by Shan Qiao in Toronto     

Women’s rights advocates are looking for influential Canadian female figures to join a national women’s coalition to raise awareness about women’s issues and get more government funding. 

On Mar. 5, the third day of the National Metropolis Conference, a roundtable titled “Changing Support to Women’s Organizations: Implications For Immigrant Women” was hosted by Debbie Douglas, the executive director of the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI). 

Other presenters included representatives from Status of Women Canada and several frontline workers from different women’s organizations serving specific ethno-cultural groups or geographically located clients. 

“The opportunity arose when we brought all different women’s organizations from across the country together,” said Douglas. “What we saw happening was that by the end of it, there was real enthusiasm for a network and very concrete suggestions on holding a national women’s symposium on a broader range of women’s issues.” 

A national women’s coalition 

What these women’s organizations try to build are networks that include indigenous women, immigrant and refugee women, lesbian and trans-women, and moms facing problems like finding affordable childcare and returning to the workplace. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We need to get together as Canadians, regardless how long we’ve been in this country.”[/quote]

“We need to get together as Canadians, regardless how long we’ve been in this country,” Douglas urged. 

Some issues they want to examine are violence against women across all races, cultures and classes; wage gaps and women not being able to advance in careers because of gender discrimination; and limited childcare spaces. 

As a result of an engaging roundtable discussion, one of the participants, Fatima Filippi, the executive director of Rexdale Women’s Centre in Toronto, proposed the idea to form a national women’s coalition to gather different women’s service groups together, asking for government support and sustainable funding. 

The roundtable participants brainstormed on who should be involved and suggested groups for immigrant women, mothers, foreign caregivers, women from shelters and feminists. 

Participants also proposed inviting influential female figures, such as the Minister of Status of Women Canada Patricia Hajdu and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who is the prime minister’s wife. 

Deteriorating funding 

Government funding for women’s organizations has been continuously deteriorating from when it was at its peak in the ’80s, explained Douglas. 

Yannick Raymond, regional director of Status of Women Canada in Ontario, comes from one of four locations across the country that works for the ministry to deal with all stakeholders. There used to be 16 locations before former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government took power and closed 12 of them. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][W]omen’s advocates say they are starting to see a change in tone, which at a minimum slows the downfall of the women’s movement in Canada.[/quote]

Raymond was among a dozen stakeholders who discussed women’s issues from the perspective of the government. She praised Hajdu, who she said has a thorough understanding of current women’s issues based on her past social and community service experience. 

As for the new Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, women’s advocates say they are starting to see a change in tone, which at a minimum slows the downfall of the women’s movement in Canada. 

“Beginning with Brian Mulroney’s government, we started to see a real cut in social programs, followed by the Liberal government that stayed in power for almost 13 years, who really did deepen cuts, but still had the language and values of supporting women’s organization,” explained Douglas. “In comes Harper. They changed the mandate of Status of Women where all references to women’s equality were removed.” 

Douglas continued, “We saw the closing of significant women’s organizations, immigrant women’s organizations, and indigenous women’s organizations.” 

Looking forward to change 

An earlier workshop, also hosted by Douglas, titled “Impact of Ten Years of Conservative Rule on Women’s Political Organizing”, shared the same perspective on the deteriorating changes to women’s organizations due to funding cuts. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Twenty years ago, Canada ranked first in women’s equity. Now we are 14th. We were way worse under Harper."[/quote]

Writer and activist Judy Rebick who gained national prominence as president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women in the early ’90s, quoted statistics from a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Canada’s inequality index number to explain the funding cuts. 

“Twenty years ago, Canada ranked first in women’s equity. Now we are 14th. We were way worse under Harper. The lack of connections between the government and women’s advocacy was huge,” she said. 

However, Douglas remains optimistic. 

“Come 2015, we see the articulation by a prime minister who talks about the importance of women’s representation. For example, 50 per cent of his cabinet is female, his attention on indigenous issues. He at least articulates a value for wanting to see immigrant and racialized women succeed,” Douglas said of Trudeau, adding, “We’ll have to see what’s in the budget.”

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Published in Top Stories
Friday, 11 December 2015 13:51

Inclusion, Diversity Bode Well Under Trudeau

Commentary by Andrew Griffith in Ottawa

The Liberal government has emphasized its diversity and inclusion language in speeches, cabinet ministers, committees and mandate letters. This emphasis has been reinforced by the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage. Taken together, these represent mainstreaming of diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism to an unparalleled extent.

It starts with the language of Prime Minister Trudeau who regularly emphasizes that:

Canadians understand that diversity is our strength. We know that Canada has succeeded — culturally, politically, economically — because of our diversity, not in spite of it.

It continues with the creation of the Cabinet Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, with a strong inclusion mandate for Indigenous and new Canadians:

Considers issues concerning the social fabric of Canada and the promotion of Canadian pluralism. Examines initiatives designed to strengthen the relationship with Indigenous Canadians, improve the economic performance of immigrants, and promote Canadian diversity, multiculturalism, and linguistic duality.

It is reflected in his choice of ministers: 50 per cent women, 17 per cent visible minority.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Holding all ministers to account ... should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.[/quote]

And is further reinforced in the shared mandate letter commitments for all ministers with two strong multiculturalism-related commitments:

Canadians expect us, in our work, to reflect the values we all embrace: inclusion, honesty, hard work, fiscal prudence, and generosity of spirit. We will be a government that governs for all Canadians, and I expect you, in your work, to bring Canadians together.

You are expected to do your part to fulfill our government’s commitment to transparent, merit-based appointments, to help ensure gender parity and that Indigenous Canadians and minority groups are better reflected in positions of leadership.

Holding all ministers to account, with the PMO tracking these and other shared commitments (in addition to minister-specific commitments), should ensure greater progress on the two objectives of multiculturalism: recognition and equality.

