Saturday, 05 November 2016 15:54

High on Immigration, Low on Citizenship

News Analysis by NCM Newsroom

Days after being sworn in as prime minister on November 4 last year, Justin Trudeau listed priority tasks for his ministers.  

Like that of his colleagues, the list for John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, drew much from the Liberal party’s election promises.

While resettling Syrian refugees was the number one priority, McCallum was told that his overarching goal was “to reopen Canada’s doors to welcome those who want to contribute to its success.”

The wording was clever. While it tried to highlight the previous Conservative government’s reluctance to open Canada’s door to refugees, it retained the essence of what the country’s need for immigrants has always been: It’s the economy, stupid.  

And, McCallum has stuck to the time-tested script. Tabling this year’s report on immigration targets in parliament, he said the government is boosting the base number of immigrants to be admitted next year to 300,000. The previous annual targets from 2011 to 2015 was 260,000, but it swelled to 300,000 this year on account of the Syrian arrivals. The last time this base figure was reached was way back in 1913.

Attempting to give this annual setting of targets a more long-term view, the minister told reporters that it “lays the foundation for future growth." What was unsaid is that last year’s election rhetoric for letting in more refugees was a one-off political gesture meant to to induce a feel-good across the country and reinforce the "Canada is back" mantra.   

Although the 2017 intake targets includes 40,000 refugees and protected persons, it is down from nearly 56,000 this year. Also slightly down is the number of people who would be let in on humanitarian or compassionate grounds: 3,500 against this year’s 3,600.

And when it comes to government-assisted refugees, the numbers are far lower. The number for 2017 is 7,500, down from nearly 20,000 admitted so far this year, and still fewer than the nearly 10,000 admitted in 2015.

Like the previous government, the targets focus on boosting entries for those in the "economic" class. It has been increased to 172,500 from 160,600. In the family class, the number of sponsored spouses, partners, children, parents and grandparents will climb to 84,000 from 80,000.

Signalling left, turning right

While people in the settlement sector would bemoan the cuts to refugee intake given the continuing crises around the world, others would call it pragmatism. Those less charitable to the Liberals would say they are back at their game of signalling left, turning right.

The Liberals know that Canadians will not continue to be supportive of refugee resettlement. Reports about the government being caught off guard by the large number of children each Syrian family had in tow would cast doubts about the whole manner of bringing them in, starting from the vetting process.

Keeping both public perceptions and capacity constraints in mind, the government has astutely kept in abeyance its own economic growth council’s recommendation to raise annual immigration levels to 450,000 over the next five years.

However, it is doubling down on bringing in economic immigrants. Early on, Ottawa indicated that it would be more positively inclined towards international students becoming permanent residents, with McCallum terming them as “the perfect immigrants.”

The Express Entry immigration selection system, the key change to the economic immigration stream made by the previous government, is now being seen as a tool to also promote family reunification. The idea is to give candidates with family members already in Canada additional points.

Discounting citizenship

The unsettling thing about the emphasis on immigration levels is the indifferent attitude towards the very feature that makes our system unique: one of the shortest paths to citizenship, that over 80 per cent of immigrants eagerly choose to take. At least until recently.

The number of citizenship applicants has plummeted for the second year in a row after the more than a doubling in the application fee from $300 to $630. For a while it was $200, after being at $100 for a long time.

Evidently, citizenship applications are down. Only 36,000 citizenship applications were received from January to June this year, a little more than one-third of the number for the same period last year, according to data obtained for policy analysis by Andrew Griffith, a retired immigration department director-general. In 2015, a total of 130,000 applications were submitted compared to an average of 200,000 in the previous years.

While $630 itself is a hefty sum, the actual cost incurred could be much more if one includes the fee (around $200) for a language proficiency test that many applicants would need to take, and further for the Canadian passport (minimum $120). And, in the case of persons from source countries like India that do not allow for dual citizenship, the expenses add up. The fee to process the giving up of Indian citizenship and obtaining a new visa would take the costs to well over $1,500.  


Imagine a family of four needing to spend $6,000 when struggling economically to put roots in a new country. No one is suggesting that citizenship should come cheap, but forcing those on the cusp of becoming citizens to bear the whole cost of the process is rather unfair. Especially when the government is ready to waive or subsidize fees for refugees. How much more do new Canadians need to do to become citizens of a country they cheerily chose?

More importantly, isn't ultimate citizenship the whole point of welcoming new immigrants in the first place?        

Whereas the Liberals were critical of all the changes to immigration rules made by the Harper government, they were coy about reviewing the citizenship fee during the election campaign. Now that they hold the reins and are reviewing Bill C6 to amend the Citizenship Act, there is still no mention of any adjustment to the fee.

While tax-paying permanent residents are already an underclass unable to vote even in local elections, this disenfranchisement is now set to grow and become a permanent feature of our polity. It calls into question our own understanding of democracy and surely not something we should be proud of.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all NCM columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of New Canadian Media.

Published in Policy
Saturday, 22 October 2016 14:26

One Year In, Big Shift in Foreign Policy

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Did the seismic shift in Canada's political landscape, a year ago, following the election on October 19, 2015, also trigger a shift in Canada’s diplomacy, defence and development agenda? To a large extent, yes, and for the most part for the better.

The first strong signal of change in policy came immediately after the election when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared Canada’s intention to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas 2015. The former Conservative government of Stephen Harper had been dragging its feet on this issue and most of Western Europe was devising ways to block their entry.

