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By: Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Liberal MP Chandra Arya says he welcomes Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s suggestion to debate the Liberal government’s settlement with Omar Khadr. 

Arya acknowledged that “it’s not just the Conservatives” who are against the reported $10.5 million payout to Khadr. 

“Most Canadians … they’re uncomfortable, as the prime minister said.” 

The Nepean MP was in the Centre Block Monday morning, delivering introductory remarks to summer school students who were touring Parliament. He spoke with iPolitics between tours. 

“Most Canadians are a bit concerned,” he repeated, adding that sometimes the government has to make decisions that are unpopular. 

Repeating what Justin Trudeau has said, it’s better than spending $30-$40 million down the road, Arya noted, admitting he too “is a bit concerned.” 

He thinks it’s good that Scheer wants to bring forward the debate because the House of Commons is the right place for it and he’d rather debate the issue with his colleagues across the aisle than read their comments in a newspaper. 

Arya’s passion for Parliament was evident in his brief talks to the tours. 

“This is the most important institution in Canada. What happens here affects us all. This is what Canada is about,” he told the Nepean high school students. 

“When I sit in the House of Commons and I look at all 338 members of Parliament I realize that I don’t have to go to every nook and corner of Canada because (the people) here, they represent Canada,” he said. 

“I love (being an MP), I love every morning. Honestly I get up and feel I’m blessed.” 

The former business executive, who moved to Ottawa from India about 14 years ago with his wife and son, said the highlight of his two-year political career has been seeing his private members bill C-305 pass unanimously in the Commons. Arya’s bill would expand the scope of hate-based mischief relating to places of worship to also include schools, universities, community centres, sports centres, senior residences, or any building or place used for educational, cultural, social or sporting events. 

Currently, hate-based mischief against churches, mosques, synagogues and temples can result in a sentence of up to 10 years – whereas sentences for general mischief to other properties are up to two years. 

Arya’s “quite happy” about the bill – which is currently stuck at third reading in the Senate – and expects it to pass and become law in the fall. 

Given that only five per cent of private members bills become law, he picked this area to champion because he said it’s close to his heart. 

“I’m from India, I’m a Hindu. We know the clashes between the religions and the discrimination that’s there … in other parts in the world, but this is Canada. Here we don’t tolerate that.” 

After the Quebec mosque attack in February, Arya rose in the Commons and said the attack was a direct result of Conservative and PQ policies. 

“The recent killings of Muslims praying in the mosque in Quebec City is not an accident,” he said. “This is the direct result of dog-whistle politics — the politics of fear and division.” 

On Monday, Arya said Conservative MP Michael Chong has been more specific than he was on the issue and consequence of rhetoric. 

“Words they are important and they can really hurt,” he said. 

While all of the political leaders have “really good intentions,” what he was suggesting in February was that the rhetoric had to be toned down. Members of political parties may misconstrue rhetoric and some have extreme views, but he doesn’t think any current MPs have extreme views. Not even Kellie Leitch. 

“She wants much more scrutiny of the Canadians coming in, but I don’t think she’s a racist.” 

Arya used to publish a newspaper called The Ottawa Star before running for office. Initially it was weekly and then bi-weekly, but he started the paper for new Canadians because he found that the mainstream media was not covering new Canadians’ events well. 

When he became the candidate for Nepean, he shut it down because as he put it, “You know, I was funding it from my pocket.” 

Now, in the dog days of summer, the Nepean MP spends most of his time in his constituency office or at events. 

He said he’s fortunate to represent the riding because the income is above average, unemployment is quite low and there are not many major issues, apart from public service employees who have had issues with the Phoenix payroll system. 

“Ottawa-wide issues also affect us of course.” 

When asked if he considers the summer a break at all, he laughed. 

“No. No way. Last week there were four days I left at 8:15 a.m and was back home at 9:30 p.m.” 

That said, for him it’s not a job where he puts on a suit and stares at the clock. 

“This is life and I love it.”

By arrangement with ipolitics.ca

By: Jeremy J. Nuttall in Ottawa 

As a Vancouver society working to support refugees fears closure after being denied federal funding, a similar organization in Manitoba said Ottawa approached it to talk about providing funding earlier this year. 

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said the government needs to provide consistent support as increasing numbers of people claiming refugee status cross the U.S. border. 

