Tuesday, 06 December 2016 17:53

The ‘One China’ Policy is a Diplomatic Lie

Commentary by Jonathan Manthorpe in Vancouver

How does Donald Trump’s mind work? The Beijing government hasn’t a clue; neither does the rest of the world. Maybe the president-elect’s thinking is a mystery even to himself.

Sensibly, Chinese Communist Party leaders have opted not to interpret Trump’s telephone conversation on Friday with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen as a deliberate act jettisoning nearly 40 years of careful obfuscation that has kept the peace between Washington and Beijing.

Instead, the men behind the high red wall of the Zhongnanhai leaders’ compound in Beijing decided to say that the phone call was a “petty trick” by Tsai. “For Trump,” said a state-controlled newspaper, “it exposed nothing but his transition team’s inexperience in dealing with foreign affairs.”

So Beijing has decided that for the moment there should be no crisis. Trump, though, seems reluctant to go along with that idea and appears, in fact, to be setting up the Beijing regime as a whipping boy. On Sunday evening he used his preferred method of communication with the world — Twitter — to say:

“Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into … their country (the U.S. doesn’t tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea? I don’t think so!”

This suggests that, unlike the other promises he has already abandoned, Trump might charge ahead with his campaign vow to stick massive duties on Chinese imports.

That could pose a threat to the survival in power of the Chinese Communist Party — whose Mandate of Heaven is now expressed in the growth of China’s gross domestic product. And that is a far more pressing question for Beijing than the fate of Taiwan

But the Taiwan question cannot be ignored. The Communist Party claims the island and its 23 million people are “a renegade province” that must be gathered into the bosom of Mother China — by force if necessary. Three generations of Chinese have been indoctrinated at school with this mantra, even though it has little historic, legal or political merit. But there is a long history of authoritarian states being mauled to death by the hyper-nationalism they have fostered in order to stay in power.

So there are reasons to applaud the phone call between Trump and Tsai. It is shining a bright light on the iniquities visited upon the people of Taiwan, a vibrant democracy with one of the world’s most successful and sophisticated economies, by the sleazy deal between Washington and Beijing.

The breach of protocol established in 1979 would be far more welcome if someone more trustworthy than Trump were about to become the U.S. president. It’s hard to believe that Trump will see through what he started on Friday, that the ridiculous “one China policy” will be ditched, and that Taiwan will be able to take its proper position as an internationally recognized independent nation.

As with so many U.S. diplomatic follies of the last half century, the blame for this one can be laid at the feet of Henry Kissinger.

Like Trump, Kissinger’s capacity for self-promotion has successfully masked his lack of more useful talents. In 1971, Kissinger was President Richard Nixon’s national security advisor when he went to Beijing to negotiate with Premier Zhou En-lai the establishment of diplomatic relations.

At the time, Washington still recognized as the legitimate government of China the old Kuomintang regime of Chiang Kai-shek, which had fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.

Premier Zhou played Kissinger like a violin. Despite Nixon’s insistence that Taiwan’s independence must be guaranteed, Kissinger told Zhou that he could foresee the island becoming part of China. He also agreed to “acknowledge” China’s claim to Taiwan. This wording — which the Chinese usually translate as “accept” — has remained part of the problem.

(In contrast, when then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was negotiating Canada’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing, he insisted that Ottawa would only “note” the Communist Party’s claim to Taiwan. Most other countries have followed the Canadian model.)

The establishment of Washington-Beijing diplomatic relations meant that the fiction that the Chiang regime in Taiwan was the true government of China could not continue. In 1979, during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the U.S. ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan — though, like most other countries (including Canada), it keeps an unofficial embassy in Taipei and continues to have a military and intelligence relationship with the government.

With this ambiguous diplomatic and legal relationship has gone what is known as the “one China policy,” which Beijing has insisted other governments, especially Washington and Taipei, accept as a condition of economic relations.

In essence this policy says that everyone accepts that there is only “one China.” What constitutes China is left undefined. Beijing, of course, says China includes Taiwan and the Chinese Communist Party is its sovereign authority.

In Taiwan, around 90 per cent of the island’s people want to keep their independence. If pushed, they will say there is indeed only one China — but Taiwan is not part of it.

The same goes in Washington. So for nearly 40 years, peace has been maintained across the Taiwan Strait and relations between Beijing and Washington have continued without serious conflict because everyone has agreed to accept there is “one China” without asking what that means.

U.S. administrations have added a couple of other ambiguities to this “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” approach. There is domestic legislation — the 1979 Taiwan Affairs Act — which requires Washington to help defend Taiwan if it is attacked. It is left up to each Washington administration, however, to decide how enthusiastically it rushes to Taiwan’s defence. As U.S.-China economic interdependence has grown, it has become less and less likely that any Washington administration would go to the wall for 23 million Taiwanese, even if they are part of the democracy circle.

And in a sop to Beijing, successive U.S. presidents have kept well away from any formal or even informal association with their Taiwanese counterparts.

That’s why Trump’s phone conversation with Tsai stands out.

