Kelly McParland: McCallum’s plan to rewrite guide book is a historical stumble

Predictably, and legitimately, concern has been raised regarding the plans to revise Discover Canada, the citizenship test study guide.

When providing advice to the Conservative government on the guide in 2009, I argued for greater balance in their choice and treatment of elements, along with messaging, aiming to ensure a guide that would survive any possible change in government (while there was an advisory committee, it never met together to have a fullsome discussion and debate).

In terms of McParland’s particular concerns, while military history is important (and not just the previous peacekeeping focus), so is social history, which Discover Canada largely downplayed. It was a deliberate political choice to downplay the Liberal narrative in favour of a more Conservative one.

The wording of  ‘barbaric cultural practices’ was largely chosen to attract media attention (it worked!). Arguably, it also was a precursor to the Conservatives use of identity politics, seen in the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and the late unlamented proposed ‘snitch’ line announced by former Ministers Leith and Alexander.

The same points can be made more effectively in the context of the history of women’s equality rights and how ‘honour’ killings and the like are against the law.

While Discover Canada was a marked improvement compared to the ‘insufferable lightness’ of its predecessor, A Look at Canada, my hope that the Liberal government, in revising and renaming the guide, doesn’t make the same mistake. Hopefully, it will keep some of the stronger points in Discover Canada while ensuring a broader narrative, one that lives up to the diversity and inclusion commitment, and speaks to those with both conservative and ‘progressive’ values:

Canadians continue to celebrate the people and events of the time despite the Liberal government’s apparent perplexity. Re-enactments are held each summer. Streets, schools and universities have been named in commemoration of its key figures. Reminders of the war are dotted across regions that are among Canada’s most popular tourist areas.

Handout

HandoutLaura Secord became one of Canada’s first heroes for warning of an impending American attack. featured in The War of 1812.

There is an unfortunate and dispiriting tendency in current culture to try and re-interpret the past. Oddly, it is deemed inappropriate to honour the events that made Canada a country and set the foundation for the culture we’ve become. We would prefer to condemn previous generations for lacking our own views, as if 19th century Canadians should somehow have shared the perspective of a future society they could never imagine.

The Liberals have shown an eagerness to roll back any initiative they view as too reflective of their Conservative predecessors. McCallum would do well to recognize that Canada’s history does not belong to any particular political party. He should be expanding efforts to acquaint Canadians with their history, not trying to erase it from guidebooks for the sake of a cheap political snub.

Source: Kelly McParland: McCallum’s plan to rewrite guide book is a historical stumble

Burma’s opposition demands government gives citizenship to Rohingya refugees adrift on the Andaman Sea

Encouraging:

The Burmese government has so far disclaimed any responsibility for the fate of the thousands of Rohingya refugees adrift on the Andaman Sea. But now the spokesman for the National League for Democracy, Burma’s most important opposition party, has demanded a long-term solution to the problem: giving them citizenship.

In an interview with The Independent, U Nyan Win said: “The problem needs to be solved by the law. The law needs to be amended. After one or two generations [of residence] they should have the right to be citizens.”

The statement was a bold break with the NLD’s usual ultra-cautious approach to an issue regarded as highly inflammatory in this Buddhist-majority country – Buddhists constitute 85 per cent of the population – in which atavistic fears of Muslim domination have been whipped up by chauvinistic Buddhist preachers.

Speaking to AFP earlier, he said: “If [the Rohingya] are not accepted as citizens, they cannot just be sent onto rivers. They can’t be pushed out to sea. They are humans. I just see them as humans who are entitled to human rights.”

Burma’s opposition demands government gives citizenship to Rohingya refugees adrift on the Andaman Sea – Asia – World – The Independent.

B.C.: Funding Dries up for Successful Citizenship Exam Program

While I don’t know the details for this particular decision, we do know from CIC data that some groups have poorer success rates than others, largely related to education levels and language, correlated in many cases with ethnic origin.

This type of training was a means to help such groups become citizens without diluting the integrity of language and knowledge testing:

This year’s Citizenship Week marks a sad occasion for the staff at the Victoria Immigration and Refugee Centre. That’s when the centre will end its highly successful citizenship training course, a government program to help permanent residents pass Canada’s citizenship exam.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada began funding the two-year pilot program at several agencies in January 2013. But VIRC’s funding dried up in July this year, so the centre invested $100,000 of its own money to cover the costs and keep the program going.

However, VIRC’s executive director David Lau says that can no longer continue and the program will end on Oct. 17, a date that falls during Citizenship Week.

