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

Commentary by: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver, BC

Over its 132-year history since incorporation as a city, Vancouver has had 39 mayors. All of them have been white men.

Change seems to be coming, however, and suddenly.

Two of the Vancouver’s leading municipal parties will be running mayoral candidates from diverse backgrounds for the upcoming 2018 civic election now only four months away.

Recently, Ken Sim, the second-generation Canadian-born son of Chinese immigrants, won the nomination for the city’s right-of-centre Non-Partisan Association (NPA). This party, which was founded in 1937, has traditionally been aligned with the interests of the city’s business community.

In a surprising result, the entrepreneur and cofounder of Nurse Next Door and Rosemary Rocksalt bagel shops, beat out the establishment candidate John Coupar, the two-time NPA Vancouver park board commissioner who had the support of other establishment figures like former councillor Suzanne Anton and former mayor Philip Owen.

Meanwhile, the currently ruling Vision Vancouver party has confirmed its mayoral candidate will be Squamish Nation hereditary chief Ian Campbell.

Internet entrepreneur Taleeb Noormohamed—who drew comparisons to Calgary’s wonder-mayor Naheed Nenshi—had been bidding for the Vision Vancouver leadership until recently, when a health matter forced him to drop out of the campaign.

On the sidelines, former federal Conservative MP, Wai Young has indicated interest in running as an independent but hasn’t confirmed her candidacy yet. Raymond Louie, the five-time Vision city councillor who would have made a strong candidate for mayor, has also declared he is not running. There is some uncertainty about why he wasn’t recruited by his own Vision party for the mayor’s nomination (or if he pre-emptively declined the possibility).

It seems 2018 may be the year when Vancouver—one of the most left-of-centre cities in North America, Canada’s commercial and cultural gateway to Asia, and the metropolis that was early to embrace Indian yoga and in gratitude paid the world back with lululemon yoga pants—finally elects a nonwhite mayor.

Leaders, activists, and entrepreneurs from smaller diverse communities have increasingly participated in Canadian politics over the past two decades. It has now become the norm to see the country’s diversity represented among its politicians, whether that be in cabinet in Ottawa or the legislative backbenches in Victoria.

But at the municipal level, and particularly in Vancouver, they have struggled to break through, or perhaps a better term is "break out" from their ethnic silos and gain a voice on a broader citywide stage.

So far, however, the run-up to the 2018 election is proving to be an inflection point in this narrative. Hollywood had its #OscarsSoWhite reckoning two years ago, so it seems apt for Hollywood North to also have its own #VancouverSoWhite moment, though one would think progressive Canadians would have beat their American counterparts to this milestone.

While there is an immigrants-coming-of-age story here, there is also a perfect storm of political conditions that have triggered the backroom players and eminences grise behind the major parties to seek out diverse candidates.

For the NPA, Ken Sim’s nomination effectively counters any potential candidacy of Stephen Harper-era conservative Wai Young, who has significant support from within the Chinese community.

Sim’s family roots go back to Hong Kong and he will pull votes from this segment of the Chinese community (he may have less of a connection among Mainland Chinese immigrants). His last-minute entry—or recruitment—into the mayoral race looks to be an efficacious use of inclusiveness by a party that has been out of power for a decade.

For the progressive left-leaning Vision Vancouver, Campbell’s nomination provides a clean break from the past and a chance to rebrand a party that many believe has much to account (or some would say atone) for after the past decade in power.

For political watchers, this greater-than-usual interest in standing for public office from qualified diverse candidates makes this year’s election intriguing.

But for the average citizen all of this may go unnoticed if it all turns out to be business-as-usual and the 40th mayor of Vancouver—like the thirty-nine previously—once again is another white person.

There are still many twists, announcements, and deals to unfold before that forecast becomes clearer. But it is worth a look to see how various local and Canadian laws, policies, and practices of exclusion over the past century-and-a-half have led to this much delayed point, where diverse candidates—in a city where half the population is not white—finally have a real shot at becoming mayor.

In four months time, this election may be remembered as the moment Vancouverites finally said “Yes We Can” instead of the usual “Yes We Can’t”.

Lack of profile exerts a high price

Among the jigsaw pieces that comprise the map of Lower Mainland municipalities, Surrey is the fastest growing city in the region. Ten thousand new people move into Surrey every year.

Barinder Rasode, a former two-term Surrey city councillor, has come the closest among nonwhite candidates in the Lower Mainland to winning a coveted mayor’s seat.

There have been a small number of nonwhite politicians who have won mayoral races in B.C., but all have been outside the Lower Mainland: Jamese Atebe in Mission, Alan Lowe in Victoria, Akbal Mund in Vernon, and Colin Basran in Kelowna.

Naranjan Grewal of Mission was the first nonwhite mayor in all of B.C. when he was elected in 1954. He died under suspicious circumstances three years later.

Despite late entry to the race, Rasode garnered an impressive 21 percent of the votes in the 2014 Surrey municipal election. She has been one of the few individuals to cross over in appeal to the broader community, a feat not easily achieved given the tendency of potential candidates from diverse communities to remain in their comfort zones, or even self-segregate, when encountering barriers of entry to mainstream political organizations.

“When it comes to municipal elections, if a candidate hopes to compete or have any chance at winning, they must have a profile beyond their own community,” explained Rasode, who served on board of directors for Fraser Health and served as a Surrey city councillor from 2008 to 2014. “This is evident in electoral results. Even when minorities run for council seats as part of recognized slates, they tend to be the ones who fall short or to the bottom of the slate.”

Rasode’s observation holds true whether in Surrey or in Vancouver. In the 2014 Vancouver election, only two Vision Vancouver council candidates out of eight on the slate failed to win seats: Niki Sharma and Tony Tang, candidates from South Asian and Chinese backgrounds.

In 2008, the lone Vision councillor out of eight on the slate who failed to win a seat was Kashmir Dhaliwal, the former president of the Khalsa Diwan Society (Ross Street Sikh Temple). Despite being a power broker within one of B.C.’s biggest Sikh temples, and one with a very politically active congregation, Dhaliwal still fell short of being elected—he just lacked a wider profile beyond his South Vancouver neighbourhood.

Fast forward 10 years and back to the upcoming election. This lack of profile is still an Achilles heel for both the NPA nominee Ken Sim and Ian Campbell. Both will be hampered by being relatively unknown to broader sections of Vancouver’s voting public (Sim likely more than Campbell).

Unlike previous diverse candidates, however, who have in the past ran as independents, both Sim and Campbell will have the party machines of the NPA and Vision to help remedy some of this lack of profile.

But there is a caveat emptor here, particularly for Vision. Ian Campbell will first have much work to do in rebuilding a damaged Vision brand before he hopes to reap any of the rewards of membership.

It is clear the 2018 version of Vision does not have the potency it once did circa 2011 or even in 2014. It looks to be sinking ship with neither Mayor Gregor Robertson seeking re-election, nor three of its councillors. One veteran city hall reporter has even suggested the party may want to consider disbanding for a dignified end to its political life.

