Never forget the lessons of Europe’s concentration camps: Justice Abella

Powerful commencement address by SCC Justice Abella:

You see before you a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada who is deeply worried about the state of justice in the world. I was born right after the Second World War. That was the devastating war that inspired the nations of the world to unite in democratic solidarity and commit themselves conceptually, aspirationally, institutionally and legally to the promotion and protection of values designed to prevent a repetition of the war’s unimaginable human rights abuses.

Yet here we are in 2017, barely seven decades later, watching “never again” turn into “again and again,” and watching that wonderful democratic consensus fragment, shattered by narcissistic populism, an unhealthy tolerance for intolerance, a cavalier indifference to equality, a deliberate amnesia about the instruments and values of democracy that are no less crucial than elections, and a shocking disrespect for the borders between power and its independent adjudicators like the press and the courts.

It is time to remind ourselves why we developed such a passionate and, we thought, unshakeable commitment to democracy and human rights, to remember the three lessons we were supposed to have learned from the concentration camps of Europe: Indifference is injustice’s incubator; it’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for; and we can never forget how the world looks to those who are vulnerable.

Two hundred thousand European Jews survived the Holocaust. Three of them were my parents and grandmother. My mother’s family manufactured roofing materials. My father graduated with a master’s in law from the Jagiellonian law school in Krakow. My parents spent three years in concentration camps. Their two-year-old son, my brother, and my father’s parents and three younger brothers were all killed at Treblinka. My father was the only person in his family to survive the war. He was 35 when the war ended. My mother was 28. As I reached each of those ages, I tried to imagine how they felt facing an unknown future as survivors of an unimaginable past. And as each of our two sons reached the age my brother had been when he was killed, I tried to imagine my parents’ pain at losing a two-year-old child, and I couldn’t.

After the war, my parents went to Stuttgart, Germany, where the Americans hired my father, who taught himself English, to help set up the system of legal services for displaced persons in the Allied zone in southwest Germany. In an act that seems to me to be almost incomprehensible in its breathtaking optimism, my parents and thousands of other survivors transcended the inhumanity they had experienced and decided to have more children. I think it was a way to fix their hearts and to prove to themselves and the world that their spirits were not broken. I was born in Stuttgart on July 1, 1946, 30 years after Louis Brandeis was appointed to the Supreme Court, and my sister two years later.

My father, who was the head of our displaced persons camp, applied to emigrate to Canada, but was refused because his legal training wasn’t considered a useful skill. He eventually was permitted entry as a tailor’s cutter and as a shepherd. Within days of arriving in Toronto, my father went to the Law Society to ask what tests he would need to take to become lawyer. “None,” they said. Non-citizens could not be lawyers. Waiting the five years it took in those days to become a citizen was impossible. There was a family to feed. So he became an insurance agent for the next 20 years, happily. I never heard him complain.

The moment I heard that story as a child about my father not being able to be a lawyer was the moment I decided to become one. I was four. I had no idea what being a lawyer meant, but I did have an idea that I wanted to carry on what I thought he was unfairly prevented from doing. My father died a month before I graduated from law school, and he never lived to see his inspiration take flight in the daughter he raised to fear only injustice, indifference and cowardice, or in his two grandsons, both of whom became lawyers. And he never had a chance to see the marriage he had exuberantly celebrated with me the year before he died flourish into a miraculously joyful partnership with one of Canada’s most brilliant historians.

But my mother did, and carried me proudly into the future on the shoulders of her unwavering confidence for the next 40 years, until she died in 2010. This extraordinary honour [of an honorary degree] from Brandeis is for me above all a tribute to her unwavering resilience, inspiration and courage.

A few years ago, she gave me some of my father’s papers from Germany that I’d never seen before. In those papers I found the answer to why he always spoke so respectfully and appreciatively of Americans. I saw letters from American lawyers, prosecutors and judges he had worked with in the U.S. zone in Stuttgart. They were warm, compassionate and encouraging letters, either recommending, appointing or qualifying my father for various legal roles in the court system the Americans had set up in Germany after the war. These Americans believed in him, and as a result they not only restored him, they gave him back his belief that justice was possible.

I found one of the letters written to him by an American lawyer in 1947 to be particularly poignant. It said, “Under extreme difficulties, you contributed your share in helping to make life bearable for your friends, co-nationals, and those of other nationalities. It is hard to be a refugee, and it is twice as hard to be a refugee and a lawyer. You were battered, but you did not allow yourself to be beaten. You continued to fight for your human rights and for those of your fellows in fate, like brave fighters for a new society.”