Canada re-surfaced at the United Nations – the world family of 193 nations. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s disdain, disrespect and disapproval of anything to do with the UN was well-known, resulting in Canada’s isolation at the UN, including losing its bid for a seat at the Security Council, the ultimate decision-making body on world affairs. While Harper rebuffed the UN, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau embraced the world body, and addressed the General Assembly in September declaring, “Canada is back” on the international scene.

Good money after bad

In re-emerging at the UN, Canada also pledged financial assistance to various UN agencies that was withdrawn by the previous Conservative government. One must, however, caution against throwing good money after bad, in the case of UN agencies, as they are rife with inefficiency. The previous Conservative government was adamant in demanding accountability before approving funding for any UN requests for financial assistance.

A country the size and strength of Canada can leverage its influence effectively and efficiently through multilateral organizations. Hence, Canada seems to be enhancing its role in various international and regional organizations, including, the G-20, NATO, and the African Union, among other forums. While pursuing the Canadian agenda through multilateralism remains an essential part of Canadian diplomatic strategy, bilateral relations are also playing an important part, as with Prime Minister’s state visit to China in September and various foreign heads of government knocking on Ottawa’s door.

Pursuit of free trade agreements goes on with the same vigour as under the Conservatives. The Canada-India Free Trade agreement seems to have died with the defeat of the Harper Conservative government. Much too much energy was wasted on this agreement, which at the end was designed to appease Canadian voters of Indian origin, most of whom were not too impressed or thrilled with the blatant and transparent vote-getting antics.

Canada’s relations with the United States of America are foremost on Canada’s diplomatic agenda. Trudeau has restored much needed personal diplomacy with U.S. President Barack Obama, who addressed the Canadian Parliament in June. And, Trudeau was the first Canadian Prime Minister to be hosted at a White House State Dinner, in March, in almost two decades.

Within a year of coming to power, the Liberal government has kept its commitment to climate change agenda, by signing the Paris Agreement on controlling carbon emissions.

Canada has resumed an active role in defence matters, too, with a promise to participate in UN peacekeeping operations. The problem is that while Prime Minister Trudeau committed to providing 600 Canadian Armed Forces troops, we have not found a place to deploy them. The government seems to have put the cart before the horse. 

Showcase our pluralism

Consistent with the previous government, Canada is actively monitoring Russian jockeying in the Baltics and Ukraine. It has pledged to contribute more troops, as part of NATO’s efforts to protect and ensure sovereignty of the Baltic states.

Whereas the Harper government was hostile to an international development agenda and inflicted serious financial cutbacks to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Liberal government has resumed Canada’s role in providing humanitarian and development assistance, be it immediate help in the aftermath of the recent hurricane in the Caribbean or funding women’s education and literacy programs to furthering gender equality, under the aegis of UN agencies.

As for the future, the volume of consular matters will continue to increase and become more challenging, both because of changing demographics and dealing with countries that have different value and legal systems.

Instead of indulging in cost-cutting exercises, Canada needs place more diplomats in foreign missions. We should end the practice of replacing Canadian diplomats with locally-engaged staff.

One hopes that the year-old Trudeau government will continue to make Canada’s presence felt on the international scene, as it has in the past year, and showcase the Canadian experiment in building a pluralistic and multicultural society.

Bhupinder S. Liddar, is a former Canadian diplomat and publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. He can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Published in Commentary
Friday, 16 September 2016 23:44

Canada Repairing Damage at United Nations

Commentary by Bhupinder Liddar

Canada will re-emerge on the world scene, after a decade of absence, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, next week on Tuesday.

 While Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper shunned the 193-member world body, Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to give all he and his delegation can, at the United Nations on September 19 and 20. Canada is looking to “making meaningful contributions to solving important global challenges, such as climate change, international peace and security, and refugees and migration,” according to Prime Minister Trudeau.

“The Government of Canada is committed to redefining its place in the world and promoting core Canadian values like diversity and inclusion, gender equality, and respect for peace worldwide,” according to the statement announcing the Prime Minister’s visit to New York. It adds, Trudeau will advocate for greater global leadership to address refugee and migrant crises, reiterate Canada’s intention to once again play a major role in peacekeeping and conflict prevention efforts, and encourage countries to follow through on the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

This is exactly what Canada is all about and known for on world stage. This is the kind of engagement, on the international level, that befits Canada. These are Canadian values that Canada can project through engagement with the international community at the United Nations.

Charter member

Canada is a founding member of the United Nations, playing a key role in drafting the UN Charter. The intent of setting up the organization by some 50 countries, following the disastrous Second World War, was to establish a regular forum for world leaders to meet and consult on various issues and to help resolve issues before they escalate into full-fledged conflicts or humanitarian disasters.

Foreign leaders, from presidents to prime ministers to foreign ministers meet, often on an informal basis, at the UN General Assembly session every Fall, in New York.

Canada has made tremendous contributions, disproportionate to its size, over the decades, to world peace through its efforts at the United Nations, be it through contributions to peacekeeping operations, development assistance, or just playing the role of an honest broker.

Canada was instrumental in resolving the Suez Canal crisis in 1950s, under the leadership of Foreign Affairs Minister and later Prime Minister Lester Pearson, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts and in helping establish peacekeeping operations.

A Canadian, John Humphreys, played a key role in helping draft UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights – a milestone in the history of human and civil rights. Canada also played a significant role in helping draft the International Law of the Seas Treaty, establish the International Criminal Court, and getting agreement on banning landmines, under the leadership of former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, among many other achievements.