For these two newcomers, the mission will be to "get their names out there" into a congested daily news cycle. Bonus points if they edge out other candidates.

This, however, is much more easily said than done.

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline was meant to deliver oil to offshore tankers for lighting up cities abroad. In actuality, the pipeline has pumped media exposure to antagonistic local politicians and lit up their approval rating numbers.

The fight against Kinder Morgan—the news story of the year in Vancouver—has been a gift to the other anti-pipeline mayoral candidates like NDP member of Parliament Kennedy Stewart, and SFU professor of public practice Shauna Sylvester. It would have also helped popular Green party city councilor Adriane Carr but she has recently decided not to run for mayor. Still, if Vancouver doesn’t elect its first  nonwhite mayor, it may be due to voters electing Sylvester as their first woman mayor, no less a milestone-in-waiting. 

Depending on how the Kinder Morgan narrative unfolds, the pipelines and oil tankers debate could end up overshadowing other hot-button issues, possibly even housing affordability. This would be a boon particularly for Stewart, who was recently arrested in March for contempt after he marched to British Columbia’s frontline and deliberately breached the five-meter exclusion zone buffering "The Fence" that safeguards the Kinder Morgan’s tanker farm on Burnaby Mountain.

His act of civil disobedience against a heavy-handed Trudeau government bulldozing ahead with now their pipeline project has transformed the staid NDP politician into a sort of Gandhi-of-Burnaby.

No doubt this act will add some swagger to Stewart’s campaign. When it counted, he could be counted, standing among those lined up against the carbon-spewing machinery of Big Oil. Stewart’s chances of winning will increase further if the muscle of B.C.’s local NDP machine gets behind him.

Given the vocal opposition to the pipeline by the Squamish Nation, and Vision Vancouver, Ian Campbell also stands to gain on this issue. But he will need to find a way to "out-activist" Stewart, who has gotten to the front of the line on this issue.

Getting arrested and having a record, however, isn’t always a viable strategy for most candidates to gain the profile necessary to win a municipal election—or to stay if office, given they usually have day jobs and other real-life entanglements. Besides, historically speaking, getting arrested for most people, and notably for people of colour, has never been an ideal path to career advancement. Ultimately, diversifying Vancouver city politics is not the same thing as integrating an Alabama lunch counter.

But the real obstacle for diverse candidates seeking to gain name recognition runs deeper than being able to generate viral hashtags, or skillfully jockeying for media airtime.

It is a more permanent and seemingly intractable structural barrier at the heart of Vancouver’s municipal electoral system.

No wards led to more exclusion from power

A ward system divides a city into neighbourhoods with each electing one councillor.

Virtually all major Canadian cities have implemented a ward system to ensure individual neighbourhoods are represented at the council level by an individual who has ties to or lives in that neighbourhood.

These cities include Calgary, Montreal, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Toronto, Windsor, Ottawa, Hamilton, Halifax, and so forth. I think you get the point.

Vancouver, however, is the largest Canadian city that uses an at-large system. It is based on a "to-the-victors-the-spoils" approach to city politics.

Vancouver city council is comprised of the 10 candidates who receive the most votes from across all the neighbourhoods of the city. It is a system that has some benefits as it requires candidates to see the bigger picture and know all of the issues in the city, but it is a system that has also been criticized as been exclusionary, even racist, for blocking out candidates of diverse backgrounds.

There have been a number of cases in the United States where at-large systems were found by the courts to be discriminatory toward minority black and Hispanic populations.

Unlike the at-large system, wards allow more localized neighbourhood candidates a channel to access the bigger citywide stage.

Vancouver is a city that is simultaneously diverse but ethnically siloed—it is a place where people from different backgrounds peacefully co-exist but don’t necessarily coalesce. A ward system makes the difference between a candidate from a diverse background getting heard or getting crowded out. It ameliorates the "lack of profile" issue for diverse candidates.

In 2004, the city held a referendum asking Vancouver voters about moving to a wards system. The No side rejected the proposition by a small majority of 54 percent.

Given the momentum currently building for British Columbia to adopt a proportional-representation electoral system, it seems likely that a referendum on ward system would receive more support today than it did 14 years ago.

RJ Aquino, who has previously run for council in 2011 for COPE and in 2014 for the then-nascent OneCity party, believes a ward system would have altered the outcomes of his previous campaigns.

Aquino, who was born in the Philippines and has lived in Vancouver for the past 20 years, serves on the board of Collingwood Neighbourhood House. He is active in various initiatives in his part of Vancouver.

In 2014, Aquino was among the top vote-getters in Collingwood-Renfrew, Vancouver-Kensington, and the Fraser Street and King Edward area, all neighbourhoods with a significant population of Filipinos, the fastest growing ethnic group in B.C.

According to the recent census, there are 94,000 Filipinos living in the Metro Vancouver region, yet there has never been anyone of Filipino descent on Vancouver council, or the Vancouver park board.

“For people from diverse communities, we really have to work that much harder to get our name out there,” said Aquino, who is seeking a OneCity nomination for council this year. “Every time I encounter new people, there is always that extra step of explaining my background, how I fit into Vancouver, and how my values connect with the city’s values.”

But there has always been that extra distance to make up for diverse candidates. For this current generation, this means a "lack of profile" problem. Two generations ago, it was a matter of lacking the requisite language skills.

But going back even further, it was a matter of being barred from participating in the political process altogether.

Institutional racism plays a role

Amid Vancouver’s picturesque surroundings and its generally polite daily exchanges between its multicultural residents of all backgrounds, it is easy to forget the city was once the gateway to enforcing the country’s "white Canada" policy that deterred non-European immigration until the mid 20th century.

This policy was best articulated by former Canadian prime minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, whose face has been featured on Canada’s five-dollar bill.

In a parliamentary debate on Asian immigration in October 1914, he said: “The people of Canada want to have a white country, and certain of our fellow subjects who are not of the white race want to come to Canada and be admitted to all the rights of Canadian citizenship . . . These men have been taught by a certain school of politics that they are equals of British subjects; unfortunately they are brought face to face with the hard facts when it’s too late.”

It was this racist vision for the country that led to the Canadian government refusing permission to the Komagata Maru to dock in 1914 when the infamous Japanese tramp steamer arrived in Burrard Inlet with 376 would-be immigrants from India. The Vancouver Sun reported on the incident with toxic headlines like “Hindu invaders now in the city harbour on Komagata Maru”.

During that time other publications, like the Vancouver World, routinely railed against Chinese and Japanese residents with their poison pens and the World openly bragged that it was the “the one daily paper in Vancouver which has consistently set its face against the Orientals”.

While this "white Canada" policy blocked non-European immigrants from entering Canada for much of the 20th century, those who were already living here were not granted the full rights of citizenship.

It wasn’t until 1947 that Asian Canadians from Indian and Chinese backgrounds were permitted to vote and participate in the political process.