It’s not entirely clear that it has dawned on Trump yet that, on January 20, he will become the U.S. president. He is still acting like someone who just won a game show and is revelling in the attention showered on him by groupies.

Whether the phone call means anything more than that will be seen after January 20.

Republished under arrangement with ipolitics.ca

Published in Commentary

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.” 

In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be. 

For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy. 

The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP). 

Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war. 

Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country. 

Making politics accessible

Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended. 

“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything.”[/quote]

“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.” 

In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be. 

NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment. 

“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.” 

Falsification of equality 

In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament.”[/quote]

In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics. 

She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government. 

Through her web series, Dhaliwal15Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.  

“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.” 

Explaining voter apathy 

Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”[/quote]

“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said. 

“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added. 

Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.  

“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”


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Published in Arts & Culture

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

A discussion on democratic transitions highlighted the need to include the role of women when examining how world leaders have created democratic societies around the world. 

The discussion took place at the launch of Democratic Transitions: Conversations with World Leaders, hosted on March 31 by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) at the University Club of Toronto. 

“The beauty of the book is that from nine case studies of nine countries, it addresses issues that should be looked at for future generations that get involved in these important democratic processes and transitions that take place all over the world at various times,” said IDRC President Jean Lebel. 

Between January 2012 and June 2013, co-editors Sergio Bitar and Abraham Lowenthal interviewed 13 world leaders on the processes of establishing democratic political systems during times of political upheaval and change. Former President of the Philippines, Fidel V. Ramos, former Prime Minister of Spain, Felipe González, and F.W. de Klerk, the last politician to serve as state president of South Africa during the apartheid era, were among those interviewed. 

“It’s the only book on transitions that have succeeded in four continents,” explained Bitar. “[These transitions] are described not by an academician or by a journalist, but by the leaders and presidents themselves.”  

Each chapter identifies the process and research that was conducted to address topics such as establishing trust, economic management and social mobilization. 

Single chapter on role of women

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The fact that women are not incorporated anywhere in the world is problematic. We are still second-class citizens.”[/quote]

A popular topic of discussion among audience members at the book launch was the role of women in democratic transitioning. 

In the chapter “Women Activists in Democratic Transitions,” Georgina Waylen, professor of politics at the University of Manchester, examines how women supported and enhanced political participation by different social groups and promoted policies that strengthened women’s rights and gender equality. 

“Many women who actively sought to ensure positive gender outcomes during transitions were active in social movements, the bureaucracy and academia – not just in political parties or in the inner circles of men who became democratic presidents when elections were held,” writes Waylen. 

Professor Ana Isla of Brock University said she was confused as to why there was a separate researcher responsible for examining the role of women. 

“Why weren’t these world leaders and representatives able to answer questions when it comes to women?” asked Isla during the question-and-answer period. 

“Every aspect of society is intersected by women’s issues,” she continued. “The fact that women are not incorporated anywhere in the world is problematic. We are still second-class citizens.” 

Isla said there is already a plethora of woman making an impact.  She mentioned the uprising of women organizations and social movements in Latin America as recent examples.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s the power of women that must change politics and change men.”[/quote]

“All these women initiated the transition from dictatorship to democracy,” she said. However, they are the ones who are missing in this book because instead of looking at the women or the social movements, the focus is on the [men in power] who were able to change their minds.” 

Leaders ignore role of women

The book’s introduction notes, “Unfortunately, there are no surviving women leaders of these transitions, and few of our interviewees provided much insight about women’s participation in them.”

Bitar confirmed that male leaders are very reluctant to have a conversation about women’s contributions to democratic transitions. 

“Normally, the response is, ‘These women are coming again with the same story, and we have to listen,’” Bitar said, imitating the male leaders interviewed. 

He went on to explain that the male leaders usually assume the women think they are not relevant to the process of improving democracy, or that if they become powerful, they will not allow men to act or decide on policies. 

“It’s the power of women that must change politics and change men,” said Bitar. “It takes lots of time, but we have realized that better democracies exist when there are more women participants in policies and law-making.” 

Democracy a tool, not a solution

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Democracy is only a tool … It doesn’t solve everything.”[/quote]

Bitar said he and Lowenthal learned that every leader possessed the courage to take risks during times when their families, friends and colleagues were being killed or in danger. 

“All of them had to combat fear – a very important element in the hands of any dictator,” he said. “Fighting against fear was something we found very prevalent.” 

Researchers and influencers like Lebel and Bitar, who is also president of Chile’s Foundation for Democracy, said they know that democracy isn’t the solution to problems such as gender inequality, poverty, and environmental destruction. 

“If we all took on democracy, someone naïve will say the world will be much better,” said Lebel. 

“Democracy is only a tool … it doesn’t solve everything, but it gives the opportunity to have people speaking freely, institutions that are strong and take care of problems, avoid inequity, and transform social problems.”


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Published in Books
Thursday, 24 September 2015 14:02

#Refugeecrisis Galvanizes Arab Community

by Imad Al-Sukkari in Ottawa

This year’s election campaign has been one of the longest in our country’s political history, characterized by the usual kinds of political messaging, policy debates and ethical questions on governance.

