Thursday, 06 October 2016 19:19

Consulting Citizens on Anti-Terrorism Policy

Commentary by Phil Gurski  

Should governments seek public approval on counter terrorism policy?

By now, I am sure that you are aware of the fact that a referendum carried out by the Colombian government on a peace deal with the FARC guerrillas was narrowly defeated.  The difference between those in favour and those opposed was razor-thin, something like 50.2-49.8%  In other words, the vote could have gone either way.  My reading is that the low turnout was due in part due to bad weather and perhaps some complacency since everyone had predicted a comfortable margin of victory for the yes side (again showing that you can’t always rely on polls).

In a previous blog I argued in favour of a peace accord but also recognized that there were many valid reasons why some Colombians had a hard time accepting an agreement under which terrorists would walk away relatively scot-free after decades of human rights violations.  In the end, those opposed won the day, and while both the government and the rebels have said that they will honour an existing ceasefire, the lack of a way forward does not bode well as many want the conditions for amnesty toughened.

Fundamental question

But, I think there is a more fundamental question that needs to be asked: should the government have gone with a referendum in the first place?  Should Colombians have had a say in the matter?  More broadly, should governments consult their electorates on counter-terrorism policy?

My late father-in-law once told me something very profound.  He had made the acquaintance of the Speaker of (Canadian) Parliament who was an MP from my father-in-law's home riding. The speaker and my father-in-law were once talking about how often governments should ask the opinion of voters on a variety of issues. 

My father-in-law replied, very wisely I thought, that governments do exactly that – every four years.  This consultation is called an election.  Parties put out their platforms and voters cast their ballots, in part, on whether they like what they hear.  We then trust, perhaps naively, in those politicians to do what they said they would. 

In other words, they don’t have to ask us for our views on every little matter.  My father-in-law believed it to be a huge waste of money for our officials to spend on asking us what we think: he felt that they were being paid to make decisions.  He may have been a foreman at Stelco (a steel company in Hamilton) but he had a lot of wisdom to impart.

Nothing gained

What does any of this have to do with terrorism? A lot, actually. Governments seem to think that they need to run counter-terrorism policies by their citizenry before implementing them. This may be admirable, but it is neither efficient nor helpful.  With all due respect to my fellow Canadians, they are not experts in terrorism, nor should they be.  After all, were the government to plan a new strategy to fight cancer, would it ask its citizens to comment on the technical merit of the science involved?

There are opportunities for input aside from elections every four years.  Experts can be brought in to voice their opinions and this is exactly what is done both in parliamentary or Senate hearings and within departments.  Canadians with something to say have ample time to do so.

The fact is that our security intelligence and law enforcement agencies are competent and know how to tackle the terrorism problem. They are constrained in what they do by both laws and policies and there are mechanisms (maybe there should be more parliamentary oversight) to register complaints.

I am not sure what is gained by seeking public approval for counter-terrorism strategy, a position adopted by the Trudeau government with its green paper on national security.  Nor am I certain why the Colombian government opted for a referendum on the peace process with the FARC.

I am not trying to be elitist.  It’s just that we elect governments to do a job and if we don’t like the job they do we kick the bums out of office.  That is how democracy works.  Perhaps, we should leave counter-terrorism strategies to the professionals: those who disagree with how it is being done can always try to sign up and effect change from within.

Phil Gurski worked for more than  three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/

Published in Policy

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

Canada’s foreign policy is caught in a precarious balancing act between the “sunny ways” of election promises and the realpolitik of weapons sales to countries with dubious human rights records.

In his new book, Two Freedoms: Canada’s Global Future, former Senator Hugh Segal suggests a solution that he says is focused, principled, and based on two foundational principles – freedom from fear and freedom from want.

Segal’s expertise in foreign policy was acquired through more than 30 years of involvement in foreign and security policy. This included chairing the Senate Foreign Affairs and Special Anti-Terrorism committees and the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies, as well as a serving term as President of the Institute for Research and Public Policy (IRPP), a non-partisan think tank and research institution.

Introducing his book at a launch hosted by the IRPP in partnership with the Ottawa International Writers’ Festival, he explained that while he has the highest regard for some of Canada’s hardworking diplomats and other foreign service personnel, he is concerned that foreign policy is a mess of shifting priorities swinging from right to left, according to the ideology of the government that happens to be in power.

