New Canadian Media

Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

 

Earlier this year, Rena Heer, a former reporter for CTV and CP24 in Toronto, hosted a gathering at her home for other fellow Canadian Sikhs who had experience in the communications and media professions. This was not the usual Sunday afternoon chai and gossip session ubiquitous to South Asian households across the Lower Mainland. The guests had convened to discuss a chronic problem that had plagued this community since the 1980s: negative coverage in mainstream media.

This time, Canada’s prime minister, having previously bragged he had more Sikhs in his cabinet than India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had travelled to India with four of his ministers of Sikh faith. It touched a nerve with India’s "alt-right" Hindu-chauvinistic administration. Indian politicians let loose with a series of flimsy allegations, including some that implicated Trudeau’s own cabinet ministers as "Khalistanis", and in particular, decorated Canadian war veteran and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Indian media lapped it up. Canadian media regurgitated it.

Canada’s predominantly white newsrooms ran with panic-stricken pieces about how there is a "revival of Khalistan terror", or how Canadian Sikhs are engaged in "blood hatreds"—or in an attempt to bundle Sikhs with ISIS terrorists—how Sikhs are "promised a place in paradise" when martyred.

Heer was one of a handful of journalists in Canada from the Sikh community who had worked in mainstream newsrooms and she found the reporting lacked not only nuance but overlooked obvious problems with the allegations—such as the glaring lack of any Khalistan-related terror incidents over the previous 20-odd years.

“Once you’ve been in the media industry you know how things are done, that sources should be checked properly, that the motivations of those sources should be examined,” Heer stated. “But with this Trudeau trip to India coverage I knew that wasn’t happening.”

Meanwhile a younger millennial generation of Sikhs (#AskCanadianSikhs) continued to plead on Twitter with various mainstream reporters and outlets to include their voices in the coverage. They found little success, and at times, open hostility. For Heer, the six-week blitz of negative coverage was a lesson that Canadian Sikhs needed to engage in media "pro-activism" based on how underrepresented they are in mainstream outlets.

“Newsrooms are tough environments, and people will ask why should anyone care when you bring up story topics, especially when they don’t relate to those experiences,” she added. “In order for these ideas to get across you need to have all experiences represented in newsrooms.”

 

But in Canada, it’s not just Sikhs, but all of the country’s minorities that are underrepresented in the country’s newsrooms, which some media watchers estimate are as much as 90 percent white.

To their credit, Canadian media outlets have also acknowledged this problem and sought, over recent years, to hire more reporters from diverse communities. But because change has been slow to come, minority communities in Canada still remain susceptible to misreporting, tokenization, being ignored, or worse, being spoken over, as in the case of the apparent "comeback" of Khalistani terrorists.

An obvious part of solving this problem is diversifying mainstream newsrooms through the hiring of reporters from diverse communities.

In a country where almost two out of every five people is either born outside of Canada or is a second-generation Canadian (born to at least one immigrant parent), it is critical that newsrooms have reporters who can speak languages such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Punjabi, or Tagalog, or staff reporters who, at minimum, have some cultural knowledge of Canada’s largest minorities.

But at this point in time, "diversity coverage" still means reporting on issues pertaining to or including people of colour, while "mainstream coverage" implies broader news reporting usually featuring people who are more likely to be white.

Multicultural Canada is often glowingly described as a cohesive mosaic but I would argue our society is more a non-integrated patchwork of self-contained communities that, while peacefully co-existing, generally have limited interactions with each other.

Increasing diversity in newsrooms is not about ceding ground to identity politics, political correctness, or even being more "inclusive". It is about better reporting. Full stop. Without newsroom diversity, too many stories are missed, delayed in coverage, or misreported, and that has a negative impact on all of us. So regardless of your skin colour, it is actually in your interest for mainstream newsrooms to hire more journalists from diverse backgrounds who reflect the immigrant and second-generation realities of Canadian life.

Retaining them, however, may be another issue. 

Journalism while brown

It’s a notable occurrence when someone from a diverse community is hired by a mainstream outlet. Given there are so few diverse reporters in these newsrooms, it serves as a sort of barometer for "progress".

Over the past decade, mainstream newsrooms have made some advances in this regard, particularly in broadcast news where Canada’s diversity is reflected on television screens. But it’s also notable—and for all the wrong reasons—when a journalist of colour leaves the industry, and exceptionally so, when the reporter in question does so in the cause of diversity while torching any hopes of getting a reference letter on the way out of the building.

That journalist was Sunny Dhillon who recently quit his job in the Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. In his recent blog post, "Journalism While Brown and When to Walk Away", Dhillon explained that he resigned because of how his newsroom was failing in covering diversity.