Insulting the UN

Unfortunately, former Prime Minister Stephen Harper shunned and despised the UN. On two occasions, in 2012 and 2013, Harper, while in New York at the same time as the UN General Assembly session, refused the invitation to address it – the most insulting gesture by any leader to the world body.

Harper instead sent, then Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, in his place.

Harper disgraced Canada and its legacy on the international stage. Many thought it hurt Canada’s international reputation.

The international community took note of this slight. Because, when it came time to elect five non-permanent members to the prestigious Security Council of the UN, Canada was defeated for the first time in its attempt to seek a seat, in 2010.

Fortunately, the damage is being repaired and Canada is ready to resume its traditional responsible and active role on world stage. Prime Minister Trudeau announced in March that Canada will seek to win back a seat on Security Council for the 2021-22 term.

He added, “It’s time for Canada to step up once again ...We are determined to revitalize Canada’s role in peace-keeping ...We are determined to help the UN make even greater strides in support of its goals for all humanity”.

Canadians ought to be proud that their country is be back on the international stage, playing an active and much-needed role in making a better world, for all humanity.


Bhupinder S. Liddar is a former Canadian diplomat and founding editor/publisher of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

Published in Commentary
Friday, 05 August 2016 18:39

Canada’s own ‘Trumps’

Canadians fully understand Donald Trump. That’s because they have three of their own – Preston Manning, Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney! For Canadians, Trump is a second viewing of a movie that they have seen before.

Manning broke away from the Progressive Conservative Party in 1987 to form the short-lived, right-wing Reform Party, which morphed into the Conservative Party led by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. While Manning and Harper have been sidelined for lack of support, the youthful political demagogue, Jason Kenney, with his federal conservative leadership ambitions dashed because of his closeness to Harper, is returning to Alberta hoping to lead a united right-wing party.


Read full story

Published in Commentary
Friday, 15 July 2016 15:53

Conservatives and the 'Values' Thing

Commentary by Michael Adams

Even as most of us are glued to coverage of America’s rancorous presidential election campaign, some Canadians — notably committed Conservatives and New Democrats — now face the task of choosing leaders whose ideas and personal identities will rally current supporters, and even attract some new ones.

Few would disagree with the observation that last fall’s election was about values and leadership. And it will be values and leadership that determine who will lead the two parties currently in the midst of leadership contests — and who will lead the country when the Liberals conclude their current mandate.

In the old days, partisan divides in Canada were said to be about the three Rs: religion (Catholic/Protestant), race (French/English) and region (West/Centre/East). Economic interests that fell outside those categories, like union membership, also mattered.

Today, most of these past drivers of party affiliation are either irrelevant or sporadic in their influence. Contemporary political divides have more to do with personal values than traditional group identities or our positions relative to Marx’s means of production.

To understand the social values of Canadians, Environics has conducted annual surveys of people aged 15 and up since 1983. Earlier this year we surveyed over 4,000 Canadians, tracking 74 social values that illuminate our motivations and mindsets as they relate to our roles as citizens, consumers, workers, family members and spiritual beings.

Affinity for multiculturalism

The data shed interesting light on supporters of Canadian political parties. Although over the years we have come to expect certain patterns to recur in partisans’ values, this year we were amazed at just how closely the values of Liberal and Conservative party supporters lined up with the positions and sensibilities their parties expressed during the fall election campaign.

Liberal supporters score high on values associated with diversity: multiculturalism, flexible definitions of the family and ‘social learning’ (the idea that we’re enriched by contact with people different from ourselves).

These values are accompanied by a strong sense of national pride. In many societies, strong patriotism goes hand in hand with xenophobia: I love my country, and don’t want Others to ruin it. For Canadian Liberals, the combination is quite the opposite: I love my country because different kinds of people can coexist peacefully here. Justin Trudeau’s Liberals embody these values strongly.

But Liberals’ affinity with their party’s current image goes deeper. Liberal voters also scored high on nearly all the values associated with personal style, novelty and originality. Although there is nothing novel about the Liberal party itself, a big part of its leader’s appeal was a sense of generational change and youthful flair. The images of Justin Trudeau sporting colourful socks with a sober suit, doing yoga stunts and posing for selfies might seem superficial to his critics, but these playful, spontaneous gestures resonate with Liberal voters who say they strive for such moments of fun and authentic self-expression in their own lives.

The Conservatives, currently being represented ably by interim leader Rona Ambrose, are the party most likely to dislodge the Liberals at the end of their current mandate (if any party does). Their challenge is to find a leader who embodies Conservative values as effortlessly as Trudeau seems to embody Liberal ones.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Conservatives cannot alienate the foreign-born population that represents more than a fifth of Canadians ... nor can they alienate the portions of their base who would be drawn to, if not a Canadian Trump, then perhaps a Canadian Cameron or Sarkozy.[/quote]

The task is not altogether straightforward. Conservatives must find a way to hit the ‘refresh’ button, presenting a new face and approach — without alienating voters who (arguably by definition) have little appetite for change.

Traditional family values

Consider the example of the ‘Traditional Family’ value, which boils down to a belief that a ‘real’ family is a married mom and dad with kids. ‘Traditional Family’ is the single strongest value among those who voted Conservative in the last election. That doesn’t mean that it’s their top priority as a group — but it is the one that distinguishes them most sharply from the national average.

That said, while the other parties remain much more accepting of same-sex marriage overall, Conservatives on average have moved more than anyone else toward acceptance of same-sex marriage over the past decade. This helps to explain the party’s official acceptance of such marriages at its recent convention.

A second tricky value for Conservatives to navigate will be ‘Cultural Assimilation’ — the second strongest Conservative value. This value is the opposite of multiculturalism and registers a belief that it is the duty of immigrants to adopt Canadian customs and values, leaving behind the customs and values of their countries of origin.