His aim, he said, is to give some clarity and direction to foreign policy, which in his opinion, should not be dependent on party politics.

The launch took the form of a conversation between Segal and Jennifer Ditchburn, Editor-in-Chief of Policy Options, the magazine affiliated with IRPP.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences . . ."[/quote]

More foreign aid

Elaborating on freedom from want, Segal said it is in Canada’s interest to see that families, communities and nations around the world live in reasonable prosperity, buoyed by a sense of hope for the future.

“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences, not only for those living in despair, but for their neighbouring communities and countries,” he pointed out, adding that the total absence of hope leads to violent behaviour based on a “nothing-to-lose” attitude.

“Putting those two freedoms – freedom from want and from fear – at the centre of our foreign policy would make it more coherent and the world would understand better what we stand for as Canadians,” Segal said.

He added that if extreme poverty is the root cause of violence, we have to ask ourselves what we can do to diminish this cause.

“I think that both in terms of foreign aid and international development and in terms of doing our fair share militarily, we are not doing enough,” he said. “In the [Prime Minister] Lester Pearson era we contributed 0.7 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) to foreign aid, but in recent years our numbers have been much lower.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently pledged to boost funding to the global fight against HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, but said Ottawa will not meet the goal to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on foreign aid anytime soon.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action . . . [/quote]

Increase military capacity

Another key point that Segal makes in his book and highlighted at the event, is that Canada needs to reinforce its values-based foreign policy with an appropriate military capacity.

“We have a great military, but we need more of them,” he said. “Canada should probably have Armed Forces of 150,000, of which 100,000 are regular forces and 50,000 are reserves rather than our present number which is in the 50,000 to 60,000 range.”

He said Canada also needs a 60-ship fighting navy, rather than one that has 20 or 30 ships, that can be deployed on humanitarian and diplomatic missions “to send a clear message about Canadian values.”

Giving some examples of how such military strength could help Canadians and those abroad, Segal said, “We need to make sure the Chinese respect the territorial integrity of Taiwan and other people.”

“Our failure to engage with [Bashar al-] Assad three or four years ago is why we have such a horrendous situation now,” he added, referring to the ongoing civil war in Syria.

Using a Western Canadian expression, he said: “We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action or even the capacity for action.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy.”[/quote]

Decline since Chrétien era 

“There has to be more cohesion between our foreign policy and defence policy,” he emphasized.

Segal’s central thesis is strongly reminiscent of a 2003 publication While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World by Ottawa writer Andrew Cohen. Both authors lament the decline of Canada’s foreign policy and its military, especially since the glory days of Prime Minister Pearson.

Both consider that it took a turn for the worse under the leadership of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. Segal points out that in that era, by sending delegations of Canadian business people and politicians around the world to increase trade, it became necessary to tread carefully so that no potential trading partner would be offended.

Both Segal and Cohen call for a values-based approach.

“The notion that this book might contribute to that debate in some constructive way would be my fondest hope,” said Segal.


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Susan Korah (@waterlilypool) in Ottawa, Ontario

Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced a moratorium on further Senate appointments, seemingly hoping it will lead to the natural demise of the Upper House. Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair has also called for the abolition of this “archaic system”, while Liberal leader Justin Trudeau envisions a reformed Senate independent of party affiliation.

Some argue though that despite its failings, the Senate has some merit, because it has made fairly significant strides in representing Canada’s ethnic diversity.

“In recent years the Senate has come to bolster representation of groups underrepresented in Parliament such as [Aboriginal peoples], visible minorities and women,” says a note on the Senate’s own website.

At first glance, the current membership of the Senate would appear to be impressively diverse, with nearly all eight visible minority senators marking a historical milestone with their appointment: Salma Ataullahjan, Conservative, first Pakistani; Anne Cools, independent, born in Barbados, first Black; Tobias Enverga, Conservative, first Filipino; Mobina Jaffer, Liberal, born in Uganda, first Muslim; Don Meredith, Conservative, first Jamaican; Thanh Hai Ngo, Conservative, first Vietnamese; Victor Oh, Conservative, born in Singapore of Chinese descent and Yonah Martin, Conservative, first Korean.