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Lau, noting that the staff and volunteers put a lot of effort into the program. “We had to shut down the program before the end of our contract,” he adds. “We’ve been trying to reach Citizenship and Immigration Canada for months, but they’re not returning our calls.”

VIRC offered its Citizenship 101 course once a week for 10 weeks. The program ran five times and graduated 140 permanent residents. “We had really good dialogue [with CIC]. We sent in regular reports on the program and it met or exceeded all our milestones,” Lau says. “We had a 100 percent success rate.

”Word about the pilot’s success spread and Lau and his team began training people to teach the course for use in other agencies. Twelve non-profits were involved—ten in B.C. and the other two in Winnipeg and New Brunswick.

Funding Dries up for Successful Citizenship Exam Program – The Epoch Times.

Stephen Harper’s Canada Day speech the latest volley in Ottawa’s pointless history wars – Coyne

Andrew Coyne on the history wars.

The Crown, likewise, is not some useless foreign ornament, as successive Liberal governments often seemed to imply: It is the very foundation of our constitutional order, as essential to our way of life as Parliament, the common law, and the rest of the British inheritance, and as quintessentially Canadian. To remain attached to these institutional underpinnings, to remind ourselves of their advantages, is not to retreat into the past. It is merely to decline to be cut off from it.

So, fine: thus far, the Tories could be said to be righting the balance. But true to the chips on their shoulders, they could not leave it at that. It was not enough to celebrate and affirm Conservative national icons: It was necessary to diminish and downplay Liberal ones. The 30th anniversary of patriation and the Charter of Rights, for example, came and went without any official celebration or even acknowledgment.

And so the history wars continue, pointlessly. Surely it is possible to honour both versions of our past, both sides of our selves, in a country so accustomed to duality — aboriginal and European, French and English, immigrant and native-born — in other respects. Surely we are both a constitutional monarchy and a rights-bearing democracy. Surely our history is distinguished both by war-making and by peacekeeping. Surely our national character is a result both of individual and collective enterprise.

When working on Discover Canada, we tried to make the same point in our “fearless advice” but the direction was more changing the narrative, as in so many other initiatives, than merely righting the balance.

Andrew Coyne: Stephen Harper’s Canada Day speech the latest volley in pointless history wars

Tory History and Its Critics | The Dorchester Review

A good overview on the Canadian “history wars” from C.P. Champion who was my counterpart in Minister Kenney’s office during my time working on citizenship and multiculturalism issues. Champion provides insight into the conservative historical narrative along with a strong  critique of how Liberal governments shaped their historical narrative to their political interests.

Margaret MacMillan’s The Uses and Abuses of History discusses how government’s routinely choose the historical narrative that suits their political and other interests, reinforcing Champion’s point. The themes that governments choose to emphasize in their historical narrative or de-emphasize reflect  political and policy choices. The Conservative government chose to emphasize certain themes of the traditional narrative (e.g., history, military, Crown) and downplay others related to more recent history (e.g., social safety net, human rights, culture), valid political and policy choices. Future governments may choose differently, although hopefully not reverting the insufferable lightness of A Look at Canada, the previous citizenship guide.

One last point. I play a cameo role in the article, given my role in Discover Canada. As readers of Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism will know, this work did challenge my preconceptions and Champion’s article would have been helpful to me and my colleagues had we had it before starting Discover Canada. Champion is correct in his sequence of events, the first draft was prepared by officials. I can see why he interpreted my account (p.24 of my book) differently but that was not the way it was intended.

Tory History & Its Critics | The Dorchester Review.

‘You are as equal as anyone’ | Toronto Star

An alternate “welcome to Canada and Canadian citizenship” speech by Haroon Siddiqui of The Star, with the classic liberal emphasis on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights (as part of the changes introduced along with Discover Canada, the 2010 citizenship guide and test, the Charter was no longer handed out at citizenship ceremonies, replaced by a pamphlet emphasizing the role of the Crown):

Respect that Canada is a Christian-majority nation. But know that it is not a Christian country. Canada has no official religion. All faiths are equal. Canada has no official culture, either. So be free to practise your faith, if you so choose, and live your culture as fully as you like — within the rule of law.

The rule of law is what binds all Canadians together, new and old, the foreign-born and the Canadian-born. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is our common holy parchment.

Canada wants you to succeed. The more you succeed, the more successful Canada becomes.

i‘You are as equal as anyone’ | Toronto Star.