Meanwhile, in terms of its treatment of the Indigenous population, when the Canadian government wasn’t tearing Indigenous children away from their families and sending them to odious residential schools, it was also maintaining the ban on status Indigenous people from voting in elections, finally repealed only in 1960.

While that may seem like a long time ago for some too quick to dismiss the institutionalized racism of Canada’s past, consider this: some of the community elders who may be advising Squamish Nation hereditary Chief Ian Campbell on his mayoral bid were in their own lifetime once prohibited from voting in civic elections.

It doesn’t take much digging to unearth the artifacts of Vancouver’s racist history. According to local journalist Francis Bula, the covenant on NPA nominee Ken Sim’s house in the Arbutus neighbourhood on the West Side of the city prohibits someone of Chinese descent from owning the property. Many houses in the city’s elite neighbourhoods still have similar racist clauses in their covenants though they are no longer enforced.

It is understandable for Vancouverites to want to move on, or to forget, Canada’s own Jim Crow-like era. But it has not been as easy for those disenfranchised communities. Even after these race-based antivoting acts were repealed, it would take decades before nonwhite Canadians began putting their names forward to participate in politics.

It would take 25 years after the repeal of Canada racist voting legislation until the first resident of South Asian descent would win a seat on Vancouver council. Since V.S. Pendakur’s lone two-year term ended in 1974, no other person of South Asian descent has been on Vancouver council.

For the Chinese community, the wait was even longer. It would take 35 years before the first resident of Chinese descent, Bill Yee, won a council seat in 1982.

Three decades on, seeing diverse candidates come forward for elections has become normalized. But that doesn’t mean they still don’t encounter the racial slurs and broadsides of yesterday.

In 2016, when Niki Sharma, the former park board commissioner and Vision candidate for council, ran for the Vancity board of directors, someone trolling her Facebook page posted: “We don’t want packys (sic) in politics you people are taking over our country”.

Rather than deleting the comment, Sharma responded to it. Readers shared and commented on her post hundreds of times.

“I was going to delete your comment. As my hand went over to the delete button, something stopped me,” she wrote in the middle of that sleepless night. “As much as we both might want to, you and I cannot delete each other.”

Where diverse Canadians have been under-represented on municipal councils, it has been the reverse for white Canadians. Generation upon generation of white politicians have benefited from an under-acknowledged privilege of being allowed to vote, stand for elections, and get ahead thanks to a wielding a disproportionate voice in the political sphere.

This has created its own adverse consequences, such as encouraging ethnic pandering where white politician seem to show up at temples, and mosques every so often, often in ethnic garb, to hit up vote banks or follow the instructions of cooked up "Multicultural Strategic Outreach Plans".

It also led to cringing moments of white paternalism. This white-on-nonwhite crime was most recently witnessed in 2015 when the current Vancouver mayor thought he had a "teachable moment" and tried to educate a prominent local Chinese-Canadian professional about what is and isn’t racist.

Andy Yan, then an urban planner with Bing Thom Architects, produced a study that looked at the names of buyers of homes on Vancouver’s tony west side. He found that buyers with non-Anglicized Chinese names were purchasing the majority of the homes in that neighbourhood.

Gregor Robertson publicly dismissed Yan’s work as racist, failing to see the irony of his criticism of Yan, given his great-grandfather was forced to pay the actually-racist Chinese Head Tax that was designed to keep Chinese immigrants out of B.C. As a social scientist, Yan was just looking at the data and sharing his observations, which were in plain sight.

The irony of the mayor’s response, however, was not lost on Brandon Yan, who is currently seeking to run for city council on the OneCity slate. He countered the mayor’s misguided comments in a line that should be quoted in a Dear White People racism primer, “Let’s leave it to the rich white dudes to decide what’s racist, right?”

This kind of paternalism is a natural outcome of a long history of exclusion. Out a total of 1,080 council and mayor’s seats across 102 administrations, 98 percent have been occupied by white politicians—like Andy Yan, I ran my own name analysis, through of all the city councillors and mayors over Vancouver’s history.

And of the seats occupied by councillors from diverse backgrounds: half have been won only in the past two decades since 2000.

When 98 percent of "leaders" in Vancouver’s brief history have been white but the population has steadily diversified to point of being 50 percent nonwhite, there is bound to be a disconnect between city hall’s perception and the reality on the ground.

Diversity: an optical illusion?

Because of their low turnout rates, municipal elections are notoriously difficult to poll. This is a point that Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, stressed repeatedly in our recent conversation.

“Compared to provincial and federal elections, turnout rates for municipal elections are around 30 percent. The X-factor is turnout, and it’s more exaggerated in city elections,” explained Kurl, who heads the public opinion polling organization.

In the 2017 by-election when Hector Bremner from the NPA was elected to city council, only 11 percent of voters turned out to vote.

“Just look at the recent example in Calgary. The polling for that election was not close to the final results. The polls had (Naheed) Nenshi running neck-in-neck. In the end, Nenshi won extremely comfortably for his 3rd term.”

In the 2014 council election, Vision candidate Niki Sharma placed 17th out of 49 candidates, receiving close to 50,000 votes. She fell short of winning by only 8,000 votes.

From her perspective, every percentage increase in turnout has the potential to reverse a loss into a victory, “In an election with low voter turnout, it doesn’t take many people deciding not to vote for you to be the difference between getting elected and not getting elected.”

The NPA may be hoping Ken Sim can trigger this X-factor in his favour and lure more voters from the Chinese community to participate. It could be all the difference he needs to win the coveted mayor’s gavel.

But as in the case of Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, the three-term Muslim mayor at the head of one of the more conservative cities in the country, the success of an ethnic candidate is not determined by the strength of his support from within his ethnic base, but rather from beyond it.

Nenshi, the only nonwhite mayor of a major Canadian city, has become a celebrity politician in Calgary, and across Alberta, because of his competence and ability to engage with the electorate.

But this does raise a question about diversity and politics—is there a causal link between Naheed Nenshi’s skills as a politician and his ethnicity?

Consider this hypothetical: if Nenshi had been a white Protestant instead of a brown Muslim, and still produced the same outcomes for Calgarians, then wouldn’t "celebrating diversity" only be emphasizing difference and fostering identity politics? In other words, shouldn’t Canadians focus their "celebration" solely on the actual achievements of their leaders instead of also on their "diversity"?

RJ Aquino, the aspiring city council candidate for OneCity, addressed this criticism often levelled from the right through a personal anecdote.

“In 2011, when I first ran for office, I started getting local university students from my community contacting me because they recognized my last name as Filipino. These were students who otherwise weren’t paying attention or engaged in civic politics, but when they learned I was from the same background, they looked me up and inquired about me.”

“Because I looked like them and because I was in the public eye, it showed to younger generations that it was possible to do this, that we can be represented.”

Where there is under-representation—whether in terms of race, gender, or sexual orientation—it does not invite wider participation from all citizens, ultimately at the expense of our democratic institutions.

