Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians: Tom Flanagan

Focused commentary by Flanagan on how Indigenous obligations are reflected in the current language of the draft new citizenship study guide (Discover Canada).

Surprising he did not mention the planned revision to the oath (TRC recommendation 94) that will include: “I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada including Treaties with Indigenous Peoples.”

The federal government is currently working on a revision of Discover Canada, the study guide for the test that immigrants must pass before obtaining citizenship. To judge from a recent Canadian Press story, the new manual will read like a Liberal campaign platform. Perhaps that’s not surprising, because the Liberals control the government. Maybe it’s even fair, because the Conservatives revised the manual in 2011, when they controlled the government. But it would be nice if those who are politicizing the Canadian citizenship manual would at least represent Canadian law accurately.

According to The Canadian Press, the draft revision says, “Today, Canadians, for example, can own their own homes and buy land thanks to treaties that the government negotiated.” But a moment’s reflection shows that this statement can’t be correct. Land-cession treaties have never been negotiated in the Atlantic provinces, most of Quebec, and most of British Columbia. Yet, Canadians can own homes and buy land in those provinces, just as they can in Ontario and the Prairie provinces, where land-cession treaties were signed with First Nations.

The ability of Canadians to own land and homes depends upon grants of land from the sovereign. In the English legal tradition, sovereignty includes the title to land, which the sovereign can subsequently grant to individuals or corporations. Modern Canadian sovereignty rests upon earlier French and British sovereignty, founded upon discovery, (occasional) conquest, establishment of governments able to enforce territorial boundaries and administer law and recognition by other sovereign states.

Even while recognizing Indigenous land rights, including full ownership in certain circumstances, the Supreme Court of Canada has consistently upheld Canadian sovereignty as the basis of the Constitution. Chief Justice Antonio Lamer in Van der Peet phrased this as “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown.” From the beginning, French, British and Canadian sovereigns have made grants of land upon which our system of private land ownership has developed. Those grants did not depend upon prior negotiation of treaties with First Nations, otherwise there would be no private property today in much of Canada.

Ironically, private property in land does not exist on most Indigenous reserves today. That deficiency in the Indian Act is only one of the many ways in which the property rights of First Nations have been abused. But mistakes in that area do not mean the private-property rights of other Canadians depend upon treaties.

Another misleading statement in the revision is this advice to new Canadians about their legal obligations: “Obeying the law, serving on a jury, paying taxes, filling out the census and respecting treaties with Indigenous Peoples are mandatory.” But treaties were legal agreements between the Crown (advised by cabinet) and First Nations (represented by their chiefs). They imposed obligations on the Crown to set aside land and provide assistance of various types. But they don’t impose any specific obligations upon citizens other than the general obligation to obey the law, which incidentally is also imposed upon First Nations by the text of the treaties.

These wording changes, if the government follows through with them, won’t have any immediate legal effect. But we should be clear about what’s happening. In the past election campaign, the Liberals made many irredeemable promises to Indigenous voters, such as adopting the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. Now, instead of impossible legal changes, they are offering words – and words matter in the long run. As the great philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, “Words are wise men’s counters, they do but reckon with them, but they are the money of fools.” These foolish words will tend to make new Canadians, and indeed all Canadians, feel like interlopers in their own country.

Source: Proposed citizenship test guide will only mislead new Canadians – The Globe and Mail

Les fonctionnaires saluent le gouvernement Trudeau

More on the public service public (and private) reaction to the change in government and approach to the public service:

Mel Cappe, un ancien greffier du Conseil privé (sorte de grand patron de la fonction publique fédérale), accueille lui aussi favorablement la nouvelle, tout en apportant un bémol. Il rappelle que les fonctionnaires ont le devoir de servir leurs maîtres politiques du jour. Si les scientifiques devraient avoir le droit de parler de leurs recherches, cela ne leur donne pas pour autant le droit de critiquer publiquement les choix politiques du gouvernement.

Fonctionnaires partisans ?

Cette annonce vendredi n’est pas le seul événement à avoir ébranlé la bulle fédérale. En après-midi, le ministre des Affaires étrangères, Stéphane Dion, a donné à son ministère un point de presse au cours duquel plusieurs fonctionnaires présents l’ont applaudi à trois reprises : lorsqu’il a parlé de la valeur de tous les fonctionnaires, d’évaluations environnementales et de lutte contre les changements climatiques.

Les critiques ont fusé sur les réseaux sociaux, de nombreux commentateurs y voyant la preuve que la fonction publique fédérale est « rouge » dans l’âme et que Stephen Harper avait raison de s’en méfier.