One of the great achievements of the Harper government was its success in attracting immigrant voters. Their strong disavowal of anti-immigrant messages yielded rewards at the ballot box. When Harper’s team changed course — most notoriously through Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander’s so-called ‘Barbaric Cultural Practices Hotline’ — they suffered.

The hotline episode gives a hint of the Conservatives’ dilemma on this file. They cannot alienate the foreign-born population that represents more than a fifth of Canadians — including many voters favourably disposed to both fiscally and socially conservative ideas. Nor can they alienate the portions of their base who are driving the high scores on Cultural Assimilation and who would be drawn to, if not a Canadian Trump, then perhaps a Canadian Cameron or Sarkozy.

Conservatives tend to stand out in their support for traditional social structures: religion, father-led families and hierarchical organizational models. Conservative MPs’ recent efforts to block the introduction of gender-neutral language into the national anthem was a smart way to channel supporters’ sentiments, combining a belief in both traditional patriarchal authority and a desire to simply leave existing rituals well enough alone. For them, the fact that something is traditional — regardless of the content of the tradition — holds value in itself.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Conservatives tend to stand out in their support for traditional social structures: religion, father-led families and hierarchical organizational models.[/quote]

Conservatives also stand out in their fear of violence; they are more uneasy than average about the threat of violence in the world, including in their own neighbourhoods at night. Conservatives also believe disproportionately in virtues like duty and a work ethic: They believe people must shoulder their responsibilities with stoicism, not indulge themselves.

After a decade of his leadership, most Canadians and many Conservatives were ready to turn the page on Stephen Harper. But whatever false notes he hit, the former PM did a good job of embodying Conservative ideas and, importantly, conservative sensibilities.

He didn’t pretend to be fun. He worked hard and, except for a rare turn at the piano, met public life with dutiful seriousness. He did nothing if not lead an orderly, hierarchical team governed by extreme loyalty and deference. He admired all manner of traditional institutions and symbols, from the military to the monarchy.

Key differences

The fact that the core values that most differentiate Liberals and Conservatives revolve around orientation to the family and social diversity is both fascinating and meaningful. We are not talking here about the usual fodder for our day-to-day policy debates: medicare, infrastructure, carbon pricing, equalization payments. Instead, values data reveal divergent orientations towards our most fundamental institution — the family — and towards the accommodation of diversity as expressed in culture and sexual orientation.

In the data’s portrait of Liberals, who have been the primary custodians of the progressive values of the country over the past 50 years (often nudged along by the NDP), you see a continuing openness to social change: support for the equality of women and those of various sexual orientations and gender identities, and acceptance — even embrace — of immigration and ethno-cultural diversity.

As the Conservative party selects its next leader, it will need to find someone who can speak to the Canadians who drive their party’s high scores on Traditional Family and Cultural Assimilation without alienating the young, urban, highly educated voters whose social and political clout can only be expected to grow. And as for tone — for the time being Canadians (unlike our American and European cousins) seem to be insisting on civility and cooperation.

Perhaps the next Conservative leader will tackle the next election by fighting sunshine with sunshine — and by finding a way to celebrate Canada Day as enthusiastically as Remembrance Day.

Michael Adams is founder and president of the Environics Institute for Survey Research.

Published under arrangement with

Published in Politics
Thursday, 17 December 2015 14:04

Our Huge Cultural Blindspot

Commentary by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

Donald Trump is the bogeyman. I get it. He’s also the Grinch, Darth Vader and Hitler.

In fact, he was once on an episode of the Simpsons as an imagined future president in a dystopian America.

But in a world of bogeymen, he may just be the most televisual and carnivalesque, not to mention social media friendly.  I wonder what Hitler would have done with all the social and other media currently at demagogues' disposal? Somehow, I think, he wouldn't have been as slick and televisual as Trump — likely more awkward and sweaty like U.S. President Richard Nixon was.

Trump is the id of the American people; the comments section come to life.  He says things openly that other politicians think but dare not speak. He epitomizes the American tradition of waves of immigrants arriving only to demonize the next wave.

In the same way that ISIS (Islamic State) is a very modern horror (as opposed to a recreation of historical Islam), Trump is also the perfect conflation of American obsessions with wealth, race and "security"— and a simplistic worldview. His is a fascism writ large for the Internet age where opinions are formed by memes, sound bites and hysteria rather than historical precedent and analysis. And, he finds fertile ground in America’s growing underclass of the disaffected, uneducated and underemployed, for whom the American dream will never be a reality.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][H]e finds fertile ground in America’s growing underclass of the disaffected, uneducated and underemployed, for whom the American dream will never be a reality.[/quote]

Banning Muslims

And yet, mainstream Republicans are quick to distance themselves from him. A Rasmussen Reports survey says that 66 per cent of Republicans favour Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from America.  And his ideas about walling off Mexico and racially profiling Muslims, are mere knock offs of American ally Israel’s own policies. Hearing the likes of Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu call Trump a racist were rather unconvincing exercises in the kettle calling the pot black. Perhaps they are afraid Trump — or one of his outrageous outbursts — will give away the game.

While Trump may be somewhat confused about the actual way the internet functions, his Republican colleagues seem to have a limited grasp of the concept of international law and what constitutes a war crime.  Besides, Trump’s recent suggestion about shutting down ISIS by blocking its internet access would be right at home in many Middle Eastern police states (and U.S. allies) who have tried — with limited success — to stop various groups from disseminating information via social media.

