Half a cheer for Jason Kenney’s revolution in immigration policy | Toronto Star

Natalie Brender in The Star on Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, focussing on the risks and limits of anecdotes for decision-making. Nice to see words like epistemological  (theory of knowledge – yes, I had to look it up too!) to capture the issues and dynamics.

In the end, I am more in the camp of anecdotes and evidence, understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each one, but using both to ensure the best possible policy outcome.  Article as follows:

Andrew Griffith, a retired senior official at Citizenship and Immigration Canada, has just published a book about the tense period beginning in 2007 that saw minister Jason Kenney bring a tidal wave of change to two federal departments. Among the many virtues of Griffith’s book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, is a striking commitment to epistemological modesty and self-reflection.

Throughout his case studies of various policy issues, Griffith underlines how officials working on multiculturalism and citizenship issues under Kenney were forced to confront their own latent ideologies and grapple with challenges to their expertise under a regime that broke starkly from the approach of previous governments.

From vocabulary to policy priorities to the deepest questions of what counted as sound evidence for policy-making, the Conservatives upended decades of received wisdom. For instance, Griffith reports, Kenney and his staff held in particular odium the blame-laying perspectives taken by “downtown activists” and researchers in analyzing mainstream discrimination toward cultural minorities.

An organization’s use of terms such as “oppression,” “white power” and “racialized communities” became grounds for striking it from a pool of grant applicants. This aversion was part of the minister’s larger distaste for the issue of barriers facing visible-minority Canadians, and his desire to shift focus toward discrimination within and among minority communities.

Because Griffith writes as a consummately professional public servant, he doesn’t pass explicit judgment on the policy shifts effected during the Kenney years. As he notes, it’s the job of elected officials to decide government priorities, and the job of public servants to be loyal implementers of those decisions.

On the other hand, it’s also the job of public servants to provide expert insight and advice to their ministers, who are supposed to take that advice into account in making policy decisions. It’s on this score that some of the book’s most revealing insights lie, since there was an unprecedented parting of ways between Kenney and officials on the question of what counted as sound evidence.

Multiculturalism and citizenship officials had long been used to basing their insight on social scientific research such as large-scale surveys and data collection on a range of standard topics. In Kenney, they were confronted with a minister who took his bearing from first-person anecdotes gathered from tireless meetings across Canada. (Such a minister, in the words of another official quoted by Griffith, was “like Halley’s comet, only coming by once every 76 years.”) Through the nuggets of information gained from his unmatched ear-to-the-ground contact with the nation’s increasingly suburban ethnic communities, Kenney was confident in his knowledge of their realities and concerns.

That confidence accompanied what Griffith alludes to as “the minister’s (and the government’s) general skepticism about social policy research,” and their disdain for the “downtown activists” who had forged deep ties with multiculturalism staff. Two starkly different “evidence bases,” as he puts it, were being drawn on by the political and bureaucratic levels.

Notably, Griffith does not depict the outcome as an unmitigated disaster from a policy-making perspective. Kenney was indeed gleaning real insights into experiences and concerns within different communities, which could not be captured in large national surveys or data sets. He gathered anecdotal reports on topics it had never occurred to officials to investigate systematically – for instance, on violations of citizenship integrity within certain immigrant groups in matters such as cheating on citizenship tests or so-called “birth tourism.”

Expert officials sometimes found to their surprise that the minister’s revamped multiculturalism priorities met with approval among diverse communities in the department’s focus group testing. And in Griffith’s own judgment, the anecdotal evidence that Kenney gained sometimes did produce worthwhile new directions in policy and programming (such as initiatives to address discrimination within and among ethnic groups).

For these reasons, Griffith writes, “officials had to learn to listen to — and respect — the key messages and insights coming from the minister, reflecting his anecdotes and conversations from his extensive community outreach.” It was a wrenching adjustment for many to have their expertise challenged and world views dismissed. Eventually, though, most staff took on board the insights that anecdote could offer, and worked to incorporate them into programming and policy.

There is no indication that Kenney and his staff reciprocated in the epistemological modesty department. In one exceptional instance, Griffith reports, officials found studies that managed to persuade them that racism and discrimination indeed pose real barriers to the success of certain ethnic groups in Canada. But other than that, the learning and broadening of world views seems to have been entirely one-sided.

And in the bigger picture, even anecdotes reflecting a partial reality give precious little for policymakers to go on. Stories of fraud whispered in the minister’s ear don’t tell policy makers how widespread the incidence of citizenship-test cheating or birth tourism is. They don’t tell policymakers what the relative dollar costs of taking action or keeping the status quo will be; nor do they predict what side effects might come from dramatically changing current policy.

Only careful data collection and analysis can do that. And that’s precisely what the Kenney regime (and the Harper government) couldn’t be bothered with in their haste to get tough on “abusers of Canadians’ generosity.”