It will take some time to see how well these commitments are implemented, particularly with respect to appointments. An early test was with respect to parliamentary secretaries where 34 per cent were women (below parity), but 23 per cent were visible minorities (significantly above).

Equally important, the previous government’s weak record on the diversity of judicial appointments (less than two per cent visible minority) will start to be addressed.

Rebuilding multiculturalism policy

Overall, the new government made few changes to how government is formally organized (machinery changes). This was wise given the disruption and turmoil that such changes can entail (e.g., the Martin government’s splitting apart Human Resources and Skills Development and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in 2004, reversed by the Harper government in 2006).

This makes the return of the multiculturalism program to Canadian Heritage all the more striking, after some eight years at Citizenship and Immigration (now Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada or IRCC).

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda.[/quote]

The original transfer to CIC was largely driven by political reasons given then Minister Jason Kenney’s political outreach role with ethnic groups.

However, there was also a policy rationale. Multiculturalism deals with longer-term multi-generational issues (along with ‘mainstream’ visible minority relations) in contrast to the newcomer focus of the immigration, integration and citizenship programs.

While multiculturalism could be seen as a logical extension of CIC’s mandate, and was portrayed as such in one of CIC’s strategic objectives, ‘building an integrated society,' in practice, however, the multiculturalism program withered away at CIC.

When the program moved to CIC in 2008, it had a $13 million budget: $12 million for grants and contributions and 73 full-time positions. The last departmental performance report (2013-14) showed 29 full-time positions (a decline of 60 per cent) with a $9.8 million budget. Money for grants and contributions fell to $7.9 million.

Negotiations over the resources to be returned to Canadian Heritage will be challenging, given the impact may be felt in other program areas in IRCC that benefited from the redistribution of Multiculturalism funds. Moreover, the weakened capacity will require a major rebuilding and re-staffing effort.

From a policy perspective, the return of multiculturalism to Canadian Heritage reinforces the overall government diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as the Canadian identity agenda, which fits nicely with Canadian Heritage’s overall mandate.

However, Minister Mélanie Joly’s public statements to date have not included any significant references to multiculturalism. Her general orientation, however, has been clear: to promote the “symbols of progressiveness. That was (sic) the soul of our platform.”

Overall, the commitment to a diversity and inclusion agenda, supported by a Cabinet Committee and shared Ministerial mandate letter commitments, and the rebuilding of multiculturalism back at Canadian Heritage, bode well for a more effective inclusion, diversity and multiculturalism strategy across government. 

Andrew Griffith is the author of Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former Director General for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. 

This article first appeared on The Hill Times. Re-published with permission from author.

Published in Commentary

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

In the weeks leading up to the Oct. 19 federal election, Rabia Khedr started to feel like she didn’t belong in Canada.

The executive director of the Canadian Association of Muslims with Disabilities says she, along with many other Muslim Canadians, felt targeted as extremist and socially backward.

“I have no other home,” says Khedr, who was born in Pakistan and came to Canada when she was four. “I cannot function anywhere else, with my kids half Pakistani and half Egyptian.”

Her family feared the Islamophobia they felt was brewing during the recent federal election. “It was a nightmare for us.”

This sentiment may have contributed to what Dr. Salha Jeizan, a professor who teaches online in the education department at Capella University in Minnesota, U.S. and mentors PhD students, calls a strategic vote on behalf of Muslims.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The Conservatives’ divide-and-rule approach of singling out Muslims to gain support from other religious communities backfired.[/quote]

“People have voted strategically [knowing that] if I vote for NDP, I vote for Conservatives,” Jeizan explains. If enough votes had been split between the New Democratic Party (NDP) and Liberals, the election outcome could have been in favour of the Conservatives.

Malaz Sebai, who works for Lifeline Syria, an organization working to resettle 1,000 Syrians in the GTA, says he was happy to see true leadership in the form of Liberals has resumed.

“Strategically, yes – Muslims from different communities came out and voted,” he explains. “There were more than three different groups encouraging Muslims to vote; I guess that was the strategy.”

One of these groups was The Canadian-Muslim Vote, a non-partisan organization with the goal of encouraging civic engagement amongst the Muslim community.

Muneeza Sheikh, communications director for the organization, says that while the anti-Harper sentiment may have fuelled many Muslims to vote, it may not have been their sole motivation for heading to the polls.

“One can’t assume all of these issues are important to Muslim Canadians for the same reasons,” says Sheikh.

“On the niqab issue you may see increased voter turnout because Muslims are concerned about many of the same issues in relation to the niqab as non-Muslims – i.e. Charter rights, freedom of religion, minority rights, women’s rights, et cetera.”

Jeizan says fear of the Islamophobia created during the Harper era may have been a great motivator as well.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It is our religious and civic duty to vote, because Islam demands us to stand up for what is right.”[/quote]

“Actually, [Muslims] have realized that if we don’t come out and vote, something worse can happen, and where would that lead us?” says Jeizan, adding that the Conservatives’ divide-and-rule approach of singling out Muslims to gain support from other religious communities backfired.

“Harper’s calculations proved to be wrong.”

Political engagement increasing

Although the exact percentage of eligible Muslim Canadians who cast a ballot on Oct. 19 is not available yet, anecdotal evidence speaks to a higher level of engagement.

“My younger daughter voted, as she turned 18 last month, and my elder daughter has volunteered at a riding and told me that lots of hijabis came out to vote,” says Jeizan, who is originally from Yemen.

Highlighting the efforts of The Canadian-Muslim Vote, Sheikh says she is thankful to the hundreds of volunteers who helped to increase civic engagement in Muslim community.

“We engaged them in a great deal of door-to-door canvassing – it is important to connect on an individual level with Muslims in the community and to build relationships.”

