Politics

by Alice Musabende (@amusabende) in Ottawa

Most North Americans, at least of a certain age, identify the fall of Saigon in April, 1975, with the news footage of Americans being evacuated from the roof of the United States embassy by chopper as North Vietnamese troops claimed the city.

Forty years later, the commemoration of a day that turned the hinge of history 14,000 km away has become a serious irritant between Canada and Vietnam, a partisan flashpoint on Parliament Hill and a source of division within Canada’s Vietnamese community that some observers say is being exploited for votes by the federal Conservatives in an election year.

For the Vietnamese who fled the ravaged country and made their way to Canada after the April 30th, 1975, communist victory, the date is known as “Black April Day.” Which is why Sen. Thanh Hai Ngo’s private member’s bill commemorating the exodus that brought him to Canada in 1975 was originally titled, the “Black April Day Act.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“With our electoral system, you don’t need everybody, you just need enough to win. Some of our communities have upward to 40, 50, 60% people who are on board. Never mind second generation.” [/quote]

Then, the current communist government of Vietnam, mindful of much of the Vietnamese diaspora’s before-and-after version of the country’s repressive post-1975 history, protested vehemently to the Harper government. The bill is now called the “Journey to Freedom Act,” and it continues to fuel tension between Ottawa and Hanoi.

But Bill S-219 is also the cause of another rift, between the Conservatives on the one side and the Liberals and NDP on the other. When it was initially tabled in the Senate last fall, some Liberal senators voted against it, though it ended up passing. In the House of Commons last month, Bill S-219 passed first and second reading but not without opposition from MPs recommending that it be referred to committee in the hope that it would be amended.

That is because, soon after the relatively obscure bill, which may have initially looked like a no-brainer, was debated in the House, oppositions MPs such as NDP MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan say they started receiving emails and phone calls from people saying the bill did not represent the views of the whole Vietnamese-Canadian community.

NDP MP Anne Minh-Thu Quach, one of the two Vietnamese-Canadian MPs to ever sit in the House of Commons, explained to iPolitics that the community is generationally divided, mainly between those who left when Saigon fell — including some associated with the old regime — and were welcomed to Canada as “boat people” in the 1970s, and those who’ve come to Canada more recently as students or economic immigrants and maintain ties with the communist state.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Some observers say the bill is a textbook case of targeted political pandering for ethnic votes ahead of what is shaping up to be a close-fought federal election.[/quote]

As a result, Julie Trang Nguyen, who leads the Canada-Vietnam Association — a group opposed to the bill and in favour of maintaining ties with Vietnam — says that people like her feel ostracized. “You are not supposed to do anything with Vietnam. That is the attitude. Even the flag, when you have an event then it must be the old Saigon flag. If not, they will come and question you on how come you don’t have that flag up there” Nguyen told iPolitics.

Nguyen and other representatives of the association told reporters in a press conference that they felt insulted by the fact that the bill advocated for April 30th as a commemoration date, fully knowing it’s the same day as Liberation Day in Vietnam. They were in Ottawa to ask the House heritage committee, which was studying the bill, to consider an alternative date and to change the wording of the bill to remove references to the war.

MP Anne Minh-Thu Quach, who supported the bill, said she had hoped that the committee would indeed consider dissenting voices, but only two opposing witnesses were heard and no alternative suggestions were deemed acceptable. “It’s regrettable, I find that it’s a bill that divides more than it unites people” Minh-Thu Quach says.

NDP MP Hoang Mai agrees, saying the bill’s benefits are mostly symbolic. “Why is the government bringing something forward when, for example, people in my riding are already celebrating on April 30th?” Mai says that if the government wanted to show real leadership, it could have put forward a bill that addresses human rights in Vietnam. “The way they have brought it forward, I do find divisions within the Vietnamese community” says the NDP MP.

Nguyen, after testifying in committee, said she was disappointed by the manner in which Senator Ngo and his party had dealt with the issue. “By taking this side that is already imposing their view on the rest of the community, in a way the Conservatives are putting a stamp on it, saying this is a view that we endorse.”

Some observers say the bill is a textbook case of targeted political pandering for ethnic votes ahead of what is shaping up to be a close-fought federal election.

Alberta-based political strategist Stephen Carter says, “This is being done in essence to gather support from those people in the first generational subset. It absolutely is being done for votes, there is no other way around it.”

Veteran poll analyst Paul Barber says that, among multiple strategies that parties use to woo ethnic votes is the use of “overarching symbolic things that are connected to their homelands.”

Senator Ngo’s office refuted the accusation that the Senator’s intent with this bill was to play into ethnic politics, and said that he only wanted to have a day to commemorate the Vietnamese boat people’s saga and pay tribute to Canadians who assisted them.

But a former Liberal strategist told iPolitics that this scenario is typical of the Conservatives, who he says have a history of targeting subgroups within larger ethnic communities. “I think of Hong Kong Chinese versus mainland Chinese, I think of Sri Lankans, or people of Indian descent; Conservatives are good at targeting subgroups within immigrant communities.” he says.

Phil Triadafilopoulos, a professor of Political science at the University of Toronto who has researched the Conservative Party of Canada’s “ethnic outreach” strategies, also says that Canada’s electoral system facilitates these types of approaches. “With our electoral system, you don’t need everybody, you just need enough to win. Some of our communities have upward to 40, 50, 60% people who are on board. Never mind second generation.” he says.

As to those who wonder how the Conservative government is threading the thin line between courting communist Vietnam as a trade partner and commemorating those who fled its brutal communist regime, Carter says “You do it very carefully.”


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

by Abbas Somji (@AbbasSomji) in Toronto

Is politics ‘broken’? For a growing number of Canadians, the answer appears to be ‘yes’ - and there may not be an easy fix.