The breaking point was when, on the eve of the deadline, he was ordered by his bureau chief to rework an assignment on Vancouver’s recent municipal election into being a triumph for women rather than being yet another failure for racialized candidates. Eight out of the 10 Vancouver council seats were won by women and only one was won by a councillor of mixed heritage.

“I decided to leave The Globe and Mail because that final conversation inside the bureau chief’s office crystallized what I had felt: What I brought to the newsroom did not matter,” Dhillon wrote in his post on Medium that has since been retweeted thousands of times. “And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.”

His dramatic resignation has renewed discussions on how the diversity angle can be ignored or glossed over in mainstream newsrooms, particularly when the story is not a stereotypical "diversity topic" like an annual Chinese New Year celebration or a Vaisakhi parade.

“And it was at that moment that being a person of colour at a paper and in an industry that does not have enough of us — particularly at the top — felt more futile than ever before.”

In the Vancouver council story, for example, both the gender and race angles merit coverage, but not equally so. Based on historical data, the lack of diversity angle would seem more newsworthy given women have been equally (or almost equally) represented on city council for over the past four administrations going back to 2005.

In comparison, a South Asian candidate has not served on council in almost 50 years and there has never been a councillor from the Filipino community.

 

Regardless, however, of whether a story is revealed through the lens of race, gender, or some other prism, newsrooms are not democracies, as Dhillon was reminded in his clash with his editor. And even though mainstream newsrooms are increasingly using analytics to practice data-driven journalism that maximizes click-throughs, there is still a human element in how stories are assigned, angled, and ultimately headlined.

These remain in the very subjective hands of newsroom editors.

But like any human being, deadline-pressed editors—whose job requirements include performing newsroom management and story assignment balancing acts—are prone to seeing the world through the lens of their own experiences, which in the senior management realm of Canadian media is even whiter than the ranks staffing newsrooms.

According to Dhillon, it was the constant struggle to table a diverse perspective in this lily-white cultural environment that eventually wore him out: “When a story or column does not adequately if at all, understand or consider the perspectives of the nonwhite people it involves, what do you say?... When you ultimately stop pitching stories on race to preserve your own sanity, what good are you doing the very nonwhite people whose perspectives you deem yourself to be in the newsroom to share?

“How many battles do you have in you?”

For journalists of colour working with their editors, Dhillon’s frustrations are not all that unusual, as he was reminded recently by the large number of responses he received to his post from other Canadian journalists of colour. The friction each experienced ranged from overcoming stereotypes to figuring out when to speak up on race issues and when it was best to just keep their heads down.

 

Like them, I also had my moment of initiation into the whiteness of this world, back in the late '90s when I was trying to cover the Reena Virk story. Virk was the 14-year old Victoria teen who was attacked by seven teenagers she was hanging with and ultimately killed by two of them.

Although in South Asian media, the race angle was a prominent part of the coverage, it has been largely omitted from mainstream reporting where instead the story has been framed as a troubling case of teen girl violence, the bullying of an "awkward" teen, and the tragic tale of someone who just didn’t fit in. When I pressed on covering this missing race angle, my editorial contact at Postmedia (then Canwest) explained that since one of the teens was of mixed heritage, the attack could not have been racially motivated.

I was new to the industry at the time and I too made a difficult decision to bite my tongue.

Today—just as it was nearly two decades ago when Reena Virk was murdered—bringing up race in a newsroom can still have a chilling effect.

A range of quality

In the 1980s when outlets in Canada first began regularly reporting on diverse communities, the coverage was usually singular in topic, often negative, and usually excluded voices from those communities.

The stories were almost always written by white reporters who, once assigned to an "ethnic beat", became the experts on all things relating to that community. Other white reporters went to those white reporters on questions about "their" assigned ethnic communities.

It was sort of like an exercise in urban anthropology. But by covering ethnic communities through the mainstream’s screen of whiteness, it inevitably produced sticky stereotypes.

People in diverse communities, regardless of their professional status, years of gainful employment, or record of community service, became linked to the fringe criminal elements in their communities. Thankfully, coverage of diverse communities has evolved since then, beginning with taking a U-turn away from focussing exclusively on negative news.

But coverage of diverse communities has still not fully matured from being treated as a separate-but-equal content section, like sports, entertainment, or fashion, rather than as a perspective that layers into a cross-section of stories.

This results in mainstream outlets often publishing neatly compartmentalized stories that feature individuals from diverse communities but that have a limited appeal to readers outside of those backgrounds.

Misread

Andree Lau, the editor-in-chief at HuffPost Canada, was recently interviewed on CBC regarding newsroom diversity. She was asked why there are so few people from diverse communities leading newsrooms across this country.

