By Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a handful of new policy ideas during the nine month long leadership race, but Tory strategists suggest they likely won’t be part of the Tories 2019 election platform.

Scheer has vowed to take away federal funding from universities that don’t defend free speech. He’s proposed displaying the flags of countries that export oil to Canada on gas pumps. Scheer, who sends his own children to a faith-based school, has proposed a tax break for parents who home-school their children or send them to independent schools. He also suggested in an interview with a community newspaper that he would axe CBC’s news division.

Conservative strategist and vice chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said he would be surprised if more than 20 per cent of Scheer’s ideas became a part of the Conservative party’s 2019 platform.

Powers said Scheer’s proposal to de-fund universities that don’t protect free speech could be an election promise — because that idea has appealed to more than just Conservatives — but he called the flags on gas pumps idea “gimmicky.”

Powers said he thinks that Scheer’s tax credit for home-schooled families and for families who send their children to faith-based schools likely would present problems for him because his opponents will say he’s beholden to certain faith groups.

Keith Beardsley, a longtime Conservative strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper, said Scheer’s policies are easy to implement, but … “Stickers on gas pumps? I doubt many motorists will give a damn. Raise the prices and you have a problem.”

Beardsley said a tax credit for homeschooling or faith-based schools could be opening up a can of worms. “Which faiths? How much will it cost the government when Scheer promises to balance the books?”

Beardsley said that while attacking the CBC is popular among Conservatives and makes for good rhetoric, it’s not practical.

“[Scheer] said he wasn’t going to present anything in 2017 that he wouldn’t run on in 2019,” said Nancy Bishay, a spokesperson for Scheer.

“There are many interesting proposals he put forward and he’ll work together with the caucus, and also through the grassroots conservative policy process, to put together a platform to present to Canadians in 2019,” said Bishay.

Scheer’s ideas will have to be taken under consideration at the Conservative party’s policy conference in Halifax next year. But since he has championed a few very specific policies, delegates likely will support his wishes, said Susan Elliott, a Conservative strategist and partner at Strategy Portal.

But Elliott, who favoured Michael Chong for the leadership, suggested that the Conservative party is still going to have a hard time appealing to millennials in the 2019 election — by which time, she said, they will have become the largest single voting bloc, surpassing the baby boomers.

“I personally don’t think millennials will find those issues motivating. I just don’t think they are high on their top issues of concern,” said Elliott of Scheer’s ideas, specifically tax credits for home-school or faith-based schooling, and taking funding away from universities that don’t protect free speech.

“Millennials will want a credible climate change plan. A revenue-neutral carbon tax – also eliminating cumbersome regulations and directives – is the most cost-effective and conservative way to achieve that, but both party members and the new leader rejected that proposal.”

Powers said Scheer likely will “beg, borrow and steal” ideas from other candidates — but that Chong’s carbon pricing idea won’t be one of them.

Elliott said millennials don’t want to reopen debates on social issues like women’s reproductive rights and equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, said Elliott, “they don’t even understand why those are debates.”

She said political hostility towards people of diverse backgrounds and contrary points of view is a foreign concept to most millennials — but it was front and centre during the CPC leadership race “in a way that would not attract millennials to our party.”

“We must trust Andrew Scheer, now that he has been chosen to lead, to understand these truths about the current electorate. I believe he is a smart man,” she said.

Elliott said she thinks Scheer will show wisdom in adopting “millennial-friendly policies” and convincing the party and caucus to come along.

“What did Trudeau campaign on in his leadership race in 2013 that became Liberal policy?” said Powers. “It’s hard to recall because it’s not often policy that determines who wins leadership races.”

 By arrangement with 

Published in Politics
Sunday, 11 December 2016 13:06

Don’t Mess with a Vote System that Works

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system of Canada during the last federal election campaign a year ago. Now that he is prime minister with a parliamentary majority, there is an expectation from opponents of that electoral system that he will deliver on a promise that he should never have made.