The CBC posed this question during its inaugural ‘CBC Asks’ public debate, live-streamed from the atrium of the corporation’s Toronto headquarters this week. An audience of approximately 300 people, and countless more online, watched as two teams each made their case. The debaters tried to sway the vote, and convince viewers that the political process either continues (or ceases) to be the most effective way to enact real change, both in Canada and globally.

The debate dovetailed with the release of Samara Canada’s first-ever “Democracy 360” – a report card measuring the health of Canada’s democracy. Samara Canada is a charity that tries to enhance civic engagement without being affiliated with any one political party. The report card focuses on public opinion of political leaders and their politics. It’s designed to prompt reflection and discussion, particularly in light of 2015 being a federal election year.

Canada’s Grade

How’d Canada fare? Well, we got a ‘C’, with the comment that “our democracy is not doing as well as a country as rich as Canada deserves.”

Samara’s co-founder Alison Loat insists that the country’s political system now repels more people than it attracts, particularly young people.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars helping immigrants build lives here and spend next to none of that money introducing them constructively to our democratic system.” - Alison Loat, Samara Canada[/quote]

“About 40 per cent of Canadians say they don’t trust their elected leaders, our political parties, and believe they largely fail to perform their jobs,” says Loat. More Canadians are finding politics to be “irrelevant”, she says, and there is little being done to empower newcomers to be active participants in the political process.

“We spend hundreds of millions of dollars helping immigrants build lives here and spend next to none of that money introducing them constructively to our democratic system,” adds Loat.

Her teammate, political columnist Andrew Coyne, agrees.

“If you’re well-heeled, well-funded, or well-connected, no doubt, politics works for [you],” he says.

A video snapshot, shown prior to the debate, polled Canadians and asked them to share their insights on politics.

“If there were more naturalized citizens that were in power, that would represent us on all levels of government, that would be better, because right now, the politicians don’t really look like the immigrants – or the average Canadian,” says one woman. “If I don’t vote, then I won’t have exercised my right as a citizen.”

The Right to Vote

CBC chief correspondent, Peter Mansbridge, moderated the debate, and pointed out that citizens in some countries are denied a basic right – one that so many in North America choose to forfeit.

“I think for a lot of us in this room, we’ve either been in countries, or we’ve seen television reports from countries, where we’ve seen, on voting day, people lined up for blocks, some of them crying. Why? Because they suddenly have the right to vote,” says Mansbridge.

“They’ve fought for that right. They’ve watched people die for that right. In some cases, some people are still dying for that right to vote.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We can’t afford to just sit on the sidelines and be cynical, because it’s actually through the friction of political debate that we get big, bold policy ideas.” - Aisha Moodie-Mills[/quote]

A stark comparison from the scene in this country, where voting turnout rates have dropped significantly. During Canada’s last federal election, voter turnout was a reported 61 per cent, a marginal increase from the year before. However it still meant approximately 40 per cent of Canadians eligible to vote chose not to.

“How well is politics working when the parliament we elect looks nothing like the parliament we voted for?” asks Coyne. “When 38 per cent of the vote gives you 60 per cent of the seats and 100 per cent of the power?”

In the last Canadian election, the vast majority of Canadians voted against the incumbent government,says Dave Meslin, Coynes fellow teammate and someone the National Speakers Bureau deems a community catalyst.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In most Western democracies, when a party takes power against the will of the majority, its called a coup – and its a bad thing. Here, we call it an election and we publicly finance the whole thing.” - Dave Meslin[/quote]

Meslins comments were met with applause and cheers from the audience as he underscored the need to implement proportional representation. He cites the First Past the Post voting system adopted in Canada and the U.S., which he says prevents citizens from fairly electing representatives. More importantly, Meslin says the desires of the people dont translate into seats in the government.

In most Western democracies, when a party takes power against the will of the majority, its called a coup – and its a bad thing. Here, we call it an election and we publicly finance the whole thing,he says, to peals of laughter from the crowd.

No Room for Cynicism

The verbal sparring, albeit entertaining, by the two teams (pictured to the right), was effective in highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the political arena. The debate continued with the opposing team, who admitted that though the political process has its fair share of imperfections, it’s still a tool worth keeping and should not be undermined. The team threw the question back to their opponents, asking: how would society function better without the current democratic process?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Why would you leave the running of the country to people you dont trust, when its completely within your hands to go about and have your say?” - Monte Solberg[/quote]

“We can’t afford to just sit on the sidelines and be cynical, because it’s actually through the friction of political debate that we get big, bold policy ideas,” says U.S. political strategist, Aisha Moodie-Mills. “It’s those policy ideas that then become laws, and it’s the laws that strengthen and safeguard and secure our society and our day-to-day lives.”

“Why would you leave the running of the country to people you dont trust, when its completely within your hands to go about and have your say?” asks Moodie-Mills’ teammate, former Conservative MP Monte Solberg. “Canadian voters are not victims. The ability to create change is in your hands.”

Rounding up Solberg’s team was another parliamentary alumnus - former Liberal MP Sheila Copps, who reinforced that the only place real change can happen is in politics.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]What must happen now is a radical culture shift to empower citizens and make them feel politics can be used as a tool in the country to bring about change.[/quote]

“We are now in the most racially diverse city in the world, and people get along, and there are lots of other places in the world where that is not happening,” says Copps, who asserts it couldn’t have happened without the decision of multiple governments. She cites the Canadian Multiculturalism Act of 1970, as just one piece of legislation that governed how we would learn to live together.

“We asked the CRTC to implement laws to see ourselves reflected on the airwaves. It didn’t happen by accident,” says Copps. “The reason we have been successful in Canada is not because we’re better than other places around the world, but we put in place laws to guarantee that the minority have equal rights with the majority.”

Turning Things Around

Samara Canada insists it will take more than just higher voter turnout. What must happen now is a radical culture shift to empower citizens and make them feel politics can be used as a tool in the country to bring about change. It doesn’t end there – politicians need to be vibrant and reliable, whereas citizens need to begin to get engaged by first starting to talk about politics and eventually getting more involved in the democratic process – not simply just by casting their ballots every election.