And Trump is certainly not the first politician to favour showmanship over substance (he is, after all, channeling the ghost of Ronald Regan with his populist, Hollywood ways).

Our Canadian blindspot

And even though we Canadians love to point a collective finger at our neighbours to the South as being the exclusive purveyors of racism, the fact that we have a “mosaic” while they have a “melting pot” is no excuse for a huge cultural blindspot. We just express it “differently’, like say, via forced sterilization of native women in Saskatchewan, or ongoing incarceration of refugee claimants.

There are many different ways of “banning” people from entering a country. Canada has a proud history of doing just that — from anti-Asian exclusion laws, to turning away boatloads of Sikh migrants, Jewish refugees in WW2 or more recently criminalization of Tamil “terrorists.”

Were past Conservative Minister’s like Jason Kenney and John Baird really that different than Trump?

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he fact that we have a “mosaic” while they [America] have a “melting pot” is no excuse for a huge cultural blindspot.[/quote]

While their rhetoric may have differed, their intention was the same. They manifested their Islamophobic policies that mirrored the most right-wing of Israeli policies in a variety of ways.

The previous government’s unprecedented support for Israel began as soon as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected but swelled when the government cut funding to KAIROS — a well regarded NGO deemed too “pro-Palestinian” —in 2009, and reached a peak in 2012 when, alone among G8 leaders, Harper refused to embrace Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan based on pre-1967 borders.

Canada’s vote against a Palestinian bid for statehood later that year (contrary to the wishes of a majority of Canadians, according to polls) further damaged its status at the UN and its international reputation.

Indeed many Canadians are still shocked and embarrassed by Canada’s loss of the UN Security council seat in 2010, which was widely attributed to its pro-Israel Middle East policy — and was often held up by the Harper government as a badge of honour.

Refugee policy

Harper’s policies on refugees were criticized by everyone from Amnesty International, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and No One is Illegal. Just because we have a new photogenic Prime Minister who is bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees does not mean that endemic issues with Canada’s refugee and immigration system will magically disappear, along with all the racist trolls who grace the comments sections of our national dailies.

This Christmas, let’s look beyond the pantomime villains we love to boo and hiss at and unmask the ones hiding behind masks of “respectability.” And let us remember that every pantomime fool reveals uncomfortable truths, even if they arrive via outright lies and outrageous statements.

In a way Trump’s opera buffo shines light onto some rather darker stories we’d rather not dwell on — ones we ignore at our peril. In our zeal to demonize him, let’s not forget that what he reveals — the de facto complicity of more “mainstream” politicos and the deep racism inherent in North American history — may be more important than what he says.

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, was a past editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from Africa and the Middle East for two decades.Hadani is also a musician who believes that world music can be a powerful vehicle for peace.

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Commentary

by Anonymous 

So then, let me now reveal that I was working for a candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada. In our riding, we received a thorough butt-kicking from the electorate. Deservedly so.

When we saw record numbers of voters showing up for the advance polls, the writing was on the wall.  All of us knew that when people stand in line that long, they are driven, passionate – and we knew there was no passion for our campaign.

It was an anti-incumbency wave.

Anatomy of a Defeat

Back in May, I had a telephone conversation with our senior party organizers in Ottawa.  At the end of what was essentially a one-way conversation in which they gave orders, and I was dutifully taking notes, I asked if they wanted to hear what I was learning.

There was a very pregnant pause. Then one of the operatives reluctantly said “yes”.   I told them that I was finding that the party’s policies were receiving good marks, but that the voters and party insiders in our riding were upset with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reported management style.  He was less popular than the party.  That was greeted with another long silence.

That’s why the mandatory candidate school was somewhat mystifying.  National campaign spokesman Kory Teneycke, hired fresh from his disastrous turn at attempting to run the national broadcast service SUN TV, where his marketing strategy was to repeatedly and pointlessly attack the CBC, was up to his old tricks.

He told us that the entire campaign would be based on three principles: attack Justin Trudeau as not being ready; promote Stephen Harper as our sole defender against terrorism; promote Stephen Harper as the only leader capable of managing the economy.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Teneycke] told us that the entire campaign would be based on three principles: attack Justin Trudeau as not being ready; promote Stephen Harper as our sole defender against terrorism; promote Stephen Harper as the only leader capable of managing the economy.[/quote]

Then, Teneycke said the strangest most ill-informed thing, which was echoed throughout the campaign by other Conservative operatives. “We’re not in a popularity contest.”  What was he thinking?  An election IS the biggest popularity contest.

Command and control

Local issues didn’t matter. We were told to forget about producing local brochures and materials – only use the customized versions of the materials that were on the party website.  Most of the materials featured the unpopular Harper, and a bad photo of Trudeau equally prominent. We were told our job was largely to knock on doors and identify voters. 

We felt like mere order takers, programmed to follow whatever headquarters demanded of us.

Oh, and among insiders the word is that no one knocked on more doors than defeated former Toronto-area Finance Minister Joe Oliver. A lot of good that did for him.

No amount of local canvassing and database manipulation could save us from a disastrous national campaign bent on leading with an increasingly unpopular leader, while conducting relentless personal attacks on one of his opponents. 

We were handed this limiting formula and told that if we strayed from it, we could anticipate a stern rebuke from party “policeman” Jenni Byrne.

Trouble from the get-go

There was no vigor evident.  We had trouble raising volunteers or getting people to attend our events – even when party luminaries visited.  I spoke with other campaign managers; they were having the same problem. 