Not a true mirror of diversity

But Kai L. Chan, a non-partisan researcher from Toronto who is currently based in Dubai, strongly disagrees that this truly represents the diversity of Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Chan concludes that with 23.3 per cent of visible minorities in the population, and fewer than 10 per cent in both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and Senate fail miserably in mirroring the diversity of Canada.[/quote]

His September 2014 report entitled Canada’s Governing Class: Who Rules the Country? shows that the federal New Democratic Party comes closest to matching Canada’s visible minority and gender realities.

Chan concludes that with 23.3 per cent of visible minorities in the population, and fewer than 10 per cent in both Houses of Parliament, the House of Commons and Senate fail miserably in mirroring the diversity of Canada.

Similarly, Leo Housakos, appointed 44th Speaker of the Senate on May 4, 2015, had scathing comments on Canada’s multiculturalism policy. 

In an article published in the Globe and Mail on March 11, 2013, Housakos, the son of Greek immigrant parents, wrote:

“[B]eneath any good intentions, was a political strategy to buy ethnic votes. Multiculturalism became a state-financed marketing program. The government used tax dollars to buy photo ops with ethnic leaders ... It would translate into broader support in general elections.”

An ongoing journey

Opinion is sharply divided on whether or not the presence of visible minority senators in the Red Chamber is advancing the goal of political and social inclusion for all Canadians.

“It’s micro-targeting the ethnic voter,” says Andrew Cardozo, President of the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy, an Ottawa think-tank that focuses on several policy areas including immigration and democratic reform. “The eight visible minority senators don’t play a major role in the mainstream of Senate affairs. They are not movers or shakers, but toe the party line.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][Andrew Cardozo] points out when “ethnic” senators are photographed, for example, hosting an Iftar dinner (to break the fast observed by Muslims during Ramadan) at the prime minister’s residence, or welcoming the prime minister of India, it creates the illusion among voters of certain communities that they truly belong.[/quote]

Cardozo says all political parties make this kind of appointment and that it is not the exclusive practice of any one of them.

He points out that when “ethnic” senators are photographed, for example, hosting an Iftar dinner (to break the fast observed by Muslims during Ramadan) at the prime minister’s residence, or welcoming the prime minister of India, it creates the illusion among voters of certain communities that they truly belong.

Cardozo concedes that there are some notable exceptions such as Conservative Donald Oliver – the first Black Canadian man to be appointed to Senate – who retired in 2013. Oliver raised $500,000 to initiate the Conference Board of Canada’s 2005 study that shed light on the barriers preventing visible minorities from advancing in private and public sectors in Canada.

Goldy Hyder, former Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Joe Clarke and currently President and CEO of Hill and Knowlton Strategies, a public relations and communications company, strongly disagrees with Cardozo.

“It’s not fair to suggest that these (visible minority) senators are not playing a significant role,” he says. “Some are making a concerted effort and others with less political experience are learning on the job.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Political parties have a responsibility to reach out and attract a diverse base of qualified people. But it’s also up to members of visible minority communities to put up their hands and participate in the political process.” - Goldy Hyder[/quote]

Hyder says from his perspective – without reference to statistics – the Senate has become more ethnically diverse in recent times. “There is still much to be done, and it’s an ongoing journey,” he adds.

He emphasizes that inclusion is a dual responsibility.

“Political parties have a responsibility to reach out and attract a diverse base of qualified people,” he says. “But it’s also up to members of visible minority communities to put up their hands and participate in the political process.”

Experiences of one ethnic senator

Senator Salma Ataullahjan, the first Pakistani Canadian to be appointed Senator, concurs with Hyder. She says it is critical for all ethnic communities to get involved politically – whether by voting, participating in community work or coming forward as candidates.

Ataullahjan, who marked the fifth anniversary of her appointment as senator in July, practises what she preaches. Arriving in Canada in 1980 from Pakistan, she pursued a career in real estate, and while raising two daughters, became deeply engaged in community work, volunteering for a number of organizations that help people in Pakistan and Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“In my case, the Prime Minister wanted a Muslim voice in his party’s caucus.” - Senator Salma Ataullahjan[/quote]  

Finally, she ran as the Conservative party candidate from Mississauga-Brampton in the 2008 election, but was not discouraged when she didn’t win. “That’s how I came to the party’s attention,” she tells New Canadian Media. “Two years later, when Prime Minister Harper appointed me to the Senate, it was a dream come true.”