And here I am 70 years later, a member of that new society he fought and hoped for, and the beneficiary of generosity and opportunities he would never have dreamed possible, including, amazingly, an honorary degree from Brandeis, a university he venerated, and all because the phoenix that rose from the ashes of Auschwitz was justice – beautiful, democratic, tolerant, compassionate justice.

My life started in a country where there had been no democracy, no rights, no justice and all because we were Jewish. No one with this history does not feel lucky to be alive and free. No one with this history takes anything for granted, and no one with this history does not feel that we have a particular duty to wear our identities with pride and to promise our children that we will do everything humanly possible to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grandparents, a world where all children – regardless of race, colour, religion, or gender – can wear their identities with dignity, with pride and in peace.

Source: Never forget the lessons of Europe’s concentration camps – The Globe and Mail

Former MP and Minister Roy Cullen on the Service Fees Act (Budget 2017 Bill C-44)

Former Minister Cullen’s submission to the Finance Committee’s hearings on the omnibus Budget Bill C-44 and the User Fees Act/Service Fees Act:

It is disappointing and somewhat disconcerting that C 212, An Act respecting user fees, will be repealed and replaced by the Service Fees Act. It took me roughly two years to steer my Bill through Parliament where it received unanimous consent.

I am told that since C 212 received Royal Assent in March 2004, only roughly nine user fee proposals have followed the process outlined in that piece of legislation. For me it begs the question, did Departments/Agencies not believe their proposal would meet the criteria laid out in C-212, or were the user fee proposals not that important? Some parts of C 212 may be somewhat cumbersome and I support any streamlining that will improve the efficiency of the legislation.

With respect to performance standards, will the Treasury Board and TB Secretariat ensure that the performance standards that are proposed by Departments and Agencies are realistic stretch goals and not unambitious targets? Will these performance standards be benchmarked against jurisdictions with similar fees? While I appreciate that, consistent with C-212, consultations with interested persons and organizations are required (Art. 12) and that complaints will be reviewed by a panel (Art. 13), Bill C-212 calls for the department or agency to “establish standards which are comparable to those established by other countries with which a comparison is relevant and against which the performance of the regulating authority can be measured”. {Art. 4(1)(f)}.

Departments will be inclined to set performance standards that they can meet, and in many cases they will be inclined to argue that comparisons with other jurisdictions cannot be made.



Senate changes definition of a ‘caucus,’ ending Liberal, Conservative duopoly

Will be interesting to see how this evolves and how many caucuses, and their respective focuses, emerge:

The Senate has just voted for a major shake-up of how members of the Red Chamber align themselves by allowing nine or more members to form a caucus, a substantial break from tradition that has historically seen the place organized along party lines.

Members of the Senate adopted a key recommendation of the modernization committee’s report — released last fall — which removes the requirement that a caucus only be formed by those who are members of a political party registered under the Canada Elections Act.

Thus, in theory, there could now be a proliferation of caucuses along regional lines, something that has been favoured by Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, in the past for organizational purposes.

There could also be the creation of more narrowly-focused caucus groups, like senators who support environmental causes, or the military, an Indigenous or women’s caucus. The possibilities are nearly endless as long as there are at least nine senators who agree to band together, and their group is created for parliamentary and/or political purposes, requirements that are not overly stringent. (A senator, however, cannot be a member of more than one caucus.)

The change is a personal victory for Harder, and his reform agenda, as he has sought to dislodge the Conservative and Liberal duopoly in the Senate.

“I think it’s a victory for the Senate. This is the first major, permanent adjustment to the Senate rules and procedures coming out of the modernization committee,” Harder said in an interview with CBC News. “I just think its important for senators to be given the framework … to form affinities [and] I don’t have a road map or expectations or a design here.”

Harder said regional caucuses could form but he isn’t pushing for that type of division now, adding the process will “play out organically.”

When asked if there was demand by senators within the chamber to form new caucuses, Harder said yes. “Why else would it have been accepted by the Senate?”

The motion directs the Senate rules committee to now formalize the changes, and then requests the internal economy committee — which effectively governs the chamber and adjudicates complaints — to draw-up budgets for these prospective new caucuses, to help hire staff for “secretariats” and pursue research projects. The motion was adopted by a voice vote, so it is not clear how much support it had from the existing parties.

Source: Senate changes definition of a ‘caucus,’ ending Liberal, Conservative duopoly – Politics – CBC News

Does Australia’s values test have a future in Canada? Konrad Yakabuski

Yakabuski asks the valid question: could Australian dog whistle politics happen here?

To a certain extent, they already have: the use of the niqab and “barbaric cultural practices” tip line in the 2015 election, the Kellie Leitch and Steven Blaney leadership campaigns. As he notes, survey questions highlight an underlying concern about immigrant values.