“That’s extremely disturbing,” Kwan said of the situation. “There needs to be consistency and fairness on the approach and they need to recognize their responsibility on this.” 

The Tyee reported Thursday on the possible closure of the Inland Refugee Society of BC, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of refugee claimants crossing into British Columbia from the U.S., many avoiding official border crossings. 

The number of people seeking support has more than doubled, executive director Mario Ayala said, and the society’s annual funding has been exhausted already. 

In the first five months of this year, the society has helped 700 undocumented refugee claimants find shelter. Ayala said if the organization closes, Metro Vancouver could see a spike in homeless refugees. 

The federal government has said it will not pitch in to close the funding gap, saying the undocumented asylum-seekers Ayala’s organization is helping don’t qualify for federal assistance. 

The B.C. government has also turned down the organization, he said. 

Ayala said Marta Morgan, the deputy minister for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, said part of the reason the society wouldn’t receive funding is because the federal government “can’t be seen” to be helping undocumented refugees. 

Department spokesperson Nancy Chan said it does not comment on private conversations. 

Canada recognizes two broad classes of refugees: people who apply for asylum in another country before being accepted; and those who apply once in Canada, often referred to as undocumented refugees because they have not been vetted before arrival. 

Refugee claimants arriving from the U.S. can be turned away at official border crossings because Canada recognizes it as a safe country for those seeking asylum. 

As a result, an increasing number of asylum seekers have been crossing the U.S.-Canadian border between official points of entry to claim refugee status. 

Kwan said Canada has signed international agreements to recognize refugees who make a claim once in the country, and shouldn’t abandon them. 

“If the government is taking the position to say ‘no, we can’t be seen to be supporting these refugee claimants,’ then that is very troubling,” she said. 

But while the B.C. society was told the government wouldn’t provide help for such refugee claimants, the head of a Manitoba organization offering the same services said Ottawa actually approached asking them to submit a funding request.

The Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council helps refugees find temporary shelter and settlement services and has assisted 618 people this year. 

Executive director Rita Chahal said the government asked her several months ago what kind of support the organization needs. 

“I was approached by a couple of project officers to submit a budget, which we did,” Chahal said. “No one has followed up on it, no one has contacted us to see if they reviewed it and what their position might be.”

Chahal said the federal government has always held the position that it would not help undocumented refugees.

Despite the request for a funding proposal, Chahal said she isn’t expecting any money. 

She said the Manitoba government helps her organization’s efforts with $110,000 per year in funding. The council also raises money from other donors. 

The Manitoba Ministry of Education and Training, citing a June 13 byelection, said it couldn’t comment on the decision to fund the council. 

But a press release in February quoted Manitoba Progressive Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. 

“Just as we have opened our arms to newcomers for centuries, our province continues to provide significant supports to those organizations offering direct services to refugee claimants,” Pallister said. “Our focus remains on measures that will ensure both the welfare of refugee claimants and the continued safety and security of residents of border towns.” 

Kwan said the federal government can’t encourage one society struggling with lack of money to apply for funding while telling another there’s no chance of getting help.

She said she’s worried a wave of homeless refugees will be forced to the streets of Vancouver if someone doesn’t step up with support.  

Republished with permission from The Tyee.

By Janice Dickson in Ottawa

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a handful of new policy ideas during the nine month long leadership race, but Tory strategists suggest they likely won’t be part of the Tories 2019 election platform.

Scheer has vowed to take away federal funding from universities that don’t defend free speech. He’s proposed displaying the flags of countries that export oil to Canada on gas pumps. Scheer, who sends his own children to a faith-based school, has proposed a tax break for parents who home-school their children or send them to independent schools. He also suggested in an interview with a community newspaper that he would axe CBC’s news division.

Conservative strategist and vice chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said he would be surprised if more than 20 per cent of Scheer’s ideas became a part of the Conservative party’s 2019 platform.

Powers said Scheer’s proposal to de-fund universities that don’t protect free speech could be an election promise — because that idea has appealed to more than just Conservatives — but he called the flags on gas pumps idea “gimmicky.”

Powers said he thinks that Scheer’s tax credit for home-schooled families and for families who send their children to faith-based schools likely would present problems for him because his opponents will say he’s beholden to certain faith groups.

Keith Beardsley, a longtime Conservative strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper, said Scheer’s policies are easy to implement, but … “Stickers on gas pumps? I doubt many motorists will give a damn. Raise the prices and you have a problem.”

