandate letter commitments, and the rebuilding of multiculturalism back at Canadian Heritage bode well for a more effective inclusion, diversity, and multiculturalism strategy across government.

Source: Trudeau Cabinet takes diversity, inclusiveness to an unparalleled extent |