Khedr says she believes things were changing even prior to the federal election. Earlier this year she ran in her Mississauga ward’s byelection and, though she lost, she doesn’t believe it was a failure.

“I stood at number five out of 26 candidates. It’s a step in the right direction and a proof that the stereotype is breaking,” she says, highlighting that Muslims’ involvement in politics is on the rise. “It is our religious and civic duty to vote, because Islam demands us to stand up for what is right.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The community will be calling on the NDP to ensure accountability within the new government.[/quote]

It is Jeizan’s hope that political engagement in the Muslim Canadian community only increases.

“The momentum should not stop even after election; it needs to continue for municipal, [for] provincial and, later again, for federal elections.”

Build in-roads with new government

As the new government gets settled into office, Muslim Canadians will be watching particularly for how it handles legislation like the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-51) and Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act (Bill C-24), both of which many community members opposed.

“Stripping of Canadian citizenship is unfair,” explains Jeizan. “Returning to their countries is impossible in many cases, as those countries don’t exist anymore, like Syria, Afghanistan and Palestine.”

“What is needed, rather, is to rehabilitate misguided young people,” she says, and a reframing of terrorism as not a Muslim faction.

During the campaign run, both the Liberals and the NDP promised to repeal C-24. The NDP said it would repeal C-51, while Trudeau and the Liberals only said it would be amended.

Jeizan says the community will be calling on the NDP to ensure accountability within the new government.

“NDP members will hold [them to] what they promised,” she says with optimism. “Laws can be reviewed, repealed or amended. It’s not written in stone.”

Khedr agrees. She says just because the Conservatives are not in leadership anymore doesn’t mean the work is done for the Muslim-Canadian community.

“We need to continue lobbying – clear and loud – against this fear [of Muslims],” she says. “Send messages to our leaders by building relationships with them.”

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

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Published in Politics

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

With the final ballots long since counted and the prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau preparing to name his cabinet, members and guests of the Canadian Journalism Foundation (CFJ) gathered in downtown Vancouver to reflect on the longest election campaign in Canadian history.

The discussion, titled “Election 2015: How the Votes Were Won”, was held in an auditorium in the Simon Fraser University Segal Building on Oct. 27. 

Panellists included Susan Delacourt, a columnist with the Toronto Star, Adam Radwanski, a political columnist with The Globe and Mail, Hannah Thibedeau, a veteran political reporter and Paul Wells, the political editor for Maclean’s magazine. Tom Clark, chief political correspondent for Global National, served as the moderator for the evening. 

Beyond the rise of the Liberal party and the potential this administration has for greater cooperation with the media, the night’s discussion focused on the important role ethnic and immigrant communities played in this hotly contested race. 

Miscalculations about #CdnImm voters 

The panel discussed how all parties spent a significant amount of time targeting ethnic and immigrant demographics during this election period. 

For Clark, who has covered every federal election campaign since 1974, digging into how parties were marketing themselves to these communities was “fascinating.” 

“They were conflating concerns that certain communities would have, say with Kathleen Wynne [Ontario’s premier] and sex education,” he said. “I heard one ad that said, ‘if you don’t like Kathleen Wynne and sex education, vote for Stephen Harper.’” 

Despite spending a significant amount of time, money and effort trying to court these demographics though, “those communities basically turned against the Conservatives,” Clark added. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]here seemed to be a view that a lot of other immigrant communities take a certain 'close-the-door-behind-you' approach.”[/quote]

Radwanski, who previously served on the Globe’s editorial team, referred to the Muslim vote in particular, saying that while the Conservatives mainly wrote off Muslim voters when taking a stance on the niqab issue, the unintended consequences of this decision were unforeseen.

“Where I think they made a miscalculation was … there seemed to be a view that a lot of other immigrant communities take a certain 'close-the-door-behind-you' approach,” he stated, speaking of an assumption that once immigrants arrive in Canada they are less likely to care about others wanting to reach Canada. 

The reverse happened though. Rather than seeing the problem as one that only applied to Muslim Canadians, members of other communities identified with the fact that minorities were being targeted, Radwanski said.

Long campaign a benefit to Liberals

Making a light-hearted reference to the Jon Oliver sketch video that described Canada’s “gruelling” 78-day election period as “cute,” Clark asked the panellists how this year’s lengthy election differed from those of the past.

“I think everybody got into the long election campaign. I think democracy was sort of served by it,” Delacourt responded. “I think the turnout in this election is a really good argument for the longer election campaign.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"I just don’t think we would have seen anything resembling the same results in a five-week campaign.”[/quote]

Radwanski agreed. “I actually think the long campaign really made a difference, not just in that we all had more time to watch … [but] in that I just don’t think we would have seen anything resembling the same results in a five-week campaign,” he said.

The panel seemed to agree that Trudeau and the Liberal party “read” the long campaign better than the New Democratic Party (NDP), which ultimately allowed them to push past the former official opposition party in the last few weeks.

The NDP had the highest approval rating at the beginning of the campaign, polling nationally at around 33.2 per cent. The party even reached 37.4 per cent by late August.

However, this number shifted dramatically in late September as the Liberals overtook both the NDP and the Conservatives.

“They underestimated Trudeau,” explained Thibedeau, who was on the election trail with the Conservative party for the first four weeks of the circuit and joined the NDP later on.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[Both the Conservatives and NDP] underestimated Trudeau.”[/quote]

She pointed to specific moments that highlighted this, such as when Harper’s spokesperson was quoted as saying “I think that if [Trudeau] comes on stage with his pants on, he will probably exceed expectations.”

Thibedeau continued, “Even more than that, the NDP … underestimated Justin Trudeau as well, and I think that was the biggest fault with those two parties.”