Opponents of the first-past-the-post system advance romantic ideas of better representation of the range of opinions of Canadians to make their case, but romanticism does not make for good policy. Fact is there is already more than adequate representation in Parliament of the diversity of Canadian opinions, and at the same time, groups on the extremes cannot easily dictate to the majority. (Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes is declared elected in every riding.)

In the current debate on electoral reform, the positions taken by the four national parties do not represent any romantic ideas of democracy. They represent nothing but their own best interests.

Party positions

The Green Party and the NDP, who always elect a smaller percentage of Members of Parliament (MPs) than their shares of the vote, want proportional representation (a system under which the number of MPs would mirror a party’s popular vote).

The Conservatives, who have benefited from the first-past-the-post system and who know that no other system would work better for them, reject any electoral reform.

The Liberals, who know that they would benefit from preferential balloting since it favours middle-of-the-road parties (it is a system under which a voter ranks all candidates by order of preference), are said to support this system, although they have been careful not to admit it publicly.

If partisan interest is ignored, it is abundantly clear that the current system is not only good enough, but that it is the best possible system.

Just ask any immigrant if they prefer the Canadian system or the system used in their country of origin. Our voting system is why many immigrants come here.

Reflecting popular will

When it is convenient to them, politicians tell us that Canada is the best place in the world. We certainly are one of the best places, and that is because we have a political system that is able to govern Canada efficiently through changing times, while remaining representative of the general will of Canadians.

Proportional representation exists in other countries, and it certainly delivers on the promise to elect politicians that represent diverse opinions. However, it does so at a high price.

Smaller parties with narrow interests often become essential in forming government coalitions and are able to dictate their narrow agendas. This phenomenon is very visible in Israel, a country that uses proportional representation, as Haaretz explains in “Ultra-Orthodox Parties Are Back in Power and Israelis Aren’t Thrilled About It”.

The first-past-the-post system does not prevent politicians with minority opinions from being elected, but to be elected, they usually have to work within a party that has broad appeal. For example, the Conservative party includes MPs who wish to ban abortion, even though that is not the policy of the party. Under this system, MPs who hold minority opinions must convince others to support them, which is a good democratic practice. They cannot ram through unpopular changes by being power brokers. 

The first-past-the-post system also does not prevent the emergence and the viability of third parties, although it does require them to have broader support than they would need under proportional representation. Five parties are currently represented in the Parliament of Canada, a consistent pattern over the last few decades, including the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.

Majority government

While it includes minority representation, the fact that the first-past-the-post system usually results in majority governments means that it offers the advantages of political stability and the ability to make tough choices. The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (later followed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA) is now seen by all political parties as beneficial to Canada, but that agreement would not have occurred under proportional representation since the Conservative party was at that time the only party supporting it.

Preferential balloting could be seen as a reasonable compromise, since it would likely maintain the benefits of majority governments while giving voters the feeling that their votes are more influential than under first-past-the-past. However, there would be a diminished diversity of opinions represented in Parliament. Under preferential balloting, centrist views would gain an advantage since this is typically the second choice of people on either side of an issue. Therefore, less mainstream opinions would have a harder time being heard. 

Delivering on election promises is typically good politics, but it is not good politics when the promise itself was foolish. Prime Minister Trudeau should do what is best for Canada, not what is best for his party – keep the electoral system as it is because it is the best in the world.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lives in Ottawa. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at Gatestone Institute, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post.

Published in Politics
Sunday, 18 October 2015 22:50

Latinos Encouraged to Make Their Vote Count

by Raul A Pinto in Mississauga, Ontario 

For a long time the Latin American community has felt widely overlooked in Canada, according to Liberal candidate Michael Levitt, who is running in the Toronto riding York Centre. 

The Liberal candidate, who has one of the largest Latin American populations in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in his riding, says this may now be changing, especially after the recent Pan Am Games helped spotlight the rich community that exists.

Levitt referred to the Liberal party leader’s announcement earlier this year to lift visa requirements for Mexican visitors to Canada as one way to build in-roads with Canada’s Hispanic community.