“I think they [people of colour] get to a certain level and they get frustrated. Because they're not seeing enough change or change is not happening fast enough, and they get discouraged,” explained Lau, who is one of the few journalists of colour in a senior position in Canada. “Those very talented people are the ones we need to move up into the next level, and they end up leaving.”

As Canada’s population grows and continues to diversify, the news media is the leading institution to reflect the country’s changing face, in which everyone sees something of themselves smiling back. That work begins first in newsrooms telling stories where diversity is more layered and nuanced and not segregated into a corner.

“I believe I am like everyone else because perspective is diverse and we all have something to contribute to that discussion."

One of the journalists responding to Sunny Dhillon’s resignation post, was a veteran Vancouver broadcast journalist, Simi Sara.

“What it comes down to is this: I have never seen the colour of my skin as a ‘difference’. But others have seen it that way for me,” she was quoted in a follow-up blog Dhillon posted to his Medium account.

“I believe I am like everyone else because perspective is diverse and we all have something to contribute to that discussion. It shouldn’t be segregated as a ‘diversity’ issue. It’s all of us. It’s our communities.”


This article originally appeared in Georgia Straight, read the full version here. Jagdeesh Mann is a journalist and the principal of Sunflower Media, based in Vancouver.

Published in Commentary
Monday, 26 February 2018 09:53

India’s Double Standards Let Trudeau Down

By: Devanshu Narang in Toronto, ON

If I was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I would not forgive Indian politicians and the country's media for a long time. Perhaps Mr. Trudeau will forgive, but as a Canadian with Indian roots, I definitely will not. Ever.

But mark my words, Trudeau's India visit will turn out to be a long-term relationship disaster for India and not for Canada. As an honest, liberal, positive and a truly warm Canadian, the prime minister does not need to re-invent himself. On the other hand, Indians could do some re-thinking themselves. 

True, Mr. Trudeau went overboard, as he sometimes does. Those heavily embroidered and garish Indian tops called 'Kurtas' were an eyesore even to most Indians. We never wear such fancy attire, except special occasions when it is considered chic to have an "Indian look". Perhaps he was either misguided by his coterie of South Asians who love their Bollywood movies or by the huge applause he gets when he wears such costumes at cultural events in Canada. After all, it is a pleasure for the South Asians to see a white leader wear ethnic attire and dance to Indian tunes. Here in Canada it is genuinely considered a mark of respect to the community and a desire to accept their culture.

Unfortunately, India mistook this for Mr. Trudeau's weakness and showed its boorish side. 

In fact, it was evident right from the start that the Indian political elite which hates the liberal agenda and which has turned markedly right-wing and conservative in recent years would not take to the Canadian prime minister. They not only sent a junior minister to officially welcome him, but also ensured that the media coverage he received was low and negative. Slowly the plan was put into effect: his clothing became the object of derision, the motives of his trip questioned, his comments called into question, his guest lists scrutinized, and lo and behold, we had a feel-good trip turned into a PR nightmare.

Treating guests in India

I will not go into the details of how he was treated by Indian and thereafter Canadian and foreign media. How he was made to look like a fool when he was just being a warm human being. I would rather focus on what I think will happen following this trip and let Indians know about the blunder they have just committed.

Here was a guest, who in keeping with Indian traditions was to be treated like a God, who arrived in all humility – always bowing to local traditions, even dressed in their attire to please the locals, showing due respect all all the shrines and institutions revered and loved by Indians, who took his family along and persuaded them to dress the Indian way. Who could ever imagine that he would face ridicule at home, especially from the political opponents baying for blood ready to portray him as a weakling. 

But, more importantly, what is wrong with India? How many times have we had world leaders come to India and respect Indian ways? How happy you've been when they occasionally wear Indian attire for an event and grooved with you? How many times have you hoped that they genuinely like your cuisine, your culture, your music and your own self?  And when a man, a nation's leader, whole-heartedly opens up his soul and gives you a warm hug, you pull back?

So what if he went overboard. Is it wrong to try too hard? 

Canada - India relations

Mr. Trudeau will recover from all this. After all, he did nothing wrong. But chances are India will experience the famous Canadian chill for decades to come.

The relationship between Canada and India may go into cold storage. Not just Canadians, but countries the world over, especially in the Western world, would be less trusting of India, especially if their political views differ. Other world leaders will definitely be more reserved during their Indian visits and never again would any Western leader open up as much as Mr. Trudeau did to Indian traditions and culture. 

As for the invitation extended to a convicted would-be assassin for a Trudeau event, let us review the facts there too. First, the guest lists and invitees are not put together by Mr. Trudeau or any political leader himself. Second, if facts serve me right, Jaspal Atwal was convicted as a terrorist and served his sentence for close to two decades and has gone on record saying after his release saying that he regrets his action. He has already faced punishment for his crime and now walks free in Canada and has all the rights as any other Canadian.