At the beginning of the debate, the audience electronically cast its ballots (using device pictured to the left), revealing 69 per cent did not feel the political process was worthwhile.

By the end of the debate, after everyone had spoken – including two former parliamentarians – that number had risen to 76 per cent – a 7 per cent increase.

That in itself was the testament of the power of sway, underscoring the disconnect between politicians and citizens, and the growing apathy and disenchantment that now pervades the Canadian social consciousness.

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by Shan Qiao (@dmaomao) in Toronto   

An annual ethnic media reception hosted by the Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne turned into chaos last Thursday when most of the journalists attending were blocked out of the venue as a result of dozens of people showing up to protest the new sex education curriculum.

Wynne’s annual ethnic media reception held at a Mississauga banquet hall was expecting about 200 ethnic media members, offering them the opportunity to talk to the Premier since they don’t usually get the chance at mainstream media events.

However, one hour before the scheduled event at 6 p.m., about 100 protestors – who are set against the new sex education curriculum that will be implemented in September this year – flocked to the venue, bringing speakers, holding signs and starting to chant for the resign of Wynne.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I left China to live in Canada for a better education for my children, not for the new sex education curriculum.” - Protestor[/quote]

Protestors ranged from many different groups including ethnic ones – Chinese, Somali, Syrian, South Asian, etc., religious ones – Christian, Islamic, Sikh, etc. and community-based ones like the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund.

“I do this for my children,” said Gu, a Chinese mother from North York. “I have two daughters, with one six years old and another 10 years old. I don’t want my children to learn such an aggressive and graphic sex education curriculum.”

She also indicates that she is raising her daughters in a traditional Chinese family and holds firm of her native culture and morality. “I left China to live in Canada for a better education for my children, not for the new sex education curriculum,” she continues.

New Education Based on Science

The protest took a sharp turn upon the arrival of Premier Wynne. After she quickly and quietly exited her car and entered a private room beside the main entrance of the banquet hall, agitated protestors moved much closer to the entrance. Instantly half a dozen Peel police officers set up a perimeter to push back the protestors.

Just about five to 10 minutes afterwards, Premier Wynne surprisingly walked out of the entrance and braved the protest, escorted by a heavy police presence, security and parliamentary assistants. The crowd again swarmed her.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[T]he changes of the health and physical curriculum are the changes based on science… We are behind other provinces in terms of teenage pregnancy, sexual assault.” - Kathleen Wynne[/quote]

“The first thing I would like to say is that I know you are here because you care about your children,” she began. “The second thing I want to say is that the changes of the health and physical curriculum are the changes based on science… We are behind other provinces in terms of teenage pregnancy, sexual assault.” Wynne managed to address the crowd while being interrupted continuously by protestors calling her “a liar” and telling her “to resign.”

“I have one more thing to say and I really want you to hear…” Wynne said, remaining calm while battling over dozens of other voices. She was unable to finish as, due to the chaotic and escalated concerns on safety, Peel police officers ended Premier Wynne’s speech and escorted her rapidly back to the venue while protestors and journalists tried to hurry behind. As a result, the police blocked the front entrance, not allowing anyone to enter because they were unable to distinguish protestors from journalists.

After a nearly 20 minute standoff, protestors agreed to leave the premises and journalists were allowed to enter to catch the remaining part of Premier Wynne’s speech at the podium for the reception.

Political Manipulation

Inside, Wynne continued where she left off earlier: “The final piece of information I want to give to parents outside is that if at the end of the day, after the parents have read the curriculum, they still want to withdraw their children from the class, they have the ability to withdraw their children from the class,” she said, stressing that it is the right parents have in this province always. “What is happening now (the protest), I believe, is the absence of some information. I hope they will take [the] opportunity to get that information.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]This is not a partisan issue. When people were shouting at me ‘no more Liberals’, that’s not the point… the point is about protecting our children.” - Kathleen Wynne[/quote]

She went on to say that the political process could manipulate people. “The reality is the protest was led by a Conservative candidate. This is not a partisan issue. When people were shouting at me ‘no more Liberals’, that’s not the point… the point is about protecting our children,” she concluded.

Lou Iacobelli, chair of the Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund and a Hamilton father, argued the legitimacy to withdraw from the class, stating that he is still in court, along with many other parents, after nearly two years of legally battling against Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

“Parents are taking the school board to court to withdraw their children from curriculum that contradicts their faith,” he said. “They are not respecting parental rights and religious freedom or otherwise they would have reached out and end the court case.”

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Monday, 23 March 2015 14:03

Welcome Back, MPs, Watch Your Mouths

Written by

by Geoff Norquay

A warm welcome back to Ottawa to MPs of all parties. I hope you had a great time over spring break, but as we all move inexorably towards October, it’s time to review the rules of the road.

It’s been almost four years since the last federal election and it’s pretty clear that some of you have forgotten past lessons. Like being careful about what you say publicly, and taking care not to shoot off vital body parts with misguided and unfortunate comments. Like forgetting that what might sound OK back home in Upper Mukluk will be considered utterly insensitive, stupid and senseless in other parts of the country, by people with other views, or even members of your own tribe.

You all have been watching your respective leaders pawing the ground and engaging in oratorical flights of fancy in question period and in major speeches around the country. They’re merely preparing the way for the battle ahead, staking out the big ideas and themes, touching base with groups of supporters, trying out language for the hot-button lines and beginning to frame the all-important ballot question for this fall. Sometimes they’re going to be a bit edgy, and they will say things that are controversial.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]On “big picture” issues, there is nothing to be gained — and much to be lost — by taking your leader’s comments and embellishing them for the folks back home with a couple of plain-talking homespun examples.[/quote]

Leaders get to say such things because they are leaders, and they’ve usually given some thought to what they say, how they say it, and the precise words they are going to use. One leader might acknowledge a widespread public concern, for example, about the cultural practice of wearing a niqab in Canadian society. Seized by an attack of presentism, another leader might mount an attack of innuendo on those comments by invoking the Komogata Moru and “none is too many.”