This segues to the other potential benefit of diversity: that diverse candidates bring unique experiences and insights, which may in turn lead to solutions and policies otherwise overlooked.

This claim is also open to some scrutiny given second- and third-generation Canadians—regardless of background—end up sharing common experiences. Or in other words, eventually all Canadians, if you live here long enough, end up being different but in the same way.

A diversity of faces may make for good optics—as in the current Trudeau’s cabinet—but may still be little more than an optical illusion when it comes to actual diversity of ideas.

To be fair, it is a reasonable conclusion that looking "different" does not necessarily translate into thinking differently.

But—and this is the crucial point—this flattening of Canadian diversity over time doesn’t mean that people from different backgrounds don’t empathize differently.

Let’s bring it back to the Vancouver context.

Should either Ian Campbell or Ken Sim become mayor, it is reasonable to conclude neither may have novel approaches to age-old issues facing the city. And as complete outsiders, particularly for Sim, they will likely struggle to learn the in-and-outs of city hall management and governance conventions.

But that does not mean they wouldn’t bring much-needed new empathy on age-old issues that, if nothing else, prevent these issues from being ignored.

Some examples to illustrate.

The past decade have been halcyon years for developers who have made more profits than ever while recasting Vancouver into an Eden of gleaming glass towers. Out of the billions flowing through Vancouver’s real estate market, a tiny infintesimal fraction could have been diverted to provide a lasting and sustainable solution to the city’s chronic problem of homelessness.

Yet 10 years after Vision took power having promised to end homelessness, the issue remains as chronic as ever.

It is a fitting metaphor for what Vancouver has become when one encounters its homeless residents trying to sleep in the cold-concrete nooks and doorways of its half-empty, but ecofriendly LEED skyscrapers.

It seems unlikely Campbell, someone from an indigenous background, would only pay lip service to this homelessness issue given that 40 percent of homeless people in the city are from an indigenous background, a staggering 20 times greater than their actual percentage of the overall population.

And perhaps it will require a Vancouver mayor from an Indigenous background like Ian Campbell to advance the reconciliation agenda and create new community initiatives that go beyond declarations of recognizing Vancouver as the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples.

In the case of Ken Sim, he is a second-generation Canadian who witnessed firsthand the struggles of his immigrant parents. He took menial jobs, worked as a janitor during high school, and like other second-generation Canadians found a way to sacrifice and forge ahead.

Would Sim not be more empathetic to Vancouver’s affordability issues than the current mayor, even if he is representing the right-of-centre NPA?

I worked as a janitor during high school and I had immigrant parents who struggled like others in a similar position.  Back then it seemed inconceivable that those sweeping up the offices could one day be the ones sweeping into them. 

For me, the candidacies and civic participation of Ken Sim, Ian Campbell, RJ Aquino, Brandon Yan, and a growing number of other diverse candidates in this coming 2018 election has piqued my interest in civic politics more than ever.

These candidates represent the other half of Vancouver that rarely gets to be heard in our city affairs, and the half that historically has been discouraged and once even banned from participating.

It may turn out that 2018 is still not the year a nonwhite candidate becomes mayor of Vancouver, but it seems 2018 will be the year that finally shows it is possible.

And that is an inflection point when truly "diversity becomes our strength", not just for half our city residents but for us all.


Jagdeesh Mann is the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. Based in Vancouver, he is also an active contributor to a number of publications and a member of the NCM Collective.

Published in Commentary

By: Alpha Abebe in Toronto, ON

Statistics Canada recently released a series of reports analyzing key results from the 2016 Census, including figures on immigration and ethnocultural diversity. The data paints a familiar picture of the Canadian social landscape – a landscape that is increasingly defined by culturally diverse peoples and communities.

The census brief on “Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures” captures important data that should prompt us to think critically about the live experiences of this large population segment, as well as its implications for Canadian social, political and economic life.

There were many interesting trends and figures highlighted in the report, including the number of people with foreign born parents, shifts in origin country demographics, family and household dynamics, and linguistic and cultural practices.

For example, in 2016, close to 2.2 million children under the age of 15, or 37.5 percent of the total population of children, had at least one foreign-born parent. The report also notes that children with an immigrant background could represent between 39 percent and 49 percent of the total population of children by 2036.

Further, most people with an immigrant ancestry that were younger in age (under 30s) had origins in Asia and Africa, whereas the older cohort of Canadians with immigrant ancestry (over 30s) tended to trace their origins to Europe and the Americas. This a reflection of shifting immigration trends in Canada over the years.

There were other insights capturing immigration dynamics at the household level. Children born in Canada to at least one foreign-born parent were most likely to live in a multigenerational household, with grandparents, parents, and children under the same roof. In the report, they were interested in how this might affect and drive the transmission of origin-country language and culture.

As with all census data, the information gathered here is limited. While it provides a helpful snapshot and indication of how global migration trends intersect with changes in Canadian demographics, it also leads to some deeper questions that emerge that require further inquiry and debate among practitioners, policymakers, academics, immigrant communities, and young people alike.

How much do we really understand about the social and cultural practices of children of immigrants and their families? Do we account for these lived experiences in how we design programs and services, frame public discourse, and plan for the political and economic future of the country? Are we adequately leveraging the opportunities and addressing the issues presented by these transnational social landscapes?

How do immigration trends and demographic changes intersect with social inequalities in Canada and around the world? Do young Canadians with an immigrant background feel that they belong?  How do race, class, and gender further segment immigrants and their children in Canada?

These are complex questions that don’t lend themselves well to simple answers; however, they are worth asking and continuing to ask as we work towards a future where equity aligns with diversity.

The future of Canada is more diversity and it is characterized by social, political, and economic connections to places around the world. Therefore, it is time we move beyond a multiculturalism framework that accommodates and celebrates diversity, and towards an inclusionary framework that acknowledges and works to address the social inequalities embedded within this diversity.

Yes, children with an immigrant background can tell us a lot about their international influences, tastes, and practices. However, they can also tell us a lot about Canada – both what it is today and where it should be headed in the future. 


A version of this piece was first published on the Wellesley Institute blog on November 7, 2017, and can be accessed via this link

Published in Top Stories

Commentary by: Arvind Magesan in Calgary, AB

The Conversation

Statistics Canada has released new data from the 2016 census that shows more than any other G8 country, Canada is a nation of immigrants. One in five Canadians (21.9 per cent to be exact) were born in another country.

Immigration is a significant component of Canada’s population growth and evolving demographic composition. The census data shows more than 1.2 million new immigrants came to Canada between 2011-16. Immigrants are also typically younger and more educated than the average Canadian.

Not surprisingly then, immigration is often touted as a necessary condition for sustained economic prosperity. And yet in spite of their ostensible importance to the Canadian economy, immigrants themselves have yet to catch up to other Canadians in terms of economic outcomes.

Economists refer to this catching up as “economic assimilation” and often measure it using the “native-immigrant wage gap” — the difference between the average wages of immigrants and those whose families have been here at least three generations. The persistence of this wage gap is a feature common to economies in the Western world that rely heavily on immigration.