Media coverage in the new Trudeau era

On the day after he was elected, Trudeau travelled to Ottawa to take questions from journalists at the National Press Theatre. This was the first time since 2009 that a prime minister (or in this case, a prime minister-designate) was available to take questions at this official site.

For the panellists, this signalled a potentially more amiable relationship between journalists and the federal government in the future.

“It’ll be interesting to see if they maintain a lot of the restrictions that we’ve seen since ’06 or if they’ll loosen those moving forward,” said Thibedeau.

Wells, who moderated the Maclean’s debate in early August, echoed these thoughts.

“I believe that access and a general sort of relaxed attitude around journalists is going to be substantially greater under Justin Trudeau than under Stephen Harper,” he commented. “But I note that Justin Trudeau met with the premier of Ontario today and it was photo-op only, no questions.”

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Published in Politics

by Tasha Kheiriddin in Toronto

Red, blue or purple? As it nurses its bruises from the election, the Conservative party is asking itself what its complexion ought to be in the future.

Much of this will depend not just on the new leader, but on his or her team. Will they hail from the western wing of the party, or the eastern? Will they take up the anti-elitist tone favoured by grassroots populists, or the less strident strains of ‘Red Tory’ centrists? And how will they rebuild the “big tent” needed to gain and hold power?

Some say this tent was torn apart in the recent election. Truth is, it was never rebuilt after the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Alliance parties in 2003. Instead of a big tent, the Conservatives created a series of pup tents, formed of niche voter bases.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Instead of a big tent, the Conservatives created a series of pup tents, formed of niche voter bases.[/quote]

But while each niche got its own policy plank, there was no overarching cover — no shared narrative or idea — to keep them together and out of the rain. And sometimes, promises to one group actually had the effect of turning off other groups critical to re-election.

A salient example of this is the series of Tory policies, small and large, designed to please the party’s fundamentalist Christian base, situated chiefly in Western Canada.

These included the 2010 decision to explicitly exclude funding for abortion from Canada’s UN Maternal Health Initiative, reaffirmed in 2013 even for victims of rape. Over the years, this aspect of the initiative became a rallying cry for every pro-choice group in the country, overshadowing all the good things the initiative did — things which would have appealed to a broader group of voters.

Called on to defend the decision to withhold funding for abortion at the Munk Debate, Stephen Harper said that “we fund things that unite, not divide”. Coming from a party that loved wedge politics, this didn’t quite convince. The real rationale went more like this: since nothing would be done for “the base” on the abortion issue at home, something would be done overseas.

Alienating groups like new Canadians

This type of thinking also informed the creation of an ‘Office for the Defence of Religious Freedoms’ in 2013 to help persecuted religious minorities (such as Christians in China). Creating a new $5 million bureaucracy just as Ottawa was cutting back the diplomatic service elsewhere seemed counter-intuitive to many small-government conservatives — but it appealed to fundamentalist voters.

Then, during the 2015 election, it was revealed that the PMO was involved in suspending refugee applications for several weeks earlier that year, allegedly to give preference to certain groups that were being persecuted due to the conflict in the Middle East, notably Christians.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Worse, it fueled charges that Harper was an Islamophobe who wanted to keep Muslims out of the country.[/quote]

This decision contributed to alienating voters in other bases key to re-election, such as new Canadians and Liberal-Tory swing voters.

It also opened up the Conservatives to accusations of hypocrisy: Harper argued against religious fundamentalism when it offended the expression of gender equality rights (such as in the context of a citizenship ceremony), but then appealed to the religious beliefs of other supporters to get votes.

Worse, it fueled charges that Harper was an Islamophobe who wanted to keep Muslims out of the country.

'Faith should not drive party policy'

Then there’s the matter of the Conservative party’s support for the state of Israel.

While there are many reasons for Canada to support Israel as a strategic ally, a beacon of democracy and a homeland for the Jewish people, to fundamentalist Christians Israel also represents the Holy Land — the place to which they are convinced the Messiah will someday return.

For many voters, Harper’s refusal to criticize any actions taken by Israel — ever — went far beyond the bounds of an alliance and bred a sense of cynicism about his motivations. Ironically, this could end up hurting Israel instead of helping it, by undermining Canada’s status as a strong but fair defender of the Jewish state on the world stage.

Similarly, the Conservatives’ handling of the environment portfolio backfired against the greater interests of both the party and the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][T]he damage done to the Conservatives’ long-term prospects arguably outweighed any benefit they got from anti-science votes in the fundamentalist ‘base’.[/quote]

The Conservatives’ hostility towards the science of climate change went well beyond mere skepticism — and it held a certain appeal to anti-science fundamentalist voters.

But dragging Canada down to environmental pariah status had the perverse effect of killing the Tories’ pet project, the Keystone Pipeline, by giving President Barack Obama no political cover for approval. Keystone and other pipeline projects would have shifted more economic and political power to the West; the damage done to the Conservatives’ long-term prospects arguably outweighed any benefit they got from anti-science votes in the fundamentalist ‘base’.

The Conservative party’s future as a big tent party cannot rest on religious factionalism of any kind. Navigating the separation of church, party and state will be an important challenge for the next leader — right up there with balancing geography, ideology and all the other elements needed to rebuild the party.

The next person to assume the mantle of leadership must be a unifying, inclusive figure with a team to match. And Conservatives of all stripes need to recognize that while religion has a place in public discourse and the social fabric of our nation, faith should not drive party policy.

Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. She is a political commentator on CBC News Network and CBC Radio and a columnist at the National Post and 

Published in

Published in Commentary
Monday, 26 October 2015 14:56

“Diversity a Given” in Trudeau Cabinet

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

One of prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau’s first orders of business will be to form a cabinet. It is one of the most difficult tasks facing any prime minister, as there is a need to strike geographic, linguistic, ethnic and gender balance.