That being said, while we naturally enough see the similarities with Australia – immigration-based countries, large number of foreign-born voters, considerable diversity – we often fail to see some of the differences:

  • Indigenous/white settler dichotomy in contrast to the more complex Canadian Indigenous/French settler/British settler background and a history, albeit highly imperfect, of accommodation and compromise;
  • a political system that provides greater opening for far right extremist voices;
  • a political system that results in fewer visible minorities being elected than in Canada; and,
  • a generally harsher political culture.

So while we always have to guard against complacency, we also need to keep in mind that national elections are largely fought in the 905 and BC’s Lower Mainland, where new Canadian voters, mainly visible minority, form the majority or significant plurality of voters.

The Liberal success in these ridings (they won 30 out of the 33 ridings where visible minorities are the majority) suggest that values or identity-based wedge politics are a losing, not winning, strategy:

When Malcolm Turnbull staged an internal Liberal coup to replace an unpopular Tony Abbott as party leader and Australia’s prime minister in 2015, it was hailed as victory of the moderns and moderates over the ultraconservative ideologues and their nasty dog-whistling strategists.

Guess who’s blowing dog whistles now?

The plan Mr. Turnbull unveiled last month to screen immigrants for Australian values (sound familiar?) and make it harder to obtain Australian citizenship represents a crass U-turn for a Prime Minister who only a few years ago attacked a then-Labor government for seeking to cut the number of temporary foreign workers entering the country. “If you support skilled migration and a diverse society, you don’t ramp up the chauvinistic rhetoric,” he tweeted in 2013.

Now, it is Mr. Turnbull’s turn to target the so-called 457 visa, replacing it with a program that puts new restrictions on foreign workers. The Prime Minister says the immigration changes are all about “putting Australians first.” But they are really about exploiting largely, but not exclusively, working-class resentment toward visible minorities, especially if they’re Muslims.

“If we believe that respect for women and children and saying no to violence … is an Australian value, and it is, then why should that not be made a key part, a very fundamental part, a very prominent part, of our process to be an Australian citizen?” Mr. Turnbull asked last month.

Well, for starters, because it demonstrates an astonishing degree of contempt for the very values that liberal democracies such as Australia purport to champion.

Is it really necessary to ask immigrants “under which circumstances is it permissible to cut female genitals” to convey the unacceptability of excision, which is already illegal? You can only answer yes if the real objective of such a measure is to pander to a substantial, but misguided, group of voters who seeks to alleviate their own insecurities by humiliating others.

You’d almost think this cockeyed plan was something cooked up by Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian political strategist who may or may not have been behind the 2015 election promise by former prime minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives to set up a “barbaric cultural practices” hotline. But Sir Lynton – the knighthood was bestowed by former British prime minister David Cameron after the so-called Wizard of Oz helped him win the 2015 British election – is currently too busy exercising the political dark arts in aid of Tory PM Theresa May’s election bid.

Sir Lynton’s business partner, Mark Textor, however, happens to be Mr. Turnbull’s chief pollster. And what the polls are telling Mr. Turnbull is that white, working-class voters in Australia are increasingly turning sour on immigration. This is something of a paradox in a country in which 28 per cent of the population is foreign-born, compared with about 21 per cent in Canada, and that has long been held up as a model multicultural society.

The truth is that both the Liberals (who are actually conservatives) and the Labor Party now only pay lip service to multiculturalism. Both are seeking to scratch an itch among white working- and middle-class voters. Labor recently ran an ad in Queensland promising to “build Australia first, buy Australian first and employ Australians first.” All of the dozen or so workers in the ad were white.

Support for the current policy of turning back boats of asylum seekers, or detaining them on islands off the Australian coast, remains strong, even among Labor voters. Hence, the dilemma for Labor Leader Bill Shorten, trapped between his party’s white working-class base and the urban progressives and immigrant voters Labor needs to win elections.

Mr. Turnbull, meanwhile, is looking over his shoulder at a renewed threat from the far-right One Nation party and Mr. Abbott, who appears to be angling for his old job. He just gave a speech denouncing the “cultural cowardice” of the elites, including the folks at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and their “pervasive ambivalence verging on hostility to our country and its values.”

Does Australia represent the ghost of Canadian politics yet to come? Polls show Canadians from across the political spectrum really like Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s idea of screening immigrants for Canadian values. She’s sticking to her guns, no matter how many old Red Tory friends she loses.

Hey, if Australia can go that low, why can’t we?

Source: Does Australia’s values test have a future in Canada? – The Globe and Mail

Don’t be like us, America: resist Trump’s war on the census

Good article by Anne Kingston:

It is never a good day for democracy when the head of the national census bureau quits. Canadians learned that in 2010 when Statistics Canada’s chief statistician, Munir Sheikh, resigned after then-industry minister, Tony Clement, falsely stated that the decision to axe the long-form census came from within StatsCan. Sheikh later said continuing budget cuts undermined the agency’s credibility.