Fair game on both sides — but understand that the media will be only too happy to throw gasoline on these mildly provocative musings, reading all manner of hysterical implications and agendas into them.

Embellishments

This is a great time to keep your head down. On “big picture” issues, there is nothing to be gained — and much to be lost — by taking your leader’s comments and embellishing them for the folks back home with a couple of plain-talking homespun examples. Unless you use exactly the same words your leader used, there is an army of media folks out there whose job it is to fit a micron’s worth of paper between you and your leader.

If they can, they will proclaim that you have just embarrassed him or her and insulted a million other Canadians into the bargain. Then you will have to issue a groveling apology and read in the national media for three days about what a doofus you are.

‘Colourful’ Language

The use of colours is an important aspect of politics — but only when limited to personal apparel. A bright scarf or striking tie can dress up a dark and otherwise boring suit if you are going on television. Usage of any word denoting colour in relation to people is absolutely verboten.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In Canadian politics we have a number of non-threatening words to communicate the fact that Canadians come from a kaleidoscope of religious backgrounds, beliefs, values and yes, colours. These words are “multiculturalism,” “diversity” and “pluralism.”[/quote]

There are no exceptions, and transgressors will be ridiculed, pilloried and made the butt of jokes using words like “stupid,” “ignorant” and “racist.”

In Canadian politics we have a number of non-threatening words to communicate the fact that Canadians come from a kaleidoscope of religious backgrounds, beliefs, values and yes, colours. These words are “multiculturalism,” “diversity” and “pluralism.” Become familiar with these words, understand what they mean — but be very careful in their usage.

Godwin’s Law

“Godwin’s Law” — also known as “Godwin’s Rule of Nazi Analogies” — is an Internet term for the idea that if an online discussion goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler, Nazism or the Holocaust. The online tradition is that once “the Hitler card” has been played, rational discussion is over because whoever played the card has automatically lost the debate through hyperbole.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We are entering the first smartphone/Twitter election any of us has seen, and the risk of gaffes and mistakes is about to go through the roof — along with the potential for damage.[/quote]

It’s also useful to observe that, for strikingly obvious reasons, many Jews consider the invoking of such analogies to be trivializing and insulting.

If you don’t immediately understand why this is the case, do some reading on the Second World War. In the meantime, button it.

Social Media Realities

Canadians are among the most connected people on the planet. Thirty million of us are on the Internet in one way or another and 82 per cent of us are connected to some form of social network. Fifty-six per cent of us have smartphones and, by the end of this year, one-quarter of Canadians will be on Twitter.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chances are the busiest people in the party war rooms this fall will be the social media clean-up squads, whose job it will be to look out for the latest online outrage and neutralize the culprits.[/quote]

We are entering the first smartphone/Twitter election any of us has seen, and the risk of gaffes and mistakes is about to go through the roof — along with the potential for damage. You, your spouse and your campaign staff all face the prospect of an unguarded comment or an insensitive remark — or pictures of your workers tearing down the other guy’s signs — going viral at any time. And it will all be available to 2.5 billion Internet users around the world. You might want to think about that.

Chances are the busiest people in the party war rooms this fall will be the social media clean-up squads, whose job it will be to look out for the latest online outrage and neutralize the culprits. Loud and messy public executions may be part of the response.

Here’s the final point. You may be able to get away with goofball or off-the-wall comments now; in a campaign, not so much. A “bozo eruption” can throw a national party off its game for 48 hours, 72 if it’s particularly egregious. From personal knowledge, I can also guarantee you that it will make your leader and the national campaign team white with rage and blind with fury.

At that point, you can forget that last-minute leader’s visit to your riding to pull you over the top.

Welcome back and have a great day.


Geoff Norquay, a former senior policy adviser to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, is a principal of the Earnscliffe Strategy Group. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

by Ilona Dougherty

Canada’s youth vote is up for grabs. So who’s grabbing?

There’s a persistent myth about young voters — that they tend to act as a bloc and tend to favour left-centre or ‘progressive’ parties. Jeffery Simpson latched on to the myth last week in the Globe and Mail, arguing that the declining youth vote is “bad news for the Liberals and great news for the Conservatives.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Young people who don’t vote in the first two elections after they become eligible are consequently less likely to vote throughout the rest of their lives.[/quote]

In fact, declining youth voter turnout doesn’t favor one political party over another. Sure, current polls seem to give a slight advantage to the Liberals over the Conservatives in terms of young adults’ voting intentions. But in order to really understand this demographic and the opportunities it offers for parties, we need to take the longer view.

Youth Votes Often Lead To Lifetime Votes

Research tells us that partisan political identities take root in early adulthood. And as I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the habit of voting (or of not voting) is also formed in that critical 18 – 24 age range. Young people who don’t vote in the first two elections after they become eligible are consequently less likely to vote throughout the rest of their lives.

Convince a young person to vote for you in the first or second election of their voting career, in other words, and you may have a supporter for life. So you’d expect to see all the political parties scrambling to lock in young people in big numbers.

And here’s the key takeaway from the research — this cohort of young voters is up for grabs for any political party that decides to actively engage them. I grew up in rural Saskatchewan and the Yukon, so I know from experience that this image of young Canadians as left-leaning, university educated and urban is far from reality. Young people are people — they’re as diverse as any other segment as of the population and we do them a disservice when we label them.