To me, it felt like that moment when the ocean gets calm and withdraws from the shore … just before a tsunami.  Indeed.   

The 11-week campaign was ridiculously long.  However, the messaging of the campaign wasn’t built for an 11-week steeplechase. 

Negative campaigning has a limited lifespan.  At a certain point, people no longer pay attention to it. The negative beat down on Trudeau tended to help the New Democrats at first, as progressives ran to them.  Meanwhile, as Thomas Mulcair moved the NDP to the centre, the voters began to take a second look at Trudeau, perhaps wondering why he was worthy of constant attacks, and engaged by his debate performances. 

One thing is certain: we never caught an updraft from all the attacks on Justin Trudeau.  Quite the contrary, I believe they delivered the majority status to him.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]One thing is certain: we never caught an updraft from all the attacks on Justin Trudeau.[/quote]

New Canadians desert party

Mired in the low 30s in the polls, the Conservative Party began to thrash about.  Teneycke and Byrne were quietly relegated to the second rank.  In came Australian Lynton Crosby with his ultimately destructive niqab strategy. The strategy involved pointing out that Mulcair was not opposed to the wearing of a niqab in public spaces – a position very unpopular in Quebec where the NDP had been dominant in 2011. 

It was intended to loosen the NDP grip on Quebec and garner support for the Conservatives; it did. The unforeseen consequence was that the strategy also eroded and decimated the carefully constructed Conservative values alliance with many new Canadians in areas like the 905 belt around Toronto.  Along with the perceived insensitivity on the Syrian refugee front, new Canadians lost trust in the Conservatives and deserted the party in droves.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][The niqab strategy] eroded and decimated the carefully constructed Conservative values alliance with many new Canadians in areas like the 905 belt around Toronto[/quote]

This gave way to a number of subsequent desperate campaign strategies.

There was the emphasis on the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), which may be a good deal, but reinforced a perception that the Conservatives were secretive and cold and moving ahead without public buy-in.  We were selling an intricate deal that no one was buying.

Then there was the penultimate effort to sell Harper as that warm guy telling us at the end of his radio addresses: “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”  No one was buying the softer, gentler Harper from a party and a leader who had spent the previous nine weeks bashing Trudeau.

I really knew we were cooked when the federal campaign adopted the Jim Prentice Alberta scorched earth desperation strategy.  For the last week, the message became: if you vote for Justin Trudeau, the world will come to an end and (in Ontario) Kathleen Wynne will be your Vice Regent. 

It was too late. What we had all quietly feared and never said, turned out to be true.  We were doomed by a leader who overstayed his welcome and who surrounded himself with incompetent advisors. 

The author, who has chosen to remain anonymous, was a campaign manager for an unidentified candidate who ran in the Oct. 19, 2015, federal election. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

Publisher’s Note - New Canadian Media makes every effort to be transparent in its editorial operations and offers this anonymous writing only as a way for our readers to better understand the electoral process that underpins Canadian democracy. This piece is intended to be non-partisan and consistent with our journalistic criteria of fairness and balance. NCM welcomes comment or reply to this column. 

Published in Politics

by Anonymous

What do you do when every other high school and new Canadian community organization decides it might be nice to host an all-candidates’ meeting?  Must we attend every last debate we get invited to by every obscure community organization looking for the legitimacy and power of getting all the political parties to attend?

There simply isn’t enough time for any candidate to attend every debate, so we often recommend a lunch meeting.

Here’s a secret from inside a campaign: new Canadian communities can get a better hearing from a candidate over a businesslike lunch or breakfast than at a boisterous event.   

Once, I would have advised a candidate to spend time with the leader of an organization or cultural group. That was when leaders of new Canadian communities could deliver their communities’ votes en masse. As new Canadian communities become woven into the fabric of the nation, they are less and less monolithic and loyal to one party. 

Our research showed us there were four linguistic/cultural minorities in our community. We spoke with people in the four communities and three of them said to not bother translating any materials into their mother tongues. For the fourth we did translate a piece, and my candidate took it to their community dinner; none of them appeared to be very impressed. 

Unlike my experience in major cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, in our riding’s major centre of population, minority linguistic and cultural communities are not easy to engage or to find. This may be due to smaller numbers. 

I was at one event and was introduced to a man and I recognized the origin of his name, so I asked him if he was indeed of Punjabi extraction. He excitedly told me that in his many years in the community, no one had previously recognized that fact. That’s life in a smaller city.

Head counting

Maybe you remember the days when enumerators came to the door and the home-typed list of electors was posted on a telephone poll at the end of your street. Technology has changed all that.

As a Campaign Manager, I have been instructed to emphasize knocking on doors over everything else – canvassing. On the surface, it appears to be a fairly low-tech activity. But getting the candidate to the doors isn’t solely about the face-to-face meeting; no, indeed – it’s all about identifying our base supporters. 

You’ll notice that when a candidate or canvasser greets you at the door, there is always a pad or a tablet handy. We are recording whether you are a supporter, leaning to us, voting for another candidate or undecided.

Back in our office, that data from our returning canvassers is scanned with a barcode reader and entered into a database. In my office there is the near-constant beeping of scanners reading voter info. 

We store other information, too – who has a lawn sign; who wants one; who will volunteer; who donated funds, etc. Like most urban Canadian ridings, we have about 100,000 eligible voters. Our primary concern is to find our supporters and to get them to go out and vote, which all of us political types refer to as GOTV (get out the vote). 

Once we know where our supporters reside, we will phone them on election day (what we in the political business call “E Day”). Every hour or so, my authorized scrutineers will visit the polling stations and retrieve from Elections Canada the sheets that provide the names of those who have voted. We call these bingo sheets.  