Beardsley said a tax credit for homeschooling or faith-based schools could be opening up a can of worms. “Which faiths? How much will it cost the government when Scheer promises to balance the books?”

Beardsley said that while attacking the CBC is popular among Conservatives and makes for good rhetoric, it’s not practical.

“[Scheer] said he wasn’t going to present anything in 2017 that he wouldn’t run on in 2019,” said Nancy Bishay, a spokesperson for Scheer.

“There are many interesting proposals he put forward and he’ll work together with the caucus, and also through the grassroots conservative policy process, to put together a platform to present to Canadians in 2019,” said Bishay.

Scheer’s ideas will have to be taken under consideration at the Conservative party’s policy conference in Halifax next year. But since he has championed a few very specific policies, delegates likely will support his wishes, said Susan Elliott, a Conservative strategist and partner at Strategy Portal.

But Elliott, who favoured Michael Chong for the leadership, suggested that the Conservative party is still going to have a hard time appealing to millennials in the 2019 election — by which time, she said, they will have become the largest single voting bloc, surpassing the baby boomers.

“I personally don’t think millennials will find those issues motivating. I just don’t think they are high on their top issues of concern,” said Elliott of Scheer’s ideas, specifically tax credits for home-school or faith-based schooling, and taking funding away from universities that don’t protect free speech.

“Millennials will want a credible climate change plan. A revenue-neutral carbon tax – also eliminating cumbersome regulations and directives – is the most cost-effective and conservative way to achieve that, but both party members and the new leader rejected that proposal.”

Powers said Scheer likely will “beg, borrow and steal” ideas from other candidates — but that Chong’s carbon pricing idea won’t be one of them.

Elliott said millennials don’t want to reopen debates on social issues like women’s reproductive rights and equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, said Elliott, “they don’t even understand why those are debates.”

She said political hostility towards people of diverse backgrounds and contrary points of view is a foreign concept to most millennials — but it was front and centre during the CPC leadership race “in a way that would not attract millennials to our party.”

“We must trust Andrew Scheer, now that he has been chosen to lead, to understand these truths about the current electorate. I believe he is a smart man,” she said.

Elliott said she thinks Scheer will show wisdom in adopting “millennial-friendly policies” and convincing the party and caucus to come along.

“What did Trudeau campaign on in his leadership race in 2013 that became Liberal policy?” said Powers. “It’s hard to recall because it’s not often policy that determines who wins leadership races.”


 By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

Commentary by John Delacourt in Toronto

With just a few notable exceptions, the historical roots and complexities of South Asian politics here in Canada are barely covered in our mainstream media. What we miss are factors that can weigh heavily on current leadership races, and eventually on the federal election campaign in 2019.

Jagmeet Singh’s decision to enter the NDP’s federal leadership race, for example, has the potential to trigger a strong demographic shift among millennials. Here are two scenes from previous campaigns that speak to this possible breakthrough:

In the first, it’s 2014, and Olivia Chow has entered the mayoral race in Toronto. I’m sitting in a downtown restaurant with two South Asian NDP organizers who have offered to help her. Hailing from Brampton, they have both worked very closely with Jagmeet Singh.

One organizer has a theory about Trudeau and what he predicts will be the ultimate demise of the Liberal party in the 2015 campaign. It’s his view that no one really took a close look at who Trudeau was attracting to his events in the 905 area and in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. It’s only members of an older generation of South Asians, he affirms — those who had come to Canada in the 1980s and felt loyal to Pierre Trudeau and his progressive immigration policies — embracing the younger Trudeau’s candidacy with such enthusiasm. To the children of this generation, he says — the ones coming of age and becoming active in gurdwara politics — Trudeau’s Liberal bona fides are questionable.

Trudeau was tainted, he claims, by his party’s rejection of a groundswell movement of activism that was seeking redress for the pogroms the Indian government carried out against Sikhs in the eighties. It was NDP Leader Jack Layton’s charisma and support for these efforts, given validation by Jagmeet Singh’s work on the ground, that fired up this younger generation, he tells me.

It’s Singh’s ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.

Trudeau and his growing number of South Asian candidates only appeal to the less engaged “uncles and aunties,” the organizer assures me — and are doomed to lose in the face of the NDP’s new organizational strength out in Brampton and Surrey.