Asked if she was chosen to represent her ethnic community, she says “yes,” pointing out 3.2 per cent of Canada’s population is of Pakistani origin.

“In my case,” explains Ataullahjan, “the Prime Minister wanted a Muslim voice in his party’s caucus.”

Reiterating her consistent message to all ethnic communities, she says: “It’s important to be involved despite the challenges of immigrating to a new country and to be at the table where decisions are made.”

{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Politics

by Amanda Connolly 

A report released by the Senate national security committee is sparking anger from one of the country’s largest Canadian Muslim organizations and has Liberal members of the committee distancing themselves from its controversial recommendations over concerns they could stigmatize the Muslim community.

The report was released Wednesday into an already politically charged public discourse about national security and cultural stigmatization ahead of the scheduled Oct. 19 federal election.

It issued 25 recommendations, including suggestions that the federal government encourage the provinces to take steps to prevent “vexatious” libel lawsuits against individuals who accuse others of having ties to extremist groups or activities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This report, while ostensibly about improving national security, in fact stigmatizes and marginalizes Canadian Muslim communities and portrays them as a threat rather than as a partner in the fight against violent extremism.” - Ihsaan Gardee, National Council of Canadian Muslims[/quote]

The National Council of Canadian Muslims blasted the report Thursday, saying it demonizes members of the Muslim community and doesn’t adequately acknowledge the risks posed by other extremist elements of society.

“This report, while ostensibly about improving national security, in fact stigmatizes and marginalizes Canadian Muslim communities and portrays them as a threat rather than as a partner in the fight against violent extremism,” says Ihsaan Gardee, NCCM’s executive director.

“The issue of violent extremism is real and one which all Canadians take seriously and yet it is hard to understand how a poorly drafted and poorly researched report which is replete with contradictions and mischaracterizations will do anything more than provide talking points on the election circuit,” Gardee said. “We note with appreciation that three Senators dissented on this report, including the committee’s deputy chair, which indicates that our concerns are shared by those who were directly working on this report and privy to the process leading to its compilation.”

Some recommendations 'redundant', 'inoperable'

While media reports about the recommendations on Thursday focused on the call from senators for a No-Visit List that would ban those deemed “ideological radicals” from entering Canada, less attention has been paid to the 24 other recommendations outlined in the report.

Among them are: calls for legislation to protect Canadians who state or imply that others might have ties to radicalism; for provinces and Muslim communities to consider requiring training programs for and certification of imams; for the government to ban the glorification of terrorism; to amend the Criminal Code to allow terrorism charges to be laid without the approval of federal or provincial attorneys general; and that CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) develop a protocol for screening citizens involved in community outreach.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“How do you implement a ‘No-Visit List?’ How do you tell one religious group they need a seminary when we don’t tell every group?” - Senator Grant Mitchell[/quote]

Three senators — all Liberal — dissented from the report, with the deputy chair of the committee, Senator Grant Mitchell, among them.

“Some of the recommendations are redundant and some of it is just inoperable,” Mitchell told iPolitics when asked why he dissented. “How do you implement a ‘No-Visit List?’ How do you tell one religious group they need a seminary when we don’t tell every group?”

In particular, the recommendation for legislation to limit “vexatious litigation” by those accused of having ties to extremism has critics of the report worried.

The senators wrote in the report that “on a number of occasions, primarily in the context of public debate about terrorism, extremism and radicalization, plaintiffs have claimed to be defamed and have launched lawsuits against those whom they alleged to have inflicted reputational damage upon them by stating or implying they had an association or affinity with radicalism.”

The report continued that, “It is a growing worry, including in the province of Ontario, that some interests may be abusing their access to courts by commencing lawsuits aimed at chilling the speech of defendants, and sending a deterrent signal to the broader population.”

However, Gardee says that suggestion is ludicrous.