The campaign seemed a typical one until four weeks ago, when the devastating, powerful image of a dead three-year-old Syrian refugee lying on a beach in Turkey made international headlines and arguably pushed the Syrian refugee crisis to the forefront of the federal election.

The crisis has also propelled Canadian Arabs, a generally silent and politically inactive minority, to become more engaged and visible in the Canadian political scene.

Indeed, members of the community have taken action to make their voices heard, such as publishing opinion articles critiquing the government's inaction on the crisis (see the Arab Pulse article published by New Canadian Media reporter Jacky Habib), appearing on news shows such as CBC's "Power and Politics", and sponsoring local election panels to ask candidates why their party is best suited to serve the interests of the Arab community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid.”[/quote]

Thirty days remain for Canadian voters to decide which party they would like to see lead the country into the future.

Refugee crisis sparks reactions

Dr. Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI) and associate professor at the University of Waterloo, comments on how the crisis has affected the relationship between Arab Canadians and the Harper government.

“The Harper government has demonstrated a lack of urgency in dealing with this issue,” she says, arguing that this has made the Conservative government appear unsympathetic in the eyes of many Canadians and, more specifically, members of the Arab community.

Omar Alghabra, a former MP and a Liberal candidate of Syrian descent running in the Mississauga Centre riding, states his dissatisfaction with the way the current government has handled the refugee crisis.

He points to its delinquency in carrying out the proposed plan to resettle 10,000 refugees over three years, inefficiencies at the bureaucratic levels, and the shifting paradigm of what is supposed to be a humanitarian issue.

“There is a disproportionate emphasis on the security risks, and not enough on humanitarian aid,” Alghabra says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections.”[/quote]

Alghabra also adds, “During the campaign I have engaged with many people [in the riding] on this issue, and I would say the majority of them are embarrassed by this government’s response and feel we could have been more generous in allowing Syrian refugees in.”

Encouraging voter participation

The Canadian Arab Institute (CAI), an organization whose vision is to empower and engage the Arab community in Canada, started a campaign called Sowtek, or “Your Voice,” to encourage Arab Canadians to vote in the upcoming election.

Your Voice has utilized many mediums to provide educational resources to its members, such as webinars, the Canadian national anthem in Arabic (“Ya Canada”), a short animated video explaining the importance of voting and panel discussions across major Canadian cities with a sizeable Arab population such as Ottawa, Toronto, London, Windsor and Montreal.

[youtube height="315" width="560”]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QB4WXxEIB7Y[/youtube]

Raja Khouri, president of CAI, states that the refugee crisis has led members of the Arab community to share their frustrations about the Canadian government, but it is by far not the only issue the community is concerned about.

“Members of the community have expressed frustrations with a number of government policies, from economic policy to Bill C-24 (a new law giving government more power to revoke Canadian citizenship from a dual citizen) and the Mideast policy,” Khouri says.

“We usually end our discussions by trying to encourage people to convert frustration into action by voting in the upcoming federal elections,” he adds.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election."[/quote]

An increase in community engagement

It has not been all frustration and no action for the Arab community, as 23 candidates of Arab descent are currently seeking election or re-election in various ridings across Quebec, Alberta and Ontario, with nine running for the Liberal party, seven for the Conservatives, five for the NDP and one for the Bloc Québécois.

“It is fantastic and refreshing to see an increased level of engagement from members of the community; it demonstrates that Canadian Arabs have come a long way in the last decade,” Alghabra says.

As to how Canadian Arabs will vote in this election, Sherif Rizk – an Ottawa lawyer and host of the Rizk Assessment, a political show broadcast on the Christian Youth Channel (CYC), also known as the Coptic Youth Channel – offers his analysis as to which federal party Arab Canadians may be leaning towards.

“Domestically speaking, Arab Canadians will mostly focus on the changes that the Conservative government have made to Canadian citizenship (creating the right to revoke citizenship for dual-nationality Canadians), Bill C-51 and the government's ban on niqabs in citizenship ceremonies,” Rizk says.

“I think these issues have largely pushed a lot of younger Arab Canadians away from the Conservative Party, but not necessarily to the arms of the Liberal Party. I think Arab Canadians will be making a greater effort to make their voice heard in this election." 

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Published in Politics

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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Published in Politics
Wednesday, 28 January 2015 18:19

It’s Time to Look Beyond the Wedge

by Alan Broadbent and Elizabeth McIsaac

It’s been a difficult start to 2015. From the attacks in Paris, the rapid fall in oil prices to the sudden closure of Target and loss of 17,000 jobs, it’s no wonder that many Canadians may feel insecure as they look toward what the rest of the year may bring. What seems predictable is that we’re entering a time of unpredictability.