The second scene takes place a little more than a year later. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is having his first official campaign rally at the Variety Village community centre in Scarborough, Ontario. There I am fully expecting to see a strong contingent of young South Asian campaign workers in the front row, cheering in a full house. But the room is, by and large, made up of faces I recognize — people from the same core Toronto labour union and activist base that Chow initially rallied together in the early days of her mayoral campaign. These supporters are older — mostly “old stock,” as was the phrase-du-jour in those days. It seems a sign of things to come.

Indeed, four weeks out from election day, I’m on the phone with a pollster who offers me a salient read on what might have happened to that once-engaged South Asian NDP vote. He tells me that his numbers suggest an overwhelming percentage of those who voted provincially for the NDP in Ontario, back in 2014, were not going to vote for the federal NDP in 2015.

The emerging demographic split of South Asian Canadian voters my organizer friend had predicted just one year before failed to materialize. It was my contention that the South Asian candidates running — people like Navdeep Bains, Kamal Khera and Sukh Dhaliwal — could easily transcend generational biases and connect with all their constituents by addressing middle class issues.

One thing was clear: Mulcair was not appealing to a younger, engaged, activist demographic with all the fire and charisma that Singh is capable of inspiring.

For all the ways in which Singh’s rise to prominence has been profiled in the mainstream media, it’s his ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism and aspirationalism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.

And if Singh does win, that charismatic appeal to a younger generation might catch on well beyond South Asian communities — if the Liberal party’s mandate for the middle class loses credibility. And that might turn out to be the sleeper theme of the next federal election.


By arrangement with iPolitics.ca 

By Crawford KilianAndrew NikiforukJudith Sayers and Paul Willcocks in British Columbia

A new world for BC
By Judith Sayers

British Columbia sits on a precipice and will either fall into a minority Liberal government, an NDP minority government or a possible Liberal majority, depending on the results of the absentee votes and any recounts. This is one election where one vote could turn out to make the real difference.

Christy Clark is, of course, trumpeting the line that the BC Liberals will continue to govern and not wearing the fact that people wanted a change and her popularity has wilted drastically. If Clark retains power, I would predict she doesn’t make any change in the way she governs and that this election will not be a wake-up call to the Liberal party.

If there is a minority government, which many predict, it will definitely be a new world for B.C.

Will the government be able to build a better future for those of us who make B.C. our home? I sure hope so.

Whether many of the needed changes are made will be in the hands of the BC Greens, who hold the balance of power. The NDP and Liberals will have to work with the Greens to make decisions. The key to success of any initiatives will be finding agreement with the Green Party.

It is going to be a very interesting four years. Reversal of decisions on major projects like Site C and Kinder Morgan is a real possibility. Achieving electoral reforms, including an end to unlimited political donations, is now closer. If we thought the B.C. legislature was a battleground before this, it is nothing compared to what we will witness ahead.

As a First Nations person I am disappointed that more people didn’t vote to make the difference we needed. We are at a critical state in this province and only 57 per cent of voters went to the polls.

Uncertainty will be something we will live with until we get final results. If there is a minority government, that uncertainty will continue while parties wheel and deal on their priorities. This is a time when people will really learn about the values of the Green party as they will play a major role with a minority agreement.

Clark’s survival shows our system is broken
By Andrew Nikiforuk

It is outrageous that a government so Trumpish in character, so wedded to alternative facts and so visibly supportive of growing economic inequality still won a minority government. It proves that Canadians have as many political problems as the Americans and that a diminished press allows those with the most money to engineer political control.

Expect more volatility. And another election soon.

A Schrödinger election?
By Crawford Kilian

Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment seems very applicable to B.C. politics after yesterday’s election. Imagine, he suggested, a cat put in a sealed box. A source of radiation may fire a random particle into a Geiger counter, causing a hammer to smash a vial of cyanide and kill the cat. Or it may not.

Schrödinger argued while the box is closed, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead, in a state of “quantum superposition.” When we open the box, reality “collapses” in a single cat, alive or dead.

The B.C. 2017 election box won’t be opened until May 24 and the official vote count. Given the outcome of the vote, all three parties are in a similar state of superposition, simultaneously alive and dead. Recounts and the absentee vote may cause reality to collapse into a majority Liberal government; or a majority NDP government; or a Liberal-Green coalition; or an NDP-Green coalition. (A Liberal-NDP coalition, with the Greens as the opposition, seems too weird even for B.C.)