Learning From Obama 

When President Barack Obama’s campaign successfully courted the millennial generation in 2008, it did so with a sophisticated on-the-ground network of highly motivated volunteers who actively engaged younger voters face to face. The tactics he used and the resulting engagement of youth as Democratic voters in 2008 and again in 2012 could have been adopted by the Republicans just as easily. If you don’t believe me, ask Chuck Norris (yes, that Chuck Norris).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Parties that want a future in Canadian public life should be aggressively courting young voters right now.[/quote]

Obama’s campaign was an anomaly when placed in the context of youth voting patterns. In the U.S., “for most of the past four decades there was little difference in the voting preferences of younger and older Americans”, a Pew Research Centre study concluded. Most political scientists agree that young people tend to follow the voting patterns of older generations. In fact, a well-respected Canadian youth engagement organization, Civix, has seen this very trend in the results of its Student Vote program — where results often mirror those of the ‘real’ election results. So young people tend to vote like their parents — unless aggressive voter mobilization efforts seek them out.

We make a mistake when we underestimate the political diversity of our young people. The youth vote isn’t a zero-sum game, where the gains all accrue to one end of the ideological spectrum. Parties that want a future in Canadian public life should be aggressively courting young voters right now — for their own sakes, and for the sake of our democracy’s ongoing good health.


Ilona Dougherty is co-founder of Apathy is Boring, a national non-partisan charitable organization that uses art and technology to educate youth about democracy and encourages them to vote. She is a regular commentator in national media, a published author, and speaks to audiences internationally about redefining intergenerational relationships and encouraging active citizenship. 

Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca 

by Kelsey Johnson

Conservative MP and former PMO director of communications John Williamson is apologizing for controversial comments he made Saturday about Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program.

Williamson’s apology comes after he told delegates at the Manning Networking Conference in Ottawa that it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while companies “bring in brown people” as temporary foreign workers.

“Today I used offensive and inappropriate language regarding the Temporary Foreign Workers Program. For this I apologize unreservedly,” the New Brunswick MP said later in a series of tweets.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"This is an incredible statement in Canadian politics in 2015,” ... “I think that language is 100 per cent inappropriate for any issue.”[/quote]

“I believe different parts of Canada have different labour needs. With respect to my region, I believe employers in my district need to work to fill job vacancies by prioritizing Canadians for available jobs.”

Responding to a question about the shortage of workers in meat packing and processing plants, Williamson said the Temporary Foreign Worker program has different impacts in various regions of the country.

“I know this has been a bigger issue in Western Canada than it has been in my part of the country,” he said.

“My part of the country, I deal with temporary foreign workers and the interaction with employment insurance, and it makes no sense from my point of view, I’m going to put this in terms of colours but it’s not meant to be about race, it makes no sense to pay ‘whities’ to stay home while we bring in brown people to work in these jobs.

“When I have 10 to 12 per cent unemployment rates in my province, I’m not going to abide by a policy that encourages people to stay home and collect an EI cheque and bring people from overseas to fill these jobs. I know it is different in Western Canada, but I’ve also seen cases in Western Canada where companies were putting in Mandarin as a requirement for a job requirement, thereby bringing in Chinese workers.

“That is unacceptable.”

Companies, he said, should not be allowed to use the program to bring in foreign workers who “have fewer rights than Canadian-born workers and then drive down wages on working families,” he said.

Businesses like the cattle industry, Williamson said, should air their grievances to their respective members of parliament who are better “in tune with [the industry’s] labour needs.”

Williamson was named Harper’s director of communications — one of nine over the past nine years — in 2009. He resigned in 2010 after deciding to seek elected office. He has represented New Brunswick Southwest for the Tories since 2011.

That communications experience should have prevented comments of this nature, said John McCallum, Liberal critic for citizenship and immigration, multiculturalism, and seniors.

“Someone holding that job should know something about choosing words to communicate and I think that was a preposterous choice of words,” McCallum said.

“This is an incredible statement in Canadian politics in 2015,” he said, adding “I think that language is 100 per cent inappropriate for any issue.”

Meanwhile, NDP Employment and Social Development Critic Jinny Sims said she was “shocked that this was being said in our Canada.”

“I think the kind of inflammatory comments made by Mr. Williamson give me rise for great concern,” she said when reached by phone, noting Saturday’s development does not “reflect well on the person who made the statement or the party that that person is associated with.”

Canada is a multicultural nation, she said, one that is built by immigrants. Given this, comments like the ones made by Williamson, she said, were “distressful.”

“It’s good that he’s apologized,” Sims said, but cautioned “this is a big, big thing to have said and just saying sorry doesn’t eradicate it.”

Williamson’s comments come after the federal government, led by then Employment Minister Jason Kenney and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, introduced major, sweeping reforms to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in June 2014 after a series of abuse scandals put the Conservatives on the defensive.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I believe different parts of Canada have different labour needs. With respect to my region, I believe employers in my district need to work to fill job vacancies by prioritizing Canadians for available jobs.”[/quote]

Those changes, Williamson said, were warranted despite concerns from industries, particularly in Western Canada, who have now been left scrambling to find workers.

“There was a public perception where business was seen, I think rightly so, given the cases involving companies big and small, as taking advantage of this program,” Williamson said.

Sims, though, insisted the Temporary Foreign Worker program was “broken” and the fact the government is now trying to “assign blame is simply outrageous.”


Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca

by Thamina Jaferi (@ThaminaJaferi) in Toronto

“Diversity is our strength.” Despite this being the motto of Toronto – widely considered to be the most diverse city in the world – there continues to be a large gap between the racial and ethnic composition of city residents and those elected to represent them in municipal politics. The pioneering efforts of Idil Burale, Munira Abukar and Ausma Malik in trying to break down such barriers during their respective 2014 election campaigns is showing that many diverse communities are demanding that progressive political representation be made a priority by Toronto. 

During a recent conversation with Burale, Abukar and Malik on the representation of racialized Muslim women in Toronto’s 2014 municipal election, many important insights are unearthed regarding the barriers that affect diverse candidates from running successful municipal election campaigns. Additionally, strategies on how to address these barriers are also highlighted. Burale and Abukar ran for city council positions, and Malik – who won – for a Toronto District School Board (TDSB), and in the background of all of their campaigns the visibly racist and Islamophobic public reactions showed that there is much work to be done in changing discriminatory attitudes. 