“A recommendation whose stated aim claims to ensure the protection of Canadians who are participating in public discourse from vexatious litigation but which, in fact, amounts to nothing more than a direct attack on the ability of individuals and institutions – and by extension, entire communities – to defend themselves from false allegations and attempts to smear and target them for political or other purposes,” said Gardee.

Report raises more questions than answers

It’s not clear yet what will come of the report or whether any of the recommendations will be implemented.

However, Mitchell says there is a lot of work left to be done on examining the plethora of issues affecting Canadian national security, citing the need for further study on areas like cyber-crime.

“There’s more questions raised by this examination than answers,” he said. “It was very difficult to find people who would say they had expertise on this issue.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“... [The report's] tone reads like a colonial document dictating a primarily one-way relationship with minority communities and suggesting that the state has the final say on determining who can and cannot participate in our communities and in our democracy.” - Ihsaan Gardee, National Council of Canadian Muslims[/quote]

Gardee voiced similar concerns, saying the report did not devote enough attention to other forms of extremism and the diverse threats faced by Canadians.

“It also must be said that the disproportionate focus on the Canadian Muslim community also means that significant threats of radicalization, including those emerging from right-wing extremists, were not even considered. This despite several recent reports and expert testimony stating that this threat is a major pre-occupation of Canadian security agencies,” says Gardee.

“Far from being a necessary conversation about violent extremism, this report and its recommendations are redundant, contradictory and misleading on many fronts. In addition, its tone reads like a colonial document dictating a primarily one-way relationship with minority communities and suggesting that the state has the final say on determining who can and cannot participate in our communities and in our democracy.”


Published in Partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Top Stories

by L. Ian MacDonald

Now comes the reckoning — not just for the Senate, but also for Auditor-General Michael Ferguson, who spent $21 million investigating its travel and living expenses.

And what do we have to show for two years of work by Ferguson’s own team and numerous outside auditors looking into everything from flights to cab slips and coffee? A grand total of $975,600 of alleged ineligible expenses — more than half of them incurred by five senators who are now retired and no longer sitting in the Red Chamber.

(The key word here is ‘alleged’. Nothing has been proved. Our system is based on such concepts as the presumption of innocence and the rule of law. In the age of 24/7 news and social media, it’s important to remember that — even if the media don’t.)

Seven former and two sitting senators have seen their expense claims referred to the RCMP. Another 21 members of the Upper House have been named in the report, and all 30 of them have the option of making their cases directly to Ian Binnie, the former Supreme Court justice named last month as the independent arbiter in disputes between the auditor-general and senators.

Binnie was brought in by the Senate leadership — Speaker Leo Housakos, Conservative Leader Claude Carignan and Liberal Leader James Cowan — who were themselves named among the Senate 21. To avoid the appearance of benefiting from a process they created, they’re deferring on arbitration and have repaid what they’re alleged to owe.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Senators on both sides of the aisle, Conservatives and Liberals alike, will avail themselves of the opportunity to make their case to Binnie. They’re very angry that their reputations have been sullied by the AG, and furious at how their staffs have been treated by Ferguson’s hired help.[/quote]

In Carignan’s case, it was $3,650 in mileage claims by a staffer. In Cowan’s it was $10,000 for travel deemed personal. In the case of Housakos, it was $6,000 for a contractor he brought in rather than hiring someone full time, as he could have done. He probably saved the Senate at least $50,000, but … never mind, Alice. Welcome to the tea party.

A fourth Senate leader, Deputy Speaker Nicole Eaton, decided to reimburse the Senate $3,600 for flights to her hometown of Toronto for meetings of voluntary boards on which she sits, including the St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation, the National Ballet of Canada, the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies and the Gardiner Museum. The AG found these trips were for “personal interests.” But as the Canadian Press reported: “Eaton points out that the ethics and conflict of interest code for senators specifically declares that senators are expected to continue their activities in their communities and regions while serving the public.” No kidding.

Senators on both sides of the aisle, Conservatives and Liberals alike, will avail themselves of the opportunity to make their case to Binnie. They’re very angry that their reputations have been sullied by the AG, and furious at how their staffs have been treated by Ferguson’s hired help — in some cases kids recently out of accounting school who wouldn’t know Parliament Hill from third base.