Even then, a coalition would be another kind of superposition. If Andrew Weaver makes a deal with Christy Clark and becomes a cabinet minister in a Liberal government, he’ll have to extort an end to Site C and the Kinder Morgan pipeline — or go the way of David Emerson, who defected to the Harper Conservatives within days of being elected as a Liberal MP. His whole party would lose credibility.

Both Weaver and his party seem likelier to survive a deal with the New Democrats, who are largely on the same wavelength. But they would have to get past some hard feelings about vote splitting and Weaver’s late-campaign blowing of kisses toward the Liberals.

Whatever the coalition, its members should bear in mind that its half-life will be short. The larger party will ditch its Green allies the moment it seems opportune to do so, and we’ll all be back in Schrödinger’s box again, awaiting yet another political reality.

Green voters helped Liberals stay in power
By Paul Willcocks

You don’t have to support strategic voting to recognize it could change the outcome of elections.

On Tuesday, Green voters who ignored the idea of strategic voting handed three seats to the BC Liberals, turning a potential NDP majority into a Christy Clark minority government.

It’s not reasonable to assume all Green supporters would consider voting strategically. And in three ridings, the party had a realistic chance of winning.

But assume half the party’s voters in other ridings decided to cast a vote to ensure the party they preferred — Liberal or NDP — formed government. That means 74 per cent go NDP, 26 per cent go Liberal, according to a Mainstreet poll on voters’ second choices.

Run the calculations on all 87 ridings, and you’ll find the NDP would have taken Coquitlam-Burke Mountain, Richmond-Queensborough and Vancouver-False Creek, all seats that went to the Liberals. Two NDP seats at risk of being lost to recounts — Courtenay-Comox and Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows — would be secure.

And the New Democrats would have the slimmest of majorities, with 44 seats to the Liberals 40 and Greens three.

Republished with permission from The Tyee.  

by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia

The establishment got another burning in the French elections on Sunday, revealing again that there is no level of voter disgust that will not find some voice in the current range of elections.  The terror for pollsters and the establishment now is whether Marine Le Pen will realize her anti-Euro project and drag the French nation kicking and moaning into a new, even more fractious order. In her way will be the pro-European Union figure of Emmanuel Macron.

The French example is similar to others of recent times: parties with presumed tenure were confined to a punitive dustbin, rubbished for stale, estranged obsolescence.  The Gaullists got what was a fair drubbing – 19.9 percent for François Fillon of the Republicans, a figure crusted and potted with corruption. 

It did not, however, mean that both candidates in the first and second positions were political virgins.  In that sense, the U.S. election remains an exemplar, a true shock.  France retains a traditional appearance to it, albeit a violently ruffled one.

Macron, with his 23.9 percent, supposedly deemed outside the establishment, still held office as minister for economy, finance and industry but flew the Socialist coop in opportunistic fancy.  Blooded in traditional harness, he has managed to give the impression that he has shed enough of the old for the new, notably with his movement En Marche.  He is blowing hard from what commentators have termed a “centrist” position.  (To be at the centre is to be in the middle, which is not necessarily a good thing in current times.)

Just to weaken the sense of Macron as outsider, both establishment parties – the Socialist, led by Benoît Hamon, and the Republican – urged voters to go for the centrist option.  This all had the appearance of a gentleman’s seedy agreement, plotted in a traditional smoking room to undermine an unlikable contender.  The losers wanted to be vicarious winners.  The tarnished Fillon urged voters to “reflect on your conscience.” In effect, Macron as a quantity is being sanitised for stability, the firebreak against the Le Pen revolution.

Le Pen herself speaks to a particular French and nationalist sensibility, tutored to a large extent by her father, who also ran in the 2002 Presidential elections and lost to Jacques Chirac.  She is hardly one to be unfamiliar with the political argot, which has retained a reactionary punch in more measured guise.

Le Pen kept her approach punchily traditional, milking the killing last Thursday of a policeman on the Champs-Elysees with old apple and oranges comparisons on security and immigration.  Having her in the Presidential office would see the stop of “mass immigration and the free movement of terrorists.” 

For Le Pen, the May 7 runoff election would enable a choice to be made between “savage globalisation that threatens our civilisation” and “borders that protect our jobs, our security and our national identity.” 