Debi Daviau y voit plutôt une « réaction complètement naturelle et humaine après neuf ans d’abus complet et absolu »« Notre fonction publique vit une lune de miel du fait qu’elle peut, après neuf ans, être autorisée à faire son travail correctement. On ne doit pas s’inquiéter que notre fonctionpublique célèbre cela. »

Tom Flanagan, professeur de sciences politiques de Calgary et ancien collaborateur de Stephen Harper, trouve ces applaudissements problématiques. Ils trahissent non pas un biais pro-libéral, mais un biais en faveur d’une vision interventionniste de l’État.« Les fonctionnaires ont intérêt à ce que l’État soit gros. C’est leur industrie. Plus l’État est gros, plus il y a d’emplois, d’occasions de promotions et meilleur est le salaire. C’est pour cela qu’ils sont toujours suspicieux des gouvernements qui prônent la retenue. » Les visions politiques libertariennes véhiculées par les partis politiques de l’Ouest sont donc perçues comme étant étrangères.

« Je vais utiliser cet exemple dans mes cours pour démontrer la dominance du courant de pensée laurentien [du Canada central] à Ottawa et comment l’Ouest est encore perçu comme un outsider ! » reconnaît-il.

Mel Cappe lui donne en partie raison. Les applaudissements soulignaient, à son avis, « la revitalisation et la renaissance du rôle du Canada sur la scène internationale ». En ce sens, dit-il, les fonctionnaires avaient beaucoup aimé le gouvernement de Brian Mulroney, preuve que ce n’est pas la « partisanerie » qui anime les fonctionnaires, mais une certaine vision de l’État.

Source: Les fonctionnaires saluent le gouvernement Trudeau | Le Devoir

In conversation with exiled Conservative Tom Flanagan

Good balanced and reflective interview with Tom Flanagan, former Conservative strategist and thinker, by Paul Wells. While the bulk of the interview is about his controversial remarks about child pornography, worth reading for his general observations on communications and politics. And his quote on Harper is remarkably balanced for someone that Harper cut loose so ruthlessly:

Q: Your book also airs other criticisms of the Conservative party and of the Prime Minister. The falling out between you and Stephen Harper seems to be pretty complete. At one point, you write, “There’s a dark, almost Nixonian, side to the man. He can be suspicious, secretive and vindictive, prone to sudden eruptions of white-hot rage over meaningless trivia, at other times falling into week-long depressions in which he’s incapable of making decisions.” Is that the sort of thing that would disqualify a guy from being prime minister?

A: No, I don’t think so. I tried to be clear that this is one side of a complex person, and he also has many wonderful attributes and I feel proud that he asked me to work for him. I believe I helped him get where he is today. I think he’s obviously intelligent and dedicated and focused and honest; I can’t see him ever taking a bribe, for example. He doesn’t care about money. I worked closely with Stephen for many years and it took a number of years before I started to see the whole picture. At first, I was drawn by the sterling qualities and it was only over time that I started to see this other side. But I do think the tragedy of Harper is that this darker side is undermining what he has achieved, and would like to achieve further. So often now, the issue is about something that comes from this personal side, some kind of judgment that he has made about people that has backfired, or the way he has treated a person, so the focus is now so often being taken off the policy objectives. He’s got some achievements recently that he should be proud of, such as the free trade agreement with the common market and South Korea; being close to balancing the budget. But what are people talking about? Too often they’re talking about Nigel Wright, Mike Duffy, now Dimitri Soudas. So that’s what I see as tragic in the dramatic sense: that he has this difficult side which is now undermining the more positive and creative side.

In conversation with exiled Conservative Tom Flanagan.

Why Ottawa’s right to procrastinate on the values charter – The Globe and Mail

Tom Flanagan on the Quebec values charter and why one needs to let the internal QC debate take its course, which will likely end up reasonably. A stronger position in favour of provincial, rather than individual rights than many.

Given the tenor of QC debates to date, and just how poorly the proposed Charter has been received, he is largely right, although it was necessary for all federal politicians to lay down some markers.

Why Ottawa’s right to procrastinate on the values charter – The Globe and Mail.

Past wrongs can’t always be undone – The Globe and Mail

Tom Flanagan on historical recognition and apologies. Very similar to the Trudeau position; realpolitik has, of course, resulted in a fairly extensive historical recognition program by the Conservative government.

Past wrongs can’t always be undone – The Globe and Mail.