Getting out the vote

We check the bingo sheets against our list of known supporters, and we will contact our supporters who haven’t yet voted to make sure that they, too, get out to vote.

Party headquarters insists that we use canvassing as a tool, load up the database with identified voters and then get out the vote. But there is also telephoning. An entire industry has grown up around it. First, I can use one of these services to “clean the list”. 

That is to telephone everyone on the list from the previous federal election and eliminate those whose phones are no longer in service. Second, they can call and identify those who are my supporters, a lot faster than going door to door.  

Finally, there is the dreaded “robo-calling”. I had my candidate record her voice on a one-minute recorded message that will be sent to every home phone in the riding.

Not everyone is comfortable with the scanning and database aspects of the campaign. In my campaign, many of the volunteers are seniors and they don’t want to fill in the tiny boxes on the canvassing sheets. So along with the tech, we do it old school. 

Leading up to voting, Elections Canada provides each campaign with three progressively more accurate updated electors lists on thumb drive (preferred) or the voluminous “dead tree” edition. I have to say that the Elections Canada people are hard-working, efficient and conscientious.  Their work is thankless.

Mad stress

My greatest stresses come from inside our camp, like when my candidate gets cornered in a debate and starts to freelance off party policy (I’ll be getting a call from party HQ demanding to know what was that about?). Also, we have the nervous nellies and the cranky people on our team – but they are volunteers, so they require special handling. 

Worst problem is the shortage of volunteers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the campaign … and we are having trouble finding enough of them to get the job done. I’m told that is a widespread problem. Without volunteers, there is no line between me and all manner of people who wander in off the street and demand service and your time. They think we are a retail business, when, we are a business office more than anything else.

Thus, some days while I am sitting in my office trying to write strategy and speeches or buy radio or print ads, I am also dealing with troubled people, people who are upset that we didn’t get lawn signs to them fast enough, and here comes the office cleaning service to request direction on what to do about the kitchen area. 

Indeed, the so-called glamorous life of a campaign manager.

The author, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is a campaign manager for an unidentified candidate running in the forthcoming federal election. Read Part 1 here

Publisher’s Note - New Canadian Media makes every effort to be transparent in its editorial operations and offers this anonymous writing only as a way for our readers to better understand the electoral process that underpins Canadian democracy. This piece is intended to be non-partisan and consistent with our journalistic criteria of fairness and balance. NCM welcomes comment or reply to this column. 

Published in Politics

by Anonymous

As I listened to an elderly woman who had walked in to our campaign headquarters, it began to sink in that I was not in my hometown big city Eastern Canada habitat any more.

She droned on and on about how un-Canadian it is for women to wear the niqab in Canada and how we were certainly headed to Sharia law. It made me reflect upon why I had chosen to become a campaign manager for a candidate in a small community so far from my home.

My candidate had heard about my track record for helping “lost causes” who were seeking office. I’d helped a candidate with a drug conviction and another who was suffering the effects of advancing Multiple Sclerosis. But nothing prepared me for this roller coaster of a campaign.

It’s been a scrappy ride from mid-June until the verge of voting. To begin with, the Official Agent (sort of like the campaign’s chief financial officer) and the candidate had a falling out. That’s not good, because the official agent has to approve every expenditure.

We were saddled with an official agent who was meticulously slow. In fact, his inability to quickly approve expenditures cost us a prime office location. Our official agent was so taken with his own authority that he made it a point to slow up everything and remind us how important he is.

Own goal

My track record of helping “lost causes” has proved useful. But, then, my candidate sent out a torpedo of her own. Just as the campaign was gearing up, she informed me her spouse was leaving because of long-standing differences.

I asked her if the spouse could be convinced to stay put for the few short weeks until the campaign ended. She refused and told me, “Don’t worry, no one will know.”

Within 48 hours the whole riding and residents of all three towns within it knew my candidate’s marriage was over. In our riding, this is a serious issue. Suddenly, I was trying to figure out how to get ahead of this and not let it become a distraction. But no one – not even the sleepy local media – dared to raise it.

Party leader visit

What do you do when the party leader visits and wants to meet the spouse? Which is precisely what happened. We opted to answer that ‘he can’t be here today.’

The biggest challenges for our campaign have been: money, volunteers and messaging. The average Canadian political party in the average riding of about 100,000 residents can spend up to $200,000 during this extended campaign period.

Most riding associations or candidates don’t have that kind of money. We didn’t. So fundraising has become essential. We thought about bringing in a former prime minister as a guest for a fundraising event … but he had a whiff of scandal about him.

And it’s not easy to raise the big sums because the current election laws prevent corporations and organizations from contributing, and individuals cannot give more than $1,500. You can’t buy a lot of influence for that sum.

I’m grateful for these rules.

Party volunteers

As for volunteers, we have party loyalists who have fought on our team on every election back to the Mulroney-Turner era. They straggle in to the office as soon as an election is announced. They are mostly older, mainstream (what someone called “old stock”) Canadians.

I’ve got only four visible minorities in the campaign team of 80 volunteers.

Campaigns are different now. Technology has taken over. All parties start with an electronic voters list from Elections Canada and the race is on to identify as many supporters as possible on that list.

This enables my team to focus on getting out the vote (what we now call GOTV) – our vote – for the advance poll and on election day. In our headquarters we have an entire area that includes barcoded lists and scanners and banks of computers and demographic research, stats and tactics.

All slightly confounding for someone like me – a former journalist with a heavy emphasis on messaging and writing speeches for the candidate.

