New Canadian Media

by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa

Even before our interview got underway, he told me, he was about to post a tweet that criticizes the Liberal government’s plans to send peacekeepers to Africa.

“I’m blasting them and I said BS, Africa doesn’t need peacekeepers; what we need to do is to provide training for African peacekeepers,” says Deepak Obhrai, Conservative MP for Calgary, Forest Lawn.

That is the nature of the man seeking the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. Often touted as one of the most controversial MPs, Obhrai refuses the controversial tag, but says he is supposed to generate discussion and that is what he does.

“That is part of my job, to create national debates,” he says.

He believes adding his voice to national discourse is very important.

“I’m putting my views across. If I feel a government policy is wrong, I’ll say so,” he adds.

“Elitist and white”

Obhrai recently criticized his own party for increasing party membership fees to $25, saying some of these new rules made the party “elitist and white”. He had his way. The party overturned the decision to increase the amount and pegged it at $15.

“After I made that big noise, it went across the country and the party reduced it,” he says amid smiles that suggest he feels he’s won a big battle.  

“That is an achievement. When you fight, you can do it,” he adds.

That is not the only time Obhrai has fought his own party. He openly opposed Bill C-24 which gave power to the federal government to strip Canadian citizenship from dual citizens when charged with terrorism. He made some enemies, but he didn’t care, as long as he put his message across.

“Of course, for a few days, I was marginalized,” he scoffs.

Old Canada

Often outspoken, Obhrai says people who still think Canada belongs to just a few of them are living in the past. Obhrai says these people and their ideas need to be fought.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

“There is what I call ‘establishment’ discrimination. The old establishment still thinks Canada belongs to the 1940’s,” he says.

“I’m running to ensure my message that the Conservative Party is open to all [gets out].  I’ve been working 20 years at this, I just have to continue to work hard at it,” Obhrai adds.

 “They are criticizing me because I’m saying this is a new Canada,” Obhrai says, without alluding to anybody in particular.

Attracting immigrants

Obhrai, who is the longest serving Tory MP, says the party was perceived and labelled as a racist party, and so he joined to change that perception from the inside. 

“I worked hard over the years, and I spoke out. We were very successful.”

He says those efforts helped the party especially in 2011, when they won a majority of seats in Parliament.

“But then we started sleeping,” he laments.  

Citing the controversy over Bill C-24 and the one surrounding the niqab, Obhrai says this portrayed the Conservative party as “anti-immigrant”. He says the party lost a majority of new Canadians in last October’s federal election.

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

Obhrai says, “This is not the party I worked for; this is not the party that I built.”

He says the party needs to bring on board all new Canadians and make it attractive for them, adding that he is best equipped to lead the charge. .

Born in Tanzania

Obhrai was born in Tanzania and moved to Canada at a young age. Since being elected to the House of Commons in 1997, he has served in various capacities. He is currently the dean of the Tory caucus. As parliamentary secretary for 10 years, he says he has gained a lot of international recognition and needs to bring this experience to his party.

“In the 10 years that I worked as parliamentary secretary, I gained a huge amount of respect from overseas, in Africa, Asia and the Pacific; everybody knows me,” Obhrai says.

“I am a man with tremendous experience.”

He says with this and his vast knowledge of the grassroots, his message is unique and that is what the party needs at this time.

Proud Immigrant

Obhrai takes every opportunity to make people aware he is an immigrant. Taking me through some of the large collection of souvenirs in his Parliament Hill office, he points out a framed certificate from his former high school, Arusha Secondary School in Tanzania with pride. Indeed, it was the first thing he pointed to in his office.

Obhrai also prides himself as the only immigrant MP to be profiled in a textbook for students in Canada.

“By the way, me, an immigrant from Africa, is profiled in the high school book of Grade 9 in the whole of Alberta,” he says proudly.

He fetches the book from his table and opens straight to the page. “Every high school student in Grade 9 reads about me. That is an achievement for an immigrant.”

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 Politics

   ON May 11, MPs and Senators gathered to elect Chandra Arya, MP for Nepean, as Chair of the new Canada-India Parliamentary Friendship Group (CIPFG). It was a historic night, marking the re-birth of the group, which saw its membership grow to a record 80+ members. Kannada-speaking Bangalore native Arya said: “It is a privilege […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in Politics

by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario

“Did I tell you the time I was called 'a little girl'?” asks MP Rathika Sitsabaiesan incredulously.

Sitting in her election campaign headquarters in Scarborough’s Malvern neighbourhood, the first-term MP is recounting her experiences in politics after being elected in 2011 from Scarborough – Rouge River on the New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket. She was 29.

“It was a Citizenship and Immigration committee and I had the floor and I was speaking. And the chair had the audacity to say to me, ‘settle down little girl.’” Now four years older, she is seeking re-election from the new riding of Scarborough North to a Parliament which, she asserts, is still “very much an old white man’s club.”

The Sri Lanka-born MP sees herself very much part of a changing Canada, pointing out that for the first time ever, in 2011, the average age of MPs was below 50 years. The House of Commons also had the highest number of women. 

She has many firsts – first woman and first woman of colour MP to represent her riding – she was also the first MP of Tamil ancestry in the House. She and her family emigrated from Sri Lanka when she was five.

Often assumed to be “working for someone” or “somebody’s assistant” when she shows up for fancy galas and social gatherings, Sitsabaiesan told New Canadian Media in an exclusive interview that she has to work three times as hard as other MPs.

“Breaking down those pre-conceived notions is one part of the job of a young woman of colour who grew up in poverty, and is not a doctor or a lawyer, but it’s also just about holding my own.” [Picture shows Sitsabaiesan at her 2015 campaign launch on Aug. 22. Credit: Campaign supplied photo]

In love with Scarborough

Sitsabaiesan first fell in love with Scarborough, in the east end of Toronto, at the beginning of high school. As her family lived in Mississauga on its western edge, she would commute – sometimes three hours one way – to attend dance classes and Tamil school and later to volunteer.

Over time she became more engaged in civic activities, volunteering with community groups like the now defunct Malvern Community Coalition and the Action for Neighbourhood Change organization. Six years ago, she decided to make Scarborough her home.

Though pockets of the community, particularly Malvern, have at times been viewed negatively in the media, Sitsabaiesan says the riding’s overall welcoming nature is what she loves the most.

“That sense of community is really obvious in all the pockets and neighbourhoods within Scarborough Rouge River and that’s, I think, the best thing for me.”

She talks of the high level of diversity in the riding allowing her to be the “social chameleon” that she is and building meaningful inroads with all community members – whether by participating in the annual Caribbean Carnival or visiting the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatic Care.

She says she strongly believes that her intimate connection with the community is what voters gravitated to in the last election – an election that saw a significant rise in voter turnout for a riding that ranked second-lowest in Ontario during the previous federal elections in 2008.  

“I really do think that made a difference,” she says. “That if you’re seeking to be a representative of the community, that you’re actually a member of the community, that you can actually understand what life is for people in that community and what their lived experiences would be.”

Tight three-way race

While the name and face of Sitsabaiesan may have been the change people voted for in the last election, it may not be the same this time around, as the boundaries have changed.

While Sitsabaiesan easily won her former riding, the new one, which combines Scarborough – Rouge River and Scarborough – Agincourt, could be a different story. Portions of neighbourhoods like Malvern and Morningside Heights are now out of her riding boundaries and she can expect a tight three-way race. 

Sitsabaiesan’s Liberal challenger is Shaun Chen, who resigned as chair of Toronto District School Board to fight the election. Her Conservative opponent is businesswoman and community activist Ravinder Malhi.

Elections Canada has applied the 2011 results to the new riding boundaries and it shows a very tight race. Even a small swing might result in a very different outcome. The NDP would have won Scarborough North with 35.3 per cent of the vote, compared to 33.3 per cent for the Conservatives and 28.9 per cent for the Liberals. The sitting MP is aware that while Scarborough – Rouge River had the highest Tamil population among all the ridings, fewer voters in Scarborough North share the same heritage. [Picture shows MP Sitsabaiesan hugging long-time supporter Mark Atikian, member of the Armenian National Committee of Toronto. Credit: Campaign supplied photo]

Criticism and controversy

Outside her riding, Sitsabaiesan has received negative attention, the most recent being a personal trip to Sri Lanka and India at the end of 2013 that generated some criticism and controversy.

The critics come with the territory, she says, adding that some people argue she does too much for the Tamil community, while others argue that she doesn’t do enough.

What she stands behind, though, is the work she has done for all of her constituents. She mentions that her office has helped more than 1,000 individuals and families, the majority of which have been immigration-related issues.

She may also have had a role in inspiring other candidates of Tamil heritage in running this time: Senthi Chelliah, NDP Candidate for the riding of Markham-Thornhill; Rev. K.M. Shanthikumar, NDP Candidate for the riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park; and Gary Anandasangaree, Liberal Candidate for riding of Scarborough–Rouge Park. 

While her global human rights work has seen her take up causes in Guatemala, Honduras, the Philippines and India, she says the high level of child poverty and legislation like Bill C-24 (the new citizenship Act) and Bill C-51 (anti-terrorism) are examples of the long way Canada still has to go.

“While we’re helping people all over the world have a sense of fairness, we need to make sure that we’re doing that here at home.” 


Published in Politics

by Julian Fantino (@JulianFantino) in Vaughan

Recently, without warning and without consultation, Rogers Communications decided to end all Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on the multicultural OMNI station.  As a proud Italian-Canadian and a federal Cabinet Minister, many individuals and organizations have contacted me to express their deep concern and, indeed, outrage at this sudden decision by Rogers.

Outside of the Italian-Canadian community, this may seem to be a minor and insignificant decision by a large corporation. However, for Italian-Canadians in Ontario it was a much more personal transgression and cut much deeper.

For many, OMNI – and its original form as CFMT (Canada's First Multilingual Television) – holds a special place in their hearts. Nearly three decades ago, CFMT responded to a void within immigrant communities for television programming in their own native tongue that helped explain and educate them on the issues of the day locally, provincially, nationally, and internationally.

Iannuzzi - the founder

In fact, Italian-Canadians take great pride that CFMT itself was founded by one of their own – Dan Iannuzzi. Iannuzzi, a recipient of the Order of Canada, was a pioneer in multicultural communications and a significant contributor to Toronto's Italian community – with CFMT (now OMNI) being one of his lasting legacies. His vision was to create a medium that would provide Italian-Canadians and other non-English and non-French speaking Canadians a link to their ancestral language and culture, while helping increase their awareness of current events in Canada.

In short, CFMT (and OMNI after it) served as a vital connection for Italian-speaking Canadians – and many other non-English and non-French speaking Canadians – to understand and participate in the social, cultural, and political life of Canada.

Indeed, throughout the years, Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on OMNI has been a vital link in terms of local community news for the Italian-Canadian population of the Great Toronto Area and throughout Ontario. Moreover, it represented one of the bonds that held the Italian-Canadian community together: informing them of local events, highlighting issues of unique importance to them, and mobilizing them to ensure their collective voice remained heard.

A platform

I myself had opportunities on numerous occasions, as Chief of Police and later as a Member of Parliament, to appear on OMNI to speak directly to the Italian community on issues of importance to them and solicit their feedback. I, along with elected representatives of political parties across the spectrum, valued the venue that OMNI provided.

I would also note the contributions of Vincenzo Somma, Dino Cavalluzzo, Giorgio Mitolo, and the rest of the crew of OMNI News: Italian Edition, on behalf of Italian-Canadians throughout Toronto and Ontario. I know I speak for many Italian-Canadians in Ontario when I say that we value their presence and tremendous work, which we would hope could be continued.

That’s why Italian-Canadians have been mobilizing against this regrettable decision by Rogers Communications, and I feel the strong need to make my voice heard as well.

Holding Rogers to account

First, I wrote to the President and Chief Executive Officer of Rogers Communications, Guy Laurence, pleading with him to reconsider this decision and reinstate news and current affairs television programming – especially Italian – on the multicultural OMNI station. However, the response by Rogers Communications did not substantively address the concerns that I raised.

As a result, after discussions with my colleagues in the Harper government, our Conservative Members of Parliament have called a special parliamentary committee meeting on this very issue – where we will ask Rogers to explain themselves to Members of Parliament and the Canadian public. 

The motion, submitted to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage by Member of Parliament Rick Dykstra (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage), reads as follows: That the Standing Committee of Canadian Heritage invite representatives from OMNI to discuss their recent programming changes, specifically as they relate to local news coverage in Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin and Italian; and that the meeting take place prior to June 18th and that the meeting be scheduled for two hours.

I hope this meeting, along with the substantial and continued advocacy by many Italian-Canadian organizations as well as other groups from other communities such as the Punjabi, Cantonese and Mandarin communities, will force Rogers to reconsider this decision to cancel all Italian-language news and current affairs television programming on OMNI.

For Italian-Canadians, especially seniors, this is much more than simply a television program, it is about protecting a legacy built by Iannuzzi over 30 years and ensuring Italian-Canadians are not isolated from the community and the world around them. 


Julian Fantino was first elected to the House of Commons in 2010 as the Member of Parliament for Vaughan and re-elected in 2011. In January 2015, Fantino was appointed Associate Minister of National Defence. Previously, he was appointed Minister of State (Seniors) in January 2011, Associate Minister of National Defence in May 2011, Minister of International Cooperation in July 2012 and Minister of Veterans Affairs in July 2013.

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 Commentary

by Monika Spolia (@dr_spolia) in Montreal

The name Maria Mourani made national headlines in 2013 when her outspoken criticism of the Parti Quebecois’ proposed Charter of Values led her to switch parties. Recently, the Lebanese-Canadian’s name made headlines again, as she announced her new bid to run in the upcoming federal elections as a member of the New Democratic Party from Quebec’s Ahuntsic-Cartierville riding.

Never one to hold her tongue, particularly on issues of equality and social justice, the formerly Bloc Quebecois MP who was born in Ivory Coast, Africa and migrated to Canada in 1988, has plenty to say about the political landscape in this country and where diversity fits into it.

NCM: You were with a sovereignist party, the Bloc Quebecois, but now you are not. What has changed?

MP Mourani: Well, a lot of things have changed. I resigned from Bloc Quebecois in 2013… I am no longer a sovereignist, because I no longer believe in this ideology, in this vision. I believe that we can be proud Quebecers in Canada and we can work hard to build a better Canada with a good generous vision. Just like Quebecers, we have to take our place in Canada. We have to try to work hard and convince other Canadians to share our point of view, our values and the politics in Quebec. We do have good politics in Quebec, for example, daycare, and when I was in the critique of women’s status, I met with a lot of women’s groups all over Canada and they would like to have the same programs implemented as the programs here in Quebec, the programs with family and children, especially the daycare program. We have a lot of things to share with other Canadians. When we focus on just independence, we live alone. We don’t want to be with other Canadians; instead, we reject them.

NCM: So, you don’t want to believe in this separatist ideology. You would rather be a proud Quebecer Canadian.

MP Mourani: Yes, it is possible. We can be a proud Quebecer and respect ourselves, and the others, and be Canadian and build a better place to live altogether.    

We live in a secular country. Canada, and also Quebec province, in fact, all the provinces are secular. If you wear your cross, kippa or veil, that does not mean that the state is not secular.

NCM: You left the Bloc Quebecois after your open critique of Quebec’s Charter of Values. And you were critiquing them for undermining the rights of minorities. Being a minority yourself, you must have come across many challenges in and out of the office. Can you explain your views to our readers as to how the charter of values of Quebec undermines the minority rights?

MP Mourani: It’s not just minority rights. It is religious people. They wanted to implement this law, but they couldn’t, because it is against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. So, for me, it was a very hard time, because I realized then that the Parti Quebecois tried to resist particular [groups] with its Charter. They thought they could win election with that. They thought they could win election by dividing people, reject some people and target some people. And it was religious people, not only minority. For me this is unacceptable.

NCM: Well you did mention that it was the violation of basic human rights.

MP Mourani: And the violation of the rights of religion. I don’t understand this. We live in a secular country. Canada, and also Quebec province, in fact, all the provinces are secular. If you wear your cross, kippa or veil, that does not mean that the state is not secular. In our country, we decided a long time ago to separate religion and politics and that’s right. It’s a good way to do [things]. Just because you wear your religious sign on you doesn’t mean that you are trying to convince others to convert to your religion. For example, just because you are wearing your cross or kippa or veil, it doesn’t mean that you are trying to convince the others to convert to Christianity, Judaism or Islam. It’s your right to wear what you want to wear.

NCM: It’s more like your personal identity.

MP Mourani: Yes, for some people, religion is part of their identity. Then how can you target the people and tell them that if you wear your cross or veil you will lose your job?

NCM: That is being very exclusive and that doesn’t work very well.

MP Mourani: That’s why, for me, it was a very bad law and a very bad decision for Parti Quebecois to do this because already Parti Quebecois doesn’t have a good image amongst minorities. And people don’t feel comfortable with this kind of politics.

It is good to have diversity in the House of Commons, and even in the Quebec National Assembly. So, it is a challenge for us to be able to represent the country’s diversity in the House.

NCM: Being a minority yourself and also not from the same religion as the mainstream, you must have come across many challenges in and out of the office. Can you tell us a little about that?

MP Mourani: I guess the first challenge is to be the first [Lebanese] woman in politics.

NCM: That’s a big one.

MP Mourani: Yes, it’s a big challenge. And it’s also a challenge to be a minority. What is interesting is that you bring with you a different vision and conditions of immigration and women. It is good to have diversity in the House of Commons, and even in the Quebec National Assembly. So, it is a challenge for us to be able to represent the country’s diversity in the House.

NCM: Actually, that’s what I was going to ask you next. What are your views on the politics of cultural diversity in various levels of government?

MP Mourani: We don’t have much of that. I guess we need more women, minorities and youth. This changed with the last election. The NDP tsunami brought in a lot of women, minorities and a lot of young people to the front of politics. I hope for the next election, we can keep this same level of diversity and more.

NCM: Do you have any comments on the upcoming reform of the current Quebec immigration policy?

MP Mourani: I don’t have comments about that because I haven’t seen the Bill right now as of what they want to do. But I guess the important point is, yes, it is important to choose our immigrants, but when we decided, a few years ago, Quebec decided to have professional immigrants with skills, diploma and sometimes a PhD, [but] you need to put programs to help these people to have a job. But the real problem for me is not to choose the immigrants; it is to fix the problem of the job.

It is very difficult for minority people to find a job. And this issue, the government right now, they didn’t talk about this issue in the vision to rebuild a new vision of immigration.

NCM: Yes, we have these temporary workers coming in, and we have the immigration policy and yet we have unemployment there.

MP Mourani: Yes, I met a lot of people – Algerians, Moroccans, Pakistanis and Africans - all the countries. They come here with a lot of hope and they try to find a job and it is so difficult because they experience racism, for example, they have a special name, a special colour. So, it is very difficult for minority people to find a job. And this issue, the government right now, they didn’t talk about this issue in the vision to rebuild a new vision of immigration.

NCM: And do you have any idea which countries they are going to target to get immigrants from?

MP Mourani: I really don’t know. But I don’t think they will target a country. They are going to focus on the set of skills needed.

NCM: What is the main focus of your upcoming platform with NDP?

MP Mourani: Well, we are looking forward to implementing more programs for family, children and women. Quebec is looking forward to receiving the federal funds to implement such programs. This way it works out well for both Quebec and Canada. Empowering women and working for the benefit of families and children is in the heart of the NDP agenda. 


Monika Spolia is a journalist and the founding editor of Bharat Times Newspaper (Montreal), a South Asian perspective, English-based Canadian monthly publication - www.bharattimes.ca.

Published in Politics
Wednesday, 12 November 2014 17:00

MP reflects on surviving attack on Parliament

Mark Adler can’t bear to watch or hear that clip. If a news story comes on replaying the attack on Parliament that Wednesday morning, Oct. 22, Adler changes the...

Jewish Tribune

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Published in National
Saturday, 27 September 2014 09:01

Getting to know your MP better  

 BY HARNOOR GILL    Grade 11 student Christ The King Catholic Secondary Georgetown, Ontario   LAST weekend, I visited Chinguacousy Park in Brampton and had the opportunity to attend the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario’s barbecue in appreciation of the hard-working volunteers who are some of the hardest working grassroots activists in our community.  It […]

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National

An unusual trend is playing out in some federal Liberal Party riding nominations as a group of men with close links to the Chinese regime do their best to support some Chinese candidates.

The Globe and Mail reported the unusual party nominations in Toronto’s suburbs in August, where Mandarin-speaking Chinese with powerful backers have been leveraging their Chinese community connections in a bid to win riding nominations.

Among those supporting candidates in the nominations is Ontario’s Liberal immigration and trade minister Michael Chan. Chan backed Geng Tan, a prominent Chinese community leader who secured the nomination for Don Valley North in Toronto.

Epoch Times

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Published in Politics
Monday, 07 July 2014 14:14

Fed Up With Politicians? So Is Your MP

by Books Editor Abby Paige

Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy

Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan

Random House Canada

Non-Fiction, 2014

In 2009, Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan founded the political think tank Samara. They were concerned about a growing disengagement among Canadians from their political system, what MacMillan describes as a “turning away from the village green, from the importance of how we decide to live together and make decisions together, and how that translates into how we govern ourselves.” They saw these trends in the larger culture, but also among colleagues and peers.

“So many people that I knew,” says MacMillan, describing his frustration, “Smart people in their middle age — a good proxy for part of the population — saw no reason to talk about this stuff, let alone vote, let alone join a political party, let alone actually read a book, let alone sign a petition.”

These problems are not unique to Canada. Western democracies are all suffering similar symptoms of citizen disengagement, even as those countries attempt to export their systems of governance to other parts of the world. Not only has voter turnout dipped significantly, but fewer people are joining political parties, donating to campaigns, and otherwise participating in political culture.

But Loat and MacMillan don’t necessarily see citizens as the root of the problem. “To throw the blame at the feet of 35 million disparate citizens, who have many other things on their plate, is probably not fair,” says Loat. So they sought out a small sector of the population with much more direct experience of the inner-workings of Canadian democracy.

Western democracies are all suffering similar symptoms of citizen disengagement, even as those countries attempt to export their systems of governance to other parts of the world.
 

Citizen engagement

Through Samara, Loat and MacMillan aim to create educational programs and research projects that will shine a light on issues of citizen engagement in Canadian democracy, and their first such project was to conduct exit interviews with former Members of Parliament about their experiences on the job. Who better to diagnose the problems of our political system than those who have worked inside it? They ultimately spoke with eighty MPs, including 35 cabinet ministers, across all parties and regions of the country, and, based on those conversations, they wrote Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada’s Failing Democracy.

The title may seem alarmist to some readers; an audience at the Ottawa Writers Festival took issue with the characterization of Canada’s democracy as “failing.” The phrase “tragedy of the commons” is borrowed from a 1968 essay by an American biologist on the challenges of managing public resources: how can the long-term benefits of the group be protected from a few individuals seeking short-term gains? This is certainly a question Canadians might ask themselves around election time, when candidates seem more focused on trashing one another than articulating a coherent political vision. But the real tragedy that Loat and MacMillan describe is that, once the dust of electoral mud-slinging has settled, our politicians appear to feel as alienated from our political system as we do. And if they’re not invested in nurturing our democratic institutions, how can ordinary citizens be?

The title may seem alarmist to some readers; an audience at the Ottawa Writers Festival took issue with the characterization of Canada’s democracy as “failing."

Tragedy in the Commons is a useful, warts-and-all primer on the Canadian political system. It reveals some of the psychological elements at work in Canadian political culture and, by focusing on the experiences of MPs, uncovers subtle, underlying causes of dysfunction. The portraits are not always riveting, but they are often surprisingly relatable in their banality. Like their constituents, MPs are romanced by their political parties during campaigns, but once in office, successful candidates are left to their own devices, without a clear job description or any consistent system of orientation for the newly elected. Many feel like pawns of their parties and cope by finding alternative ways to make themselves useful, such as greasing the wheels of government bureaucracy on behalf of local constituents or taking on pet issues in which to become self-styled experts.

Political outsiders

One unexpected trend that emerged from the interviews was a tendency among the vast majority of MPs to describe themselves as political “outsiders.” The authors were fascinated by how consistently their interviewees, unprompted, expressed surprise at being approached about running for office and denied that they had had sincere political ambitions of their own, although most had been active in their communities in some type of leadership role. It is this “outsider narrative” that, to Loat and MacMillan, suggests a strong and pervasive disdain for the political process. What does it say about our attitude toward democracy that political office is either thrust solely upon the unwilling or is too deviant an aspiration to admit?

“They came back, over and over,” says Loat, “To ‘question period is terrible,’ as if they weren’t there. ‘I never planned to run,’ even though they were active in their communities. Part of what we are trying to do is send a message to people who are in politics that you can’t always be looking from the outside in. You have a responsibility to uphold the quality of our politics.”

The book is often repetitive, suggesting that perhaps the authors needed to stretch their material to book length, and the repetitiveness at times muddies the shape of their argument. Tragedy also falls into a common trap for political books of stating and restating problems, while solutions are less well elaborated and defended. Nonetheless, readers might be heartened to discover that the authors and their interviewees propose no vast structural changes to the political system, but rather minor tweaks to create greater transparency in party operation and Parliamentary bureaucracy and to develop a greater sense of accountability on the part of individual MPs.

Tragedy in the Commons is perhaps best read in the context of Samara’s other activities, which include a broad range of programs to reveal the inner workings of our political system and engage citizens in political conversations. According to Loat and MacMillan, this is quite simply the work required to keep a democracy healthy and vibrant.

“I sometimes use the metaphor of the human body,” says MacMillan. “If you don’t eat properly, if you don’t exercise, your body will fall apart. Complex systems inherently need constant attention.”

Samara’s goal is to provide ways for citizens to tend to their democracy and to make sure that their elected representatives are doing the same. Tragedy in the Commons provides a starting point.

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

It is unfortunate that a debate over selectively aborting female fetuses has been hijacked by politics in Ottawa. A Conservative member of parliament has tried to pass a motion that would have decried the practice, but his effort has been lost in the cacophony over whether PMO (Prime Minister’s Office) has too much power.

That side debate may be an important one in and of itself, but it is sad to see the much more important question of female foeticide sidelined over political machinations in the nation’s capital. The powers of the Canadian prime minister have been debated endlessly under both Liberal and right-wing prime ministers. One readily recalls columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s critique of the mandate of Jean Chrétien as “The Friendly Dictatorship.” The present government has faced similar criticism over its heavy-handedness almost from its first days in power.

The enormous influence of Canadian and similarly-governed Westminster model parliamentary democracies has been a reasonably well-researched subject and has filled many a tome. So, what’s new? What’s new is that a Canadian MP tried to throw light on abortions driven by a parental preference for one sex over the other. That effort was apparently stymied by PMO and the Conservative party whip in the House of Commons.

This issue is of particular interest to us because the practice – stemming from what’s commonly referred to as a “son preference” – appears to be most prevalent in Asian nations such as China, India, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam. The medical community and demographers have been tracking this trend for years, and it is no coincidence that these countries have some of the most dramatic differences in gender ratios. As against a global average of 105 male babies to 100 female newborns, the ratio can get skewed to as much as 130:100 because female babies are selectively aborted.

This imbalance has huge sociological and ethical consequences. 

The issue came to national attention when the then editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Dr. Rajendra Kale, wrote an opinion piece (Jan. 2012) calling for a ban on disclosing the gender of fetuses until 30 weeks of gestation. He warned that there were a large number of such abortions happening in Canada (and the U.S.): “Female feticide happens in India and China by the millions, but it also happens in North America in numbers large enough to distort the male-to-female ratio in some ethnic groups,” Dr. Kale argued.

“Should female feticide in Canada be ignored because it is a small problem localized to minority ethnic groups? No,” the editorial said. The editorial was aptly titled, “It's a girl!"—could be a death sentence.

It’s been a dormant debate over the last year, until MP Mark Warawa from British Columbia introduced a motion to condemn the practice. It is no coincidence that an MP from B.C. is championing the motion – it is believed that most sex-selection abortions in Canada happen in that province.

Our political leaders in Ottawa must find a way to debate the perils of the Westminster power-sharing model separately from the prevalence in Canada of a practice that flies in the face of gender equality. - New Canadian Media

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 Commentary
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