As an economist and a child of immigrants myself, I was curious to delve into the census data to understand how this gap has evolved over time and across major cities in Canada — and to get a hint of what may be at the root of it.

The first thing that surprised me is the gap has not changed much over the past 10 years. Census data from 2006 showed, at a national level, first-generation immigrants earned wages 12.6 per cent less than the average wage of native Canadians. In 2011, the gap dropped slightly to 10 per cent, but the new census data shows it’s climbed significantly to 16 per cent.

Importantly, the gap is a countrywide phenomenon. Looking at the three of the most popular destinations for immigrants in the past decade — Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary — the gap in 2016 sits at 25, 17 and 23 per cent respectively.

Interestingly, the gap doesn’t only exist for first-generation immigrants, but also for the children of immigrants (second generation, i.e. Canadians born to immigrant parents). The new data shows at the national level, second-generation immigrants earn 5.4 per cent less than natives.

Understanding the wage gap

The obvious question that follows then is: What is the source of these gaps?

Canada is an especially interesting case given the “points” system used to screen potential immigrants, where language, education and job skills are key determinants. And for the first time, the census has reported that about six out 10 new immigrants came here under the so-called economic admission category, meaning they have the skills “to enhance and promote economic development.”

Given the way immigrants are screened before entry, one would expect relatively quick integration into the Canadian economy and a convergence in wages. But this is clearly not the case.

The reasons put forward to explain the wage gap range from employer difficulty in assessing immigrant education credentials to outright discrimination. Economists refer to two types of “discrimination” in the labour market context, “statistical discrimination” and “taste-based discrimination.”

In the former, employers use observable traits (such as race) to make inferences about something like productivity. For example, an employer sees a job applicant with brown skin. The employer isn’t prejudiced towards brown people, but is worried (stereotypically) the employee is going to want to take trips “home” to Sri Lanka and would need a lot of vacation time. So the employer hires someone else equally qualified. Taste-based discrimination is more what we think of as prejudice — not wanting to hire someone purely because of skin colour.

Identifying causal factors that explain the wage gap is a difficult task - individuals who immigrate to Canada do so by choice. These choices are a function of a host of factors that could potentially jointly explain the decision to immigrate and labour market outcomes, including personal characteristics, job experience and education, to name just a few. Identifying discrimination in the labour market, and separating between taste-based and statistical discrimination, is even harder.

However, a 2011 study by University of Toronto economist Phil Oreopolous takes an important step in this direction.

In the study, thousands of computer-generated resumes were mailed out to companies that had posted ads searching for employees. The resumes were randomly assigned either a foreign or a “white” sounding last name, and were otherwise identical. The result: The resumes where the applicant had a foreign-sounding last name were less likely to receive a call back than identical looking resumes with a “white” last name.

When the author followed up with some of the recruiters, the overwhelming reason given for overlooking resumes with a foreign-sounding name was that they anticipated difficulty with language. Specifically, recruiters expected a lack of fluency in English, problems with communicating at work and difficulty for customers and co-workers in understanding a foreign accent. In other words, recruiters were statistically discriminating between job candidates based on their names.

Can language proficiency close the gap?

The census presents an opportunity to study the importance of English proficiency for the gap in labour market earnings between immigrants and native Canadians in 2016. The census provides information on wages, immigrant (and generation) status, as well as the language most commonly spoken at home.

Specifically, guided by the findings in Oreopolous’s study, I looked at how the gap in average wages changes when English is spoken at home. (For the purpose of this study, I looked at communities outside of Quebec, where French is the dominant language.) In 2016, 63 per cent of new immigrants living outside of Quebec most often spoke a language other than English or French while at home.

The latest census data says the native-first generation immigrant wage gap is 16 per cent at the national level. Once we examine whether immigrants speak English at home, things change — the wage difference is just 5.8 per cent. But for first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home, the gap jumps to 27.3 per cent.

For second-generation immigrants, there is barely any gap for those who speak English at home (0.7 per cent) but it’s still a significant gap for those who don’t speak English at home (a whopping 45.7 per cent).

This pattern also holds in the major metropolitan centres in the English-speaking parts of the country, which attract the most immigrants.

Interestingly, at almost 25 per cent, Toronto has one of the largest city level wage gaps in the country, explained at least in part by the fact that new immigrants tend to land in Toronto first and are more likely to be unemployed for a period of time. The three largest cities in English-speaking Canada, which also attract the most immigrants, also have gaps larger than the national average.

In Ottawa, immigrants of either generation who speak English at home actually earn more than natives on average. While it may be tempting to attribute the major differences across the cities to differences in culture, they are more likely due to regional differences in industrial composition and attendant labour demand.

The wage gap for immigrants who don’t speak English at home is very large. In Toronto and Calgary, first-generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home can expect to earn 37 per cent less than natives. Perhaps even more interesting is the fact that the gap across all cities for is larger for second generation immigrants who don’t speak English at home.

Though these patterns are striking, they should not be interpreted as causal – immigrants can’t necessarily start speaking English at home and expect to see their future earnings increase. There are unobserved qualities of individuals that may correlate both with the tendency to speak English at home as well as with labour market earnings potential. Without holding these fixed in some way, we can’t say whether there is a causal relationship between English skills and the gap in labour market outcomes.

But supposing that the findings here are suggestive of a causal relationship, why does speaking English at home matter so much?

One obvious answer is that individuals who speak English at home speak better English in general — and this would mean better communication at work. This would be consistent with the worries that the recruiters in Oreopolous’s study had when deciding who to call back. Or perhaps individuals of foreign descent that speak English at home tend to have other important skills on average.

But another possibility is the labour market discriminates against individuals with weaker English skills even when English is not important for productivity. Sorting between these different explanations (and others) will require more data and a deeper look.


Arvind Magesan is an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Calgary.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Published in Commentary

By: John Delva in Montreal, QC

To improve newsroom diversity, La Presse recruited outside of francophone journalism schools.

An office’s group shot usually exudes pride, but this one caused embarrassment.

In December 2016, Quebec’s La Presse published one of its entire organization. The lack of visible minority faces among the roughly 250 editorial workers contrasted with the paper’s multicultural stance.

“Many of our articles promote inclusion, but when people (on social media) saw the picture, they threw that inconsistency back in our face,” said Sebastien Rodrigue, director of digital and web platform.

This led the paper to organize a four-week internship program, geared towards cultural community reporters.

Awareness surrounding inclusiveness is not a new pursuit at La Presse, according to Eric Trottier, deputy managing editor.

“La Presse’s got good parity between men and women. It’s generally at 50-50, even in executive roles,” said Rodrigue.

But matters involving cultural communities’ representation have been harder to tackle, starting with inclusiveness in coverage.

“We rounded them up (groups of reporters) and showed them in their own work how, ‘You interviewed 10 people and they were all white francophones.’ We told them this is not what society looks like,” said Trottier.