Macron provides an attractive target for the Front National: having worked for Rothschild, he supplies the front for corporate interests, and is “Hollande’s baby” uninterested in French patriotism.  He certainly promises to be friendlier to companies in France, with a policy envisaging a cut of the corporate tax rate from 33 percent to 25 percent, while also permitting them to re-negotiate the sacred 35-hour week.  His vision of the European Union, in short, is business as usual.

Under Le Pen’s particular tent lie appeals to critics of globalisation, a force that has rented and sunk various industries while also seeking to reform the French labour market.  But this nostalgic throw back entails barriers and bridges, building fortifications, holding firm and wishing for the best.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon proved to be another dark horse, the spicy left-wing option to Le Pen, and a candidate who experienced a surge of popularity prior to the poll.  His result is a story that has invigorated the left while gutting the socialists, providing us a reminder of the time of a greater radicalism. 

“Len Pen,” claims Roger Martelli, “was counting on turning this election into a fight with the Socialist party government, but she had to compete with a radicalized right-wing opposition and socialist opponents who had moved more sharply to the left than she had expected.”

Nor were things pretty for Hamon, with a devastating result to compare to Gaston Defferre’s 5 per cent showing in 1969.  The socialists reformed by the 1971 Épinay Congress in the wake of that electoral catastrophe, have been well and truly buried.

What Mélenchon’s popularity suggests is that the European system, at least the model as it stands, needs reform and a degree of disentangling vis-à-vis the state.  Nor has he told his supporters to vote for Macron, a paternalistic ploy that can irritate voters. 

“None of us will vote for the far-right,” went the consultation to 450,000 registered supporters of the France Untamed movement.  “But does it mean we need to give voting advice?” As Der Spiegel opined with characteristic gloominess, “The presidential election in France is becoming yet another end game over Europe’s political future.”

Much will depend on voter turnout come May, and the seasoned opportunism of Le Pen.  Her latest play is to place herself above partisan considerations by stepping down from the leadership of the National Front.  “So, this evening, I am no longer the president of the National Front.  I am the candidate for the French presidency.” 

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Commentary by Ujjal Dosanjh in Vancouver

Dear Minister Ahmed Hussen,

Many of us cheered when you were recently made the Immigration Minister. We felt that as an immigrant Canadian you would surely bring to your position a new and hopefully more compassionate perspective on what it may mean to be Canadian. But our cheers were short lived. You have brought disappointments to some hearts, mine included.

On Monday March 6, 2017 you deported Len Van Heest, a Canadian for the last 59 years. Yes, a Canadian but without the citizenship papers. At the age of seven months and in diapers, he legally landed in Canada with his family. At sixteen he was diagnosed with a bipolar disorder. He has several convictions for assault, mischief and uttering threats – all stemming from and related to his mental illness, the bipolar disorder. His last offence was in 2012.

Mr. Minister, obviously as a minor under the old law, Van Heest would have been unable to apply for his citizenship on his own – assuming that he even realized or knew in his mental state about the need for him to do so. His parents may not have applied their minds to this issue before he became a 'criminal' and therefore barred from receiving Canadian citizenship.

Power and discretion

Mr. Minister, you had the legal power and discretion to stop Van Heest's deportation. You chose not to because you didn't see it as fit and proper to do so. His deportation means that you must have felt the mentally ill Van Heest was responsible for not applying for citizenship that he had to before he had reached a certain age. It also implies that you and your officials felt it was just and fair for Canada to hold a mentally ill man responsible for piling up a criminal record that disqualified him from ever applying for Canadian citizenship, even though he had entered Canada as an infant. The mentally ill Van Heest – criminal or not – is the product of Canada.

Citizen or not, he is undeniably Canadian. If he is a criminal, he is a Canadian criminal.

Regressive changes

Minister, above all Van Heest's deportation was made possible by the regressive legislative changes the Harper regime had made lowering a convicted immigrant's prison sentence threshold for making him/her "inadmissible" to Canada and therefore deportable. It is unacceptable that your government has neither changed, nor is it planning to change this unfair law that makes someone like Van Heest – a Canadian for all practical purposes – deportable.