Now is the time that many will look to our politicians for leadership and solutions. As we approach a federal election scheduled for October 2015, we’re looking for all levels of government to engage with each other. And we’re looking for them to work with and for the people they’ve sworn to represent.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We’ve learned a lot about political “wedges” in recent years, and as we head into the next federal election we should think carefully about their impact on Canada.[/quote]

Sadly, if the past few years have been any indication, we’re headed in the opposite direction. Instead of working together, the order of the day seems to be working against one another and focusing on issues that divide, instead of unite. The current trend seems to be a focus on wedge issues. Wedge issues are usually those about which a small group feels strongly enough to cause them to cast their vote with a party, which promotes their view.

Impact on Canada

Because in Canada a political party can form a government even by getting fewer than 40 per cent of the votes, it can make good sense for a campaign strategy to focus on such groups. These voters have such strong feelings about their issue that they are considered more likely to get out and cast their ballot. If properly cultivated, the accumulated wedges can amount to a “base”, a reliable block of voters for the party.

We’ve learned a lot about political “wedges” in recent years, and as we head into the next federal election we should think carefully about their impact on Canada.

The parsing of the electorate by issue, interest, opinion, or geography allows a campaign to appeal directly to a small group. An ever-increasing ability to accumulate and disaggregate data has resulted in the ability to fine tune strategies with a precision unknown in the past.

While the parsing of the electorate has proven useful, even indispensable, in running successful campaigns, it has proven to be a disaster for the people being governed. Because the wedge has proven so effective in campaigns, some governments have found it irresistible to keep it up between elections, to keep dividing the electorate in order to maintain their base.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As we’ve seen over the last few years, the security of a fortified base, and the effectiveness of the wedge, can lead to an unhealthy focus which affects how a government constructs its social, environment or foreign policy.[/quote]

Governing for all

But the idea of democracy is to govern for all the people, and particularly to protect the rights of minorities. What separates democracy from autocracy is the commitment to govern for all, and to avoid creating a tyranny of the ones who won the election.

An elected government should be for everyone including the vulnerable (youth, seniors, people living with disabilities and the down-on-their-luck); future generations who could be harmed by the actions of the present, say in the environment or public debt; and even those who opposed them and voted against them.

As we’ve seen over the last few years, the security of a fortified base, and the effectiveness of the wedge, can lead to an unhealthy focus which affects how a government constructs its social, environment or foreign policy. A constant appeal to only a portion of the electorate can often lead to a government focused on the short term, or on narrow interests.

This erodes people’s trust in government, and the credibility of our leaders. It also invites scorn abroad, as people see Canada take positions in the world based solely on domestic politicking. The lower trust gets and credibility sinks, the less likely people are to vote, and the fewer votes outside “the base” a party needs to win an election. It is a downward spiral. The wedge wins. Our democracy suffers.

It is said that intelligence can incline towards cleverness or wisdom. A reliance on wedge politics may be clever, but it is certainly unwise.

Originally published as a Maytree Opinion. Reposted with permission from Maytree.


Alan Broadbent is the Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman CEO of Avana Capital Corporation. Elizabeth McIsaac is the President of Maytree.

Published in Commentary

by Sharif Hasan (@sharifhasan80) in Ottawa

If the latest spring fashions are not in store to cheer Canadians at the end of yet another dreary winter, little noticed events in Bangladesh could be a plausible reason.

The South Asian country finds itself in the midst of another political standoff in the New Year affecting all economic activities including the export of garments for popular brands.

Trouble began when the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) announced a rally to observe the first anniversary of last year’s January 5 election, which it boycotted, as “Death of Democracy Day”.

The government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League party, which was planning a “Victory Day of Democracy” to mark the occasion, responded by banning the protest and locking up BNP leader Khaleda Zia in her office. Violent clashes between activists of the ruling party and the BNP ensued leading to several deaths. 

“It’s so frustrating! We have our family and friends there. Anyone can get killed or wounded anytime,” said Salehin Chowdhury, an employee of Statistics Canada. “The economy was thriving, but the political turmoil is going to spoil everything.”

These fears are justified as the political unrest has been hurting industry badly, especially the garment sector, which has been struggling to meet buyers’ deadlines. Around 80 per cent of the country’s export earnings come from garments.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 put our garments industry into big trouble, but with help from government and other organizations we have slowly recovered. And now this political unrest has created new pressure for us.” - Abu Talib, President of Zubi Fashion [/quote]

The country’s GDP growth was estimated at 6.1 per cent for the fiscal year ending with June 2014, half a percentage point higher than what the Asian Development Bank had projected. For 2015, the projection is higher at 6.4 per cent on the hope that private sector investment will pick up given some political stability.

“If we cannot meet the buyers’ deadlines, we’re going to lose it all again,” said Abu Talib, the President of Zubi Fashion, who lives in Montreal and operates a buying house in Dhaka. “The Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 put our garments industry into big trouble, but with help from government and other organizations we have slowly recovered. And now this political unrest has created new pressure for us,” Talib added.

The tragedy Talib referred to was the collapse of a building housing many garment factories that killed 1,129 people. It got prominent media attention here in Canada as many local fashion brands were being produced in these factories.

Economists estimate that a day's shutdown of economic activity shaves 0.9 per cent off the country’s gross domestic product a year at market price. Political unrest, like the current standoff, also affects foreign remittance and foreign direct investment. Last year the economy could have done better, but for 53 strikes and 19 blockades.