Identity Politics

All three women cite the importance of giving back to one’s community and the values of public service that formed an integral part of their upbringing as primary reasons for taking the leap into politics.

Abukar says she put her name on the ballot because she wanted to bring about change in her community of Rexdale, which is often labelled as being ‘underserved’. “I want people in my community to have options” she states. She works towards bettering the living conditions of families, and changing the popular notion that residents of Rexdale are ‘victims’ of their social and economic circumstances. She actively encourages community members to take back their power.

During the election, identity politics was unavoidable at every stage of their campaigns. They faced the prejudices of those outside of their cultural and faith communities who focused on their identity as women, racialized and Muslim. “I naively thought I could stick to the issues,” says Burale, when referring to some reactions of residents she witnessed that focused more on her skin colour than her qualifications. She says she was spoken about in terms of being a “Somali-Canadian” candidate rather than being engaged in discussion about her campaign proposals. 

Burale explains that she also faced sexism from within certain Muslim communities. She experienced differential treatment by the management of a mosque that allowed a male candidate running for the election to speak to the congregation, but did not provide her with the same opportunity when she requested it.

Malik says her experience was slightly different. In contrast to Burale’s experience, Malik was invited to a local mosque to speak about her campaign at a Friday prayer. She says that it is, “important to understand the dynamics within your own community,” but the varying reactions from the different ethno-cultural and faith communities show the resistance and acceptance that these candidates received from both external and internal community groups.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The idea of you being a politician is not readily acceptable. We keep electing White councillors because the White option is the default option.” - Idil Burale[/quote]

Much of the media coverage of the racist and Islamophobic incidents that occurred during the election focused on the defacing of Abukar’s election signs, the hurling of garbage at her volunteers, and the coordinated campaign of hate targeting Malik. However, Burale shares that she also faced serious threats on the basis of her faith. “I chose not to talk about this publicly, because I did not want it to overshadow my candidacy,” she shares.

For Abukar, on the other hand, going public about the hatred she faced was her way of showing the perpetrators that she was not going to be silenced. “I wanted to show them I was not afraid,” she says. The variety of strategies that these women used shows the complexity of the challenges that diverse candidates face, which often distract the public from focusing on their campaign platforms.

For Malik, aspects of her identity such as her visible Muslim faith (i.e. her hijab), being young and being a woman were all made the focal point of her campaign, rather than her platform for change. It was surprising to her, because she was running for a school trustee position, which is typically given the least attention during municipal elections. In the face of such challenges, Malik states that she focuses on, “being who I am, having honesty and integrity, and finding ways to move forward,” in her approach. A respect for equity is the foundation of all her political decisions.

Barriers to Political Participation

Burale (pictured to the right) points out that it is difficult for candidates from diverse backgrounds to enter municipal politics because they do not have the same access to financial resources as others might. It is also difficult for newcomers to unseat incumbents. There is the perception that a person from a non-European background will focus on serving their community, while a White candidate is better positioned to serve all communities. As a result, the racialized candidate has to work twice as hard just to prove that he or she is "Canadian enough" to serve the entire community.

“The idea of you being a politician is not readily acceptable,” Burale says. “We keep electing White councillors because the White option is the default option.”

In the current environment of heightened Islamophobia this can amplify the obstacles that racialized Muslim candidates experience, because they are often “othered” by resistant members of society that are not comfortable with the face of politics changing.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“My victory is that my community knew it could be politically active.” - Munira Abukar[/quote]

In addition, the women emphasize that within diverse communities there is a need to build cross-cultural collaborations to support progressive candidates that will serve the interests of all communities. Political literacy needs to be increased within diverse communities in order for them to see how their engagement or lack thereof impacts municipal decision-making. Abukar mentions that after the election, “my victory is that my community knew it could be politically active,” while at the same time acknowledging  the adage that Rome was not built in a day. It will take hard work and time to effect progressive change in politics. She uses the word “pioneer” to describe the path that she, Burale and Malik have paved for other young people in their communities, many of whom reached out to the women to tell them how inspiring they are.

Supports for Diverse Candidates

All three women stress the importance of establishing strong networks of progressive candidates and allies. These networks are crucial in exerting political influence over what Burale terms an “attitude of elitism” permeating city hall. Burale suggests that a party system is needed in municipal politics if we are really serious about seeing municipal politicians reflect Toronto’s ethno-racial diversity.

Mentoring is another support that Burale, Abukar and Malik (pictured to the left) agree is essential to helping diverse and progressive candidates have a realistic chance of running a successful campaign. Because candidates from backgrounds of privilege have more access to political institutions and networks, they should use that privilege to help candidates who do not have the same level of access. Burale mentions that “incumbents need to show new entrants the ropes.” Access to these networks and endorsements can help strengthen the candidacies of people from diverse backgrounds.

“My allies helped me to keep going despite the hate,” claims Malik, who credits mentors and allies such as Olivia Chow, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Joe Cressy and Mike Layton with motivating her to overcome the obstacles she faced.  

Toronto’s Role in Equal Opportunity

Concerning political power at city hall, Abukar states, “power is not absolute and we have to be willing to share it.” Additionally, she mentions the importance of holding politicians and the municipality accountable to the residents of Toronto so that we are, “putting the community first rather than interests.” This is achieved by asking politicians tough questions and ensuring that public consultation occurs in decision-making processes.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"] “I have worked with politicians that have principles. There’s so much we can do to support each other. We need to push the limits of what is possible.” - Ausma Malik [/quote]

Abukar and Burale also place responsibility on the media to be mindful of how the stories of candidates (especially from underrepresented communities) are presented, because news stories have a significant impact on how their identities are perceived by the public. The angles from which stories are written can affect the safety and lives of the people they profile, and this responsibility should not be taken lightly. Abukar mentions that fact-checking is crucial, and states that out of the media outlets that covered the hateful incidents during her campaign, only one of them actually checked the facts with her. The emphasis on expediency in publishing stories should not override journalism ethics and standards.