For Americans, that day arrived this week, when U.S. Census Bureau director John H. Thompson, who’d held the job since 2013 and was expected to stay through 2017, suddenly resigned.  The back story remains a mystery. We do know the bureau, ramping up for the 2020 census was cash-strapped and under increasing political pressure. Months ago, insiders predicted a “train wreck” if the bureau didn’t get the resources it needed. Less than a week ago, Thompson stood before a combative congressional committee to request an extra $309 million for IT equipment.

Thompson’s exit, eclipsed by news of FBI director James Comey’s firing the same day, didn’t get the coverage it warranted. Yet his departure signals as potentially as big a blow to democracy.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has shredded data and threatened scientific research with a discipline absent from the general chaos that characterizes the regime. The past is being systemically deleted:  open data sets have been removedArctic climate research erased. Through it all, the president has engaged in 1984double-speak: “Rigorous science is critical to my administration’s efforts to achieve the twin goals of economic growth and environmental protection,” he said on Earth Day.

This all will be déjà vu all over again for Canadians—a warp-speed version of the data erasure witnessed during the decade-long Conservative government lead by Stephen Harper. Government funding of scientific research shrank, libraries were closed, irreplaceable research tossed, government scientists silenced, the long-form census was eliminated and key statistical studies were stopped. (Lest Canadians feel smug now, problems are ongoing even after regime change: in September 2016, Chief Statistician Wayne Smith stepped down, frustrated that Shared Services Canada held effective veto over many of the agency’s operations.)

Like Canadian scientists before them, American researchers raced to save data before the government permanently removed it. U.S. scientists have taken to the streets in protest, as Canadian scientists and citizens did before them. In tiny ways, the backlash has been successful: in January, the Trump administration dialled back its plan to delete climate-change pages on the EPA website, at least for now.

Trump’s proposed budget announced in March, however, called for brutal dismantling of scientific research (a full budget due this month still has to pass through Congress). Cuts of $7 billion in funding are destined to impede research on climate change, energy and health (it included an 18 per cent cut to the National Institutes of Health). The census bureau was one of the only federal agencies outside the Pentagon to get an increase. The $100-million bump only honoured previous commitments, however. The bureau called it insufficient, asking for a  21 percent, or $290 million, increase in 2017.

That’s small change, relatively. A properly executed census is a keystone of democracy, the largest civic action a government undertakes. Data collected provides snapshot of a nation—counting its people, their ages, where they work and live, how much money they earn, whether they live alone or with family, their marital status. It provides a baseline to measure progress or decline, particularly among the most marginalized.  The  information is necessary for governments—helping them to to make informed, fiscally-prudent decisions about where to allocate resources for schools, law enforcement, transportation, housing, social service agencies, even political campaigns. It reveals where to build roads and bridges—the “infrastructure” that was such a beloved cornerstone of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Major fault lines in the U.S. census, undertaken every 10 years, were evident in January. The U.S. Government Accountability Office put it on the “high-risk” list. That month, a leaked draft executive order revealed the government proposed the Census Bureau include a question on immigration status on the “long-form” census, or American Community Survey (ACS). The spectre of the White House using the information gleaned from the ACS and census to track down and deport undocumented immigrants triggered concerns that immigrants would be discouraged from participating.

March brought news that the government wanted to remove the first-ever question concerning sexual orientation and gender identity;  the LGBTQ community responded with accusations the government wanted  to “erase” them.   The fact the 2020 census will be the first conducted online has only ramped up cybersecurity concern amidst #Russiagate—and the need to reassure Americans that their private information will not be hacked.

If you want to thrust a nation into an autocracy, eliminating the data collection that allows it to see itself is a first step. For anyone else, including the business class of which the president remains an active member, it’s a disaster. Business depends on the census to determine where markets exist; where to step up operations and direct marketing. Business also depends on government-funded, pure-science research to stoke innovation.

“Our goal is a complete and accurate census,” Thompson said in March, when he was still director of the census bureau. Now he’s gone. Trump has the power to replace him. Given the explosive developments of the past week, many might see it as a low priority. It’s not. If you don’t measure a nation, its people no longer exist.

Source: Don’t be like us, America: resist Trump’s war on the census –

Liberals reshape judicial bench with appointments of women

The Globe finally catches up to the story of the increased diversity of the government’s judicial appointments, almost exclusively focussing on gender with only cursory reference to the increased number of visible minority (8.5 percent) and indigenous (5.1 percent) judicial appointments (after Thursday’s latest batch of appointments).