He was visiting India because India too removed his name from the blacklist and granted him a visa. So, how long would you keep crucifying a person for an act in the past? Using the same logic, a lot of political leaders in India who were anti-state at one time should also be blacklisted for life. If anyone is to blame, it is India's double standards.

True, the "Khalistan movement" is dead in India, as it should be. It also does not ignite the minds of a majority of Indo-Canadians any more. But, the fact still remains, that a large part of the Punjabi community that resides in Canada came here in the 1980s and early 1990s after witnessing various atrocities committed to their near and dear ones at different times. The wounds have healed, but the scars still remain for children who grew up without fathers, or men and women who suffered in their youth. These can only be healed by love and acceptance and not by hate and segregation.

By turning your back on Mr. Atwal, who has already paid for his crime, you alienate many other Indo-Canadians and rub fresh salt on old wounds. Alas, one should have expected that out from a newly militant India and its biased media. 

Put this behind you

I only hope that Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal Party does not take the criticism to heart in the context of Canadian diversity. The party's welcome to immigrants, working towards enabling equality, justice and acceptance in Canadian communities, and enabling greater respect for all humans should continue. Mr. Trudeau's evident love for the Indo-Canadian community must not diminished due to unfair coverage by Indian media, which appears semi-controlled by right-wing Indian politicians.

As an Indo-Canadian, I am ashamed about the way India treated our Prime Minister. My advice: please forget this and move on. Thank you for opening your heart.

And, yes, the next time at Diwali or Gurupurb, please bring out those Bhangra dance moves again. 


Devanshu Narang is a contributor for New Canadian Media and other publications such as The Times of India. He is also a member of the NCM Collective

Published in Commentary

By: Kasi Rao in Toronto, ON

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s arrival in New Delhi on February 17 for a week-long state visit marks the 12th visit by a member of his cabinet to India, and given his position, the most important one.

The significance of Trudeau’s visit is clear — India matters to Canada, as a friend and a trading partner with still-unrealized potential at a time when Canada seeks to broaden and deepen its international markets.

"The building blocks are there. Two-way trade between Canada and India was nearly $8 billion in 2016, even though there have been setbacks and slow progress in formal trade talks."

Canada and India have been talking for a while about reaching more comprehensive trade and investment agreements. But the real significance of this visit is already comprehensive — there’s a positive shift in our relationship that we’re ready to build on together.

The building blocks are there. Two-way trade between Canada and India was nearly $8 billion in 2016, even though there have been setbacks and slow progress in formal trade talks.

We do that amount of two-way trade with the United States every four days. But when it comes to Canada-India trade, the modesty of the numbers is a reflection of the past, not the promise of the future.

The obstacles are obvious too. Late last year, Indian government officials slapped an increased tariff on pulses — the little yellow peas that are a staple in South Asia, which Canadian farmers export to India.

Yet we have common ground. Canada is the biggest contributor of pulses to India, and India benefits when our supply is not constricted by tariffs.

There’s no substitute for a meeting between two leaders to reach a better understanding and make it easier to trade commodities.

Canada and India have been negotiating those free trade and investments agreements for some time now — and they may well take longer. That doesn’t negate the need for a sustained engagement with India across multiple sectors.

This visit is an opportunity — to find more common ground. The elements for stronger trade, business and investment relationships between Canada and India are apparent in the number of sectors that are robust and growing yet still relatively untapped.

There are huge opportunities to expand in tourism, research and skills, medical science, technology and innovation.

Some trading partners in the world lament a brain drain, where talented people leave. Between Canada and India it’s a brain chain, where the best and brightest in both countries complement and bolster each others’ achievements.

For example, Canada is one of the most welcoming countries, reflected in our increased immigration targets at a time when others in the G7 are cutting back.

More than a million Canadians trace their roots to India; they provide a natural bridge to newcomers. Canada has increasing potential as a magnet for higher education among promising Indian students, which contributes to research and innovation in both countries.

Canadians and Indians also share many similar attitudes and values in their outlook to solving global problems. On the economic front, Indian states now embrace cooperative and competitive federalism, marketing themselves internationally the way our provinces do.

Canadians and Indians also share many values when it comes to pluralism and diversity, and both countries are in sync on combatting climate change and the Paris Accord.

Public institutions in both countries have legitimacy in ways that either don’t exist in other places or are under severe strain.

Global studies such as the Pew Global Survey and 2018 Edelman Public Trust Barometer show that Canada and India rank consistently high in the public’s trust of institutions.

The strong Canadian team led by Prime Minister Trudeau, who is accompanied by senior Cabinet ministers, demonstrates Canada’s commitment to a wider and deeper relationship with India.