But on the other hand, you recently testified in support of your government's Bill C-6 that will amend Harper government's law that enabled Canada to revoke the Canadian citizenship of convicted terrorists holding dual citizenships. Under Bill C-6 the revoked citizenships of convicted terrorists including that of Zakaria Amar – the ring leader of the Toronto 18 who wanted to commit mass murder and behead the Canadian Prime Minister – would be reinstated, re-bestowed upon them.

Dual citizenships

Mr. Minister, you passionately and eloquently argued: "When you are a Canadian citizen you shouldn't feel less valued just because you have dual citizenship with another country." You also said an individual whose citizenship was already revoked will have it reinstated.

Mr. Minister, I support your government's view that one Canadian is like another despite some holding dual citizenships. A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. But in my view a Zakaria Amar is much less deserving of Canadian citizenship and compassion than a Len Van Heest.

Minister, I am deeply troubled and disappointed at your missing compassion and eloquence in defence of Van Heest; mentally ill Van Heest; a 59 year long Canadian; and so what if not so on paper.

Van Heest's was and is exactly the kind of case in which you should have used your ministerial power and discretion to keep or allow anyone into Canada. In my humble opinion, you made a serious error of judgement by deporting Van Heest. You have the power to allow him back into Canada. You should use it.

My Dear Minister, It is never too late to do the right thing.


Ujjal Dosanjh is a former Attorney General and Premier of British Columbia and former federal Minister of Health. He describes himself as a "A child of Indian peasants working to make the world a better place."

by Susan Delacourt in Ottawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of iPolitics.


Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca 

Sunday, 11 December 2016 08:06

Don’t Mess with a Vote System that Works

Written by

Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised to replace the first-past-the-post electoral system of Canada during the last federal election campaign a year ago. Now that he is prime minister with a parliamentary majority, there is an expectation from opponents of that electoral system that he will deliver on a promise that he should never have made.

Opponents of the first-past-the-post system advance romantic ideas of better representation of the range of opinions of Canadians to make their case, but romanticism does not make for good policy. Fact is there is already more than adequate representation in Parliament of the diversity of Canadian opinions, and at the same time, groups on the extremes cannot easily dictate to the majority. (Under the current system, the candidate with the most votes is declared elected in every riding.)

In the current debate on electoral reform, the positions taken by the four national parties do not represent any romantic ideas of democracy. They represent nothing but their own best interests.

Party positions

The Green Party and the NDP, who always elect a smaller percentage of Members of Parliament (MPs) than their shares of the vote, want proportional representation (a system under which the number of MPs would mirror a party’s popular vote).

The Conservatives, who have benefited from the first-past-the-post system and who know that no other system would work better for them, reject any electoral reform.

The Liberals, who know that they would benefit from preferential balloting since it favours middle-of-the-road parties (it is a system under which a voter ranks all candidates by order of preference), are said to support this system, although they have been careful not to admit it publicly.

If partisan interest is ignored, it is abundantly clear that the current system is not only good enough, but that it is the best possible system.

Just ask any immigrant if they prefer the Canadian system or the system used in their country of origin. Our voting system is why many immigrants come here.

Reflecting popular will

When it is convenient to them, politicians tell us that Canada is the best place in the world. We certainly are one of the best places, and that is because we have a political system that is able to govern Canada efficiently through changing times, while remaining representative of the general will of Canadians.

Proportional representation exists in other countries, and it certainly delivers on the promise to elect politicians that represent diverse opinions. However, it does so at a high price.

Smaller parties with narrow interests often become essential in forming government coalitions and are able to dictate their narrow agendas. This phenomenon is very visible in Israel, a country that uses proportional representation, as Haaretz explains in “Ultra-Orthodox Parties Are Back in Power and Israelis Aren’t Thrilled About It”.

The first-past-the-post system does not prevent politicians with minority opinions from being elected, but to be elected, they usually have to work within a party that has broad appeal. For example, the Conservative party includes MPs who wish to ban abortion, even though that is not the policy of the party. Under this system, MPs who hold minority opinions must convince others to support them, which is a good democratic practice. They cannot ram through unpopular changes by being power brokers. 

The first-past-the-post system also does not prevent the emergence and the viability of third parties, although it does require them to have broader support than they would need under proportional representation. Five parties are currently represented in the Parliament of Canada, a consistent pattern over the last few decades, including the NDP, the Greens, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.