The Globe also misses another key aspect: the increased diversity in the Judicial Appointments Advisory Councils named to date: 62.9 percent women, 11.4 percent visible minorities, and 10.0 percent Indigenous peoples:

The Liberal government is reshaping the bench, appointing a substantial majority of women, even though they make up a minority of applicants. The approach is winning praise from some in the legal community, while sparking concern about “quotas” from others.

A year and a half after taking office, the government has appointed 56 judges, of whom 33 are women – 59 per cent. Yet women make up only 42 per cent of the 795 people who have applied to be judges since the Liberals put in place a new appointment process in October.

Making federal institutions more reflective of Canadian diversity has been a theme of the Liberal government. Its cabinet has an equal number of men and women, and it announced a plan last week to ensure more women and minorities are named to federally funded research chair positions at universities.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says a more diverse bench will build the public’s confidence in the judiciary. “We are beginning to demonstrate how it is possible to have a bench that truly reflects the country we live in,” she said in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.

But some in the legal community question the government’s commitment to the merit principle in appointing judges to federally appointed courts, which includes the superior courts of provinces, the Federal Court and Tax Court.

“I’m not really in favour of a quota system – those are alarming discrepancies,” Brenda Noble, a veteran family lawyer in Saint John, said in an interview, referring to the gap between female appointees and applicants. “You want to have the best people in the job.”

Ian Holloway, the University of Calgary’s law dean, said it is hard to fault the government for increasing the proportion of women judges. Even so, he said he worries the government is putting too much emphasis on gender.

“In the old days, it was offensive that people got judgeships just because they were Liberals or Tories. That helped breed contempt for the judiciary. What we don’t want to do is replicate that in a different form.”

But others say the government is doing the right thing.

Brenda Hildebrandt, a Saskatoon lawyer and governing member of the Saskatchewan Law Society, was pleased. “Do I think it’s a good thing women are more represented on the bench? Yes, I do, and I would hope that those are qualified candidates and that the fact that they’re women is just one consideration, albeit important.”

Rosemary Cairns Way, a University of Ottawa law professor who has studied diversity on federally appointed courts, supports the government’s move as a way of achieving gender parity. “When there is no shortage of meritorious candidates, it seems to me the government can legitimately choose judges who, in addition to being independently qualified, will fulfill other institutional goals such as a more diverse and gender-balanced bench.”

When the Liberals took office, 35 per cent of the federal judiciary (full-time and semi-retired) were women, according to the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. Given a similar time frame to the Conservatives – a decade in office – the Liberals would ultimately put women in the majority among the full-time federal judiciary if they maintain the current ratio of appointments. The previous government appointed more than 600 full-time federal judges, 30 per cent of them women; women also made up 30 per cent of applicants during the Conservatives’ years in office.

The government’s emphasis on creating a bench more reflective of Canada’s diversity does not extend quite as much to racial minorities as it does to women. However, there are at least seven visible minorities among the new appointees – two of Indigenous ancestry, three of South Asian background, one Japanese-Canadian and one Chinese-Canadian.

The Liberals have authorized the judicial-affairs commissioner to collect, for the first time, data on race, Indigenous status, gender identity, sexual orientation and physical disability of applicants and appointees. But the office would not release those numbers to The Globe and Mail for this story, saying it is still preparing the data and it intends to publish them soon.

The Globe asked Ms. Wilson-Raybould whether she has a numerical target for the appointment of women to the federal judiciary. She replied that the government appoints judges based on merit and the needs of the court. “In assessing merit, I do not discriminate against applicants based on their gender, ethnic or cultural background,” she said in an e-mail.

She acknowledged that the pace of racial-minority appointments is lagging and suggested the problem is a lack of minorities in the legal profession.

“We know that more needs to be done to increase the number of visible minorities in our law schools. As that happens, the face of the profession will change and evolve to better reflect the rest of the population.”

Rob Nicholson, a former Conservative justice minister, and the party’s current justice critic, said his chief concern is that qualified people be appointed. “If it’s 55-per-cent women and 45-per-cent men, as long as we get qualified people for this,” he said.

Source: Liberals reshape judicial bench with appointments of women – The Globe and Mail

Political activity audits of charities suspended by Liberals

A significant roll-back of the previous government’s approach:

The Liberal government is suspending the few remaining political activity audits of charities after an expert panel report recommended removing a political gag order imposed on them by the Conservatives five years ago.

As an immediate first step to respond to the panel’s recommendations, National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier “has asked the CRA to suspend all action in relation to the remaining audits and objections that were part of the Political Activities Audit Program, initiated in 2012,” a release Thursday said.