The Canadian brand is a compelling one that resonates with India.  There is nothing like a prime ministerial visit — it provides an extraordinary platform to demonstrate the breadth and depth of our engagement. 


Kasi Rao is President and CEO of the Canada-India Business Council (C-IBC). Republished under arrangement with iPolitics.

Published in Politics
Thursday, 16 November 2017 19:59

New Immigration Plan Hailed and Flailed

Canada’s new plan to welcome nearly one million immigrants over the next three years, has been hailed and flailed around the world despite the Liberal government assurances that it will help offset an aging demographic.

“This historic multi-year immigration levels plan will benefit all Canadians because immigrants will contribute their talents to support our economic growth and innovation, helping to keep our country at the forefront of the global economy, said Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

The new plan aims to build upon the current projections for 300,000 permanent residents in 2017 by increasing the number of new permanent residents welcomed to Canada over a three-year period, beginning with an increase to 310,000 immigrants in 2018, 330,000 in 2019 and 340,000 in 2020.

“This is an important step in the right direction, which reaffirms Canada’s belief in immigration and citizenship as a principle which has helped to build, and which will continue to build, the country,” said the Institute for Canadian Citizenship

“We, probably in the world, have one of the best immigration programs not only in terms of our selection processes but also in terms of our settlement and integration programs where we work with immigrants,” said Debbie Douglas, Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

But not everyone shares the optimism.

The federal government's own Advisory Council on Economic Growth had recommended upping levels to reach 450,000 newcomers annually by 2021. Hussen said the government is taking a more gradual approach to ensure successful integration.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel was critical of the plan, suggesting the government needs to do a better job of integrating newcomers.

"It is not enough for this government to table the number of people that they are bringing to this country. Frankly the Liberals need to stop using numbers of refugees, amount of money spent, feel-good tweets and photo ops for metrics of success in Canada's immigration system."

She said the Liberals need to bring Canada's immigration system "back to order" by closing the loophole in the Safe Third Country Agreement that has seen migrants cross into Canada at unofficial border crossings only to claim refugee status.

She also said the immigration system should focus on helping immigrants integrate through language efficiency and through mental health support plans for people who are victims of trauma.

Dory Jade, the CEO of the Canadian Association of Professional Immigration Consultants, welcomed the news although he suggested the numbers should be higher.

"Canada will greatly prosper and grow once the 350,000 threshold has been crossed," he said. "Nevertheless, we are witnessing a very positive trend."

The Canadian Council of Refugees also welcomed the news, but wanted more, saying the share for refugees was only increased slightly from 13 per cent this year to 14 per cent in each of the next three years.

During the government's consultation period, the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance presented "Vision 2020," what it called a "bold" three-year plan to address growing demographic shifts underway in the country, calling for increased numbers in the economic, family and refugee categories.

Chris Friesen, the organization's director of settlement services, said it's time for a white paper or royal commission on immigration to develop a comprehensive approach to future immigration.

"Nothing is going to impact this country [more] besides increased automation and technology than immigration will and this impact will grow in response to [the] declining birth rate, aging population and accelerated retirements," he told CBC News.

Last month, Statistics Canada reported that based on 2016 census data, 21.9 per cent of Canada's population is now foreign-born, reflecting the highest percentage of immigrant population in nearly a century.

Kareem El-Assal, a senior research manager specializing in immigration for the Conference Board of Canada, said it is "absolutely imperative" that Canada ups its intake in order to meet future labour needs.

But the system must become more adept at matching newcomers with local and provincial needs, he said, improving outcomes by selecting more people with pre-arranged jobs, recruiting more international students and giving provinces a greater say in who comes to the country. 

Coming to Canada 

• Immigration has had an immeasurable effect on Canada. In 2017, Canada stands as a country of 36.5 million people and a world leader on various scales. In fact, one in five Canadians is foreign-born, the highest among the G7. 

• The aging of our population and a declining fertility rate will continue to have a significant impact on Canada’s economy. In 1971, there were 6.6 people of working age for each senior. By 2012, the worker-to-retiree ratio had dropped to 4.2 to 1, and projections put the ratio at 2 to 1 by 2036, at which time five million Canadians are set to retire. In recent years, more than 80 per cent of the immigrants we admit have been under 45 years of age. 

• Immigration also helps to spur innovation domestically. For example, while immigrants account for approximately 20 percent of Canada’s population, they are a major source of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, representing around 50 percent of all STEM degree-holders in Canada at the bachelor’s level and above. These skills are important in a knowledge economy. Immigrants also have a higher rate of entrepreneurship than their Canadian-born counterparts.