Majority government

While it includes minority representation, the fact that the first-past-the-post system usually results in majority governments means that it offers the advantages of political stability and the ability to make tough choices. The Canada-U.S. free trade agreement (later followed by the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA) is now seen by all political parties as beneficial to Canada, but that agreement would not have occurred under proportional representation since the Conservative party was at that time the only party supporting it.

Preferential balloting could be seen as a reasonable compromise, since it would likely maintain the benefits of majority governments while giving voters the feeling that their votes are more influential than under first-past-the-past. However, there would be a diminished diversity of opinions represented in Parliament. Under preferential balloting, centrist views would gain an advantage since this is typically the second choice of people on either side of an issue. Therefore, less mainstream opinions would have a harder time being heard. 

Delivering on election promises is typically good politics, but it is not good politics when the promise itself was foolish. Prime Minister Trudeau should do what is best for Canada, not what is best for his party – keep the electoral system as it is because it is the best in the world.

Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lives in Ottawa. He lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at Gatestone Institute, The Times of Israel, Jerusalem Online, and Jerusalem Post.

Commentary by Surjit Singh Flora in Brampton

Kathleen Wynne, the current premier of Ontario, and Linda Jeffrey, the past Wynne Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Brampton’s current Mayor, are a study in contrasts.  

As Ontario’s 25th Premier, Wynne is both at the height of her power and the low depths of popularity. But even with her popularity at below 20 per cent, she remains a powerful politician in control of her cabinet and caucus and with the ability to set and implement her political agenda. 

This is despite Wynne’s now self-admitted mismanagement of our province’s electricity system, which she now concedes has caused such hardship in the province that some are forced to choose between feeding themselves or heating their homes. 

It is a sad reality that Premier Wynne and her Liberals are looking more and more likely to hold on to power in the 2018 election as both the NDP and Conservatives appear to be parties struggling to seize any of the public’s attention, let alone imagination. 

On one hand, Andrea Horwath and her NDP seem to have little ground to stand on, given that the Liberals have all but assumed much of the left’s territory, leaving the NDP with few policy options and little to say. 

And, then, there is Patrick Brown, who with so many opportunities to pillory a Liberal government mired in scandal, continues to squander his opportunities to effectively hold this government to account while failing to be consistent in publicly expressing his own party’s policies and platform. 

The recent by-elections in Ottawa and Niagara were an indictment of an ineffective opposition that bodes well for Wynne going into her pre-election year. 

Contrast Wynne with Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey. Like Wynne, Jeffrey served as an Ontario Liberal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.  Her predecessor, Susan Fennell, had presided over a virtual renaissance in Brampton. 

During her tenure as Mayor, Brampton saw major investments in public infrastructure, and a massive $300 million expansion of public transit funded jointly by all three levels of government despite the fact that, at the time, there was no formal program in place from the Federal and Provincial governments to fund it. 

All of that travelling to Ottawa paved the way for the single largest provincial/federal investment in Brampton’s history, but was ultimately part of what I have always believed to be an organized campaign to run her out of office. 

Her frequent travel was at the heart of unfounded accusations, innuendo and vicious allegations that lasted all of two years. After having been cleared of all but two ridiculously minor issues just days prior to the 2014 municipal election, Fennell lost to Jeffrey, who promised to clean up City Hall. 

Two years later, under Jeffrey’s leadership, Brampton's reputation has sunk to new lows. Jeffrey presides over a fractious Council that cannot agree on anything.  An LRT line that had unprecedented public support was defeated despite over $300 million in approved provincial funding. 

A search for a new chief administrative officer attracted only one candidate, who, since being hired has been on a rampage at City Hall that has seen virtually the entire senior management fired, drawing comparisons to a mini “reign of terror” with blood-soaked corridors and a civil service in disarray. 

And even when she wins, Jeffrey loses.  After recently scoring a coveted nod from her former Liberal government colleagues to locate a university in Brampton, it was revealed that even that effort is plagued with a lack of organization and little in the way of a plan, leaving Council slack-jawed, asking, “What do we do now?”

Wynne and Jeffrey are Liberals, but complete opposites: Wynne is powerful and blessed with a weak opposition; Jeffrey, powerless and cursed with a fractious and ineffective Council. 

But both have one thing in common: they both need to be replaced and 2018 can’t come soon enough.

Brampton-based Surjit Singh Flora is a veteran journalist and freelance writer. 

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