The citizenship review: what to watch for | iPolitics

My opinion piece in iPolitics on the upcoming Canadian citizenship legislation (full article below as behind the iPolitics paywall):

Over the past five years, the federal government has engaged in a comprehensive policy renewal across the whole suite of immigration policies. The major remaining gap was in citizenship, where the government announced its intent in the 2013 throne speech:

Canadians understand that citizenship should not be simply a passport of convenience. Citizenship is a pledge of mutual responsibility and a shared commitment to values rooted in our history …

To strengthen and protect the value of Canadian citizenship, our Government will introduce the first comprehensive reforms to the Citizenship Act in more than a generation.

During the same period, and within existing legislation, the government nevertheless led an intense period of renewal of the citizenship program:

  • Issuing the new citizenship study guide, Discover Canada, and related citizenship test in 2010
  • Implementing new pre-qualification language requirements in 2012
  • Introducing a series of initiatives targeting residency fraud, starting in 2011
  • Increasing the public profile of the citizenship program and ceremonies, aligned to the messaging of Discover Canada
  • Supporting the Institute for Canadian Citizenship (ICC), and its work on strengthening the meaning of citizenship.

All of these reflect the government’s emphasis on making citizenship more meaningful, “harder to get and easier to lose”, to use former immigration minister Jason Kenney’s phrase — in contrast with previous governments’ emphasis on facilitating citizenship.

  • It is likely that the proposed Citizenship Act will continue to emphasize meaningfulness in the following areas, based upon previous bills tabled but not yet passed, and media coverage of ministerial comments:
  • Regulating citizenship consultants
  • Increasing penalties for citizenship fraud
  • Clarifying the definition of residency to mean physicalresidency, not just legal residency, and possibly increasing the required residency period from the current three years
  • Improving the government’s ability to bar criminals from becoming Canadian citizens
  • Streamlining the revocation and removal process
  • Ensuring a first-generation exemption for Crown servants
  • Possibly eliminating the current “birth on soil” grant of citizenship in favour of a more qualified right.

As the current Citizenship Act dates from the 1970s, the reformed act likely will be more in keeping with current drafting practice, giving ministers more authority and discretion compared to the extremely prescriptive current act, which goes into considerable detail on the citizenship application process and procedures.

While attention will be paid to the specific provisions in the new act, and the balance between facilitating acquisition of citizenship and making citizenship mean “ongoing commitment, connection and loyalty to Canada”, some of the broader issues to watch for include:

  • The balance between ministerial discretion and prescriptive measures in the act. While ministers and officials prefer to have more discretion, citizenship touches all Canadians and there can be advantages in having more constraints on ministers to ensure that changes enjoy wider support. The current act has a mix, specifying “adequate knowledge” of an official language and of “Canada and of the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship”, defining these in regulations, not legislation, while the wording of the citizenship oath is in the Act itself
  • Close review of measures presented as “housekeeping,” to ensure that there are no unannounced or unanticipated substantive implications. Given the technical nature of much of citizenship policy, the devil is in the details
  • Whether the act, or related initiatives, seriously addresses the chronic and ongoing under-resourcing and under-management of the citizenship program, or whether the government is silent on these issues. In 2012, this, along with other changes, resulted in a drop of 37 per cent in new citizens, an example of poor program management. No government has properly resourced the citizenship program; typically the program gets a top-up once the backlog reaches an unacceptable level, as was the case in 2013 when $44 million was allocated in the budget
  • A real commitment to citizen service through meaningful service standards. Currently, it takes an average of over 2 years to acquire citizenship compared to Australia’s two months. Surely Canada should be able to do better, without compromising the integrity of the application process.

Beyond the specifics, the broader question of citizenship policy being faced by many governments is the balance between citizenship as “place” — assuming that citizens remain in their country of immigration — and citizenship as “status”, or a more instrumental view of citizenship as a means to secure employment and other rights.

In contrast to earlier waves of immigration — largely one-way, with limited and expensive two-way travel opportunities — today’s globalization enjoys free communications, low-cost travel, community-specific media (either Canadian or internationally-produced), all of which makes identities more fluid and complex. As governments try to reinforce a strong sense of Canadian identity, they come up against this reality — which is particularly the case for the more well-educated and trained immigrants that we aim to attract, and who tend to be more mobile.

Whether it be to pursue opportunities in their country of origin, or go back and forth to pursue business and other opportunities, citizenship policy has an impact on diaspora linkages and mobility. Make it too restrictive and the linkages may be underdeveloped — make it too easy and citizenship may be instrumental, without attachment.