Malik emphasizes the need to examine issues of equal opportunity in politics from a systemic lens. She applauds politicians that take a stand for progressive politics. “I have worked with politicians that have principles,” she says. Furthermore, she states that this type of solidarity building is a personal journey for anyone, and it requires much internal reflection and using one’s own “internal compass” for guidance. She points out: “There’s so much we can do to support each other. We need to push the limits of what is possible.”

Photos courtesy of source's individual social media profiles.

{module NCM Blurb} 

by Monika Spolia (@dr_spolia) in Montreal

The name Maria Mourani made national headlines in 2013 when her outspoken criticism of the Parti Quebecois’ proposed Charter of Values led her to switch parties. Recently, the Lebanese-Canadian’s name made headlines again, as she announced her new bid to run in the upcoming federal elections as a member of the New Democratic Party from Quebec’s Ahuntsic-Cartierville riding.

Never one to hold her tongue, particularly on issues of equality and social justice, the formerly Bloc Quebecois MP who was born in Ivory Coast, Africa and migrated to Canada in 1988, has plenty to say about the political landscape in this country and where diversity fits into it.

NCM: You were with a sovereignist party, the Bloc Quebecois, but now you are not. What has changed?

MP Mourani: Well, a lot of things have changed. I resigned from Bloc Quebecois in 2013… I am no longer a sovereignist, because I no longer believe in this ideology, in this vision. I believe that we can be proud Quebecers in Canada and we can work hard to build a better Canada with a good generous vision. Just like Quebecers, we have to take our place in Canada. We have to try to work hard and convince other Canadians to share our point of view, our values and the politics in Quebec. We do have good politics in Quebec, for example, daycare, and when I was in the critique of women’s status, I met with a lot of women’s groups all over Canada and they would like to have the same programs implemented as the programs here in Quebec, the programs with family and children, especially the daycare program. We have a lot of things to share with other Canadians. When we focus on just independence, we live alone. We don’t want to be with other Canadians; instead, we reject them.

NCM: So, you don’t want to believe in this separatist ideology. You would rather be a proud Quebecer Canadian.

MP Mourani: Yes, it is possible. We can be a proud Quebecer and respect ourselves, and the others, and be Canadian and build a better place to live altogether.    

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We live in a secular country. Canada, and also Quebec province, in fact, all the provinces are secular. If you wear your cross, kippa or veil, that does not mean that the state is not secular.[/quote]

NCM: You left the Bloc Quebecois after your open critique of Quebec’s Charter of Values. And you were critiquing them for undermining the rights of minorities. Being a minority yourself, you must have come across many challenges in and out of the office. Can you explain your views to our readers as to how the charter of values of Quebec undermines the minority rights?

MP Mourani: It’s not just minority rights. It is religious people. They wanted to implement this law, but they couldn’t, because it is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So, for me, it was a very hard time, because I realized then that the Parti Quebecois tried to resist particular [groups] with its Charter. They thought they could win election with that. They thought they could win election by dividing people, reject some people and target some people. And it was religious people, not only minority. For me this is unacceptable.

NCM: Well you did mention that it was the violation of basic human rights.

MP Mourani: And the violation of the rights of religion. I don’t understand this. We live in a secular country. Canada, and also Quebec province, in fact, all the provinces are secular. If you wear your cross, kippa or veil, that does not mean that the state is not secular. In our country, we decided a long time ago to separate religion and politics and that’s right. It’s a good way to do [things]. Just because you wear your religious sign on you doesn’t mean that you are trying to convince others to convert to your religion. For example, just because you are wearing your cross or kippa or veil, it doesn’t mean that you are trying to convince the others to convert to Christianity, Judaism or Islam. It’s your right to wear what you want to wear.

NCM: It’s more like your personal identity.

MP Mourani: Yes, for some people, religion is part of their identity. Then how can you target the people and tell them that if you wear your cross or veil you will lose your job?

NCM: That is being very exclusive and that doesn’t work very well.

MP Mourani: That’s why, for me, it was a very bad law and a very bad decision for Parti Quebecois to do this because already Parti Quebecois doesn’t have a good image amongst minorities. And people don’t feel comfortable with this kind of politics.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is good to have diversity in the House of Commons, and even in the Quebec National Assembly. So, it is a challenge for us to be able to represent the country’s diversity in the House.[/quote]

NCM: Being a minority yourself and also not from the same religion as the mainstream, you must have come across many challenges in and out of the office. Can you tell us a little about that?

MP Mourani: I guess the first challenge is to be the first [Lebanese] woman in politics.

NCM: That’s a big one.

MP Mourani: Yes, it’s a big challenge. And it’s also a challenge to be a minority. What is interesting is that you bring with you a different vision and conditions of immigration and women. It is good to have diversity in the House of Commons, and even in the Quebec National Assembly. So, it is a challenge for us to be able to represent the country’s diversity in the House.

NCM: Actually, that’s what I was going to ask you next. What are your views on the politics of cultural diversity in various levels of government?

MP Mourani: We don’t have much of that. I guess we need more women, minorities and youth. This changed with the last election. The NDP tsunami brought in a lot of women, minorities and a lot of young people to the front of politics. I hope for the next election, we can keep this same level of diversity and more.

NCM: Do you have any comments on the upcoming reform of the current Quebec immigration policy?

MP Mourani: I don’t have comments about that because I haven’t seen the Bill right now as of what they want to do. But I guess the important point is, yes, it is important to choose our immigrants, but when we decided, a few years ago, Quebec decided to have professional immigrants with skills, diploma and sometimes a PhD, [but] you need to put programs to help these people to have a job. But the real problem for me is not to choose the immigrants; it is to fix the problem of the job.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It is very difficult for minority people to find a job. And this issue, the government right now, they didn’t talk about this issue in the vision to rebuild a new vision of immigration.[/quote]

NCM: Yes, we have these temporary workers coming in, and we have the immigration policy and yet we have unemployment there.