The panel report, also released Thursday, and the suspension together appear to end a long chill for charities that began in 2012, when the Conservative government launched 60 political activity audits, starting with environmental groups that had criticized federal energy and pipeline policies.

A spokesperson for the minister, Chloe Luciani-Girouard, said Thursday’s suspension affects 12 audits, of which seven have resulted in an intention to revoke charitable status.

The program cost environmental, anti-poverty, human-rights and religious charities significant staff resources and legal fees, and brought an “advocacy chill” to the sector, with many groups self-censoring lest they be caught in the Canada Revenue Agency’s net or annoy their auditors.

The Liberal Party campaigned in the 2015 election to end the “political harassment” of charities, but once elected did not quite end the program. Instead, the new government cancelled six of the political activity audits that were yet to be launched, but allowed audits already underway to continue.

That left groups such as Environmental Defence and Canada Without Poverty, which were deemed too political by CRA, still under immediate threat of losing their charitable status. Thursday’s announcement lifts that threat, at least until the government responds to the panel recommendations.

The five-member panel, chaired by Marlene Deboisbriand on the board of Imagine Canada, says Canada’s charity law and regulations are too restrictive and vague. It calls for changes to the Income Tax Act to delete any reference to “political activities” with regard to charities.

Would change enforcement

The change would be “to explicitly allow charities to fully engage, without limitation, in non-partisan public policy dialogue and development, provided that it is subordinate to and furthers their charitable purposes.” The CRA would also dramatically change its enforcement activities.

The panel report, based on wide consultations last fall, also said there was broad consensus in the charity sector that partisan activities — endorsing particular candidates or parties — should remain forbidden.

The panel recommended that a charity’s political activities, whether pressing for a change in government policy or buttonholing a politician, be judged on whether they further the group’s charitable purpose.

The proposed changes would eliminate current rules that restrict a charity’s political activities to 10 per cent of their resources. Critics have argued the rules are unclear on definitions of what constitutes a political act.

Source: Political activity audits of charities suspended by Liberals – Politics – CBC News

The Collapse of American Identity – The New York Times

Good summary of the increased divide in America and the ongoing political implications:

But recent survey data provides troubling evidence that a shared sense of national identity is unraveling, with two mutually exclusive narratives emerging along party lines. At the heart of this divide are opposing reactions to changing demographics and culture. The shock waves from these transformations — harnessed effectively by Donald Trump’s campaign — are reorienting the political parties from the more familiar liberal-versus-conservative alignment to new poles of cultural pluralism and monism.

An Associated Press-NORC poll found nearly mirror-opposite partisan reactions to the question of what kind of culture is important for American identity. Sixty-six percent of Democrats, compared with only 35 percent of Republicans, said the mixing of cultures and values from around the world was extremely or very important to American identity. Similarly, 64 percent of Republicans, compared with 32 percent of Democrats, saw a culture grounded in Christian religious beliefs as extremely or very important.

These divergent orientations can also be seen in a recent poll by P.R.R.I. that explored partisan perceptions of which groups are facing discrimination in the country. Like Americans overall, large majorities of Democrats believe minority groups such as African-Americans, immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people face a lot of discrimination in the country. Only about one in five Democrats say that majority groups such as Christians or whites face a lot of discrimination.

Republicans, on the other hand, are much less likely than Democrats to believe any minority group faces a lot of discrimination, and they believe Christians and whites face roughly as much discrimination as immigrants, Muslims and gay and transgender people. Moreover, only 27 percent of Republicans say blacks experience a lot of discrimination, while 43 percent say whites do and 48 percent say the same of Christians.

Taken as a whole, these partisan portraits highlight contrasting responses to the country’s changing demographics and culture, especially over the past decade as the country has ceased to be a majority white Christian nation — from 54 percent in 2008 to 43 percent today. Democrats — only 29 percent of whom are white and Christian — are embracing these changes as central to their vision of an evolving American identity that is strengthened and renewed by diversity. By contrast, Republicans — nearly three-quarters of whom identify as white and Christian — see these changes eroding a core white Christian American identity and perceive themselves to be under siege as the country changes around them.

These responses are shifting the political magnetic field that defines the parties. Republican leaders are finding strong support among their base for the Trump administration’s executive order barring travel to the United States from particular Muslim-majority countries. But their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act was dramatically derailed by factions within their own party.

Democrats, on the other hand, are enjoying energetic backing from their base for pro-immigration and pro-L.G.B.T. stances, but they are experiencing increasing opposition to their support for free trade.

There have been other times in our history when the fabric of American identity was stretched in similar ways — the Civil War, heightened levels of immigration at the turn of the 20th century and the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.

