A change in government alone won’t fix the malaise: Savoie

Always interesting to read Savoie’s observations.

A good list of fundamental questions facing the public service:

A change in government in itself will not address the malaise confronting the public service. It can, however, open a window to answering fundamental questions about organizing government.

If nothing belongs to a single department any more, should we still rely on traditional line departments to come up with policy proposals and deliver public services? Should government have self-governing delivery arms tied to policy centres led by ministers? If government departments and agencies cannot retain revenues or their budget, how can we expect them to remain frugal? How can we streamline accountability requirements? How can we isolate, at least some government operations, so that missteps become lessons learned for managers rather than “gotcha” fodder for the blame game? How can we improve relations between ministers and the public service, government and Parliament?

Dealing with fundamental questions will force senior government officials to go beyond giving the appearance of change while standing still. The question needs the attention of at least some senior ministers and some senior public servants operating away from the demands of the day. Past reform attempts have sadly ignored Parliament, which may offer some explanations for their failure.

Why not structure a House of Commons committee and ask that it pursue these questions?

Public servants should be encouraging this debate. They should, however, shy away from partisanship, even the appearance of partisanship. The one thing that gives the public service strength, credibility and standing with Canadians and, yes, with politicians, is its non-partisan status and the ability to serve all politicians without fear or favour.

I would add to the list greater awareness and mindfulness of public servant biases and values, rather than just focusing on more avert partisanship, to improve the impartiality and neutrality of advice.

Source: A change in government alone won’t fix the malaise – The Globe and Mail

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Immigration minister reviewing refugee loan program

Interesting – going beyond the mandate letters and platform:

The federal Liberal government will consider reforming a loan program that requires refugees to cover the hefty cost of their flights to Canada, Immigration Minister John McCallum said Friday.

Officials revealed earlier this week that the 25,000 Syrian refugees to enter Canada by February won’t have to pay the cost of their flights and pre-flight medical screening.

While that decision was praised by B.C. opposition MPs and some refugee aid groups, they said the policy should extend to all refugees. They argued that people fleeing persecution already face major challenges finding homes, work and language training, so the last thing they need is to have to service an interest-bearing loan of up to $10,000.

McCallum, in an interview with The Vancouver Sun, said his officials will brief him in coming days on the loans program and present him with options to change it.

“I don’t know what the options are, but I’m telling you this is a policy that we’re certainly considering changing,” he said.

The government’s Immigration Loans Program, created in 1951, provides up to $110 million a year in loans for travel and costs immediately after arrival, like rent deposits and buying work tools. It has a 91-per-cent payback rate.

Refugees can take up to six years to pay, depending on the loan amount, and the interest rate this year was 1.38 per cent. In some cases, loans are interest-free for one to three years, and federal officials will make alternative arrangements if borrowers are having trouble making payments, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Source: Immigration minister reviewing refugee loan program

Good example of Muslim criticism of violent extremists

A reminder to those who continually ask question the perceived lack of criticism of terrorism by Muslims that it is not too hard to find, as this short video attests:

Saudi-Born Singer Shams Bandar: Why Do We Pin All Our Problems on the West?

Banking on Arab youth to turn Arab countries around – Bessma Momani’s Arab Dawn: Arab Youth and the Demographic Dividend They Will Bring

Interesting study and conclusion:

Is the Arab world a lost cause? You’d be forgiven for reaching that conclusion. At a moment when the world’s other once-poor regions have all experienced significant improvements, the 22 Arabic-speaking countries stretched between Oman and Mauritania, with few exceptions, are stuck with stagnant economies, backward strongman political systems and simmering threats – and that’s the luckier ones.

But imagine for a moment that the current chaos and unrest is only a period of turbulence between two eras. Imagine if, a century from now, we were to look back upon the Arab 2010s as something like the French 1790s or the American 1770s or the English 1640s – a terrible time that foretold the creation of a better time.

To imagine this, you’d have to conclude that the current Arab “youth bulge” – the extraordinary proportion of the region’s population (at least a fifth) who are between 17 and 25 and whose unemployment, disappointment and youthful zealotry are currently key sources of its violence, instability and chaos – largely come of age, in a few years, as a new generation of adults seeking better economic and political futures.

Once the civil wars, riots, coups and countercoups played themselves out and some uneasy semi-democratic détente was reached, that generation’s education and literacy, urbanized and connected aspirations and entrepreneurial outlook gave rise to a period of improvement and reform that, while far from utopian, put the Middle East and North Africa onto the same modernizing track as the rest of the world.

This is exactly the mind exercise performed by Bessma Momani, a political scientist based at the University of Waterloo (and frequent Globe and Mail contributor) who specializes in the economies of the Middle East, in a new book surprisingly titled Arab Dawn: Arab Youth and the Demographic Dividend They Will Bring.

She spent several years surveying and interviewing young Arabs in half a dozen countries. She finds plenty of troubles – staggering unemployment, rising religiosity, sexism – but beneath it an emerging generation who are modern, educated and unwilling to settle for the closed nationalist economies, authoritarian politics and enforced subservience their parents endured.