He says lifting the bans that were put in place in 2009 is one of many “immigration initiatives” related to family reunification that the Liberals have promised.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Latin American community has felt widely overlooked in Canada.[/quote]

Levitt recalls one conversation he had with an Ecuadorian-Canadian living in his riding. The man spoke of the difficulty his family in Ecuador had when trying to meet the requirements necessary to come to Canada for a visit.

“He said that the feeling [he had] was by the time they got all of this done, it wasn’t going to be worth it, it would be too much paperwork,” says Levitt. The constituent’s family felt it would just be easier if he visited Ecuador instead.

“We have to embrace [Canada’s Latin American community],” Levitt explains. “We need to work with Latin America to develop trade, to develop closer relationships.”

Latin Americans and Canadian politics

The 2011 National Household Survey placed people of Latin, Central and South American origins at just over 1 per cent of the Canadian population, with over 540,000 people spread around the country. The largest of these communities are located in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Vancouver and Montreal.

Through an informal survey of listeners of the radio show “Radio Voces Latinas”, which airs on CHHA 1610 AM in Toronto, New Canadian Media found that for many Canadians of Latin American heritage, their main concern was having a more established place in the Canadian political agenda.

Cesar Palacio, councillor for Ward 17 Davenport, is the first person of Hispanic heritage to be elected to Toronto’s city council. He was born in Ecuador and arrived in Canada with his parents in 1972. Today, he is serving his fourth term in the position. 

A passionate defenders of the power of democracy among the Latin American community, he says Latinos can only hope to become a larger part of the political agenda if they get involved.

“It’s very important [for] our community, which in spite of not being so numerous is growing faster than other communities in Canada, to be conscious that we have an opportunity through vote,” says Palacio.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Latinos can only hope to become a larger part of the political agenda if they get involved.[/quote]

Palacio is concerned about apathy in the community, though Statistics Canada reported that 66 per cent of eligible people of Hispanic heritage voted in 2000. He advises the ones not interested in voting, to “think ahead.”

“We need to move from our personal issues to the community issues. If we think as a community, we’ll have more things,” he states.

But one radio show listener who was surveyed sees things differently.

“In many of our countries in Latin America [it] is mandatory to vote and I don’t think that’s right,” says Peru-born Alberto. “Some people now complain about Harper, but I heard the same about Chrétien a few years ago. If someone says, ‘I don’t want to vote,’ that’s okay to me. To me all politicians are the same.”

Getting Latinos to the polls

“If we want to be part of the system, and to make ourselves noticeable as a community out there, we need to do it,” Claudio Ruiz told New Canadian Media.

Ruiz is the executive director for the Centre for Spanish Speaking Peoples (CSSP) in Toronto. The organization is one of several that worked together to launch the campaign “Tu Voto Vale, Tu Voto Decide” (Your Vote Counts, Your Vote Decides) in order to motivate Hispanic-Canadian citizens to vote.

“Our vote is the capital we have in the political system,” he continues. “If we don’t exercise our right to vote, our privilege to vote, our voices will not be listened to and the issues in our community will not be considered by the government when they begin to formulate plans in their platforms.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Our vote is the capital we have in the political system."[/quote]

Ruiz says the “Tu Voto Vale” program allows community members to access information by phone, Internet or in person information about how to vote and where to vote. 

“We had people here at the centre, and many told us that, once they became Canadians, they never received any mail regarding elections,” Ruiz explains, pointing out that new citizens must check mark a special field on their citizenship paperwork asking to receive the information via mail to their homes.

“All those opinions made us take measures to motivate people to vote, and at least eliminate the barriers to those people who didn’t vote because [of] external reasons.”

Journalist Priya Ramanujam mentored the writer of this article, through the New Canadian Media mentorship program.

 {module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics

By Ranjit Bhaskar in Brampton, Ontario 

With elections kicking into high gear, who would have thought that identity politics — with immigrants as public enemy number one — would be centre stage in the campaign chaos.