But during these eras, white Christians were still secure as a demographic and cultural majority in the nation. The question at stake was whether they were going to make room for new groups at a table they still owned. Typically, a group would gain its seat in exchange for assimilation to the majority culture. But as white Christians have slipped from the majority over the past decade, this familiar strategy is no longer viable.

White Christians are today struggling to face a new reality: the inevitable surrender of table ownership in exchange for an equal seat. And it’s this new higher-stakes challenge that is fueling the great partisan reorientation we are witnessing today.

The temptation for the Republican Party, especially with Donald Trump in the White House, is to double down on a form of white Christian nationalism, which treats racial and religious identity as tribal markers and defends a shrinking demographic with increasingly autocratic assertions of power.

For its part, the Democratic Party is contending with the difficulties of organizing its more diverse coalition while facing its own tribal temptations to embrace an identity politics that has room to celebrate every group except whites who strongly identify as Christian. If this realignment continues, left out of this opposition will be a significant number of whites who are both wary of white Christian nationalism and weary of feeling discounted in the context of identity politics.

This end is not inevitable, but if we are to continue to make one out of many, leaders of both parties will have to step back from the reactivity of the present and take up the more arduous task of weaving a new national narrative in which all Americans can see themselves.

True test of Trudeau’s expensive data devotion will be whether he follows the numbers – Politics – CBC New

Better data may not guarantee better policy and outcomes, but at least it can ensure more informed discussion and debate:

Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are a group that enthuses about “evidence-based policy” and “smarter decisions” and has concerned itself with “deliverology.”

And they are apparently hungry for more data.

“The challenge that we’re facing is one of — and we saw this more acutely a year ago in Vancouver — a dearth of data,” the prime minister said recently when asked about what his government might do about Toronto’s heated real estate market.

Adam Vaughan, a parliamentary secretary and Liberal MP in downtown Toronto, says there are theories about what’s happening within the city’s real estate market, but not enough is known about what’s actually going on.

“We’ve got to … get the data,” he told CBC’s Power & Politics. “We have to manage the data so that we can understand where the problems are emerging and deal with them quickly.”

Such concerns follow a spring budget that, between the promises of jobs and roads and social assistance, included new commitments to data: tens of millions of dollars to be spent collecting new numbers on health care, housing, transportation and other concerns.

More money for more data

The Liberals have promised $39.9 million for the creation of a new “Housing Statistics Framework,” while another $241 million will go to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to, in part, “improve data collection and analytics.”

The Canadian Institute for Health Information will receive $53 million to address “health data gaps” and strengthen “reporting on health system performance,” while $13.6 million will go to Statistics Canada to “broaden tourism data collection.”

Developing a “Clean Technology Data Strategy” will cost $14.5 million and Transport Canada will receive $50 million to establish a new “Canadian Centre on Transportation Data.”

Meanwhile, the new infrastructure bank will be committed to working with other levels of government and Statistics Canada to “undertake an ambitious data initiative on Canadian infrastructure.”

A week after the budget’s release, the government announced $95 million would be spent gathering data on the availability of child care.

So what might all these numbers add up to?

It might simply give government a better understanding of what’s happening across the country. As one senior Liberal official notes, more data can also lead to the discovery of previously unrecognised problems.

Such data would then, in theory, inform and guide government decisions.

That’s an ideal of evidence-based policy, an aspiration for more rational politics that has arisen in recent years and might now be viewed as a technocratic rival to the emotional, anti-establishment populism that brought Donald Trump to the White House. Witness this month’s marches for science across the United States, which echoed a similar protest on Parliament Hill in 2012.


Marchers advance toward city hall during the March for Science Los Angeles on April 22. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

“Data allows you to know what is the scope of the problem you’re trying to solve, or is there a problem that actually needs solving, and to measure how you’re doing and if [your policy] is working,” said the senior Liberal official.

If all that data is made public, it could also foster a better policy debate.

Incomplete record on evidence

The signature first act of Trudeau’s government was to restore the mandatory long-form census, the cancellation of which galvanized concerns about the former Conservative government’s approach to evidence and policy.

The rest of their agenda in this regard remains a work in progress. A chief science adviser has not yet been appointed. Still pending are improvements to the annual reporting on the performance of government programs and reform of the estimates process, through which Parliament approves the government’s spending plans. New legislation for the parliamentary budget officer has been panned as too weak and restrictive.

‘Will they use the data? Will they listen to it? Even if it shows that some of their policies aren’t working? That will be the true test.’– Katie Gibbs, Evidence for Democracy

Liberals nonetheless express interest in focusing on outcomes, not inputs: on what is accomplished with public money, not just what is spent. More information about what’s happening in and around the areas touched by public policy would help with that.

