New Canadian Media

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Montreal

Thursday night’s French language debate in Montreal featured more discussion of immigration and refugee policy than any other leaders debate thus far in the federal election.

The first debate to feature all five leaders was also the first one in which they deliberated the recent court decision to allow women to wear the niqab in citizenship ceremonies.

On Sept. 15, a three-judge panel ruled that the federal government’s ban on wearing niqabs during citizenship ceremonies violates the Citizenship Act.

In Quebec, 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the requirement that niqabs and burqas be removed during citizenship ceremonies.

However, a public-opinion poll, released on a government website on the day of the debate, found 82 per cent of respondents favoured the requirement that niqabs and burqas be removed during citizenship ceremonies. In Quebec, 93 per cent of respondents were in favour of the policy.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper ordered the poll, which was conducted by Léger Marketing in March.

“If a man cannot impose his will on how a woman dresses, then we should not have a state that decides how a woman dresses,” said Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party.

He said that the state’s role should be to defend the rights of minorities and women, and that Harper and Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe were using the issue to play on fears and division.

“This is a question of equality between men and women,” said Duceppe.

Duceppe said he would ban women from wearing the niqab while taking oaths, voting, and administering and receiving public services.

He pointed out that leaders of Quebec’s provincial parties and several mayors support a bill proposed in the National Assembly in June that would ban public-sector employees from wearing clothing that covers their faces.

Duceppe said he would ban women from wearing the niqab while taking oaths, voting, and administering and receiving public services.

“I'm so surprised to see the Bloc Québécois, once so progressive, about to embark into the arena on a matter this divisive,” said NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. He also said Harper was using the court’s decision to distract voters from other issues.

Mulcair added he favours the existing rule, which requires women to unveil and identify themselves before taking the oath.

“Our position for a long time has been that when you join the Canadian family, you should not hide your identity,” replied Harper.

Following the Federal Court’s ruling, Harper said the Conservatives would appeal the decision if re-elected.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, said the niqab debate was a “false debate” and distraction from issues such as the economy, jobs and climate change.

May also questioned why, in a discussion about women’s rights, there was no mention of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Refugee crisis debates continue

The leaders were also questioned about the refugee crisis.

“We have already said more refugees, faster, but while still protecting our security and assuring the selection of the most vulnerable refugees for our country,” said Harper. “This is not the time to just open our doors. It’s not responsible.”

Trudeau said Canada should be doing more at the humanitarian level and that his party would like to see 25,000 Syrian refugees come to Canada. He added that during the Vietnam War, Canada accepted 60,000 refugees who made a positive impact in cities like Montreal.

“We could accommodate 10,000 Syrians very quickly, not wait until 2018,” said Duceppe.

Duceppe said the parties should work together with organizations, provinces and municipalities to intervene in Syria and prevent genocide, as was done in Kosovo. He said Muslim women are the main victims in this crisis.

“The system to help refugees does not work. As an MP, I worked with Syrian Canadians. It’s very difficult because there are too many rules.”

“It’s clear that the federal government has not succeeded in their commitment to accept 10,000 refugees,” said May. She added that the federal government achieved its budget surplus by cutting spending to refugee programs.

“The system to help refugees does not work,” she said. “As an MP, I worked with Syrian Canadians. It’s very difficult because there are too many rules.”

Trudeau said the Harper government made cuts to health care for refugees, but Harper rebutted this stating that the only time people were turned down from receiving health care was when they had made false refugee claims. He maintained that Canada’s refugee program is one of the most generous in the world.

Mulcair said his government would accept 9,000 refugees by Christmas and 46,000 in the next few years.

Challenging Harper on Canada-Saudi relations

Mulcair and Duceppe asked Harper why Canada continues to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia while knowing about its human rights violations and support of ISIS. Both party leaders pointed to the case of Raif Badawi, a journalist who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison by Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court for insulting Islam, among other charges.

Badawi’s wife lives in Sherbrooke, QC, where she has appealed to provincial and federal leaders to support freedom of the press and extricate Badawi from prison.

“We've indicated we would welcome Mr. Badawi, who is not a Canadian citizen, at any moment,” said Harper. “But it's not right to punish workers in a factory in London, [Ont.] for this. It doesn't make sense.”