Arabs are young, but aren’t having huge families, so are in a demographic sweet spot. Dr. Momani foresees this combination of factors paying the dividend her subtitle suggests.

Source: Banking on Arab youth to turn Arab countries around – The Globe and Mail

Peterborough synagogue welcomes Muslims displaced by mosque arson

Canada at its best:

A Muslim group in Peterborough, Ont., will kneel and pray today at a local synagogue, where they will be welcomed after their own mosque was damaged in an arson attack earlier this month that police are investigating as a hate crime.

“As Canadians we have to stick together,” said Larry Gillman, president of the  Beth Israel Synagogue, in an interview on  CBC’s Metro Morning today. “It’s not about religion, it’s not about race. Canadians do this.”

The Masjid al-Salaam mosque was damaged in a fire set deliberately on Nov. 14, part of a wave of anti-Muslim crimes after the attack in Paris a day earlier. A firebomb was placed in one of the windows of the mosque. The resulting fire caused $80,000 in damage.

The Beth Israel Synagogue will host two prayer sessions for local Muslims and a potluck dinner today.

It’s a partnership between Kenzu Abdella, the president of the Kawartha Muslim Religious Association, and Gillman.

As soon as Gillman heard about the fire at the mosque, he reached out to his synagogue’s board of directors to find out about sharing space with the Muslim congregation. They voted unanimously in favour.

“I hope this can be some kind of small example to others,” said Gillman.

Abdella wasn’t sure what to think at first. “Can we be here?” he remembered thinking.

Larry Gillman, president of the Beth Israel Synagogue, invited Muslims into his synagogue in Peterborough, Ont., for prayer. (Beth Israel Synagogue)

“In the beginning, it was a shock,” he said. “Within 24 hours, that changed. They walked to the mosque and told us that whatever we need, they will support us.

“Even though it came out of a tragedy, we are working together.”

Source: Peterborough synagogue welcomes Muslims displaced by mosque arson – CBC.ca | Metro Morning

Rick Mercer’s Rant on Refugee Worries

Short and to the point:

Canada’s acceptance rate for Syrian refugees around 90 per cent: Ottawa

Some useful background data on Syrian-refugee acceptance rates:

Canada has rejected just two UN-referred Syrian refugee cases because of security concerns over the past 22 months.

The two cases represent 13 people, according to Immigration Department figures. That means more than 99 per cent of the 1,128 cases referred to Canada between January, 2014, and Nov. 3, 2015, were not of sufficient concern to be blocked for security reasons. It’s not clear how many were turned down for other reasons. The cases do not include privately sponsored refugees.

Over all, Canada’s acceptance rate for Syrian refugees has been “around 90 per cent,” said Immigration spokeswoman Nancy Caron. The figure includes both United Nations-referred and privately sponsored refugee streams.

The low number of security-related rejections presents a contrast to estimates in the United States, where officials said they expect their admission rate for Syrian refugees will “edge up” above 50 per cent. But it is also an indication of why Canada’s border services agency and the RCMP have expressed confidence in their ability to assess 25,000 refugees over just a few months.

According to a source, plans for the coming wave of government-sponsored Syrian refugees destined for Canada assume an acceptance rate of about 90 per cent. A case can include more than one person, as families tend to apply together.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum said in an interview he did not know the current acceptance rate for Syrian refugees, nor could he predict what it might be in the future. When asked about the divergence with U.S. estimates, Mr. McCallum did not have an explanation.

“All I can tell you is we are focused on the most vulnerable. We interview all those applicants with great care. The officials will readily put to one side anyone for whom they have a reasonable suspicion but I cannot tell you what percentage of the people they meet that would be,” Mr. McCallum said.

Source: Canada’s acceptance rate for Syrian refugees around 90 per cent: Ottawa – The Globe and Mail

Congratulations – and some questions – for Canada’s ministers on our refugee policy: Ron Atkey

Ron Atkey [former immigration minister at time of Vietnamese refugees] on the government’s plan and his questions:

Yes, there are continuing uncertainties and omissions. Will the exclusion of single men continue beyond the initial wave and become a permanent part of Canadian refugee policy?

What happens to the Syrian refugee movement after the end of 2016? What happens if the Canadian appetite for PSRs exceeds government expectations (as happened in 1979-1980)?

These issues will be dealt with in the fullness of time as the program rolls out.

But what is important is that the tone has changed. The government has listened to public concerns – some legitimate, some not – and has come up with workable and realistic changes to the initial Liberal promise on Syrian refugees made in the heat of the campaign. This is to be commended.

What is also encouraging is the response of the new Opposition critics to the recent announcement. Immigration critic Michelle Rempel and Public Safety critic Erin O’Toole both distinguished themselves by generally supporting these changes and offering assistance to make the program work.

This refugee movement will need the support of all Canadians through their MPs if it is to succeed in making a significant contribution to alleviating the suffering among the millions fleeing war-torn Syria.

The government has now set the table. There is much still to be done by Canadians throughout the country.