For example, Manitoba Senator Don Plett was on holiday in Calgary in 2011 when he received a call from then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews asking him to fly to Ottawa to meet the commissioner of Correctional Services. He flew direct from Calgary; the AG maintains he should have paid his own way home to Winnipeg first and caught a flight back from there, and says he owes a $700 differential in airfare. I’m not making this up.

Plett has repaid about $3,000 in other expenses he and his staff flagged for the auditors, but will take the $700 in disputed airfare to Binnie. “I feel very strongly,” he said, “that travel at the request of a minister of the crown is Senate business.” He’s got a point.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]It isn’t just senators’ reputations that are on the line — it’s Ferguson’s as well.[/quote]

Manitoba Senator Janis Johnson is looking at $22,000 in contested travel claims, some of it involving her role as founder of the non-profit Gimli Film Festival, which is a cultural and tourism magnet in her community. Last summer, she said, 12,000 people attended the week-long festival in July on the shores of Lake Winnipeg. It has also, she said, “created five full-time jobs in the community.”

Among other things, during uncounted hours of grillings by outside auditors, she was once asked why she took a cab back to her hotel at night in Halifax from a hearing she was chairing on Canada-U.S. relations. She was also asked about postage for greeting cards sent to colleagues in the U.S. Senate. While the auditors were nickel-and-diming her, their ownmetres were ticking.

It isn’t just senators’ reputations that are on the line — it’s Ferguson’s as well. Leave aside for a moment the nine senators referred to the RCMP; should Binnie dismiss his conclusions about many or most of the Senate 21, Ferguson’s reputation for competence — not to mention that of his consultants — would be in trouble. He’d need to consider his own future at that point, if only for the integrity and standing of the AG’s office.

'Above All, Do No More Harm'

As for the Senate, there’s no question that, in reputational and collective terms, this has been a terrible time for the Red Chamber.

What is to be done for it?

No one is going to say, ‘Senate, heal thyself’. We’re way beyond that now; the public sees the Senate as fundamentally dysfunctional. But to borrow a phrase from the medical profession, it isn’t too late to say, ‘Above all, do no more harm.’

This applies not only to the Senate, but to leaders in the Commons. In this regard, the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision on the Senate reference is required reading.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Abolishing the Senate requires the unanimous consent of Ottawa and the provinces.[/quote]

In its landmark decision, the court found that the Senate “is one of Canada’s foundational political institutions.” The court was clearly guided by “the intent of the framers.” As they wrote: “The contrast between election for members of the House of Commons and executive appointment is not an accident of history. The framers of the Constitution Act 1867 deliberately chose executive appointment of Senators in order to play the specific role of a complementary body of ‘sober second thought’.”

Reforming the executive appointment process requires a constitutional amendment under the 7/50 general amending of Parliament and seven provinces representing 50 per cent of the population. Abolishing the Senate requires the unanimous consent of Ottawa and the provinces.

Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair says he would begin consulting the premiers with a view to abolishing the Senate soon after forming a government. Sure, Tom … just ask the premier of Prince Edward Island to give up his province’s four seats in the Senate. Just ask the premiers of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to give up their 10 seats.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Whatever way forward we take on the Senate, we ought to be guided by two rules — decency and common sense.[/quote]

Ask the premier of Quebec to give up his province’s 24 Senate seats. (Actually, Philippe Couillard is open to a constitutional conversation, provided it includes a Quebec Round. As Stephen Harper pointed out from the G7 meeting, a constitutional round is a complete non-starter.)

But neither can the Senate be abolished by attrition. There are now 20 vacancies in the 105-seat Senate, and there’s going to be a court case on whether the PM should be obliged to fill vacancies within a reasonable period. Reading the Supreme Court’s 2014 Senate reference case, it’s pretty clear the government would lose in the high court. Again.

Justin Trudeau has suggested Senate nominations by an eminent persons panel — and as long as they were confirmed by executive appointment, this would fit perfectly within constitutional bounds. Former prime minister Brian Mulroney has suggested appointments by the PM from ranked lists furnished by the provinces, as was the case under the Meech Lake Accord.

Whatever way forward we take on the Senate, we ought to be guided by two rules — decency and common sense — both of which appear to have gone missing.