History of violent politics

Unfortunately, this year looks no better as both the warring parties seem unable to overcome their history of confrontational and violent politics. The BNP wants fresh elections to be held under a non-partisan caretaker government, while the Awami League insists it will continue in office for its entire term that is to end in 2019.

According to the constitution of Bangladesh, the general election is held after every five years. Following a Supreme Court judgement, the caretaker government system was repealed in 2011 and Awami League remained in power when the election was held in January 2014.

Awami League leaders have been saying that BNP made a mistake by not participating in the election and now will have to wait four more years.

Prime Minister Hasinahas dismissed the possibility of any dialogue with the BNP, saying the party was just trying to save war criminals in the name of a political movement.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As there are no signs of any moves to solve the political crisis, the people of Bangladesh are bracing for more trouble in the days to come. While the projected economic pickup seems unlikely, Canadians would understand that missed fashion deadlines are of lessor concern under these circumstances.[/quote]

The war criminals issue has been at the heart of the confrontation between the two parties ever since the country’s violent birth in 1971. The unsettled questions include the one about who was on which side in the movement for liberation from Pakistan.

To settle those questions the Awami League government in 2008 set up war tribunals that have dispensed speedy verdicts including the death sentence to several in the senior leadership of the anti-Liberation Jamaat-e-Islami party and life terms to others including BNP leaders. Predictably, these verdicts have proved divisive.

By using the state power, Awami League has so far been successful to foil the political programs of BNP, but it has not been able to restore law and order in the country.

The BNP on its part has failed to convert its struggle into a mass movement and has alienated itself from majority of the public because it is in league with the Jamaat. The corruption charges against its leader’s elder son, Tareq Zia, is another factor against it.

While Awami League enjoys popular support by being the party that helped gain independence, members of the civil society are critical of its handling of last year’s election. With almost all other major parties boycotting the election, the Awami League  won 154 of the 300 parliamentary seats uncontested and went on to form a government for the second consecutive term with two-third majority.

As there are no signs of any moves to solve the political crisis, the people of Bangladesh are bracing for more trouble in the days to come. While the projected economic pickup seems unlikely, Canadians would understand that missed fashion deadlines are of lessor concern under these circumstances.


An M.A. English Literature graduate from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, Sharif Hasan became a campus journalist while doing his undergraduate degree there. He worked as the Social and Cultural Affairs Editor at the weekly Aajkal, a Bangladeshi-Canadian community newspaper based in Toronto for a year before moving to Ottawa this September. Sharif is now doing his Master’s in Journalism at Carleton University. He continues to contribute to Bangladeshi dailies in English, namely The Daily Sun and Dhaka Tribune.

This commentary was produced under NCM's mentoring program, which pairs immigrant journalists with NCM Editors.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in South Asia
Thursday, 23 October 2014 16:58

Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship

by Adrienne Clarkson, 26th Governor General of Canada (@APClarkson)

Imagine the shock I felt when I looked at a document that was sent to me this year: a photocopy from a register in British Columbia’s archives listing Adrienne Louise Poy, age nine, female, together with the rest of my family — my father, William; my mother, Ethel; and my brother, Neville — on the Chinese head tax registry. Having grown up and lived in this country since my family arrived on these shores as refugees in 1942, I always reviled the head tax and thought it was a part of history. While I always felt implicated by this law because of its innate racism, somehow I never thought it really applied to me.

My identity was first and foremost tied to my family. I somehow never felt that what was written about Chinese in Canada, and about the head tax, applied to me and my brother — the cherished children of two people who had lost everything and invested their hearts, their souls, and anything they could earn in our present and in our future. I belonged to them first of all.

Then, I felt, I belonged to my neighbourhood, my friends, and my schoolmates, first at Kent Street School, then Lisgar Collegiate, and later Trinity College at the University of Toronto. I never dreamed that I was a name in a ledger because of my race. As far as I know, we were never required to pay the head tax, even though it was not repealed until after we had been living in the country for a number of years.

Had I known then what I know now, I wonder if it would have made me feel that I belonged less to Canada, that I was less committed to being Canadian. I was part of a despised and rejected group, but I did not feel, nor did my family ever feel, personally despised and rejected. We were popular at school and at church. No one ever said, “You shouldn’t be here.” No one ever told us that we did not belong.

That was one paradox of being a Chinese-born Canadian back when we were a small, predominantly white country: it is not the laws that create how you feel about where you live and whether you belong; it is other people who make you feel that you belong. It is your school and your church and the people you meet in the park and have eye contact with on a bus. Then, of course, you participate as a taxpayer, as somebody who can enrol in swimming classes or join the YMCA. That is what makes you feel a part of your immediate everyday surroundings. It implies that we are citizens within the context of other citizens.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I believe all new citizens must acknowledge that they are being adopted into the family that is Canada; they must accept everything.[/quote]

Ideally, we belong first to ourselves. If we are healthy, well-developed human beings, we become, as Carl Jung put it, “the person we were meant to be.” In Jung’s notion of personal development — of self-actualization, of creating and keeping a positive sense of self and an ability to have healthy, open emotional expression — lies the modern credo that we must live up to our potential, with all the freedom of choice available to us. Naturally, out of this comes the concern for our own physical safety, and that of our loved ones. We call upon ourselves to be responsible and to fulfill our duties towards those we love and those with whom we engage.