While a mix of experienced legislators and fresh blood is expected, the diversity Trudeau will bring to his front bench will be revealed on November 4.

Other known priorities for Trudeau: gender parity and “small” in size. While gender parity was on the Liberal platform, Trudeau indicated reducing the cabinet size at his first press conference without being specific.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Though committing to gender balance is likely to make Trudeau’s task harder, keeping it small gives him an escape route to placate disappointed MPs.[/quote]

Under Stephen Harper, the Conservative cabinet had swollen to 40 ministers by January 2015, matching the size of Brian Mulroney’s 1984 Progressive Conservative cabinet.

When Harper first became prime minister in 2006 he appointed just 26 people to contrast his fiscal conservatism with the policies of former Liberal PM Paul Martin, whose cabinet had ballooned to 39.

Though committing to gender balance is likely to make Trudeau’s task harder, keeping it small gives him an escape route to placate disappointed MPs. He can blame it on the imperative of having a compact cabinet. With 184 MPs to choose from, Trudeau has his work cut out.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Bring together the best of our 20 MPs and inevitably it would be a diverse group.”[/quote]

But as one Liberal MP who spoke to New Canadian Media said, ensuring diversity will be the least of his problems. “Bring together the best of our 20 MPs and inevitably it would be a diverse group.”    

Given the limitations imposed by gender parity and size, expect to see MPs who score on more than one criterion make it to the cabinet. Here’s our shortlist of likely minority candidates.

Harjit Sajjan: A former Vancouver police detective, Sajjan is a highly decorated lieutenant colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces who served three tours in Afghanistan and is the first Sikh to command a Canadian military regiment. Sajjan is a member of Trudeau’s economic team.

This Vancouver South MP ticks the following boxes: Vancouver area representative, veteran, Sikh minority.

Dr. Hedy Fry: An incumbent MP, Dr. Fry has experience on her side as she earned her reputation as a leader in medical politics at the local, provincial and federal levels. In 1993, she was first elected as an MP by defeating then-Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

This Vancouver Centre MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, medical doctor, woman, Black.

Navdeep Bains: A key organizer for the Liberals in the immigrant community around Toronto, Bains has been the party’s critic for trade and natural resources. An accountant and former MP from 2004 to 2011, Bains is a member of Trudeau’s economic team and among the most experienced legislators of the large number of visible minority MPs from the “905” belt of the GTA.

This Mississauga–Malton MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, GTA representative, Sikh minority.

Omar Alghabra: Having served as an MP from 2006 to 2008, Alghabra has been the Liberal critic for natural resources, as well as citizenship and immigration. An engineer by training, he is a prominent voice in the Arab and Muslim community in the GTA.

This Mississauga Centre MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, Arab and Muslim minority.

Yasmin Ratansi: Yasmin Ratansi was an MP from 2004 to 2011. She was Deputy Whip of the Liberal Caucus, and served as Chair of the Standing Committee on Government Operations and as Chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Her roots are in the Ismaili Muslim community.

This Don Valley East MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, Muslim and South Asian minority, woman.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"][E]xpect to see MPs who score on more than one criterion make it to the cabinet.[/quote]

Emmanuel Dubourg: An incumbent MP, Dubourg was previously involved in Quebec provincial politics as a Liberal Member of the National Assembly for six years. Before entering politics, Emmanuel worked in the federal public service for nearly 20 years. He is a member of Trudeau’s economic team.

This Bourassa MP ticks the following boxes: Legislative experience, Quebec representative, Black.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes: A successful entrepreneur and the recipient of the Toronto Board of Trade’s Business Entrepreneur of the Year for 2012, as well as the 2007 Black Business and Professional Association’s Harry Jerome Young Entrepreneur Award, Caesar-Chavannes is also a research consultant and member of Trudeau’s economic team.

This Whitby MP ticks the following boxes: Young entrepreneur, woman, Black.

Peter Fonseca: An Olympian who represented Canada as a marathon runner, Fonseca sat in the Ontario Legislature between 2003 and 2011 and served as Cabinet Minister, taking on the labour and tourism & recreation portfolios.

This Mississauga East–Cooksville MP ticks the following boxes: Sports person, legislative experience.

Arnold Chan: An incumbent MP, Chan was first elected in a by-election in 2013. His career has included roles in both the public and private sectors as a lawyer, political aide and senior corporate manager. He is also the most senior among the three MPs of Chinese heritage in the Liberal caucus.

This Scarborough–Agincourt MP ticks the following boxes: Chinese minority, legislative experience.

Ali Ehsassi: A lawyer by trade, Ehsassi has extensive experience working in government at both the provincial and federal levels of government, as well as in the private sector. He brings to the table his specialization in international trade and arbitration.

This Willowdale MP ticks the following boxes: Iranian and Muslim minority, government experience.

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Published in Top Stories
Monday, 26 October 2015 13:14

Hear this Election's Racism Wake-up Call

by Ranjit Bhaskar, Naheed Nenshi, Sharmila Setaram and Desmond Cole

Four voices say it's time to get real about bigotry and structural discrimination in Canada.

Ranjit Bhaskar, New Canadian Media

(From an October 19 column in New Canadian Media.)

As a new Canadian, the attack ads against Justin Trudeau signalled unintended messages to me.

I am not talking of the much-reviled Conservative ads in Chinese and Punjabi language media here. What I have in mind are the "just not ready" ads put out by both the Conservatives and the NDP.

Both parties sought to frame the election as a job interview for Trudeau and had his photos conveniently clipped to his 'resume'.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]As a new Canadian, the attack ads against Justin Trudeau signalled unintended messages to me.[/quote]

Most newcomers will remember being warned by well-intentioned mentors not to include their mug shots with job applications, as it was not 'the Canadian way'. And here we have interview panels pondering about offering the most important job in the country based on, among other things, Trudeau's perceived lack of experience and commenting about his hair. 