Source: Congratulations – and some questions – for Canada’s ministers on our refugee policy – The Globe and Mail

Why talk about cultural appropriation goes against multiculturalism | CanIndia NEWS

More commentary on cultural appropriation:

In a globalized world cultural appropriation is to be expected

In a global and multicultural world, we are urged to appreciate and sample cultures and cuisines from around the world. It is a matter of national pride in India that butter chicken, tandoori and Indian cuisine has become the go-to mainstream cuisine across Britain. There are more Indian restaurants in London, England than there are in Mumbai and Delhi. Thanks to the popularity of Indian cuisine, there is a shortage of Indian chefs and so more English chefs are learning the finer points of Indian cuisine. Is that cultural appropriation? Will an English chef be condemned for daring to cook butter chicken? Is he or she colonizing Indian cuisine? Is it okay for a chef from another ‘marginalized’ culture to cook ‘our’ butter chicken since his was a one-time oppressed culture?

The bindi was once a religious symbol

There was a time when the bindi was a highly religious symbol in India and if a non-Hindu chose to wear the bindi as a fashion statement, it would have deeply offended Hindus. Not anymore, it has more or less lost its religious significance and today it has become a fashion accessory for Indian and Western fashionistas. So would it be inappropriate for a Canadian of Caucasian descent to slap it on her forehead?

Needless controversy at a time when so much else is happening

This whole thing about cultural appropriation is utterly ridiculous and a waste of time, unfortunately it can have some serious consequences. Where does it end? If this continues, any minority could shut down or protest about any program or practice that has been adopted by a White westerner. Instead of being flattered that other races find parts or most of a culture originating in the third or fourth world country appealing enough to be adopted, we have people fretting over this and claiming to be offended.
Imagine if the Palestinians take offense because Israelis who have been deeply influenced by Arab culture, claim Hummus and Falafel as part of their food territory. I am quite convinced that some radicals in the West will see it as another form of cultural oppression of the Palestinians by the powerful Israelis.
There are countless Whites especially in America’s southern states that cook and enjoy African Soul food. Now soul food was introduced to the Americas around the time of the slave trade. It has its roots in west Africa and quickly became a dietary staple for slaves. Many soul food restaurants are black owned and operated but what if a White or Desi chef decided to open one, would he or she be guilty of cultural oppression sometime in the near future?
Or what about Whites who sport dreadlocks or start dressing in Indian cultural attire? Once we start taking offence to stuff like this, we are going down a very slippery slope. Westerners who are loathe to be perceived as racist or culturally insensitive will steer clear of anything ‘foreign’ and what we will all soon be living in socio-cultural silos. So many immigrant groups are doing just that much to their detriment. The message we will be giving Caucasians is this- appreciate our culture, visit our countries but just don’t adopt anything as your own. Doing so would be treated as an act of cultural thievery. On the other hand it is quite okay for Bollywood movies to adapt and be inspired by Hollywood. It is reasonable to lift scripts, re-make songs, beats, western fashion and lifestyle in India. Why? Because Indians were once colonized and ‘oppressed’. So its justifiable to flagrantly violate copyrights and patents and rip off western artistes, inventors et al because they were once racist colonizers and oppressors. Ꮠ

Source: Why talk about cultural appropriation goes against multiculturalism | CanIndia NEWS

Public servants ‘gaming the system’ — take twice as many sick days as private sector workers: report

While the data is correct, the interpretation that most people ‘game the system’ is more anecdotal than evidence-based (some clearly do of course).

While I support changes that reduce such abuse, I would want to preserve provisions for sick day banking in cases of catastrophic illness (e.g., cancer):

And the article is silent on Canada’s public servants take up to twice the number of sick days a year as private sector workers do, because of different motivations, work cultures and rules that encourage “gaming the system,” says a new report by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Phillip Cross, Statistics Canada’s former chief economic analyst, concludes in the report that the existing sick-leave regime in the federal government should be overhauled because attitudes and cultural practices “rather than biology and medicine” are at the root of the problem.

Cross, who made his name as a straight-shooting analyst, said a “sickness in the system” accounts for why public servants claim 10.5 days a year for illness while private sector employees average 6.4 days. The overall public sector – including education and health care workers – is close to the federal average at 10.6 days a year.

He said differences between the sectors are so significant that working in the public sector itself is a determinant of sick-leave use, rather than exposure to illness or injury.

‘I don’t want to sound like private sector workers are saints and public sector are sinners’

“I don’t want to sound like private sector workers are saints and public sector are sinners. If they had the same opportunity to game the system, I think it is human nature to take advantage of it, and the opportunities for gaming are much easier in the federal government,” said Cross.

“The rules allow people who want to work as little as possible to succeed. Is it the system or the individual? It’s a bit of both.”

The study was based on data from Statistics Canada’s labour force survey, which includes all full-time employees other than the self-employed. The survey’s finding of federal employees taking 10.5 days a year is in line with the 10.3 days that a Parliamentary Budget Office report found several years ago.

Cross’s study found the gap between the private and public sectors has also been widening. Public servants took an average of 7.2 days off in 1987 – including federal employees – compared to 10.6 days today. Most of that increase came after 1995. At the same time, private sector employees take 6.4 days, the same as they did 27 years ago.

Source: Public servants ‘gaming the system’ — take twice as many sick days as private sector workers: report