There were also issues with participation from journalism schools. For years, the paper’s internship program, which catered to students of all cultural backgrounds, had brought only a handful of non-Quebecois reporters. Anglophone university students failed the paper’s French test while French universities produced few applicants.

La Presse decided to cast a wider net this time around.

“Journalism isn’t like the medical field. You need to go to medical school to become a doctor. But if you’re curious and self-reliant, we’ll give you a chance,” said senior managing editor Alexandre Pratt.

Jeiel-Onel Mézil, one of the program’s four interns, had just graduated in business administration at HEC Montréal when he got his chance. Though he had never set foot in a newsroom or journalism class, being a reporter had been a dormant goal of his.

“Journalism speaks to my interests. I’ve always known I’d be doing this some day,” he said.

He and Marissa Groguhé, another intern, impressed their bosses on several fronts — so much so that Mézil and Groguhé have been hired by the paper until the end of 2017.

“Their stories make the front page regularly and rank amongst the best work we put out,” said Trottier.

But the month wasn’t without its share of difficulties. Lela Savic recounted learning how to write fast often required staying at the office for 12 hours or more. Mézil, described by executives and fellow interns as a fast writer, feels “learning how to come up with an effective lead is tough.”

For Trottier, these experiences squared with the main goals of the internship, which he considers “an enormous success.”

“We definitely want to do this again. We may have found a way to bring in more minorities in the newsroom, which we weren’t able to do with the traditional way.”

Even if “deep down” his wish was to find “jewels” among the reporters, the program was primarily about training individuals who could eventually work in journalism, whether at La Presse or elsewhere.

The ample learning opportunities that came with this made made the experience memorable for Rita Boghokian. She said that while her being a visible minority was valued by her colleagues, who encouraged her to use non-Quebecois sources for stories, La Presse also treated her as a full-fledged reporter. Consequently, she worked on a range of stories she wanted to tackle.

“Just because we were visible minorities didn’t mean we only covered stories about visible minorities.”

This openness is why Savic looks back longingly at the month, wishing the experience had been longer. She says the internship has helped her grow from a journalism student into an actual journalist.

“I come out of this with a big bag of tricks. I’ve learned about abilities I have and things I need to improve on. I’ve learned that I’ve got great interviewing skills, that I can get people to talk. This’s given me confidence in what I can do as a reporter,” she said.


John Delva is a freelance reporter who has defended his master's thesis in journalism studies at Concordia University. This piece was republished under arrangement with JSource. The original posting can be found here.

Published in Economy

By: Dr. Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

It was never spectacular, but the Australian media scape is set to become duller, more contained, and more controlled with changes to the Broadcasting Services Act.  In an environment strewn with the corpses of papers and outlets strapped for cash, calls for reforming the media market have been heard across the spectrum. 

The foggy deception being perpetrated by the Turnbull government, assisted by the calculating antics of South Australian senator Nick Xenophon, is that diversity will be shored up by such measures as the $60 million “innovation” fund for small publishers while scrapping the so-called two-out-of-three rule for TV, radio and press ownership. Such dissembling language is straight out of the spin doctor’s covert manual: place innovation in the title, and you might get across the message. 

As Chris Graham of New Matilda scornfully put it, 

“The Turnbull government is going to spend $60 million of your taxes buying a Senator’s vote to pass bad legislation designed to advantage some of the most powerful media corporations in the world.”

Paul Budde of Independent Australia was similarly excoriating.

“To increase power of the incumbent players through media reforms might not necessarily have an enormous effect on the everyday media diversity, but it will allow organisations such as the Murdoch press to wield even greater power over Australian politics than is already the case.” 

As the statement from Senator Xenophon’s site reads, 

“Grants would be allocated, for example, to programs and initiatives such as the purchasing or upgrading of equipment and software, development of apps, business activities to drive revenue and readership, and training, all of which will assist in extending civic and regional journalism.”

The communications minister Mitch Fifield went so far as to deem the fund “a shot in the arm” for media organisations, granting them “a fighting chance”. 

The aim here, claims the good senator, is to throw down the gauntlet to the revenue pinchers such as Facebook and Google while generating a decent number of recruits through journalism cadetships. Google, claimed Xenophon in August, “are hoovering up billions of dollars or revenue along with Facebook and that is killing media in this country.”

Google Australia managing director Jason Pellegrino had a very different take: you only had to go no further than the consumer. 

“The people to blame are you and I as news consumers, because we are choosing to change the behaviour and patterns of (how) we are consuming news.” 

Xenophon’s patchwork fund hardly alleviates the consequences that will follow from scrapping of the rules on ownership. Having chanted the anti-Google line that its behaviour is distinctly anti-democratic, his agreement with the government will shine a bright green light for cash-heavy media tycoons keen on owning types of media (radio, television, papers) without limits. The line between commercial viability and canned journalism run by unelected puppet masters becomes all too real, while the truly independent outlets will be left to their social Darwinian fate. 

Labor senator Sam Dastyari saw the Turnbull-Xenophon agreement has having one notable target, and not necessarily the social media giants who had punctured the media market with such effect. 

“They are doing in the Guardian. You have thrown them under the bus.” 

The measure is odd in a few respects, most notably because regional papers were hardly consulted on the measure. This, it seemed, was a hobby horse run by the senator through the stables of government policy. In the end, the horse made it to the finishing line. 

The very idea of linking government grants to the cause of journalism constitutes a form of purchasing allegiance and backing. How this advances the cause of civic journalism, as opposed to killing it by submission, is unclear. The temptation for bias – the picking of what is deemed appropriately civic, and what is not, is all too apparent. 

The package supposedly incorporates an “independence test” by which the applicant publisher can’t be affiliated with any political party, union, superannuation fund, financial institution, non-government organisation or policy lobby group. Further independence is supposedly ensured by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which will administer the fund. 

The decision about which organisation to fund is already implied by the scale of revenue. The cut-off point, for starters, is an annual turnover of not less than $300,000 in revenue. The other end of the scale is a ceiling of $30 million, which, for any media outlet, would be impressive. 

This media non-reform package also comes on the heels of another dispiriting masquerade: an attempt to import a further layering of supposed transparency measures on the ABC and SBS, a position long championed by senator Pauline Hanson. This reactionary reflex, claimed the fuming crossbench Senator Jacqui Lambie, was “the worst lot of crap I have seen”, the sort of feculence designed to punish the public broadcaster for being “one step ahead when it comes to iView and their social media platforms.”[6] 

Between the giants of Google and Facebook, and a government happy to sing before the tycoons, a small publishing outlet is best going it alone in an already cut throat environment, relying on the old fashioned, albeit ruthless good sense, of the reader. Have trust that the copy will pull you through, or perish trying to do so.


Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMITUniversity, Melbourne.

Published in Top Stories

By: Tim Mayfield in Melbourne, Australia

The latest Australian census data is in and it makes for interesting reading. Of particular note, 72 per cent of residents reported speaking only English at home, down from nearly 77 per cent in 2011. Moreover, for the first time since colonisation, most of the Australians who were born overseas came from Asia rather than Europe.