At a subliminal level it reminded me of the "lack of Canadian experience" barrier faced by newcomer job seekers. And yes, the fact that newcomers' hair tends to look 'different' as well.

Ranjit Bhaskar is New Canadian Media's Election Desk Editor.

Naheed Nenshi, Calgary's mayor

(From a speech, given two days before the election, critical of 'divisive' Conservative policies and campaigning.)

What we know is that the core strength of our community is not that there are carbon atoms in the ground in parts of this country and maple trees with amazing sap in others. 

What we know is that we've figured out a simple truth - one which evades too many in this broken world. And that simple truth is just this: nous sommes ici ensemble. We're in this together. Our neighbour's strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us. And, more important, the failure of any one of us is the failure of every one of us. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Our neighbour's strength is our strength; the success of any one of us is the success of every one of us.[/quote]

This means that our success is in that tolerance, that respect for pluralism, that generous sharing of opportunity with everyone, that innate sense that every single one of us, regardless of where we come from, regardless of what we look like, regardless of how we worship, regardless of whom we love, that every single one us deserves the chance right here, right now, to live a great Canadian life. 

But this is incredibly fragile. It must be protected always from the voices of intolerance, the voices of divisiveness, the voices of small mindedness, and the voices of hatred. It's the right thing to do. 

As that great Canadian philosopher, Bruce Cockburn, reminds us "nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/Got to kick at the darkness 'til it bleeds daylight." 

And our fight is for that Canada. 

Naheed Nenshi is mayor of Calgary.

Sharmila Setaram, Amnesty International

(From Setaram's contribution to the Respect the Women joint statement issued on October 15.)

Today I publicly stand in common cause with over 500 other Canadian women - leaders from such widely differing worlds as law, politics, civil society, indigenous women's groups, religion, labour, academia, the arts, international affairs and business. Our viewpoints, politics and life experiences vary tremendously.

But we have spoken out together because whatever our differences may be, we are all deeply troubled by the divisive and poisonous debate that has erupted in Canada over the past few weeks about the niqab. And we have joined our voices in a common statement calling for a renewed commitment to human rights, women's equality and respect.

… I am of course aware that people have a range of different opinions, often very strongly felt, about women who wear the niqab, ranging from discomfort to puzzlement to respect. That is certainly of interest, but at the end of the day it is irrelevant when considering whether or not this is a human right issue.

I am also aware that the motivation and feelings of women who wear the niqab vary a great deal, from a sense of duty, to religious devotion, to a sense of freedom and even empowerment. That is where the human rights side of this debate becomes very real.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I am dismayed and frustrated that there has been so little effort to ensure that the voices and perspective of women who actually do wear the niqab are given prominence in this debate.[/quote]

What has particularly troubled me in recent weeks and what I found so important in our joint statement is what is being overlooked in the midst of this toxic and stigmatizing debate.

First, it is heartbreaking to compare how much media attention, time in leaders' debates and campaign advertising resources have been devoted to the issue of the niqab; as opposed to the many other pressing and very serious human rights concerns that directly impact millions of Canadian women and girls. 

For instance, it proved impossible to arrange a dedicated debate among party leaders focused on those issues; something Amnesty International in concert with many close partners had repeatedly urged. If only there was a comparable level of discussion about the decades-old scandal of violence against indigenous women and girls in our country.

Second, I am dismayed and frustrated that there has been so little effort to ensure that the voices and perspective of women who actually do wear the niqab are given prominence in this debate. The loudest voices have, in fact, not even been women; they have been men. 

Sharmila Setaram is president of Amnesty International Canada.

Desmond Cole, Toronto Star

(From an October 22 column published by the Toronto Star.)

Although they ran the most openly hateful election campaign I have ever witnessed, the Conservatives earned almost a third of votes in Monday's election.

Conservative supporters did not abandon the party over its hateful targeting of Muslim women who wear the niqab, its indifference to murdered and missing indigenous women and girls, or its insistence on invoking the spectre of terrorism in discussing Syrian refugees, most of whom are Muslim.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]We described the strategy of hatred as a "distraction" from apparent "real issues," rather than clear evidence that racism is a most pressing and unresolved national problem.[/quote]

In a country committed to anti-racism, such a party would be laughable and fringe. Instead, many Canadians feared the racist tactics would succeed.

We described the strategy of hatred as a "distraction" from apparent "real issues," rather than clear evidence that racism is a most pressing and unresolved national problem. We comforted ourselves that what we were seeing and hearing was some sort of temporary illusion, a nightmare from which we might soon awake.

The Conservative campaign exploited a historical, ingrained hatred of immigrants and racialized people as old as the country itself. …

The word "racism" was notably absent from Trudeau's speech, as if the naming of the hatred we all witnessed, and which many of us were directly targeted with, would have spoiled the party.

More troubling is that the Liberal campaign did not include plans to expose and eliminate systemic racism. If the wake of this hate-filled election is not the right time to speak openly about racism in Canada, the moment may never come.

Desmond Cole is a Toronto-based journalist who writes a weekly column for the Toronto Star.

Re-published in partnership The Tyee

Published in Commentary
Friday, 23 October 2015 21:11

Pros and Cons of Family Reunification

by Leah Bjornson in Vancouver

Justin Trudeau has now officially been elected as Canada’s 29th Prime Minister and with him come promises of investment in infrastructure, electoral reform and changes to the lengthy family reunification process.

Some of those changes involve doubling the number of applications allowed for parents and grandparents to 10,000 each year, speeding up permanent residency applications for spouses and raising the age limit for dependants.

These changes mark a reversal to the Conservative government’s overhaul of the family reunification process in 2011.