Next, as modern-day citizens, we believe in our country’s values and we expect that our responsibilities will be equally matched by our rights, that our duties will bring rewards. It is worth noting that the motto of the Order of Canada is “to desire a better country.” This motto indicates, with typical Canadian understatement, that the country is not a wonderful basket of goodies to which we and others contribute and draw interest from. Instead, it assumes that as citizens we are proud of our country and therefore we will help make it better.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I was part of a despised and rejected group, but I did not feel, nor did my family ever feel, personally despised and rejected... No one ever said, “You shouldn’t be here.” No one ever told us that we did not belong.[/quote]

I believe all new citizens must acknowledge that they are being adopted into the family that is Canada; they must accept everything. We are a country that has not dealt fairly with our Aboriginal people, that treated Japanese-Canadians with cruelty and injustice, that turned away Jewish refugees knowing that their religion alone could lead to their destruction. New Canadians must accept responsibility for these historical facts about our family. Just as in any family we accept that Uncle Harry is an alcoholic or Aunt Betty was a golddigger, we say to ourselves, “They are part of us; we live with this reality.” Citizenship is not a buffet where you can take the shrimps and leave the roast beef, have the chocolate ice cream and leave the custard. Citizenship is a fixed menu and we all dine from it. The food is given to us; the acceptance of the whole meal is our obligation.

A 1913 photograph depicts Scandinavian immigrants in long underwear and trousers with suspenders looking at a blackboard that states the duties of a citizen:

1. Understand our government.

2. Take an active part in politics.

3. Assist all good causes.

4. Lessen intemperance.

5. Work for others.

The injunction to help others as part of one’s duty to one’s country integrates a sense of place with a sense of self. We have interpreted citizenship as a consensual contract with certain emotive elements, such as a high regard for our natural surroundings, some respect for the institutions of government and the law, and, ideally, a commitment to helping advance the aims of our society in whatever way we are called upon to do so. Citizenship is linked on one hand to the rights of the individual, and on the other to membership and attachment to a community. At the very least, citizenship guarantees to the citizen a passport and a place in a territory. At its most generous, it enables the acquisition of wealth, social standing, and the ability to work with others within the context of an organizing principle established for the general betterment of human life. We still believe this to be true even though we are aware of voter apathy, terrorism, the resurgence of nationalist movements, the inability to deal with multiracial populations, and the despairing failure of environmental policies.

This is an excerpt from the 2014 CBC Massey Lectures, Belonging. Copyright © 2014 Adrienne Clarkson and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Permission granted by House of Anansi Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without written permission from the publisher.

Published in Books
Monday, 07 July 2014 18:14

Fed Up With Politicians? So Is Your MP

by Books Editor Abby Paige

Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan

Random House Canada

Non-Fiction, 2014

In 2009, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan founded the political think tank Samara. They were concerned about a growing disengagement among Canadians from their political system, what MacMillan describes as a “turning away from the village green, from the importance of how we decide to live together and make decisions together, and how that translates into how we govern ourselves.” They saw these trends in the larger culture, but also among colleagues and peers.

“So many people that I knew,” says MacMillan, describing his frustration, “Smart people in their middle age — a good proxy for part of the population — saw no reason to talk about this stuff, let alone vote, let alone join a political party, let alone actually read a book, let alone sign a petition.”

These problems are not unique to Canada. Western democracies are all suffering similar symptoms of citizen disengagement, even as those countries attempt to export their systems of governance to other parts of the world. Not only has voter turnout dipped significantly, but fewer people are joining political parties, donating to campaigns, and otherwise participating in political culture.

But Loat and MacMillan don’t necessarily see citizens as the root of the problem. “To throw the blame at the feet of 35 million disparate citizens, who have many other things on their plate, is probably not fair,” says Loat. So they sought out a small sector of the population with much more direct experience of the inner-workings of Canadian democracy.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Western democracies are all suffering similar symptoms of citizen disengagement, even as those countries attempt to export their systems of governance to other parts of the world.[/quote] 

Citizen engagement

Through Samara, Loat and MacMillan aim to create educational programs and research projects that will shine a light on issues of citizen engagement in Canadian democracy, and their first such project was to conduct exit interviews with former Members of Parliament about their experiences on the job. Who better to diagnose the problems of our political system than those who have worked inside it? They ultimately spoke with eighty MPs, including 35 cabinet ministers, across all parties and regions of the country, and, based on those conversations, they wrote Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy.