So what to make of these shifts?

On the face of it, the data indicates that Australia is becoming an even more diverse society with greater links into our immediate region and beyond. However, these numbers don’t tell the full story.

To properly assess where we are at as a nation, we need to critically examine the quality of the engagement between Australia’s ethnic communities, as well as the depth of our links into Asia (given that our immediate neighbourhood is so crucial both in terms of trade but also as the major source of new immigrants).

According to these criteria, there is much work to be done. The shortfall is borne out by a quick examination of the state of Australia’s second-language teaching from early childhood through to tertiary level.

Australia is not just failing at languages (especially Asian languages), we are failing spectacularly. The percentage of students studying a foreign language in Year 12 has decreased from 40 per cent in 1960 to around 10 per cent in 2016 – and this includes native speakers.

Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

It just doesn’t make sense in the context of our increasing interconnectedness with the global community both at home and abroad.

Of course, one could argue (and plenty do) that because Australia’s foreign language capability is on the rise, driven by immigration, there is a decreasing need to commit time and resources to second language learning.

There are several issues with this perspective. The first is that our collective commitment to multiculturalism should not start and end with those who arrive on our shores. For multiculturalism to work, it requires genuine commitment to engagement and mutual understanding from all sides.

Learning a second language is both an end in itself but also an effective proxy for the kind of intercultural understanding that will be essential if Australia is to continue to thrive in its diversity. Assistant Professor Ruth Fielding argued recently that Australia’s multilingual diversity is being stifled by a monolingual culture and approach to curriculum in schools.

By engaging with an unfamiliar language, students are also engaging with the culture and history that comes with it. In doing so, they gain perspective into a world beyond their immediate experience, greater insight into their own communities and curiosity to broaden their horizons.

This latter point is crucial when it comes to preparing the students of today for the jobs of tomorrow. Simply put, we must change our collective mind-set around the importance of languages to our continued wealth and prosperity.

The reality is that nearly all young Australians are likely to be working either in highly culturally diverse communities in Australia or in global teams with global clients and markets. Bilingualism is a skill most people will benefit from, and is something that other countries have recognised for years. That’s why Australia is now lagging at the very back of the OECD pack when it comes to the time our school students spend learning a second language.

We have been coasting for too long on the natural advantages of being a developed nation, proficient in the world’s lingua franca, and with an economy powered by an abundance of natural resources.

That is all changing. As Australia’s economy continues to transition to services, so too do the requirements of our workforce. New opportunities will be driven by evolving skills and possessing a second, third, or even fourth language will be prime among these.

It is therefore a matter of great urgency that governments at all levels get the policy settings right. At the moment, our track record on languages is abysmal. The first step to a solution is admitting there is a problem. The second is developing a road map for this vexed area of education policy. The Asia Education Foundation (AEF) has undertaken considerable research to address this second aspect, especially at the senior secondary level.

We advocate expanding opportunities to study languages in senior secondary certification structures. Simultaneously, governments and schools need to provide access to high quality languages programs to build and sustain student participation.

These efforts must be supported by engagement with all relevant parties (including students, parents and educators) to recognise and promote the value and utility of languages. At a higher level, governments and sector bodies should collaborate nationally to support languages planning and implementation in a unified way across the country.

The question is who within government and the education sector will drive this change? 

Tim Mayfield is the Executive Director of the Asia Education Foundation at the University of Melbourne. This article has been republished with permission.

Published in Education

In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.

Stephane Mukunzi, PACE Magazine

“It all comes back to the idea of bringing communities together. The spoken word collectives, the singers, the artists, the painters… they are all present in Ottawa. We just don’t have centralized spaces where people can go to see Ottawa artists and critical thinkers. And that’s what we are trying to achieve with PACE”.

As a twenty-three year-old videographer and photographer, Stephane Mukunzi was fed up with receiving the same old rejection letter after submitting work. After realizing there was no community of young artists in Ottawa’s art scene, Stephane decided to create one himself. He gathered together a group of young creatives and they developed PACE Magazine, a place where young artists and critically minded people could express themselves. Inspired by London’s DIY magazine culture, Mukunzi and his team wanted to maintain the classic element of print media while combining it with innovation and online presence. PACE aims to dismantle the hierarchical nature of art and ensure the representation of indigenous artists, black artists, artists of colour, women artists, immigrant artists, and anyone who may have turned away by the fine arts community.

The PACE team decided to give voice to those who haven’t had a chance to speak to Ottawa, and within the first year of launching, it is clear they have found voices that Ottawa is eager to hear. The magazine has published two print editions, created a website for creative content, and held two successful launch events that featured local photography, spoken word, and art pieces. After this continued foray into Ottawa culture, Stephane fully rejects the idea of Ottawa as a boring city and believes that the many creative scenes, are there to fill cultural needs if you are ready to integrate yourself into them. Looking for that first step? Check out the latest issue of PACE at http://www.pacemagazine.ca/

Khoebe Magsaysay, Artist/Filmmaker/Animator

“It’s really important to embrace and accept your disappointments and failures because they make a strong foundation for your future endeavours.”

Filipino-born Khoebe Magsaysay immigrated to Ontario when she was ten years old. After high school, she enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Animation program at Sheridan College, and began a time of huge personal growth. At university, she learned to persevere through challenging times, cultivate her talent, and refine her skills as a filmmaker, animator, and artist.

Khoebe landed an internship in New York City for the summer between years three and four of her undergrad at Gameloft, a notable gaming company. Following her internship, Khoebe produced a short film, and the process of making it was very stressful and complex. The film, titled “NIHIL”, is about Adina, a character who is the epitome of perfection. Through a series of events, she comes to question her reality. The success of the film won Khoebe the Via Rail Award for Best Canadian Student Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), which is considered one of the most prestigious international animation film festivals in the world. Khoebe has continued to excel in her field, working in Toronto at ToonBox Entertainment.


The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!

Published in Arts & Culture

Commentary by Bessma MomaniJillian Stirk, Anna Klimbovskaia 

The story of Canada’s embrace of different languages, cultures and peoples is not a new one. Diversity in Canada is in many ways a cornerstone of our identity, and for generations, we have largely supported government commitments to immigration, multiculturalism, and pluralism. Now there is a new story emerging about this commonly celebrated feature of our identity. At a time of rising global xenophobia, anti-immigration parties, and populist nationalism, Canada is projecting a powerful and unique global message – diversity in society can be and is good for everyone. While some repeat the normative case for diversity, the argument is sometimes more rhetorical than substantive. The recent report (April 2017), The Diversity Dividend: Canada’s Global Advantage, dives into why diversity makes economic sense and how to spell out a clear case for its many gains.