Dog whistle politics are supposed to play out in the shadows and be heard only by their intended audience, but this seems to have been made irrelevant by the power of social media to scour the darkest corners. They have been replaced by what could be called “hunting horn politics” that trumpet intentions loud and clear.

To soften the imagery, many prefer to call them wedge politics. 

While the niqab controversy seems to have acquired a life of its own, at least in the media, the antidote to wedge politics has surfaced. Big Tent politics of yore that attempt to tie together differing ideas under one unifying but nebulous banner are back in play. And who but the “natural governing party” of Canada can play it the best.

The Liberal Party made a dazzling display of that prowess in Brampton, Ontario — the Ground Zero of the fabled ethnic vote that may be the deciding factor as to who gets to rule from Ottawa. 

It was no coincidence that the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) city was chosen to host what was claimed to be the largest campaign rally ever with over 7,000 people in attendance. An impressive number for Canada, but not for the foreign-born South Asian immigrants who come from more raucous democracies and make up more than half the population of Brampton. 

Reclaiming the 905

For years, the city and the other areas that surround Toronto were a Liberal stronghold. It was propped up to a large extent by immigrant voters beholden to former prime minister Pierre Trudeau for policies that made their passage to Canada possible. 

What better place to reclaim lost ground than in the “905,” this section of suburbs nicknamed after their shared phone code.

In 2011, the Conservatives swept all 28 seats in the area and won a majority government. This time around, there are 11 new seats to fight for. It’s this sheer volume that makes the 905 a must-win battle ground in the larger war. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]What better place to reclaim lost ground than in the “905."[/quote]

The war metaphor did come up at the Brampton rally when Liberal leader Justin Trudeau said that together, Canadians have won tougher fights and solved greater problems. “The country that fought like lions in the trenches of WW1 and on the beaches of WW2 is not as easily cowed as Stephen Harper thinks we are,” Trudeau said as he preached his message of inclusivity to the diverse crowd of supporters, young and old.

This allusion to war was the exception. Otherwise, it was a lovefest through and through, with Trudeau and the crowd feeding off each other. The recurring thread throughout was that “a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian.”

“Neighbours, not enemies”

Trudeau also tried to reach out to Conservatives by telling the crowd that supporters of the current ruling party “are not our enemies. They’re our neighbours. They want what’s best for their country, just like we do. [. . .] We don’t need to convince them to leave the Conservative party. We just need to show how Stephen Harper’s party has left them.”

Several factors are at work for the Liberals in the 905. Trudeau’s promise to run deficits while spending $125 billion on new infrastructure projects resonates well with the suburban Toronto voters who often get caught in traffic gridlock.

"Stephen Harper just doesn't see what you're going through. When you spend a decade in a motorcade, you don't have to worry about traffic jams. That's what happens when you've been in power too long," he said.

The other factor that seems to be helping the Liberals in the 905 is that, apart from a few ridings, the NDP presence is not strong on the ground here. Several analyses of the 2011 results indicate that the Liberals did not lose much support among the visible minorities

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The optics couldn’t have been better: one big Canadian family under one big tent.[/quote]

2011 split vote

What did them in was the inroads made by the NDP that split the left of centre vote, which helped the Conservatives win with less than 35 per cent of the votes.

With the Conservatives distancing themselves from the larger Muslim population, the Liberals are in a good position to attract this demographic’s votes. Of the estimated one million Muslims in Canada, half of them live in the GTA and make up almost eight per cent of the population.

Aware that in at least nine ridings a concerted voting effort by the community could make a difference, both the Liberals and the NDP are courting them hard. “We are in it for the young man whose parents brought him to Mississauga from Lahore,” Trudeau said in a pointed reference to the city in Pakistan, earning loud applause.

Setting aside cynicism for a moment, in a week that saw the last of the leaders’ debates and the niqab question threatening to smother larger election issues, the Liberal rally reflected the spirit of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and family togetherness. 