Limitations placed by the federal government at that time on the application process meant sons and daughters living in Canada could expect to wait up to six and a half years before their parents’ applications were processed.

Changes to regulations

Allowing immigrants to sponsor their parents and grandparents is concerning to many economists and politicians because of the heavy price tag it carries.

According to Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Martin Collacott, each grandparent ultimately costs Canadian taxpayers more than $300,000 in services and welfare benefits over the course of their time in the country.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he government attempted to limit Family Class immigration after noticing that some relatives who were brought to Canada ... were likely to make little economic contribution to Canada."[/quote]

In his study, titled “Canadian family class immigration: The parent and grandparent component under review,” Collacott explains that the government attempted to limit Family Class immigration after noticing that some relatives who were brought to Canada were ultimately unskilled, had limited English language skills, and were likely to make little economic contribution to Canada.

Over the last few decades, these assumptions have led to an increase in the number of economic immigrants coming to Canada from 45 per cent in 1990 to 63 per cent. To contrast, family class immigrants have dropped from 34 per cent in 1990 to 25 per cent in 2014.

The group that has most acutely felt the effects of these changes are older prospective immigrants.

In 2011, the Conservative government temporarily stopped receiving applications for sponsored parents and grandparents in order to deal with a backlog of approximately 160,000 applicants.

When the stream reopened in 2014, the government limited the total number of applicants in this category to 5,000 per year.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“At the basis of this is an assumption that only economic immigrants are important.”[/quote]

Jason Kenney, who was then the Citizenship and Immigration Minister, explained these changes when they were announced, by stating: “We're not looking for more people on welfare, we're not looking to add people as a social burden to Canada. If their expectation is that they need the support of the state then they should stay in their country of origin, not come to Canada.”

The reforms in 2013 also increased the minimum necessary income (MNI) to sponsor parents and grandparents by 30 per cent and reduced the maximum age of dependants from 22 years old to 18.

“This is not a random phenomenon,” explains Marc Yvan Valade, a PhD candidate in policy studies at Ryerson University. “At the basis of this is an assumption that only economic immigrants are important.”

A different type of contribution

Despite these arguments, some experts argue that this focus ignores the many non-economic contributions these immigrants make.

“If it would help immigrant families to secure a stronger foothold in our society and feel even more belonging and want to contribute, well this is a gain for all of us,” says Valade. “It’s a gain not only economically in the short term, but it’s a gain in the long term as a society.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[Family reunification] is a gain not only economically in the short term, but it’s a gain in the long term as a society.”[/quote]

A study by the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary found that family separation could both exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the children in these families as well as hinder meaningful integration into Canadian culture.

“Contrary to the representation of sponsored relatives as a drain on the health-care system and social services, we heard instead that sponsored parents and grandparents were playing critical roles as child care providers that allowed their children to go out and become part of the workforce in Canada,” the study explains.

The Liberals' promise

Navdeep Bains, just-elected Liberal MP from Mississauga-Malton and a member of Trudeau’s economic advisory group, told New Canadian Media during the election campaign that the party’s policies reflect this understanding.

“Family reunification is important as it enhances the family support system,” he said. “It will have meaningful impact for new Canadians as it will enable families to earn double incomes if a couple or shift worker gets child care support from their parents. It is sound economics, as good family dynamics help people to thrive.”

In the days leading up to his party’s Oct. 19 win, long-time Liberal MP John McCallum said his party intended to “put the family reunification program back on [the] rails.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"Super Visas are not a substitute for family reunification.”[/quote]

“Let’s be clear, Super Visas are not a substitute for family reunification,” McCallum said.

Introduced by the Conservatives, the Parent and Grandparent Super Visa (Super Visa) is a temporary resident permit that allows parents and grandparents to stay for up to two years in Canada per visit, and is valid for up to 10 years.

“The family reunification program is a priority for us. It is a huge issue, that is cause for anger, frustration and tears,” added McCallum, who formerly served as the party critic on the immigration file. “We see it as part of an immigration program that will welcome new Canadians with a smile instead of a scowl.”

Valade is optimistic about these changes, but says the real test will be whether sufficient resources are made available to treat demands in a reasonable time.

“Overall, the whole Family Class program should be reviewed in a way that considers the immigrant family as an asset for Canadian society, and a contribution to immigrant integration.”

With additional reporting by Election Desk Editor Ranjit Bhaskar in the Greater Toronto Area.

This is part two of a two-part series looking at family reunification policy. Read the first instalment here.

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Published in Policy
Thursday, 22 October 2015 19:50

First Mandarin-Speaking MP Elected in Canada

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 
For the first time in Canada’s electoral history a Mandarin-speaking member of Parliament was elected.

Now hailed by the Chinese Mandarin community members as their "true voice”, the Liberal party’s Geng Tan won the Don Valley North riding in Toronto with a solid 51.4 per cent of the vote. He trumped second-place Conservative incumbent Joe Daniel’s 37.8 per cent by more than 6,000 votes.
Tan’s win is not only a reflection of the Liberals' landslide victory, but also proof of a momentum generated by the Mandarin community, which has been very supportive of Tan’s campaign. 

Reflecting the community 

Even the defeated incumbent Daniels knows that the Chinese community is divided into three groups – the Mainlanders, Taiwanese and Cantonese – and simply saying, “I represent the Chinese community,” is naive and unconvincing. 

It’s possible to represent one or the other, but not all of them.
According to 2011 Statistic Canada reports Don Valley North has more than 12,750 Mandarin speakers, the highest amongst other ethnic languages and outnumbering the Cantonese-speaking population of 9,540 and other Chinese sub-groups that only answered “Chinese” to the question of mother tongue.
Beyond this, the riding has a 65 per cent immigrant population and 67 per cent of its constituents are visible minorities. The top occupations are in professional, scientific and technical services, and 67 per cent of residents have a post-secondary education. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“As an immigrant from Mainland China, it is so hard to set foot [in] Canada’s politics.”[/quote]

Tan, an immigrant with a high educational background, is very much a reflection of the average face of the riding. 