MP Mourani: Yes, I met a lot of people – Algerians, Moroccans, Pakistanis and Africans - all the countries. They come here with a lot of hope and they try to find a job and it is so difficult because they experience racism, for example, they have a special name, a special colour. So, it is very difficult for minority people to find a job. And this issue, the government right now, they didn’t talk about this issue in the vision to rebuild a new vision of immigration.

NCM: And do you have any idea which countries they are going to target to get immigrants from?

MP Mourani: I really don’t know. But I don’t think they will target a country. They are going to focus on the set of skills needed.

NCM: What is the main focus of your upcoming platform with NDP?

MP Mourani: Well, we are looking forward to implementing more programs for family, children and women. Quebec is looking forward to receiving the federal funds to implement such programs. This way it works out well for both Quebec and Canada. Empowering women and working for the benefit of families and children is in the heart of the NDP agenda. 


Monika Spolia is a journalist and the founding editor of Bharat Times Newspaper (Montreal), a South Asian perspective, English-based Canadian monthly publication - www.bharattimes.ca.

by Michelle Zilio (@MichelleZilio) in Ottawa

Days after British lawmakers passed a symbolic motion recognizing Palestine as a state alongside Israel, it doesn’t look like Canada’s Parliament will consider doing the same anytime soon.

The U.K. vote Monday followed a motion put forward by the opposition Labour Party. The motion, amended to say a Palestinian state would only be recognized once peace negotiations have successfully concluded, passed 274 to 12.

Although fewer than half of MPs took part in the vote — Prime Minister David Cameron and his cabinet abstained — and the vote will not alter the government’s stance on the issue, experts say it is still significant as a reflection of shifting public opinion following the war in Gaza.

It certainly provides a stark contrast to the political debate on the issue in Canada.

“The thing that struck me in the past couple of days is that I don’t see a similar debate in the Parliament of Canada,” said Canada’s former ambassador to Israel, Norman Spector, in an interview with iPolitics.

And don’t expect a debate or vote to happen in Canada in the near future, says Spector.

“I don’t expect either of the two main opposition parties to move this kind of resolution or force this kind of debate in the House of Commons.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I think it (the U.K. Parliament vote) sends a signal about evolving opinion on the issue of Palestinian statehood but I don’t see it having an impact on Canadian policy,”[/quote]

When asked whether they would consider a similar motion to recognize a Palestinian state in the House of Commons, neither the NDP or the Liberals jumped at the idea.

The NDP, which supported a Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN in 2012, did not indicate whether it would consider tabling a motion. Rather, the party’s foreign affairs critic, Paul Dewar, said the government should remain focused on bringing both sides back to the table for a negotiated two-state solution. He also used the opportunity to criticize the Conservative government’s silence following the vote in the U.K. Monday.

“It’s a sad sign of how disconnected Conservatives are from the goal of a negotiated two-state solution when we see the minister of foreign affairs refuse to even reiterate Canada’s longstanding position in support of the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a two-state solution,” said Dewar in an email.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did not release any official reaction to the Monday’s vote. In response to an email request from iPolitics, his spokesperson, Adam Hodge, said, “Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through negotiations between the two parties.”

“We are committed to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East whereby two states live side-by-side in peace and security,” said Hodge. “Canada again urges the parties to resume direct peace talks, without delay or preconditions.”

In an email statement, Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau said “symbolic moves by either principal — or by third-party actors — are not useful in advancing the agenda for direct negotiations.” He said the Liberal Party’s longstanding position has been that the only way forward is through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

“Liberals would however support a conversation on how best to — and how Canada can best — move the actors back to the table in the interests of an enduring peace.”

Spector noted the difference between the Israel-Palestinian Territories stance in Canada and the U.K. For instance, while Canada voted in favour of a “two states for two peoples” solution at the UN in 1947, the U.K. did not. In that sense, he says, the British government is trying to “catch up.” He also noted the differences between the two countries’ media coverage of the issue, with British media tending to be more “pro-Palestinian” and Canadian media “much more towards the centre.”

However, recent events may be even more telling of the NDP and Liberals’ lack of interest in a vote recognizing a Palestinian state, says Spector. On the war in Gaza in July and August, the Conservatives, predictably, stood by Israel, Spector said, and the Liberals and NDP were noticeably “cautious” in their reaction to the fighting. Both parties expressed support for Israel’s right to defend itself and were accused of falling in line with the Harper government’s stance on the issue. Based on the opposition reaction to the recent conflict, Spector says it’s highly unlikely either party will table a motion to recognize Palestine as a state.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]When asked whether they would consider a similar motion to recognize a Palestinian state in the House of Commons, neither the NDP or the Liberals jumped at the idea.[/quote]

Tim Martin, a former Canadian representative to the Palestinian Authority, agrees with Spector. In an interview with iPolitics, he said he doesn’t see any indication that the NDP or Liberals would table a motion for a similar vote. While he thinks the vote in the U.K. is “significant,” he doubts it will have any impact on Canada.

“I think it (the U.K. Parliament vote) sends a signal about evolving opinion on the issue of Palestinian statehood but I don’t see it having an impact on Canadian policy,” said Martin.

But given the stalled peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Martin said he understands why the Labour party felt the need to table the motion.

“Without fruitful looking negotiations on the horizon, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think about recognition of a Palestinian state and working to help the Palestinians and the Israelis secure the practical attributes that would lead to a functioning two-state approach.”

Whether Canada’s Parliament actually votes to recognize a Palestinian state, Martin said it’s important for the government to make every effort to advance peace negotiations now.

“It’s important to recognize that the successful peace negotiations are feasible between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Martin. “It’s important for us to keep this in mind and keep encouraging peace in the Middle East and not give up on it.”

Re-published with permission.

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