As wife Sophie Gregoire gave Trudeau a rousing introduction and trotted out their three young children, the optics couldn’t have been better: one big Canadian family under one big tent. 

That the ensemble on stage looked almost presidential did not bother the crowd as it savoured this familiar family image in the rough sea of parliamentary politics. #MonAmour trended after Trudeau’s slip of tongue at the last debate, and that emotion continued to resonate amongst the faithful that evening in Brampton.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this analysis mistakenly carried a headline "Trudeau Espouses Family Values at Brampton Rally". We regret the error. 


{module NCM Blurb} 

Published in Top Stories

by Fred Maroun in Ottawa, Ontario

Advocates of the Conservative government’s ban on the wearing of the niqab during citizenship ceremonies claim that the policy supports women’s rights. For Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe, it's a matter of “fundamental equality between man and woman.

However, if women wear the niqab freely, then banning the niqab can be considered an infringement on a woman’s right to choose and an infringement on her freedom of religion. This seems to be the position adopted by NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in the recent Munk Debate on Canada’s Foreign Policy,

Mulcair’s stance surprised some voters. Until the day before the French language debate, held on Sept. 26, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was the only one of the three leading party leaders to clearly oppose the ban during this election period. 

This leads us to ask the following question: is Mulcair taking a principled stand or did he choose the most politically advantageous position?

NDP falling behind as election nears

Public opinion polls in late August showed the NDP far ahead at 37.4 percent, but the party appears to be losing ground. The NDP lost support in later polls but was still in a tight three-way race with Liberals and Conservatives—that is, until the French language debate in which Mulcair opposed the ban.

Following the debate, the NDP lost even more support across the country, particularly in Quebec. As of time of press, the NDP is in third place behind the Liberals and the Conservatives at 27.2 percent support, federally; its support in Quebec—which had peaked at 49.6 percent—is now at 33.9 percent. 

If Mulcair’s stand is politically motivated, it does not appear to be working.

Mulcair’s comments even seemed to frustrate members of Canada’s Muslim population. He stated at the debate, “If some of those women are oppressed, we need to help them, and it's not going to be depriving them of their Canadian citizenship and rights that will do that," hinting that some women are forced to wear the niqab. 

Shireen Ahmed, a Muslim journalist based in Mississauga, responded to this statement in a commentary published on New Canadian Media: “Therein lies the problem. Muslim women do not need to be helped nor do they need saving," she said.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Mulcair’s comments even seemed to frustrate members of Canada’s Muslims population.[/quote]

The two principles one typically invokes to argue against the ban are women’s right to choose what they wear and freedom of religion. The problem with this is that, by Mulcair’s own admission, women who wear the niqab may not be in a position to make a choice. As to freedom of religion, one would be hard-pressed to argue that the wearing of the niqab is mandated by any respectable religion. 

This practice, which is dehumanizing to women, is mandated only by a very marginal sect of Islam that is very foreign to the core Western values of freedom and equality.

Mulcair’s stance is further compromised by the comments of other NDP candidates. One of the NDP’s best known Quebec MPs, Alexandre Boulerice, said to The Globe and Mail, “It seems to be a symbol of oppression, which is not something that pleases me”.  

Another NDP candidate, Jean-François Delisle, also disagreed with Mulcair’s position, stating that if elected the party should amend the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to make it a legal impossibility.

A pattern of behaviour

This is not the first time that Mulcair has stood up for Muslims in a way that is less than convincing.

In September 2013, Mulcair slammed Quebec’s proposed “charter of values,” saying, “To be told that a woman working in a daycare centre because she's wearing a head scarf will lose her job is to us intolerable in our society.” Yet he was late in denouncing the charter, long after Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.

After an attack on Canada’s parliament by a lone gunman in October 2014, Mulcair insisted that the attacker, Michael Zehaf Bibeau was “a criminal, but not a terrorist.” The fact that Bibeau was indeed a terrorist was later further proven by the release of a video that he'd made before the attack.