Hopefully, once the draft bill is tabled, both parliamentary and public comment and discussion will engage in a broader debate about what kind of citizenship approach we want.

The citizenship review: what to watch for | iPolitics.

Canada’s 150th anniversary plans big on battles and birthdays

Not surprising, and consistent with the narrative of Discover Canada, our guide for new citizens, focussing on an arsenal of battles and wars, a smattering of sports and a nod to the Arctic. A bit narrow, however.

Canada’s 150th anniversary plans big on battles and birthdays | Toronto Star.

Former CIC mandarin says several public policies came from minister’s anecdotes | hilltimes.com

Article from Hill Times today on the occasion of my book launch. Open event, The 3 Brewers, Bank and Sparks, today between 5 and 7 pm. Look forward to seeing many Ottawa-based people there. Best price for paper version of book ($15, HST and shipping included).

Andrew Griffith offers an insider’s account about the major cultural shift in the public service when the Conservatives formed government back in 2006.

When the Conservatives won government in 2006, the federal public service was not prepared for the ideological change to public policy-making, says a former top mandarin and author of the new book Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

“One of the funny things about the relationship between the political level and official level is that we’re both equally certain in our own truth,” said Andrew Griffith, a former 30-year veteran of the public service, in an interview with The Hill Times. “A party comes in, they’ve developed a platform, they’re absolutely convinced they’re right and that they have the truth and they were elected on that platform and, similarly, we in the public service are convinced that we’re absolutely right, we have the studies, the research, the evidence—how can anybody disagree with us?”

Mr. Griffith, a former director general at the Canadian Heritage Department who worked on multiculturalism policy, is launching his new book in Ottawa on Sept. 23 at The Three Brewers, 240 Sparks St., from 5 to 7 p.m.

He moved over to the Citizenship and Immigration department when Jason Kenney (Calgary Southeast, Alta.) was named the minister in 2008 and took the multiculturalism files with him. Using his experience with implementing multiculturalism and citizenship policy, Mr. Griffith wrote an insider’s account about the major cultural shift in the public service when the Conservatives formed government.

“In this particular transition, the perspective, or worldview, of both sides was so different. We had the Calgary crowd—by and large the Conservative Party wanted smaller government, less government intervention and was more skeptical of the power of government to actually do good,” Mr. Griffith told The Hill Times in a phone interview last week. “We live in the Ottawa bubble, Central Canada, and, by and large, civil servants are small ‘l’ liberals. You know, you don’t join government because you want to shrink it generally, maybe the people in Finance do, but, generally speaking, the people who join government have a belief in the power of government to do good. It doesn’t mean they’re big government people, it’s just a different world view.”

Mr. Griffith said the differing worldviews “sharpened tensions” between the public service and the new government.

“Previous transitions hadn’t had, I don’t think, such a sharp tension. I don’t recall that during the Mulroney government, because, again, it was more of a Central Canadian government,” he said. “They came with strong ideas and knew what they didn’t like.”

In the case of multiculturalism and citizenship policy, he said, the Conservative government’s worldview was a complete departure from that of former prime ministers Pierre Trudeau, Brian Mulroney, and Jean Chrétien.

“They didn’t like much of the traditional approach in multiculturalism and everything like that, sort of the old-style focusing on visible minority issues. On citizenship, it was very clear they wanted a stronger reference to Canadian history, military, Crown, etc., and so the way they would come at the issues is we’d have a meeting, and they’d say, ‘Here’s what we want,’ and we’d initially figure it out. In many cases, it appeared very foreign to us in terms of what we knew about Canada, so it took us time to absorb it and react to it and find a way to say, ‘Now we understand it so we can actually work with you,’ ” he said.

Mr. Griffith said several of the policies generated were based on anecdotes that the minister or his staff would bring back and attempt to fix.

For example, in Policy Arrogance, he outlined that in the case of making changes to citizenship rules around “birth tourism”—or dealing with people who planned trips to Canada so that their baby would be born on Canadian soil and be granted automatic citizenship—anecdotes “trumped” evidence he said, because there was very little data to begin with.

“The minister admitted that he did not know the extent of the problem even as he made the case to crack down on birth tourism,” Mr. Griffith wrote. “Officials struggled with this lack of hard numbers as stories emerged in the Quebec and B.C. media.”

Mr. Griffith wrote that the CIC later engaged with medical associations and hospitals to “ascertain the extent of the issue,” but did not consult with provincial health systems that would have allowed them to see how many births were paid or not paid through the public system for which citizens and permanent residents are eligible.

“Such analysis would help quantify the extent of the issue, and help inform cost-benefit analysis of any change to citizenship legislation to align Canadian policy with other jurisdictions that no longer allow automatic citizenship upon birth,” Mr. Griffith wrote. “In developing policy and program advice, the paucity of data and analysis made it hard to provide advice on the likely impact of any policy changes. More, the minister’s wishes for early implementation meant there were limits to appropriate due diligence.”

Mr. Griffith told The Hill Times that public servants couldn’t discount Mr. Kenney’s anecdotes, however, because he went to at least 20 community events three weekends out of four.

“His anecdotes had a reasonable amount of weight,” he said, noting that officials did not take the anecdotes wholly; as the people Mr. Kenney was seeing was not entirely representative of the Canadian population.

“He was more in touch with the communities than we were. Our evidence tended to be large-scale research and surveys, which are very valid, and his evidence tended to be anecdotal, but it was such a large base of anecdotes that it was something that we actually had to take into account.”

When it came time to rewrite the citizenship guide, Discover Canada, the public servants working on it “didn’t get it right at all,” so the ministerial and political staff “actually wrote it for us” and the department went from there, Mr. Griffith said.

“Normally that isn’t done,” he said, adding that later, the minister’s office would have “a challenge session” going through each page one by one. “We were able to understand why they wanted it and the why is actually more important than the what because if you understand the why, then you can figure out a way to make it work. It would be difficult at the beginning … and then as you got through those discussions, you could get to more pragmatic ‘okay, now that we understand what you want, we can move in this direction.’ It served as a bit of a dance.”

Mr. Griffith said that while he was “never afraid” to give advice under these circumstances, his four years at Citizen and Immigration Canada was a “real learning experience.”

Writing that experience down “was actually satisfying and cathartic,” he said.

“My intent was actually to provoke a bit of a discussion initially within the public service about the relationship issue between the government and the public service because my sense was that we didn’t manage the relationship very well at the beginning,” Mr. Griffith said about writing the book.

“We weren’t responsive enough to the change in direction of the government so we appeared obstructive at best or resisting or even disloyal perhaps to the incoming government so I think there were some lessons learned for the public service in terms of how we manage that transition that hopefully by having a more open discussion about how we actually deal with a situation where we have an incoming government that has a very different worldview from our worldview in a way that actually doesn’t exacerbate tensions, but actually sort of helps develop a more normal working relationship.”

There was a difficult line between the public servants giving “fearless advice” and putting into practice the “loyal implementation” role, he said.

In the end, Mr. Griffith said, he felt at CIC that public servants were able to balance both, despite going through the “Kübler-Ross stages of grief and loss—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—in dealing with the traumatic challenge to their role, as well as to the long-standing consensus between previous Liberal and Conservative parties on citizenship and multiculturalism issues.”

Mr. Griffith told The Hill Times that, for the most part, Mr. Kenney was “actually quite good” at listening to advice, although “he wouldn’t necessarily accept it.”

While he couldn’t say whether this was widespread in other departments, Mr. Griffith said politicians are likely more drawn to anecdotes than scientific evidence and statistics because they are people’s people.

“This government is more ideological than previous governments. This government does tend to discount evidence. This government does actually tend to cut things that do provide evidence, like the census. All that’s on the public record,” Mr. Griffith said.

“How it works in individual departments, I’m not close enough to know that. I do know from some people that yes, some ministers are more receptive to listening to advice but again that always gets run by ‘The Centre’ [the PMO]. In the end, whether the minister listens or not is almost less important than whether ‘The Centre,’ i.e. the PMO, listens to it,” Mr. Griffith said.

As for whether things will change if and when a new government is elected, Mr. Griffith said it would likely be easier under a non-Conservative government.“My sense is that this Conservative government situation with the public service is probably fairly unique,” he said, noting that if the Liberals or NDP formed a government, they would likely have more confidence in the public service. “But either way, the public service has to be prepared to respond to whatever decision Canadians make at the polls. That’s always the bottom line in terms of the loyal implementation part.”

Bea Vongdouangchanh, The Hill Times, 23 September 2013

Former CIC mandarin says several public policies came from minister’s anecdotes | hilltimes.com.

ATIP Documents – Batch 2 – Delayed

Now formally overdue as of 22 July.

But with a perverse sense of humour – sending me the English and French 2010 Discover Canada citizenship study guide, a public document. Waste of postage.

Meanwhile we wait some substantive documents.