Leading up to the Oct. 19 election day, there will be a bilingual Munk Debate on foreign policy held Sept. 28 featuring Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau and a second French debate, hosted by TVA, on Oct. 2 featuring Duceppe, Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau.

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
Tuesday, 22 September 2015 13:01

Parties Speak To Immigration Platforms

by Ranjit Bhaskar in Toronto

Unlike in Europe and the U.S., immigration rarely takes centre stage in Canada as all the major federal parties see it as vital for the country even if they differ on the implementation part. The issue is also not brought up often, as it tends to be very divisive.  

But last Thursday the topic did become part of the federal election conversation when The Globe and Mail leaders’ debate in Calgary included it as part of a larger debate on the economy.

While the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe forced the leaders to digress, this segment offered insight into how the next government would handle the immigration file.

The Conservatives are all about maintaining the current flow of immigrants while constantly tinkering with rules to control exactly who is let in.

At the debate, leader Stephen Harper said given the demographic and economic pressures, large-scale immigration is good in the long term.  

“We’re lucky to have millions of people who come to Canada to build a new life and also maintain close ties with their birth country.”

Aware that its exclusionary immigration policies and the recently passed Bill C-24 — the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act — has affected its support base among immigrant communities, the Conservative Party has made some recent announcements to stem disaffection. 

This past Saturday Harper said his re-elected government would award a special “Maple Leaf” designation to five to seven Canadians every year for fostering social, cultural and economic links with other countries. 

‘Lucky to have new Canadians’

“We’re lucky to have millions of people who come to Canada to build a new life and also maintain close ties with their birth country,” Harper said in a press release. “In a global economy, we have an opportunity to draw on the connections that new Canadians have to build social, cultural and economic ties to developing economies.”

The release said new Canadians are great ambassadors, while noting that one in five Canadians – some 6.8 million – are foreign born.

Late last month, Harper had said his re-elected government would make it faster, fairer and more affordable for new Canadians and Canadians trained abroad to get their foreign credentials recognized in Canada.

Harper said the government would more than double the loans program to provide 20,000 new loans to internationally trained professionals over the next five years. He also said that his government would work with the provinces and territories to accelerate accreditation decisions – from one year to 60 days – for high-demand occupations.

Family reunification essential

While cold economics seem to be at the heart of the Conservative game plan, the New Democratic Party (NDP) promises to make family reunification the central part of its policy.

“It’s always been part of our immigration system,” said party leader Tom Mulcair during The Globe and Mail debate. “It’s been completely shut down under Mr. Harper’s Conservatives. I personally believe that the best social program is a united family, and you’ve got that strong family base there allowing people to come in.”

“We have moved from an immigration policy that was about permanence, building community and building a life to one of impermanence and temporariness.”

The NDP policy document talks, among other things, of an annual immigration level of one per cent of the population to meet workforce needs and family reunification requests; allowing Canadians a one-time opportunity to sponsor a relative who is not a member of the family class to come to Canada; fast-tracking family class sponsorship from disaster areas; and reforming Citizenship and Immigration Canada procedures to eliminate arbitrariness in processing of requests and appeals.

“We have moved from an immigration policy that was about permanence, building community and building a life to one of impermanence and temporariness,” Andrew Cash, NDP multiculturalism critic, was quoted by the Toronto Star as saying. His party has also said that it wants to repeal Bill C-24.

Barriers to citizenship

The Liberal party too has said that it would rescind a number of barriers to citizenship put in place by Bill C-24.

It would repeal the regulation that takes away the 50 per cent credit for time spent in Canada for international students and the regulation that calls for new citizens to sign a declaration that they intend to reside in Canada.

The party feels Canada has witnessed a decade of decline in three major areas: family reunification, refugees, and citizenship applicants.

“We need to once again be the open generous country, not naïve, making sure we’re doing security right, but not using it as an excuse to do less than we should.”

Since 2007, family reunification processing times are up 70 per cent for spouses and children — and up a staggering 500 per cent for parents and grandparents, said John McCallum, Liberal critic for multiculturalism, citizenship, and immigration.

Adding insult to injury, McCallum said, the Conservatives also reduced the age of dependents from 22 to 18.

He said the decade of failure in family reunification has unfairly taken a huge emotional and financial toll on those affected, and damaged Canada’s reputation as a country that openly welcomes newcomers.

“We need to once again be the open generous country, not naïve, making sure we’re doing security right, but not using it as an excuse to do less than we should,” said party leader Justin Trudeau during the Calgary debate.

Although Green Party leader Elizabeth May did not take part in the debate, her party has said that immigration is about citizenship.

Echoing the stance of the other two opposition parties, it says those who come to live and work in Canada have a right to an efficient and predictable path to citizenship for themselves and their families.

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
Saturday, 19 September 2015 20:31

Who is Jasbir Sandhu?

Jasbir Sandhu was elected Member of Parliament in 2011 for Surrey North and is seeking re-election in the reconfigured riding of Surrey Centre ( near Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada). He has worked hard to represent the community in Ottawa. As part of Tom Mulcair's NDP team, Jasbir is ready to keep fighting for hardworking, middle-class families—and fix the damage Stephen Harper has done.
As an MP, Jasbir has advocated for his constituents by bringing attention to the (...)

The Patriotic Vangaurd

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Published in Politics
Thursday, 17 September 2015 21:22

Who is Jenny Kwan?

For over 20 years, Jenny Kwan has fought for the people of East Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada). Now she's ready to get concrete results for this community as part of Tom Mulcair's NDP team.
Born in Hong Kong, Jenny immigrated to Canada when she was nine years old. After graduating from Simon Fraser University, she worked as a community legal advocate in the Downtown Eastside. And in 1993, Jenny made history by becoming the youngest city councillor elected in (...)

The Patriotic Vangaurd

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Published in Politics

by Ranjit Bhaskar (@ranjit17) in Toronto, Ontario

By now the Liberal candidates for the predominantly visible minority ridings of Scarborough have grown used to party strategists lavishing attention on them. They are on the frontline for the bitter battle for Greater Toronto Area (GTA) votes during the current federal campaign and leader Justin Trudeau has already swung through their ridings several times to lend them star power.

But they were in for a surprise Tuesday when Trudeau’s entourage rolled into a manufacturing plant in the Scarborough Centre riding.

A day after stock markets tanked and the loonie fell to an 11-year low, Trudeau was in the Toronto suburbs to announce his economic credentials in comparison to Conservative Leader Stephen Harper’s. Issues closer to the communities in this inner city Toronto suburb could wait.

On display was his economic team alongside former Prime Minister Paul Martin in an unabashed attempt to remind voters his party’s record in balancing budgets. As finance minister in Jean Chretien’s government, Martin oversaw the elimination of the federal deficit.

Trudeau said, "Growing the economy is a team sport. So is governing the country."

Introducing his diverse set of economic leaders comprising of former federal and provincial economic ministers, entrepreneurs and experts in First Nations governance and natural resources, Trudeau said, "Growing the economy is a team sport. So is governing the country."

Getting into the competitive spirit of sport, he said if the New Democratic Party’s (NDP) Thomas Mulcair could tout former Saskatchewan finance minister Andrew Thomson as someone who could balance a budget, he could do better with Ralph Goodale from the same province. He described Goodale as, "the last Canadian finance minister to ever run a surplus."

Apart from Goodale, prominent names in his team who formed the backdrop included Scott Brison, John McCallum, Chrystia Freeland, Jean-Yves Duclos and Bill Morneau.

The others were Jessie Adcock, Leona Alleslev, Navdeep Bains, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Randy Boissonnault, Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Jim Carr, François-Philippe Champagne, Karine Desjardins, Emmanuel Dubourg, Jean-Yves Duclos, Judy Foote, Marc Garneau, Anthony Housefather, Linda Lapointe, MaryAnn Mihychuk, Robert Morrissey, Marwah Rizqy, Kim Rudd, Brenda Shanahan, Francesco Sorbara, Claude Thibault, Adam Veilleux, Jonathan Wilkinson, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Lawrence Woo.

The odd man out in this ensemble was Harjit Sajjan, the soldier and former police officer who is neither a local candidate (he is contesting from Vancouver South in distant B.C.) or a member of the economic team.

Martin praised Trudeau for recruiting candidates (pictured above) with strong economic backgrounds. "They are certainly of a quality that none of our opponents can match. It is a team that is experienced, able, proven and ready," he said.

‘Lone wolf prime minister’

This emphasis on “the team” was further driven home when Trudeau took a dig at Harper. "For 10 years, we've had a lone wolf prime minister. Stephen Harper's economic team can fit in a very small room. All he needs is one chair and a mirror. I see things differently."

Also venturing into Conservative strongholds in Ontario on Tuesday to boast of economic credentials was Mulcair.

Mulcair made a definitive promise. “Our first budget will be a balanced budget."

While Trudeau said achieving balanced budgets under his watch will depend on the "size of the mess" left behind by Harper, Mulcair made a definitive promise. “Our first budget will be a balanced budget," he said while campaigning in Hamilton on the outer edge of the GTA.

Like Trudeau, Mulcair also used a manufacturing unit as a backdrop and repeated his plan to cut the small business tax rate from 11 to nine per cent, promising a new timeframe of two years.

He promised to create "good jobs" in contrast to the "part-time, low-wage, precarious jobs" created under the Conservative government.

"Small and medium-sized businesses across our country account for 80 per cent of the new jobs that are created in the private sector. They are the job creators in our country."

Campaigning in Quebec City, Harper said the Liberals and the NDP are proposing high tax plans at a time of "renewed global instability." He said the Conservatives will continue to promise low taxes and their plan also includes balanced budgets.

"You do not run around and change your plans based on daily market news. You have a long-term plan and you stick to it," Harper said.

 

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
Wednesday, 12 August 2015 11:17

The Long Ascent of Tom Mulcair

by L. Ian MacDonald

There are touchstones in Tom Mulcair’s life, events that come full circle.

When he first ran for the Quebec legislature in the suburban Laval seat of Chomedey in 1994, he was returning to the neighbourhood where he grew up.

“On my first day of door-knocking,” he wrote in his new autobiography, Strength of Conviction, “I went back and walked my old Gazette delivery route!”

When he launched the French and English versions of the book in Montreal Monday evening, he chose a bar called Les Bobards on St. Laurent Blvd., in the Plateau Mont-Royal, where he had held his victory party in 2007 when he won the federal by-election in Outremont. Once again, full circle.

The joint was jumping, crowded with the personal and professional contacts of a lifetime — friends from his youth in suburban Montreal, colleagues from McGill Law School, staffers from the National Assembly who are with him still as Opposition leader in Ottawa.

“One thing that stands out about Tom is his loyalty to his friends.” - Geoff Chambers

Geoff Chambers, for example, has known Mulcair since they worked together at Alliance Quebec, the minority English-language activist group, back in 1983.

Chambers was sitting at the bar with his uncle, Charles Taylor — McGill professor, co-author of Quebec’s landmark 2008 report on reasonable accommodation of ethnic minorities, and lifetime NDP activist. Chuck Taylor famously ran and lost to a guy named Pierre Trudeau in Mount Royal back in 1965. His role at Les Bobards was to introduce Mulcair.

“One thing that stands out about Tom,” said Chambers, “is his loyalty to his friends.”

Humble beginnings

It probably begins with family. Mulcair was the second oldest of 10 kids in a rambunctious and roaring Irish-Catholic family, the big brother to eight siblings. “In a large family,” he wrote, “as anyone who was raised in one can attest, you learn to take your responsibilities early. The older children help to bring up the younger ones.”

His parents’ struggles to make ends meet can only be imagined. Mulcair’s father had attended Loyola, a Jesuit high school for boys, and his son easily passed the entrance exam. But here there was no full circle — his father informed him the family couldn’t afford the tuition, then less than $1,000 per year.

(My family couldn’t afford it either — but then I was only the second of two children, not the second of 10.)

[Mulcair and his wife's] backgrounds could not have been more different — he came from a struggling Irish-Catholic family, she from an affluent Jewish family from the well-to-do Paris neighbourhood of Neuilly. Her people, originally from Turkey, were Sephardic Jews and Holocaust survivors.

When he was 10 and 12 years old, Mulcair had paper routes with the Montreal Star and The Gazette. As a 14-year old high school student at Laval Catholic, Mulcair worked a summer job for $1.25 an hour at a clothing factory in Montreal’s schmatte district.

This also came full circle on Monday, in a way; the schmatte guys have lunch at Schwartz’s and dinner at Moishe’s, just a few blocks south of les Bobards on St-Laurent. Over smoked meat at lunch and steaks at dinner they can be overheard complaining about their costs — including the help.

As a student at McGill, Mulcair paid his way through law school by working summers in the construction industry, tarring roofs. Just the way to get through a hot Montreal summer.

After completing his first year of law, in the summer of 1974, he met a French girl from Paris at a friend’s wedding. Mulcair and Catherine Pinhas have been together ever since. Their backgrounds could not have been more different — he came from a struggling Irish-Catholic family, she from an affluent Jewish family from the well-to-do Paris neighbourhood of Neuilly. Her people, originally from Turkey, were Sephardic Jews and Holocaust survivors. The couple has two sons, both graduates of McGill, one a cop and the other a college professor.

Campaign plugs and some omissions

Two things stand about the first half of Mulcair’s book. One is that it’s completely authentic, an account not only of his formative years but of a vanished place and time — English-Catholic Montreal in the middle of the 20th century.

The other is that Mulcair obviously wrote it himself, because the voice is entirely his. He wrote on his BlackBerry, on planes, trains and automobiles. (Quite an endorsement of the BlackBerry keyboard. I’ve written columns on mine, but a book? That might be a first.)

It’s only when Mulcair moves on to talk about his party leadership that his book turns into a campaign pamphlet, with the usual pre-election posturing and positioning.

Mulcair also tells a compelling story about his years in Quebec City and his eventual recruitment by Jack Layton and the NDP. It didn’t end well between Mulcair and Jean Charest in Quebec. As Environment and Parks minister in 2006, Mulcair opposed the development of Mont-Orford Park in Charest’s backyard in the Eastern Townships. Charest called him in and the two men had a conversation that went something like this: You’re demoted. No, I quit. In the end, no development ever went ahead.

Months later, Mulcair and Catherine had dinner with Layton and Olivia Chow at Mon Village, in Hudson, where Layton grew up. The restaurant is a well-known stop on the road between Montreal and Ottawa and — full circle again — it was there that Mulcair met Layton’s former principal secretary, Brad Lavigne, and persuaded him to return as his senior campaign adviser.

It’s only when Mulcair moves on to talk about his party leadership that his book turns into a campaign pamphlet, with the usual pre-election posturing and positioning. For example, in a chapter on the 1995 Quebec referendum, there’s a conspicuous insert on the NDP’s 2005 Sherbrooke Declaration and Mulcair’s support of a 50 + 1 Yes vote being enough to break up the country.

“One of the worst mistakes we can make is to deceive the voters that in voting Yes they are voting for something else,” he writes. “Some say it would be unthinkable to let the country break up on a vote of 50 per cent + 1 … I say it would be unconscionable to let our relationships as Canadians degenerate that far.”

[H]e wasn’t improvising or thinking out loud over St.-Jean-Baptiste, when he said he was “proud” of the Sherbrooke Declaration. It’s in his book.

So, he wasn’t improvising or thinking out loud over St.-Jean-Baptiste, when he said he was “proud” of the Sherbrooke Declaration. It’s in his book. And while this position might help Mulcair on the margins with the soft nationalist vote in Quebec, it will hurt the NDP in the rest of Canada, where there is very little support for the idea of repealing the 2000 Clarity Act requiring a clear majority to a clear question.

And there are omissions. There is a reference to former Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt pushing building developments harmful to the environment. Having raised this, Mulcair passed on the opportunity to recount how Vaillancourt once offered him a mysterious envelope — a suspected bribe, which Mulcair refused.

He also wrote about how, when he left the Charest government, “the Conservatives came calling.” He mentioned “a senior Conservative who was an old friend from Quebec City.” This would have been Lawrence Cannon, then the senior Quebec political minister in the Harper government. They met at the Garrison Club in Quebec City, and Cannon was interested in Mulcair joining the Conservatives as a candidate.

Mulcair wrote that he was more interested at the time in becoming chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). “I had put forward my name and had been short-listed to head the agency.”

Had the Conservatives appointed him to head the NRTEE — had they not shut it down two years ago, Mulcair never would have become NDP leader. He never would have become leader of the Official Opposition. And Stephen Harper would not now be trailing him in most polls. Full circle.


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

Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.

Published in Politics

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

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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.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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