In February 2015, Mulcair denounced Harper’s linking of mosques to radicalization, yet some mosques have promoted hatred of the West in the past. As Muslim author Tarek Fatah wrote, “Even on the day Islamist Jihadi Terrorists killed four Jews in Paris in the name of Islam, and just two days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an Imam in a downtown Toronto mosque could not resist the urge to pray to Allah for Muslim victory over Christians and other non-Muslims.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]If Mulcair’s stand is politically motivated, it does not appear to be working.[/quote]

Mulcair is the only leader of a major party to oppose Bill C-51, a bill that appears to be opposed by most Canadian Muslims.Yet, some moderate Muslims, including spokespeople from the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, support the bill.

It seems that Mulcair’s opposition to the niqab ban is neither based on principle nor based in politics. Perhaps it and other positions he has taken in a clumsy defense of Muslims are meant to appease his party’s radicals who are uncomfortable with Mulcair’s support of Israel. His position on the niqab has certainly disappointed some voters, including myself.

I have written that I support Mulcair, and I still do. I think that his policies, particularly on the environment and scientific research, are a much needed change. I also believe that he would be a competent prime minister. 

However, I cannot help but think that if Harper manufactured the niqab question as a cynical wedge issue to distract voters, then perhaps he has succeeded, at least as far as the NDP is concerned.

Editor's Note: This commentary was updated from a previous version to clarify the writer's disappointment in Mulcair's position on the niqab as opposed to his support of Israel.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at The Jerusalem Post and The Times of Israel.

 {module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary
Friday, 15 March 2013 11:43

Communicating to a new audience

by Pamela George for New Canadian Media

“Immigrants need to know the rules of this land.” “They need to know that Canadians do not tolerate violence against women.” “They need to know about hygiene.” “They need to know that you do not wear flip-flops in a land that gets 100 cms. of snow.”

These were some of the comments heard at a workshop titled “Understanding Life in Canada: Giving Newcomers the right playbook information and orientation” at the 15th Metropolis Conference themed “Building an Integrated Society,” taking place in Ottawa, March 14th to 16th, 2013.

The discussion panel included Cedric de Chardon, Manager of Information and Orientation policies for Citizenship and Immigration Canada; Dr Vicky Esses, Director of the Centre for Research on Migration and Ethnic Relations; Din Ladak, CEO of the Immigrant Services Calgary, and Loris Berrigan, Manager of Settlement Services Association of New Canadians (Newfoundland).

My interest in this workshop was more than an academic one. As a newcomer, I have relied on information available both in print and on websites to shape my decisions on life in Canada. I have felt frustrated at the shallowness of some of this well-meant advice.  

All levels of government in Canada -- federal, provincial and increasingly municipal -- are spending millions to dole out information so that newcomers have the tools to navigate life in Canada. In addition to targeting immigrants that are already here, the federal government is targeting the pre-immigrant population in their home countries with information on what to expect in Canada and the best ways to get credentials recognized and find employment.

Although reading these handouts do not readily give that impression, the government does consult immigrants on input. The panel discussed the Alberta Settlement Outcomes Survey which did a survey among 1,000 immigrants in Alberta on what they felt should be included in the handouts.  

This survey showed that the top three sources of information for immigrants are immigrant serving agency portals, government websites and other online sources. Print and library materials figured low down on the list.  The point made was that immigrants and refugees are highly knowledgeable about navigating the Web to get the information that they are looking for.

The survey also threw light on the kind of information that immigrants would like to receive before they arrived in Canada -- important documents needed, the steps they need to take after landing, where to obtain settlement information, etc.

With so much information aimed at immigrants, the most logical question to ask the panel was, “Are you employing immigrant writers and journalists to write the content? Who is better than an ethnic writer, highly fluent in one or both of the official languages, to understand the language, tone and information that other immigrants are looking for?”

Of course, there was no answer. -- New Canadian Media

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in National

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved