Q&As

Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias?

Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism

By Andrew Griffith

Book Launch Handout

Q&As List

General

1.    Why did you write the book?

2.    Why the title Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias?

Bureaucratic-political relations

3.    What is the basic government-public service deal “fearless advice and loyal implementation” mean?

4.    What was new about the tension between politicians and bureaucrats? How was it different?

5.    Is the tension between the public service and the Minister similar to previous governments or unique to todays?

6.    Is ‘fearless advice’ really fearless? Is ‘loyal implementation’ really loyal? How far can you go?

7.    The recent ‘enemies list’ suggests ongoing tension. True? Examples?

Citizenship

8.    How has globalization affected citizenship in Canada and elsewhere? How much can government influence civic behavior?

9.    Discover Canada, along with a harder test, language requirements, and anti-fraud measures, have resulted in higher failure rates (from 17 to 27 %). Impact?

Multiculturalism

10.    Is multiculturalism working? Why or why not, and how does this compare with other countries?

Radicalization/Extremism

11.    You talk a lot about radicalization and extremism. Were the multiculturalism projects effective?

Quebec debates on multiculturalism, interculturalisme, Charte des valeurs québécoises 7

12.    What is the difference between Quebec’s model of interculturalisme and Canadian multiculturalism?

13.    What about the government’s handling of Quebec-related multiculturalism issues?

Q&As

General

1.     Why did you write the book?

  • I wanted to provoke a discussion, initially within the public service, about our role in managing the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels in making major policy changes, policy changes that were not easily accepted by public servants.
  • We were not sufficiently responsive to the new political direction. We appeared disloyal or obstructionist at best, and it took us time to find the appropriate way to provide fearless advice along with loyal implementation.
  • Both sides can learn from this experience. My book aims for an informed and engaged discussion with readers, inside or outside government, to improve understanding of how government works.

2.     Why the title Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias?

  • Just as the political level is certain about its policies and priorities, the bureaucracy is certain about its evidence and expertise. Both sides share a certain arrogance about their positions; both are also unaware of their own cognitive biases.
  • Innocent bias applies to both as well.
  • I wanted to shock both sides out of their complacency to provoke reflection.

Bureaucratic-political relations

3.     What is the basic government-public service deal “fearless advice and loyal implementation” mean?

  • Officials have to provide their best professional, neutral and impartial advice, based upon their knowledge and experience.
  • Ministers have an obligation to listen to the advice and reflect upon it. But not to accept it.
  • When a decision is made, officials must implement the decision, whether or not it follows their advice or their personal views. We are public servants to serve the government of the day.
  • While I disagree with some of the political decisions made, and the short cuts in process (e.g., excessive use of omnibus legislation, “shutting down” ATIP), public servants have to accept these decisions as legitimate political choices.
  • Governments have the right to be “wrong” in their political decision-making.

4.     What was new about the tension between politicians and bureaucrats? How was it different?

  • Public servants largely reflected the Ottawa bubble (and Central Canada consensus) rather than understanding the Western perspective represented by the Conservative government.
  • Naturally, the Conservative party distrusted the public service given their time out of office and outsider status. We public servants were not perceived as neutral or impartial but small “l” liberal — and there is an element of truth to that.
  • The relationship was unhealthy. Public service expertise was challenged or ignored. Ministers relied overly on anecdotes, some more informed than others. Both sides missed opportunities to look at both evidence sets and views to come up with more informed policy. 

5.     Is the tension between the public service and the Minister similar to previous governments or unique to todays?

  • Tension is normal. Part of the checks and balances of parliamentary systems. Public service plays the needed role of counterbalance to political ideas that may not be fully thought out — but the government has the right to reject advice.
  • But the policy disagreements were sharper, the general distrust of the public service higher.
  • Officials have the “arrogance of the expert,” believe in our objectivity and evidence, yet are subject to confirmation and other biases like all of us. We could be perceived as insufferable “know-it-alls” at times.
  • Politicians have the certainty of their convictions and life experiences, which are deeper than mere anecdote.

6.     Is ‘fearless advice’ really fearless? Is ‘loyal implementation’ really loyal? How far can you go?

  • In my experience, the higher up you go, the more the “fearless” aspect becomes nuanced, as it has to incorporate a broader perspective and more considerations. Advice from my staff was invariably direct and blunt, but naive as it lacked perspective.
  • Yet to be effective and listened to, advice has to be filtered and incorporate both public policy and political considerations so that it would not be yet another example of public servants resisting the government.
  • We found hooks within Ministerial statements that allowed us to be more frank with our advice, sometimes successfully (e.g., racism and discrimination and the 2010 antisemitism conference), sometimes less so (citizenship testing and guide, where the messaging was tightly controlled around the government’s preferred narrative).
  • Experience with other departments, Ministers and issues likely varies.
  • It boils down to “picking one’s battles”, the few issues where departmental concerns should be on record. Discover Canada was an example where we focused on the equality clause of the Charter and gay rights.

7.     The recent ‘enemies list’ suggests ongoing tension. True? Examples?

  • Tone matters. Both sides share responsibility here. Public servants are more sophisticated with Yes Minister approaches; political staff is more blunt and direct.
  • My sense is that while it may vary depending on the Minister, department and issues, the tight control of the government’s agenda by PMO noted by many commentators limits the space for advice to be taken into account.
  • Handling of fundamental divergences between political and official level perspectives also reflects how well both sides have been able to develop a working relationship, and deliver on the government priorities.
  • All of our policy discussions on citizenship and multiculturalism were marked by the sharp differences in our respective perspectives. But discussion, while intense at times, was open and frank enough that we were able to work through these.
  • Again, our public service role is to provide advice; Ministers are free to accept or reject this advice.

Citizenship

8.     How has globalization affected citizenship in Canada and elsewhere? How much can government influence civic behavior?

  • Today’s world is interconnected, with free communications, access to world media, and low-cost travel. “Multiple” or fluid identities are more common.
  • Classic notion of citizenship as being exclusive runs against this trend.
  • While the federal government has the lever of granting citizenship, much citizenship and civics happen at other levels of government through the school system, medical care, and local communities.
  • The long-term trend is towards weaker “instrumental” citizenship given the nature of globalization.
  • This does not mean that efforts to increase citizenship integrity — more rigorous knowledge and language requirements, residency fraud reduction — should not be pursued. But we have to recognize today’s world means less exclusive citizenship.

9.     Discover Canada, along with a harder test, language requirements, and anti-fraud measures, have resulted in higher failure rates (from 17 to 27 %). Impact?

  • Short-term, there is a major operational impact as the time to become a citizen is over 2 years, compared to the 2 month standard in Australia (met about 70 percent).
  • The citizenship program has been under-managed for years and the recent policy changes and drop in new Canadians make this painfully apparent.
  • Poor implementation risks undermining the rationale for more stringent citizenship requirements. If the government cannot reliably and consistently manage a program, introducing further change is not responsible, unfair to applicants and harms government credibility.
  • In the longer term, the creation of an “underclass” of landed immigrants with little or no potential to become citizens may undermine the Canadian model of citizenship and citizenship participation. It moves us closer to European models of disenfranchised residents and temporary foreign workers.

Multiculturalism:

10.     Is multiculturalism working? Why or why not, and how does this compare with other countries?

  • Generally yes. Canada scores highly on integration and multiculturalism (e.g., voting, education, charitable donations, volunteership show comparable rates between Canadian and foreign born).
  • Unlike other countries, there is no political constituency or political party against immigration. Debates focus more on practical issues, not existential ones. Tim Horton’s warm “welcome to Canada” ad during the Vancouver Olympics could only happen here.
  • By and large, accommodation issues are worked out, sometimes in favor of accommodation (e.g., kirpan, hijab, prayer space), sometimes not (e.g., faith-based school funding, role of religious tribunals, in ON).
  • Exception is Quebec, as multiculturalism/interculturalisme is sometimes a wedge issue as seen in the proposed Charte des valeurs québécoises debates.

Radicalization/Extremism

11.     You talk a lot about radicalization and extremism. Were the multiculturalism projects effective?

  • Yes and no. A number of smaller projects did bring different groups of Canadians together to work on a range of issues. While not directly targeted at radicalization, they did bring people together to work on concrete projects that might reduce the risk of some going down that path.
  • Other governments (UK, Denmark, Holland) struggled in this area with mixed success. Sums involved were modest compared to security. There is some evidence that projects oriented around integration and living together had some benefits in reducing the potential for radicalization and extremism.
  • Modest experimentation to test what works and small-scale interventions are more effective than large complex programs, as the UK learned in its PREVENT program. But all programs provided some insight into community dynamics, which helped a range of projects ranging from anti-radicalization to anti-gang initiatives.

Quebec debates on multiculturalism, interculturalisme, Charte des valeurs québécoises

12.     What is the difference between Quebec’s model of interculturalisme and Canadian multiculturalism?

  • Both aim at integration but take slightly different approaches.
  • Multiculturalism assumes Canadian identity, history and values, integration within the context of our laws, regulations, habits and customs. Minister Kenney has reinforced this in his policy changes in citizenship and multiculturalism.
  • Interculturalisme takes a more explicit approach and reference to Quebec’s identity, history and values. As a minority within Anglophone North America, this is understandable.
  • In practice, English Canada takes more of an ad hoc approach to reasonable (or not) accommodation; Quebec prefers a more Cartesian approach, as seen in various efforts to develop some form of values charter.
  • Arguably, while we have some excesses in English Canada (e.g., the Thornhill school that allowed Friday prayers to be segregated by sex and menstrual periods), the ad hoc approach seems largely to work.
  • The Quebec approach, if done correctly (i.e., not like the proposed Charte des valeurs québécoises), can provide some guidance to the more difficult accommodation issues.

13.     What about the government’s handling of Quebec-related multiculturalism issues?

  • Quebec multiculturalism issues are hard for any government, including Quebec’s, to handle. While understandable given Quebec’s history and identity, it is striking just how much Quebec imports, almost in a colonial fashion, French debates on immigration, diversity and multiculturalism and interculturalisme, rather than drawing from their own more positive experience.
  • While statements by European leaders (e.g., Cameron, Merkel) on multiculturalism being “dead” get picked-up, these do not resonate in English Canada the way French debates do in Quebec.
  • Many in Quebec have a caricatural view of Canadian multiculturalism, driven by former PM Trudeau’s focus on individual human rights and rejection of biculturalism. The Ukrainian Canadian community, among others, helped make the case for a multicultural Canada, given their role in settling the West just as French and English Canadians had settled the East.
  • My book provides some comparative analysis of the similarities and differences between the Quebec and Canadian models. The differences are nuanced, not fundamental.
  • No Quebec government has been able to manage successfully these pressures — the Charest government tried with the Bouchard-Taylor Report, much of Quebec’s political class, intelligentsia and society was not ready for a more rational and inclusive discussion.
  • During my time, hard to criticize the federal government, given its political weakness in Quebec, only intervening when circumstances did not allow the government to be silent (e.g. Niqab issue and identification requirements).
  • Recent draft Charte des valeurs québécoises has forced the federal government and politicians to respond to bill forcefully, given overall approach and incompatibility with Canadian human rights legislation and Charter.
  • Encouraging to see a lively debate within Quebec on the proposed Charte, with a number of diverse voices noting the exclusionary and discriminatory aspects.

One Response to Q&As

  1. Pingback: Book Launch: Fun Event | Multicultural Meanderings

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