“As an immigrant from Mainland China, it is so hard to set foot [in] Canada’s politics,” Tan told supporters at his victory party on election night inside a Chinese fine dining restaurant.
“I’m a typical first [generation] skilled immigrant with more than a decade of community experience,” he continued. “I understand newcomers’ needs and I have the responsibility to work for newcomers and all ethnic groups.” 

Ties to Chinese community
Born in 1963 in Hunan, a mountainous province where father of Communist China, Mao Zedong, was born, Tan came to Canada as a visa student in 1998. 

He completed his postgraduate and PhD in chemical engineering and applied chemistry at the University of Toronto and then worked as a scientist at Ontario Power Generation. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I also have [a] responsibility to ask for more benefits for our Chinese community.”[/quote]
Tan’s community involvements are closely tied to the Chinese community and his Hunan clan associations. 

During his study at University of Toronto, he served for two terms as president of the school’s Chinese students and scholars association. 

Tan was also the long-term president of the Hunan Fellow Association of Canada, the vice president of The Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations and a founding member of the Council of (Chinese) Newcomer Organizations.

These groups are regular fixtures at significant events held by the Chinese Canadian community to celebrate things like the lunar New Year, Mid Moon Festival and China’s National Day, as well as any organized rally or denouncement against the Tibetan separation. 

Ties to Michael Chan
Michael Chan, the Ontario cabinet minister who was once investigated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Services over fears that he was under the influence of China, is a close political ally and mentor to Tan. 

Since Tan’s Liberal candidacy announcement to him winning the seat, Chan has been a regular face during the newly elected MP’s campaign. 

Even just two days before election day, Chan attended a Chinese media event along with Tan and three other federal Liberal candidates from the Greater Toronto Area to blast the federal Conservative government. 

When asked about why he was actively involved in the federal election, Chan said the federal government had been disrespectful toward Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne. The Conservatives had made too many funding cuts to Ontario, making it difficult for his government to provide services to residents, he said.

Going beyond his Chinese heritage 

Tan has promised that he will work hard to improve Canada’s relationship with China. 

“I also have [a] responsibility to ask for more benefits for our Chinese community,” he stated during his victory speech.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he way we vote for our parliamentary representative should go above and beyond ethnicity."[/quote]

But Sheng Xue, a prominent overseas Chinese Canadian writer for the Chinese democracy movement and an independent political commentator, says Tan must go beyond just serving the Chinese community.
“As a native Chinese, I’m happy (for Tan’s winning),” said Sheng. “However, in a democratic country such as Canada, the way we vote for our parliamentary representative should go above and beyond ethnicity because looking for rights and benefits should never be based on a candidate’s skin colour and his or her country of origin.” 

Sheng added that while their native country was still under a totalitarian system, it is important for Tan to respect Canada’s system and maintain Canadian values.
“I’m not acquainted with Mr. Tan, however, I urge him to act as a Canadian when he represents Canadians.”

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Published in Politics

by Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was not subtle about his use of cultural differences as a trigger for fear during the election campaign. His government pressed its case against a Muslim woman fighting to wear her niqab during her citizenship ceremony — and lost. It unveiled a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for Canadians to report on their neighbours.

He made a debating point of his position that he’d never tell his daughter to cover her face, a moot point unless she converts to Islam. For Muslim-Canadian women the fact that those tactics backfired in the end is a validation of a particular view of Canada.

For Alia Hogben, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, it shows that Canadians “are rejecting all the divisive and racist and hate mongering that the Conservatives were doing and they’re showing who we really are. It gives me a huge amount of hope.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Canadians “are rejecting all the divisive and racist and hate mongering that the Conservatives were doing and they’re showing who we really are."[/quote]

Hogben said that for almost every single Muslim, Harper’s vocal opposition to Muslim women wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies as the case of Zunera Niqab, who had taken the government to court over the issue, made its way successfully through then legal process during the campaign, was a source of anxiety.

“During that period it was nerve wracking, depressing and discouraging,” she said.

Hogben said she was worried about these new values that were being propounded by the Conservatives.

“We couldn’t tell if Canadians would lean that way or not and now it’s a huge amount of relief that its been rejected,” she said.

“We’re not saying one party is any better than another, but we’re hoping that they will learn from what went on during the election and the kind of feelings that aroused for and against a group of people and that they will learn from that and make everybody welcomed back into the family of Canadians rather than dividing us.”

No room for divisive, mean politics

In a powerful speech to a crowded room of cheering supporters in Montreal, prime minister designate Justin Trudeau said a woman wearing a hijab told him she would vote for him because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life.

“Have faith in your fellow citizens my friends, they are kind and generous. They are open minded and optimistic and they know in their heart of hearts that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” said Trudeau.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I think if anything the niqab issue backfired on Stephen Harper and I think that kind of divisive negative nasty politics will not be seen in Canada for a long time.”[/quote]

Liberal strategist at Crestview Strategy Group, Rob Silver, said there’s no room in Canada for divisive and mean politics.

“I think if anything the niqab issue backfired on Stephen Harper and I think that kind of divisive negative nasty politics will not be seen in Canada for a long time.”

Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, says by electing Trudeau, Canadians have sent a very strong message to politicians who have campaigned on “hatred and discrimination.”

“They have harvested what they have planted and lost and [were] defeated,” said Majzoub.

“The fact is that Canadians have followed what Canadians believe in — harmony, unity, human rights, that’s why we feel at ease on the subject,” he said.

Published in partnership with

Published in Politics

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