With support from the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation and a number of other partners, we set out to investigate the link between diversity and economic prosperity. We conducted round table consultations with 100 Canadian business leaders across Canada, carried out interviews with industry associations, and analyzed under-used Statistics Canada data. To arrive at our findings, we used a matching methodology whereby we compared firms that were statistically identical in all factors that influence revenue, save their share of workplace ethnocultural diversity. By controlling for all other variables, we were able to isolate the effects of diversity on revenue. The term “ethnocultural diversity” is used here to refer to individuals born outside of Canada, and to those first-and-second generation immigrants who speak a language other than English or French at home.

Our findings show a pronounced diversity dividend. Specifically, we find that a 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity among employees is associated with an average 2.4 percent increase in revenue and 0.5 percent increase in workplace productivity across 14 industries. Businesses that welcome diversity show an increase in their economic bottom line. The sectors reaping the greatest benefits from ethnocultural diversity include business services (e.g., administrative, tech, law, and insurance firms), information and cultural industries (e.g., publishing, broadcasting, arts, and telecommunications companies), and transportation, warehousing and wholesale enterprises. These sectors experienced 6.2 percent, 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent growth in revenue, respectively, for every 1 percent increase in ethnocultural diversity in the workplace.

Manufacturers, mining, oil and gas extractors, banks, communication and utility companies, rental and leasing operators, and consumer service providers also benefit from greater ethnocultural diversity. The hard data spells out a clear case for why diversity is profitable. When we paired this data with the responses of Canadian business leaders, we found an even stronger case for the benefits and net economic effects of diversity.

The consultations with the business community, backed up by a review of the scholarly literature, showed that ethnocultural diversity in the workplace facilitates creativity and generates ideas by bringing together individuals with different lived experiences, outlooks and approaches to problem solving. A diversity of employees can invent new products and services, meet a wider range of clients’ demands, and even help companies expand into new markets, domestically and abroad. In effect, an ethnoculturally diverse workforce not only stimulates production of improved goods and services, it also connects businesses to a wider range of customers, clients, and partners.

Of course, greater workplace diversity is not without challenges. Creating an inclusive work environment that is conducive to maximizing the advantages associated with diversity may require providing certain accommodations and expending additional resources at the outset. Companies may need to make (and stick to) diversity-related commitments in their corporate culture. Inclusive hiring, training for human resources staff in recognition of international experience so they value differences, mentorship programs, measuring and understanding workplace demographics, and introducing diversity into procurement policies, are all key to creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. These adjustments may seem costly in the first instance, but they are more than justified when businesses stand to gain from them substantial performance dividends.

What does this relationship between diversity and economic prosperity mean for broader policy reform? First and foremost, there is a need to address recurring issues with foreign experience and credential recognition. In 2009, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration estimated the cost of not recognizing immigrants’ foreign credentials to be between $2.4 and $5.9 billion a year. We need to remove the barriers that prevent qualified but unemployed or underemployed immigrants from finding gainful employment, so we can capitalize on this stranded resource as well as alleviate the oversupply of unskilled labour.

Our conclusion is that ethnocultural diversity is good for the Canadian economy and is, in some respects, an underestimated tool for economic prosperity. But the conversation about diversity does not end there. What our research points to is that this conversation is just beginning.

While we focused on ethnocultural diversity in our study, there are many other important aspects of diversity that, if addressed, would improve the inclusiveness of society: gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, to name a few. Canada is a nation built on immigration, but more importantly, it is a nation built on difference. We have celebrated, and we should continue to celebrate the things that make us unique, while reinforcing the things that bring us together. Prioritizing pluralism not only makes us richer as a country, it makes us a stronger country. 

By arrangement with Policy Options - Institute for Research on Public Policy 

Published in Economy
Wednesday, 19 April 2017 10:32

Giving Voice Through Folk Art

by Sean Howard in Toronto

There is next to no public space in St James Town. The most densely populated community in all of Canada has no public land. So when Poonam Sharma and Community Matters wanted to create an art installation, they had to gain approval from the owner of the towers. No easy feat. But they persisted, first with a small trial project and then with another until, some years later, they have a number of art projects across the properties we call St James Town.

Poonam Sharma is hard to say no to. She has devoted her life and art to engaging local communities through the folk art and rich traditions that are to be found amongst Toronto’s highly diverse immigrant communities. For one of her latest installations, The Mosaic Project, she teamed up with the St James Town based organization Community Matters. Seven artists worked together to create an intricate mural on an exposed stairwell in St James Town. The Neighborhood of Nations by Poonam Sharma, Catherine Tammaro and Michael Cavanaugh

Poonam designed the mural to represent eight different traditional folk arts, uniting them into one mural while keeping each distinct. She chose the eight, mostly South Asian folk arts, as they best represented the cultural heritages that make up the St James Town community. Having seven artists was a critical part of Poonam’s approach. It was about getting people in the community to be witness to the art and the artists.

Pressure on Folk Artists

Poonam sees many pressures on folk artists. Folk art is often a private or family endeavor kept behind closed doors. She wanted to bust through this and show that folk art is something to cherish and be proud of.

One of the artists was quite uncertain about participating and not used to working in public, let alone showing her art to the wider community. Poonam told her to just come for one day and see how she felt.

She came and stayed for all 25 days. She cried when the project was complete as she had nothing to work on now. Poonam grows animated as she recalls telling her collaborator, “Why not!? Apply for stuff!”

Poonam was not the only one to get excited. So many in the community expressed interest and even support for the art and artists involved. It forged new relationships and created something that the community now cherishes. Poonam takes this as a great example of the many benefits of projects like these.

She wanted to bust through this and show that folk art is something to cherish and be proud of.

It took over 25 days to complete the mural. At the beginning, people gathered on their balconies to watch. As the days progressed many came down to approach the artists or look at a side they couldn’t see from their apartmentOne elderly couple even watched over the piece at night from a nearby balcony, calling out to the artists each morning as they resumed their work.

Poonam calls herself a contemporary folk artist. Her love of traditional arts has led her to learn much about the many disciplines of ancient folk arts, but she wants to use these skills in a new way – to bridge issues and bring communities together. It was a joy to spend some time with her and also to see some of her other pieces hidden around the densely packed towers lifting up into the sky on all sides of us.

Neighbourhood of Nations

One of the daunting things about St James Town is how to enter the place if you don’t live there. Most of the points of entry are private driveways clearly marked for resident use only.

At one of these private entrances is another large mural titled “Neighborhood of Nations.” It was created by Poonam Sharma, Catherine Tammaro and Michael Cavanaugh and tells the story of early Irish Immigrants, Native American culture and the current journey of immigrants arriving to Toronto.

Poonam yearns to see more art on every shared surface in St James Town that tells the story of this diverse and vibrant, but underserved, immigrant community.


This piece is part of a larger series called the "Intercity Project". Sean Howard describes it as a publication "for all the in-between spaces of Toronto  —  those communities lost to or ignored by politicians, developers and even city planners." He started by speaking to artists in these neighbourhoods, but is open to other voices as well. Find more of his work at medium.com/intercity-toronto.

Published in Commentary
Page 1 of 12

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