American influence

I have found messaging to be a struggle because Canadian elections have, in my opinion, been influenced by U.S. presidential elections. In all three of the major party campaigns, even the local materials place enormous emphasis on national leadership.

We were told at campaign school (yes, we had to attend campaign school back in May), that our local candidate and our local issues make little difference to the outcome. We were told that the national/leader’s campaign was the only thing that mattered and that if we strayed off message, we would get a stern rebuke. So we’ve stayed on message, mostly.

Mostly? Well, in a race like this one, where none of the three national leaders appears to be breaking out into a substantial lead, the pressure builds on the local riding campaign manager to develop homemade messaging and campaigning.

That’s where I am right now. I have a regional party boss who watches every move and who will swoop in, if we drift. Yet, I have a local team that on most days is convinced that our candidate can pound the sloppy multiple-term incumbent. Not so easily done. Incumbency has its privileges.

The author, who has chosen to remain anonymous, is a campaign manager for an unidentified candidate running in the forthcoming federal election. 

Publisher’s Note - New Canadian Media makes every effort to be transparent in its editorial operations and offers this anonymous writing only as a way for our readers to better understand the electoral process that underpins Canadian democracy. We’ve made every effort to ensure this piece is non-partisan and meets our journalistic criteria of fairness and balance. NCM welcomes comment or reply to this column. 

Published in Politics
Saturday, 19 September 2015 13:11

Globe Debate Stirs Refugee Crisis Discussion

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

While most of Thursday’s debate between the leaders of Canada’s main federal parties was spent discussing the economy, the three managed to engage in several minutes of fiery debate on how best to intervene in the Syrian refugee crisis.
Hosted by The Globe and Mail and moderated by its editor-in-chief, David Walmsley, the lively debate centered around issues relating to investment, maintaining a balanced budget, and the current housing crisis. However, the mood shifted less than an hour in when the leaders took a break from discussing the housing bubble to addressing immigration, within the larger context of economic policy.  
Both New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau accused Prime Minister Stephen Harper of “fear-mongering” and failing to resettle adequate numbers of migrants.
“Mr. Harper why don’t you stop using the security excuse as a pretext to do nothing, because nobody wants to let somebody in without a security check, but you are doing nothing,” said Mulcair, referring to the Prime Minister’s insistence on screening all potential refugees for fear of terrorism.
Harper was quick to rebut, stating, “I have said we will bring in more [refugees]. But what I have said we will not do, these guys would have had us, in the last two weeks, throwing open our borders and literally hundreds of thousands of people coming without any kind of security check or documentation.”
Trudeau seized upon these words, calling them untrue. “We have a Prime Minister who prefers to pander to fears,” he said.
Refugee health care
The Liberal leader also used this opportunity to critique the Harper government's cuts to refugee health services. Until April, 2012, the federal government covered the costs of drugs and medical care for refugee claimants until they had been in Canada long enough to qualify for provincial coverage. However the support changed in June, 2013, with the government ending almost all supplemental health care benefits.
Harper rejected the accusation that his government had completely ended these services. "The only time we've removed it is where we have clearly bogus refugee claimants who have been refused and turned down," he said. "We do not offer them a better health care plan than the ordinary Canadian can receive."
Harper said that policy is something that both new and "existing and old-stock Canadians agree with."
If elected, the Liberals have pledged to resettle 25,000 refugees before the end of the year while the NDP has promised to accept 10,000. The NDP has also committed itself to accepting 46,000 government-sponsored refugees by 2019 should it win the election this fall.
In January, the Conservatives said that they would accept 10,000 refugees over three years, but recently increased that number by an additional 10,000 people to be resettled over the next four years. So far, Canada has resettled fewer than 2,500 Syrians.
Speeding up process
Conservative MP Jason Kenney insisted on Wednesday that the government will soon announce plans to speed up the process by which refugees from Iraq and Syria are let into the country. He defended the party’s emphasis on security, saying, “At the end of the day, we have to have a manageable number so that we can apply the appropriate screening and focus on the most vulnerable.”
While the NDP and the Liberals continue to debate the resettlement question, the Conservatives seem to have shifted their focus. Last weekend, the Canadian federal government pledged to match up to $100 million in donations to its newly created Syrian Emergency Relief Fund, which supports Syrian refugees currently living in or escaping the country’s conflict. International Development Minister Christian Paradis emphasized that Canada is now deploying more resources in Beirut, Ankara and Amman — cities to where Syrians have fled since civil war broke out in 2011.
Paradis explained that the government will be implementing a "three-pillar-plan" to address the refugee crisis. The plan involves supporting the coalition fight against ISIS, contributing humanitarian aid, and continuing to process refugee applications.
Lifeline Syria
The Conservatives’ declaration answers calls by international humanitarian organizations to help refugees in their current locations as the resettlement process can often take months or even years to complete. It also marks a divergence from public opinion, which was largely in favour of supporting refugees hoping to resettle in Canada.
A Toronto-based refugee resettlement organization called Lifeline Syria has ambitions to bring 1,000 Syrian refugees to the Greater Toronto Area with the support of Canadian sponsor families. According to estimates from the government, it will cost approximately $30,000 for a Canadian family to sponsor a family of four refugees for 12 months.
Just before the government announced the creation of their Relief Fund, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne pledged $10.5 million in provincial funding to help settle refugees in the Ontario and to support international relief efforts.
The federal election is still a month away and while the refugee crisis has only recently been thrust into the spotlight, time will tell how public opinion will translate at the ballot booth.
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Published in Top Stories
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