L. Ian MacDonald is editor of Policy, the bi-monthly magazine of Canadian politics and public policy. He is the author of five books. He served as chief speechwriter to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney from 1985-88, and later as head of the public affairs division of the Canadian Embassy in Washington from 1992-94. The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.

Published in Partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Commentary

by Yamina Tsalamlal of iPolitics.ca

A Senate committee report says the government needs to do more to attract francophone immigrants to communities outside of Quebec if it hopes to meet its own targets.

The report, which was released Tuesday by the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages, warns that the government risks falling short of its goal of having 4.4 per cent of all francophone immigrants settle outside Quebec.

The study was commissioned in 2013 as the government was introducing the new measures to focus on economic immigrants. The same year, it also set the 4.4-per-cent target. This has not yet been met and the government now hopes to achieve this by 2018.

Senator Claudette Tardif, who chairs the committee, said she is concerned that the government will fall short.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Government needs to take targeted positive measures to make sure it meets its immigration target and that it provides the opportunity for official minority language communities to take full advantage of immigration.”[/quote]

“The important point is no one is asking for policy changes, no one is asking for exceptions be made in any way, I think it’s just recognizing that across Canada … if we’re only bringing in 2 per cent or even less francophone immigration, this does not bode well for the vitality of French language in minority communities,” Tardif said.

She adds that the existing target is pretty low and that she hopes to see the number raised.

The report made nine recommendations, including the request for a national strategy to develop minority language communities through immigration and that a francophone component be included in the new Express Entry system, which takes effect January 1, 2015.

Tardif says a national strategy is the only way to make the target because as it stands the government isn’t taking proactive steps to attract francophone immigrants. She says she isn’t sure what the plan would entail but it would include a co-ordinated effort among the federal government, the provinces and territories and municipalities.

“Government needs to take targeted positive measures to make sure it meets its immigration target and that it provides the opportunity for official minority language communities to take full advantage of immigration.”

This plan could be a combination of making employers aware of bilingual applicants and more recruitment in French-speaking countries. She also says it’s important to consult with French language community organizations.

Suzanne Bossé, executive director of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, which was consulted for the study, agrees that a co-ordinated effort is necessary for the complex issue of immigration that includes many stakeholders. She says the strategy has to range from recruitment to employment to settlement and integration.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[...]if we’re only bringing in 2 per cent or even less francophone immigration, this does not bode well for the vitality of French language in minority communities,”[/quote]

She says she is disappointed that groups like hers weren’t consulted during the making of the express entry database.

“There’s a major issue here because the express entry has been presented by the federal government as the tool that will make all the difference,” but it is seriously lacking she adds.

But the department of Citizenship and Immigration, which started consultations in September with francophone community groups, says it is looking after the francophone community.

“As part of the consultations with stakeholders, CIC is exploring how the Express Entry system could help bring more francophone immigrants to Canada,” Nancy Caron, spokesperson for Citizenship and Immigration Canada, said in an email.

Bossé says that the FCPC is finally meeting with the department of citizenship and immigration but it’s a little too late as the database will roll out without the input of French-speaking minority communities. She says they have been trying for two years to meet with CIC.

“The minister failed to see the opportunity to include the francophone lens,” Bossé says. 


Re-published with permission.

Published in Top Stories

by Themrise Khan

Political and religious turbulence, violent militancy and natural disasters are nothing to brag about — but for many foreign expatriates arriving in Pakistan over the past decade, it was a thrill to be caught up in the middle of all this turmoil. I often heard them say, “It’s such an exciting time to be in Pakistan.”

After all, they knew it was only a temporary sojourn for them.

It is one thing to find a country’s politics “exciting” as a temporary visitor. It is another thing completely to try and understand it as an immigrant making a new home.

Most new immigrants to Canada, particularly those arriving from politically fragile states such as Pakistan, come with high expectations of political stability and honest politics. After all, Canada’s model of a stable liberal democracy is what attracts many immigrants in the first place.

Surprising similarities

But where politics is concerned, it’s surprising how similar all countries can be, albeit on different scales and levels. As such, newspaper headlines have unearthed a Canada that was difficult for many Canadians to comprehend and even more difficult for newcomers to the country.