• Canada is unique among immigrant-receiving countries in placing great emphasis on providing assistance to recently arrived immigrants to weather their migration transition period. Settlement services, such as language training, employment services and newcomer orientation are linked to immigrant success. In 2016-17, more than 412,000 permanent residents accessed at least one settlement service in Canada. When surveyed, 91 percent of Settlement Program clients reported being able to make informed decisions on a wide variety of subjects, including education, health care and housing. And 87 percent of clients who were in Canada for one year or more reported being able to use an official language to function and participate in Canadian society


Republished under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post. 

Published in Top Stories

By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa

Canada could turn into a U.S.-style partisan battleground if its politicians and media don’t mend their ways, says former Conservative MP Chris Alexander.

Alexander, one of the Harper government cabinet ministers defeated in the 2015 election and an unsuccessful leadership candidate, has recently been vocal about the media, politics and the “alt-right” in Canada.

In a Tyee interview he acknowledged extreme right-wing factions were allowed a place in the Conservative party, but predicted that will change as a result of the backlash after deadly racist demonstrations in Virginia last month.

That kind of violence hasn’t hit Canada, Alexander said, and politicians and journalists need to work to make sure it never does.

But Alexander’s attempt to set out the failings of the Canadian media in an opinion piece he wrote for Maclean’s has drawn its own backlash.

Alexander accused the media of viewing Canadian politics through an American lens and inflaming tensions that divide the country.

And he set out what he called false accusations that he was anti-Muslim, linking them to a March 2015 speech by Justin Trudeau at McGill University reprinted in Maclean’s and then repeated “over and over.”

In the speech Trudeau says Alexander stood in the House of Commons and declared a woman’s hijab was “an indefensible perversion of Canadian values.”

“I never said any such thing,” Alexander wrote in the Maclean’s piece. “My wife Hedvig, who is Danish, wore a hijab through seven years in Afghanistan.” Alexander was Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005 and representative of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan until 2009.

Alexander, defending the Conservative government’s bid to require women to remove their hijabs — head scarves — during citizenship ceremonies, did say “the hijab has been used to cover the face of women... under the terrible influence of the Taliban in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

“Those practices have no place in our citizenship ceremonies, where we insist on confirming the identity and confirming the commitment of new citizens to our laws, to our sovereign, to our values, and to our traditions,” he told the House of Commons.

Alexander’s opinion piece sparked a rebuke from Ottawa Citizen columnist Shannon Gormley.

She said Alexander and other “far-right populists” were trying to “scapegoat elites” for their own failings.

“Adding insult to self-inflicted injuries, perhaps they should be pitied and politely ignored,” she wrote. “Only, in largely blaming others for their own fall just as they blamed them for social decline, populist misopportunists diminish the truth and the social cohesion they claim to desire.”

Failings of media

Alexander told The Tyee the Citizen column highlighted the failings of Canadian media he described in Maclean’s.

The column noted Alexander’s role in the 2015 pre-election announcement of a “barbaric cultural practices tip line” widely panned as anti-Muslim by pundits and political opponents.

But he maintains the tip line plan didn’t reflect bigotry or anti-Muslim sentiments. Alexander said he spoke to victims of cultural practices like forced marriage as he researched the initiative and they used the word “barbaric” to describe their experiences.

Victims even insisted the word be used in the government's tip line name, Alexander said.

But the media mislead the public, he alleged, painting it as a bigoted policy.

“Literally people go around calling it an anti-Muslim snitch line,” he said. “They are misleading the audience in the most dangerous way. There was nothing exclusive anti-anybody in that legislation.”

Alexander said if he had a dime for every person who referred to the line negatively without mentioning things like “forced marriage” or “honour killings” he’d be a rich man.

Alexander still speaks to the news media. But he said the barbaric cultural practices tip line coverage is the kind of story causing Conservatives to boycott media outlets like the CBC, which they say is biased against them.

While some won’t speak to the CBC, many Conservatives — including Alexander — did speak to the Rebel, a controversial right-wing online media outlet.

Alexander had been interviewed by the Rebel and appeared at the organization’s rallies.

In March he tweeted he would no longer attend Rebel events after a piece by contributor Gavin McInnes entitled “10 things I hate about Jews.”

“We have a responsibility, all of us, to hold media and social media to account to the extent they allow themselves to be platforms for spreading hate,” Alexander said then.

Alexander said he wants to talk to all media, and deciding what organizations he won’t speak to is subject to “constant review.”

He said his philosophy is “talk to everyone, pander to no one” and not to say different things to different outlets.

“I don’t think we should be, as a matter of course, boycotting media just because we disagree with reports that they put out,” he said. “I will continue to talk to the CBC and all the other professional media outlets.”

Alexander said the Canadian media is generally “professional” but declining circulations and audiences are having a noticeable affect on quality.

The downward trend, he said, has many Canadians relying on foreign news services as their go-to source for information.

During his years in Parliament from 2011 to 2015, Alexander said he noticed Canadians were increasingly less interested in consuming news from Canadian outlets.

One result has been the growing influence of the polarized political coverage from the United States, he said. “It crowds out our national story,” he said.

The Canadian media needs to change to avoid the same kind of partisan breakdown, Alexander said.

Media must create a “shared sense of public service,” he said, rather than existing to produce clickbait. Canadians should feel served by their media.

Often Canadian media seem to allow their headlines to be determined by negative attacks from a politician’s opponents, he added.

Reporters can’t allow the spin coming out of someone’s war room to drive their coverage, Alexander said, calling for more in-depth reporting and analysis.

“Let's put things in the context of real policy.” 


Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. This piece was republished under arrangement with the Tyee.

Published in Politics

by Susan Delacourt in Ottawa

The best person to explain the big new-year changes to the federal cabinet’s makeup might well be someone who doesn’t even live here: outgoing U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden.

During a visit to Canada a month ago, Biden told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada needs to step up, internationally — comments that were widely interpreted as a gesture of passing the liberal torch from soon-to-be ex-president Barack Obama.

“The world is going to spend a lot of time looking to you, Mr. Prime Minister. Vive le Canada, because we need you very, very badly,” Biden said in remarks at a dinner during his visit to Ottawa.

While we don’t know how much the world was watching events at Rideau Hall on Tuesday, it is abundantly clear that Trudeau has set his sights on the world. As he told reporters after the shuffle, he needs to take into account a “shift in global context.”

In fact, it’s difficult to remember a Canadian cabinet shuffle so internationally focused — one that set so many parts in motion outside Canada’s borders, especially during a time of tumultuous, global change. Among the changes we learned about Tuesday:

  • A new minister to handle the looming challenges to Canada posed by Donald Trump’s incoming administration — Chrystia Freeland, now Global Affairs minister.
  • A new ambassador to China — former immigration minister John McCallum. This isn’t about a minister being put out to pasture: McCallum is being asked to represent Canada in a nation of immense interest to the current government. Faced with trade threats from a U.S. president vowing to make America great again (possibly at other countries’ expense,) Canada has been seeking to expand trade with China.
  • A new minister of international trade, François-Philippe Champagne.
  • A new minister of immigration, refugees and citizenship: Ahmed Hussen.

The departing Global Affairs minister, Stéphane Dion, was rumoured to be considering a diplomatic post, possibly in Europe, but at the time of Tuesday’s press conference the former Liberal leader was saying only that he was leaving active politics and considering his next move. My best bet is that this is a difficult conversation still in progress (which probably accounted for the unusual uncertainty about the timing of the shuffle ceremony itself at Rideau Hall).

The speculation about Europe as a landing spot for Dion, however, underlines just how much Trudeau and his team are thinking about what’s going on in the world these days. The Brexit vote to leave the European Union, the refugee crisis, ongoing terrorism threats and the rise of right-wing parties are all large matters of concern to progressive-minded governments.

As Biden said in his Ottawa speech: “I’ve never seen Europe as engaged in as much self-doubt as they are now.”

All prime ministers, sooner or later, become preoccupied with global affairs and their place on the big stage. It’s usually an interest that deepens with tenure, and their increasing confidence in rubbing shoulders with other world leaders.

With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.

Trudeau, however, seemed to arrive in office with an intense interest in international affairs; he gave some of his first interviews to foreign media and has spent a lot of time commuting to the United States and other summits around the world. His critics have portrayed this as a lack of interest in his own country, accusing Trudeau of being too busy to even attend question period and thinking himself too important to spend his vacations in Canada.

Granted, it is a luxury Trudeau can afford. With a comfortable majority, Trudeau doesn’t need to be worried about his government falling on a vote in the Commons while he’s abroad, as Stephen Harper was during his first two minority governments.

Not all of this shuffle was outward-looking. Shuffles can be very useful in maintaining government discipline — dangling a few promotions as examples to other ambitious, cabinet wannabes in the backbench, and doling out demotions as a warning to others performing under-par. To borrow from that old Liberal campaign slogan from 2015, shuffles are all about hope and hard work — dispensing it (hope) or enforcing it (hard work).

On that score, this shuffle did deliver. While Trudeau’s office was putting out nice words about Dion and his contribution to the government in a press release, nobody watching the PM’s press conference had any doubts that the PMO had decided the former professor and Liberal leader wasn’t the right man to handle what’s coming with Trump and other big events on the world stage.

Other casualties: Maryam Monsef, now the Status of Women minister, was punted from the Democratic Reform post to which she was proving herself unsuited (to say the least). MaryAnn Mihychuk was ejected altogether from her job as minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour.

Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election. The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States.

Big promotions were handed out to Patty Hadju, moving from Status of Women to Mihychuk’s old job, and to new ministers Champagne and Hussen. Other MPs will be wondering what they did right — which is exactly what the PMO wants them to be thinking about.

Note, though, that the domestic posts in this week’s shuffle were almost afterthoughts. Trudeau wasn’t doing this shuffle with home-grown concerns at front of mind, or even his prospects for the next election (those changes will come closer to 2019, we can assume).

The election that seems to be front of mind for Trudeau right now is the recent one in the United States — the one that gave Canada, and now Freeland, a President Trump to deal with. And if we’re looking for deeper read of the shuffle’s international focus, Biden’s remarks to the PM may be as good any.

“The progress is going to be made,” Biden said, “but it’s going to take men like you, Mr. Prime Minister, who understand it has to fit within the context of a liberal economic order, a liberal international order, where there’s basic rules of the road.”

Don’t be surprised if words along these lines are in the mandate letters for many of the new ministers.

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.


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca 

Published in Politics

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.

“Living in a state of economic and social despair can produce huge and even cataclysmic consequences . . ."

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.

“We have a big hat, but no cattle,” a reference to cowboys whose boastful talk is not matched by action . . . 

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.

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

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.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Amanda Connolly in Ottawa

The level of trust Canadians have in the federal government is at its highest point since EKOS Research began measuring the key indicator 17 years ago, a new survey shows.

According to the poll, which surveyed 1,176 Canadian adults over the age of 18 on April 14th and 15th, 44 per cent said they “almost always” or “most of the time” trust the new Trudeau government in Ottawa to do what is right, compared to roughly 30 per cent who said the same before the October election, when Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were in power, and a low of 22 per cent in fall 2014.

That 44 per cent is the highest number tracked since EKOS began asking “the trust question” in 1990 and is the highest level measured previous to that by Gallup since the mid-1970s.

The poll was conducted more than three weeks after the Liberal government’s first budget, which was tabled on March 22 and reflected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s major, controversial, election promise of deficit spending to stimulate economic growth.

The current numbers also reflect that 53 per cent of respondents say they trust the government only some of the time or almost never, down from a six-year high of 76 per cent in August 2014 and just over 60 per cent in October 2015.

The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

“It’s really quite surprising to see the amount of bouyancy in that number with the current government,” said EKOS pollster Frank Graves. “I would have guessed it would go up but I would not have guessed it would go up that much or that it would have persisted for several months.”

According to EKOS Research numbers, the number of Canadians who said they trust the government to do what is right dropped consistently during the 1970s and 1980s, reaching a low of roughly 20 per cent in 1990.

That time period encompassed the terms of former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, John Turner and Brian Mulroney, with trust levels beginning a slow climb again during the end years of Mulroney and the governments of Kim Campbell and Jean Chretien.

However, starting in 2000 that number became sharply more volatile than in years of the past, rising and dropping during the tumultuous end of Jean Chretien’s tenure and the entirety of Paul Martin’s government, before rising sharply and falling equally sharply between the time Stephen Harper came into and left office.

At the same time, the number of Canadians who say they believe the country is heading in the right direction may be levelling out to post-election norms.

Between April 2015 and October 2015, the number of respondents who said the country was heading in the right direction ranged from between 39 and 50 per cent, while those who said the country was heading in the wrong direction were between 49 and 62 per cent.

In January 2016, just three months after the election, those both reached their respective peaks: roughly 69 per cent said the country is heading in the right direction while roughly 32 per cent said the opposite.

Those post-election reactions appear to be moderating, with 55.2 per cent of respondents saying the country is heading in the right direction compared to 37.5 per cent who say the opposite.

The number of respondents who said the Government of Canada is heading in the right direction — and those who say the opposite — down slightly from where they were in January, with 60 per cent saying the government is heading in the right direction and 33 per cent saying it is heading in the wrong direction.

Given the recent post-oil crash economic turmoil in the country, that’s unusual, says Graves.

“That’s paradoxical because often a very poor economy has a corrosive impact on the public’s sense of whether the government’s moving in the right direction,” he said. “In this case, we don’t see that. We see the opposite. But that patience will not be infinite.” 


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca

Published in Politics
Thursday, 31 March 2016 00:26

Trudeau Takes Aim at Inequality

OTTAWA—The Liberal government’s first budget takes a swing at shrinking Canada’s growing inequality and boosting the middle class. Progressives call it a step in the...

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 PRIME Justin Trudeau on Tuesday issued the following statement after learning of a number of terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium: “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the news that so many have been killed and injured in terrorist attacks targeting the people of Brussels, Belgium. “Sophie and I join all Canadians in extending our deepest […]

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The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

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