Writing as a loyal civil servant, Griffith doesn’t say it explicitly, but the lessons of his book are clear. Anecdote is a lousy basis for policymaking, and modesty and self-reflection are not virtues to be expected only on one side of the relationship between the public service and politicians. As Chris Alexander takes over these files as minister of immigration, he could get a fine start by bearing those truths in mind.

Half a cheer for Jason Kenney’s revolution in immigration policy | Toronto Star.

Values charter sparks fierce but worthwhile debate: Hébert | Toronto Star

Always nice to have Chantal Hébert’s analysis, as she steps back from the day-to-day chatter and puts it in context. And I think her analysis is correct; while the motives for the Charte are suspect, the reaction within Quebec (and among the federal parties) has been encouraging. Favourite quote:

Common sense suggests that a society that is perpetually consumed by polarizing issues will pay a price. But sweeping them under the rug may take an even higher toll on the democratic fabric of a society — even when that rug is the plush one of the Canadian court system.

Values charter sparks fierce but worthwhile debate: Hébert | Toronto Star.

Charte des valeurs québécoises – Round-up

While irresponsible and playing to xenophobia, seems to be working politically for the PQ, particularly among francophones. Early days, and we will see how the debates and discussions play out, but not encouraging.

Sondage Léger-Le Devoir – La Charte relance le PQ | Le Devoir.

A strong opinion piece in Le Devoir by a group of academics noting the exclusionary nature of the proposed Charter:

Nous sommes fiers de l’héritage culturel et politique distinct du Québec. Cet héritage inclut la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés de la personne, qui garantit déjà les droits individuels, notamment l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes ainsi que la liberté de conscience. D’ailleurs, ces principes sont plus que des « valeurs » subjectives : ils forment des impératifs de justice. Il est désolant que le gouvernement tente de porter atteinte à ces impératifs à des fins électorales en attisant des tensions […]. Nous attendons plutôt de nos décideurs qu’ils se fassent les porteurs d’une vision s’appuyant sur notre héritage dans l’élaboration de politiques publiques justes, inclusives et ambitieuses.

Charte des valeurs québécoises – Une mauvaise réponse à un faux problème

And general commentary in The Toronto Star about the Charter, origins and likely impact:

In Quebec, religious ‘accommodations’ debate heats up

And good commentary by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail, noting just how counterproductive an approach to integration such a Charter represents:

Worse, though: If we take seriously the goal of eradicating religion from public life, this is a terrible approach. Any smart politician knows that the way to get voters to switch sides is not to insult them for having the stupidity to support the other party. It’s to make your side seem welcoming. This applies doubly in the battle against religious authority: We’re not going to convert people by humiliating and enraging them.

And the non-confrontation approach is working – fantastically so. The past 10 years saw the proportion of Canadians without religion rise by more than 50 per cent, to a quarter of the population; the same is happening in every developed country.

We didn’t make this progress by insulting the religious; rather, we got here by tolerating them and making secular reason appear the more moral and humane option. … The way to win an argument is not by ordering your opponents to shut up. It’s by getting them on your side.

 Quebec’s slapdash bid for secularism doesn’t even work 

Laïcité – La CAQ s’estime moins «radicale» que le PQ | Le Devoir

Going further than Bouchard-Taylor with the extension to education. Not encouraging. NDP has staked out Bouchard-Taylor laïcité ouverte approach (only persons in position of legal authority) which is more reasonable than broader approach.

Laïcité – La CAQ s’estime moins «radicale» que le PQ | Le Devoir.

And on the lighter side, Natalie Brender’s ironic and satiric take on the Quebec Values Charter.

A modest proposal for Quebec and Canada: Brender | Toronto Star.

Islamic scholars experience diversity of Muslim practices at U of T summer program | Toronto Star

Interesting account of  the El-Tawhid Juma Circle Mosque, a LGBTQ-friendly mosque, where women can lead prayers and men and women can sit together. An illustration of the diversity of Islam, although such centres are very much the minority (and not surprising, easier to start in countries like Canada).

Will be interesting to see over time whether the Muslim Canadian population follows the trend of other major religions with more faith centres open to more inclusive policies or not.

Islamic scholars experience diversity of Muslim practices at U of T summer program | Toronto Star.

Is Canada doing enough to ‘de-radicalize’ convicted terrorists? | Toronto Star

Most countries with radicalization problems have some form of these programs. They are relatively low-cost and provide insights to those who have become radicalized, in addition to helping some get out of radicalization ideology.

The government decision last fall to  cancel part-time chaplain contracts, largely impacting Muslim Imams, can only be characterized as bizarre, given that radicalization, while not large-scale, is nevertheless an issue in Canada.

Penny wise but pound foolish. Given Canada’s multicultural reality, chaplains should the diversity of the prison population (72 full-time Christian chaplains compared to 2 full-time Muslim chaplains seems unbalanced to say the least).

Is Canada doing enough to ‘de-radicalize’ convicted terrorists? | Toronto Star.