The title may seem alarmist to some readers; an audience at the Ottawa Writers Festival took issue with the characterization of Canada’s democracy as “failing.” The phrase “tragedy of the commons” is borrowed from a 1968 essay by an American biologist on the challenges of managing public resources: how can the long-term benefits of the group be protected from a few individuals seeking short-term gains? This is certainly a question Canadians might ask themselves around election time, when candidates seem more focused on trashing one another than articulating a coherent political vision. But the real tragedy that Loat and MacMillan describe is that, once the dust of electoral mud-slinging has settled, our politicians appear to feel as alienated from our political system as we do. And if they’re not invested in nurturing our democratic institutions, how can ordinary citizens be?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The title may seem alarmist to some readers; an audience at the Ottawa Writers Festival took issue with the characterization of Canada’s democracy as “failing."[/quote]

Tragedy in the Commons is a useful, warts-and-all primer on the Canadian political system. It reveals some of the psychological elements at work in Canadian political culture and, by focusing on the experiences of MPs, uncovers subtle, underlying causes of dysfunction. The portraits are not always riveting, but they are often surprisingly relatable in their banality. Like their constituents, MPs are romanced by their political parties during campaigns, but once in office, successful candidates are left to their own devices, without a clear job description or any consistent system of orientation for the newly elected. Many feel like pawns of their parties and cope by finding alternative ways to make themselves useful, such as greasing the wheels of government bureaucracy on behalf of local constituents or taking on pet issues in which to become self-styled experts.

Political outsiders

One unexpected trend that emerged from the interviews was a tendency among the vast majority of MPs to describe themselves as political “outsiders.” The authors were fascinated by how consistently their interviewees, unprompted, expressed surprise at being approached about running for office and denied that they had had sincere political ambitions of their own, although most had been active in their communities in some type of leadership role. It is this “outsider narrative” that, to Loat and MacMillan, suggests a strong and pervasive disdain for the political process. What does it say about our attitude toward democracy that political office is either thrust solely upon the unwilling or is too deviant an aspiration to admit?

“They came back, over and over,” says Loat, “To ‘question period is terrible,’ as if they weren’t there. ‘I never planned to run,’ even though they were active in their communities. Part of what we are trying to do is send a message to people who are in politics that you can’t always be looking from the outside in. You have a responsibility to uphold the quality of our politics.”

The book is often repetitive, suggesting that perhaps the authors needed to stretch their material to book length, and the repetitiveness at times muddies the shape of their argument. Tragedy also falls into a common trap for political books of stating and restating problems, while solutions are less well elaborated and defended. Nonetheless, readers might be heartened to discover that the authors and their interviewees propose no vast structural changes to the political system, but rather minor tweaks to create greater transparency in party operation and Parliamentary bureaucracy and to develop a greater sense of accountability on the part of individual MPs.

Tragedy in the Commons is perhaps best read in the context of Samara’s other activities, which include a broad range of programs to reveal the inner workings of our political system and engage citizens in political conversations. According to Loat and MacMillan, this is quite simply the work required to keep a democracy healthy and vibrant.

“I sometimes use the metaphor of the human body,” says MacMillan. “If you don’t eat properly, if you don’t exercise, your body will fall apart. Complex systems inherently need constant attention.”

Samara’s goal is to provide ways for citizens to tend to their democracy and to make sure that their elected representatives are doing the same. Tragedy in the Commons provides a starting point.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books
Tuesday, 05 November 2013 00:46

Pulse: Arab and Middle East

by Mourad Haroutunian

The following were the top stories in the Canadian-Arab media during October:             

Canadian Copts join forces to influence Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) to support Egypt's current secular government - Egyptian-Canadians eyeing their first seat in the Canadian parliament - Palestinian-Canadian activist to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian cause - Omani-Canadian scientist appointed to UN advisory board - Calgary’s first Muslim mayor re-elected - Saudi Arabia's national airline begins direct flights to Toronto.

 

COPTS LOBBYING

Three Canadian-Coptic organizations are combining their efforts to persuade the legislative branch of the federal government to increase support for Egypt, at a conference scheduled to be held on Nov. 19 under the auspices of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Al-Ahram Elgdeed reported on Nov. 3.

The Canadian Coptic Association, the Canadian Coptic Activists Federation and Al-Ahram Elgdeed non-profit organization are expected to urge Canada to recognize what happened in the summer in Egypt as a revolution, not a military coup.

These organizations cancelled a protest originally scheduled for Nov. 3 outside Parliament in order to focus on the Nov. 19 event, the bi-weekly newspaper run by Egyptian Copts said.  They will call on Canada to help Egypt’s secular government in its war on terror and its route to democracy, it added.

Egyptian activists are expected to request that Members of Parliament designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group, like Palestinian hate-group Hamas, and to boost Canada's financial assistance to the North African country.

The event will be attended by the Minister of Employment and Social Development and Minister for Multiculturalism, Jason Kenney; the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander; and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bob Dechert, the organizations said.

On July 3, Egypt’s military ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi after millions of Egyptians flooded the streets countrywide calling for his resignation. The Arab world's most populous country has been experiencing political and economic instability since President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 following 18 days of massive protests. 

FIRST EGYPTIAN-CANADIAN MP?