“Collecting the data is the first step in making policies that are informed by evidence and, even more importantly, actually evaluating public policies to see if they are doing what we hoped they would,” said Katie Gibbs, executive director of the group Evidence for Democracy.

“So it’s certainly important, but it’s still just the first step. Will they use the data? Will they listen to it? Even if it shows that some of their policies aren’t working? That will be the true test.”

Source: True test of Trudeau’s expensive data devotion will be whether he follows the numbers – Politics – CBC News

How disruptive technologies are eroding our trust in government – The Globe and Mail

Always worth reading, anything by Kevin Lynch. This piece is much stronger on the diagnostic side than policy proscriptions, reflecting the nature of the challenges:

We are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, driven by disruptive technological change. These technologies, such as big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and blockchain are intersecting and combining in extraordinary ways to create a “technology 4.0 world.” Few revolutions unfold without upheaval, uncertainty and swaths of winners and losers, however, and this one is no different. Its impact will be felt well beyond commerce – in how we communicate, interact, date, learn, gather news and govern ourselves.

An autonomous-driving truck carrying a load of beer on an interstate highway; self-driving cars; drones delivering parcels; robots reading X-rays and offering diagnoses; algorithms providing investment advice; artificial intelligence allowing computers to learn, infer and predict – the essence of many middle-class jobs. All are disruptive technologies producing gains in productivity and growth, to be sure, but also the inevitable displacement of jobs – and a looming quandary for policymakers.

Part of this quandary is the growing gap between the scale, scope and speed of these transformations and the capacity of government to implement timely and effective policy changes. Put simply, in today’s dynamic world, last-generation governance and policy processes are a poor match for next-generation disruptive trends, and trust in government is an early casualty.

Let’s drill down on the causes of this governance gap.

First, there is the ever-increasing pace of technical change versus the pace of policymaking, which is static at best. The game Angry Birds went from launch to 50-million customers within 35 days; Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., the new Indian wireless firm, acquired 100-million customers within six months; Facebook, Snapchat and Google roll out new platform services at astounding speed. Government is simply not wired today to respond at this pace.

Second, the scope of technological change is vast and shifting compared with the scope of government policymaking, which is typically compartmentalized into silos. Few technological innovations mirror departmental boundaries and regulatory powers, and few government departments were designed for the hyper-connected world of technology 4.0.

Third, disruptive innovation by its intrinsic nature is risk-taking, unlike governments, which are typically risk-averse. This clash of risk cultures exacerbates the gap between changing technology and policy making, with both needing to move more to risk-management models and behaviours.

Fourth, disruptive innovations know few borders, unlike governments, whose borders define their sovereignty and within which they are typically loath to share. The global financial crisis amply demonstrated the gap between “new” financial products traded globally and a patchwork quilt of national regulations and regulators with little cross-border co-operation.

Fifth, many of today’s transformative technologies are platform-based, with non-linear scalability and near-zero marginal costs, compared with policy changes in government, which have a bias toward incrementality because it is easier to garner political and public support for tweaking the status quo than embarking on bold new policies.

Sixth, disruptive innovations evolve through trial and error, unlike governments, whose policy ability to respond is hampered by uncertainty – the known unknowns and unknown unknowns are significant in an era of disruption. Too early, policy reactions can impede innovation and competition; too late can allow systemic risks to accumulate.

And seventh, the disruption of traditional media by interactive social-media platforms with enormous scale has allowed the creation of virtual communities of interest and vast arrays of unfiltered commentary, unlike with governments, where governing and considered policy analysis are too often the casualties of the immediacy of Twitter and Facebook.

What can governments do to respond to this growing gap?

In an era of disruption, policy thinking has to move from hindsight to foresight. Governmental structures require more flexibility and fluidity. They need to use social media better, to crowd-source public insights. Policy making must become more risk-tolerant and innovative. Communications should eschew excessive short-termism, and offer a longer-term focus. To regain trust, start today to tackle the big issues that will dominate tomorrow. How do economies and societies handle disruption on this scale? What are the new jobs technological change will create and the skills they will require? What are the models to reskill and retrain the work force? How are the benefits of this technological change and costs of its adjustment going to be shared? All questions the public instinctively gets.

This governance gap poses a broader political problem as well. Workers made redundant by robots and global supply chains, aware of increasing income inequality and decreasing equality of opportunity, are embracing populist tenets ranging from nationalism to protectionism, from distrust of institutions to anger. As history teaches us, bouts of fervent populism seldom end well. So, to respond to the dual challenge of rebuilding growth through innovation and of facilitating adjustment to technological change, we have to get ahead of the disruption curve in our policy analysis and thinking.

Source: How disruptive technologies are eroding our trust in government – The Globe and Mail