It began for me with the return of the prodigal son, Justin Trudeau, a welcome addition to an otherwise lacklustre political landscape. At least for now, Trudeau is a party leaders following in his father’s footsteps, and, ironically, the West has always looked upon political dynasties with suspicion (To wit, the Bhuttos in Pakistan, the Gandhis in India, and the Aquinos in the Philippines, to name a few). Yet, Canada now faces the choice of ushering in a political dynasty of its own — all because of a lack of a strong political opposition base, something one would not expect in a western liberal democratic state.

The Senate scandal

This was followed by the all-consuming, never-ending Senate expense scandal. The story began simply enough but soon degenerated into a sordid affair, complete with outright denial by all parties involved. For many immigrants, scandals like this are all too common and almost accepted as part of political life in their respective homelands.

It is what the western world loves to use as a trump card to promote its ideals of “good governance.” But when it happens in one’s own backyard, albeit on a much smaller scale, it is reminiscent of how easily any nation can slip into denial of its political imperfections.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]But when it happens in one’s own backyard, albeit on a much smaller scale, it is reminiscent of how easily any nation can slip into denial of its political imperfections.[/quote]

Rob Ford saga

Speaking of denial, the Rob Ford saga left many of us new immigrants speechless, as much as it did Canadians and others around the world. In many of our birth countries, our politicians rule the streets and the cities with their might, and get away with it. But to see the mayor of Canada’s largest city — the top destination for immigrants — barely accept responsibility of his own wrongdoings and then actually decide to run again made a lot of us feel quite at home, ­ but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.

There were several other news events interspersed among the headlines that newcomers like myself did not expect in Canada, at least not in such quick succession. To name a few: the resignation of Montreal’s mayor over corruption charges (following his predecessor’s resignation for the same reason); Canada’s refusal to sign and/or withdraw from several United Nations (UN) treaties, including the (Small) Arms Trade Treaty and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification; the defunding of abortions for war rape victims and some poor scores on the Global Gender Gap Report.

Add to that an underhandedly racist Quebec Charter of Values, the so-called Robocalls exposé, a hidden world of temporary foreign workers, the muzzling of scientific expression, an unabashed preference for economic gain over global human rights, and, occasionally, I feel like I am back in my country-of-birth again.

Silence of citizens

Not counting the umpteen public polls conducted by Canadians (it seems like almost a national pastime here), the most perplexing thing to a new immigrant about Canadian politics is the silence of its citizens.

For many new immigrants coming from politically weak states, the desire to participate in the political culture of our adopted home is great. Here, we have the rare opportunity to speak our minds without fearing for our lives and reputations, and of truly contributing to making our community, city, and country a better place. But. instead. immigrants to Canada repeatedly heard bland statements from politicians about “Canadian values” and “Canada’s place in the world,” with virtually no rumblings from its own citizens about accountability over any of these unfortunate events.

The overarching political story this year is the run up to the next federal elections in 2015. Most new immigrants will not yet be eligible to vote in these elections. But, if voter turnout is viewed as the key indicator of active political engagement in Canada, then, unfortunately, the numbers do not match up. Voter participation fell over 14 per cent between 1988 and 2011, according to Elections Canada. Ironically, in Pakistan, a country plagued with martial law and rigged elections, voter turnout increased by almost 12 per cent between 1988 and 2013 — an interesting dichotomy, of stability leading to political apathy, perhaps.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Ironically, in Pakistan, a country plagued with martial law and rigged elections, voter turnout increased by almost 12 per cent between 1988 and 2013 — an interesting dichotomy, of stability leading to political apathy, perhaps.[/quote]

So what does all of this translate into for a new immigrant to Canada in the early 21st century? It definitely shows that politics is in many ways plagued by the same integrity issues in both rich and poor nations, albeit with some variations.

For new immigrants, though, the difference lies in the fact that in many of our countries of origin, hope is diminishing on several counts. For Canada, however, there is still a great deal of hope and potential for political vibrancy. It is this hope that immigrants also want to be a part of, so that we too can claim “its an exciting time to be in Canada!” We just need to ensure that the excitment is for all the right reasons.

Themrise Khan is a freelance social policy research professional and a recent immigrant to Canada. She has a keen interest in issues of migration and migrant diasporas, as well as foreign policy and international relations.

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Published in Commentary

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