Al-Ahram Elgdeed's deputy editor-in-chief, Medhat Eweeda, urged readers to endorse Coptic activist Sheref Sabawy to become the first Egyptian-Canadian to be elected a member of the Canadian Parliament.

Mr. Sabawy is required first to win the nomination of the Liberal Party for the Mississauga-Streetsville federal electoral district in Ontario, before running for the House of Commons seat. The district is heavily populated by Egyptians and others of Arab descent, Mr. Eweeda wrote.

Mr. Eweeda, himself a Conservative, called on fellow Egyptian-Canadians to renounce their differences and back up Sabawy. "Successful communities consider their interests. They take from [political] parties whatever serves the interests of the community and their home countries," he said.

"Unlike [successful communities], we have not yet taken care of our common interests; rather, personal conflicts have ruled our behaviour."

IDENTITY CRISIS

Palestinian activist Issam Al-Yamani is slated to discuss how the Canadian-Arab identity affects the Palestinian struggle at a gathering on Nov. 8, at Palestine House in Mississauga, Ontario, according to Aljalia monthly newspaper.

Mr. Al-Yamani, who was born and raised in a refugee camp in Lebanon, will ask participants whether they have ever faced difficulties as an Arab in Canada, and what they can do, as  a minority, to ensure they are a positive force in Canadian society.

The event is co-hosted by Palestine House, a not-for-profit organization established in 1992, and the Canadian Arab Federation, formed in 1967 to represent the interests of Arab Canadians.

OMANI SCIENTIST

Al-Bilad monthly newspaper reported that an Omani-Canadian scientist was appointed to the newly-created United Nations Scientific Advisory Board.

Prof. Abdallah Daar, a professor of Public Health at the University of Toronto, is the only Canadian appointed in the 26-member board, the London, Ontario-based paper said in its November issue.

The board was formed to provide advice on science, technology and innovation for sustainable development to the UN Secretary-General and to executive heads of UN organizations.

DIRECT FLIGHTS

On Oct. 28, Saudi Arabia's national carrier began direct flights to Toronto, Aljalia reported.

Saudia will have three direct flights to Toronto each week, the paper said, without citing sources. The Toronto flights will serve different groups of passengers, including Saudi students in Canada and Canadians who travel to the kingdom each year for Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

With the launch of the Toronto service, Saudia has become the fourth Gulf airline operating flights to Canada after Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways.

MUSLIM MAYOR RE-ELECTED

Arab News, a biweekly newspaper established in 1974, trumpeted the re-election of Calgary's first Muslim mayor Naheed Nenshi.

The 41-year-old Harvard graduate won 74 per cent of the vote against eight opponents, the Toronto-based paper reported, citing Reuters.

The left-leaning leader obtained a national profile for his response to the floods that swamped large parts of the city of 1.1 million in Canada's costliest natural disaster.

CANADA-EU PACT

In an editorial, Arab News praised a free-trade deal clinched between Canada and the European Union as “one of the legacies of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.”  

"This is a big victory for Canadian exporters, who will see lucrative business in Europe," wrote Salah Allam, the newspaper's publisher-editor, "though farmers and cheese-makers will be hurt by the deal."

However, Mr. Allam called for lifting the secrecy surrounding the details of the pact as part of the right of Canadians for freedom of information and transparency.

"The Harper government should understand that Canadian citizens are key players, not just extras on the stage!" wrote Mr. Allam.

The agreement was announced by Mr. Harper and EU President Jose Manuel Barroso at a joint press conference in Brussels on Oct. 18.

ADHA GREETINGS

Al-Bilad paper highlighted a statement delivered by the leader of the National Democratic Party Tom Mulcair, who greeted Muslim-Canadians on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha, or Greater Bairam.

"For over a century, Muslim-Canadians have been playing a vital role in building this country, in areas from business and science to politics and culture. We understand that it’s this diversity that helps make Canada strong," he said in the letter.

“So on this special occasion, I would like to renew our commitment to you to fight for the important Canadian values of diversity and multiculturalism,” he concluded.

AVNERY ARTICLE

Al-Bilad, which has been run by Iraqi journalists since 2002, published an article titled "Why are so many Jews leaving Israel?" by Uri Avnery, an Israeli writer and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement.

In the article, originally published on counterpunch.org, Mr. Avnery suggests a Crusader connection. “Israel declares itself to be “the State of the Jewish People.” Jews all over the world are considered de facto Israeli nationals. But if there is no basic difference between a Jew in Haifa and a Jew in Hamburg, why stay in Haifa when life in Hamburg seems to be so much better?” Mr. Avnery wondered in the article.

Ninety-year-old Mr. Avnery is famous for crossing the lines during the siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on July 3, 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli.

Mourad Haroutunian is an Egyptian media professional based in Toronto. He has worked in Egypt, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and the United States, for Bloomberg News, CNBC Arabiya, Alhurra TV, Forbes Arabia and Nile TV International. He holds an M.A. in journalism and mass communication from the American University in Cairo. He currently works a senior equities journalist at Proactive Investors, in Toronto. 

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Published in Top Stories
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