By Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer introduced a handful of new policy ideas during the nine month long leadership race, but Tory strategists suggest they likely won’t be part of the Tories 2019 election platform.
Scheer has vowed to take away federal funding from universities that don’t defend free speech. He’s proposed displaying the flags of countries that export oil to Canada on gas pumps. Scheer, who sends his own children to a faith-based school, has proposed a tax break for parents who home-school their children or send them to independent schools. He also suggested in an interview with a community newspaper that he would axe CBC’s news division.
Conservative strategist and vice chair of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said he would be surprised if more than 20 per cent of Scheer’s ideas became a part of the Conservative party’s 2019 platform.
Powers said Scheer’s proposal to de-fund universities that don’t protect free speech could be an election promise — because that idea has appealed to more than just Conservatives — but he called the flags on gas pumps idea “gimmicky.”
Powers said he thinks that Scheer’s tax credit for home-schooled families and for families who send their children to faith-based schools likely would present problems for him because his opponents will say he’s beholden to certain faith groups.
Keith Beardsley, a longtime Conservative strategist and former deputy chief of staff to Stephen Harper, said Scheer’s policies are easy to implement, but … “Stickers on gas pumps? I doubt many motorists will give a damn. Raise the prices and you have a problem.”
Beardsley said a tax credit for homeschooling or faith-based schools could be opening up a can of worms. “Which faiths? How much will it cost the government when Scheer promises to balance the books?”
Beardsley said that while attacking the CBC is popular among Conservatives and makes for good rhetoric, it’s not practical.
“[Scheer] said he wasn’t going to present anything in 2017 that he wouldn’t run on in 2019,” said Nancy Bishay, a spokesperson for Scheer.
“There are many interesting proposals he put forward and he’ll work together with the caucus, and also through the grassroots conservative policy process, to put together a platform to present to Canadians in 2019,” said Bishay.
Scheer’s ideas will have to be taken under consideration at the Conservative party’s policy conference in Halifax next year. But since he has championed a few very specific policies, delegates likely will support his wishes, said Susan Elliott, a Conservative strategist and partner at Strategy Portal.
But Elliott, who favoured Michael Chong for the leadership, suggested that the Conservative party is still going to have a hard time appealing to millennials in the 2019 election — by which time, she said, they will have become the largest single voting bloc, surpassing the baby boomers.
“I personally don’t think millennials will find those issues motivating. I just don’t think they are high on their top issues of concern,” said Elliott of Scheer’s ideas, specifically tax credits for home-school or faith-based schooling, and taking funding away from universities that don’t protect free speech.
“Millennials will want a credible climate change plan. A revenue-neutral carbon tax – also eliminating cumbersome regulations and directives – is the most cost-effective and conservative way to achieve that, but both party members and the new leader rejected that proposal.”
Powers said Scheer likely will “beg, borrow and steal” ideas from other candidates — but that Chong’s carbon pricing idea won’t be one of them.
Elliott said millennials don’t want to reopen debates on social issues like women’s reproductive rights and equal rights for LGBTQ citizens. In fact, said Elliott, “they don’t even understand why those are debates.”
She said political hostility towards people of diverse backgrounds and contrary points of view is a foreign concept to most millennials — but it was front and centre during the CPC leadership race “in a way that would not attract millennials to our party.”
“We must trust Andrew Scheer, now that he has been chosen to lead, to understand these truths about the current electorate. I believe he is a smart man,” she said.
Elliott said she thinks Scheer will show wisdom in adopting “millennial-friendly policies” and convincing the party and caucus to come along.
“What did Trudeau campaign on in his leadership race in 2013 that became Liberal policy?” said Powers. “It’s hard to recall because it’s not often policy that determines who wins leadership races.”
By arrangement with iPolitics.ca
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Canada’s use of both government and private sponsors to help Syrian refugees resettle is a model that should be exported around the world, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said Monday.
Canada was the first of what’s still only a handful of states which allow private groups to take on the costs and obligations associated with refugee resettlement and it’s an approach that ought to be tried elsewhere as the flow of displaced people from the Syrian civil war and other conflicts continues, Filippo Grandi said.
“It adds more places for resettlement, but it also contributes to create this sense in civil society that it is a positive thing to do,” Grandi said of the private sponsorship program in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Committed to the idea of refugees
He spoke ahead of a day of meetings with senior government officials, including Immigration Minister John McCallum, who will be a keynote speaker at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ summit on the Syrian crisis in Geneva next week.
Grandi is asking states to take in about 10 per cent of the estimated 4.2 million people who’ve become refugees from the Syrian civil war.
The Liberal government had committed to taking in 25,000 government-assisted refugees by the end of this year and have about 8,000 more to go towards that goal. But they have not set a firm number for how many Syrians they will admit through the private system. The total refugee settlement target for this year — from all countries — is 44,800.
McCallum had previously said Canada could absorb between 35,000 and 50,000 Syrians, but wouldn’t say Monday whether those numbers will resurface in his speech next week.
“You won’t hear a number from me today,” he said. “As our behaviour suggests, we are committed to the idea of refugees.”
McCallum said he agrees the private sponsor program is worth looking at for other countries, noting it would help take some of the pressure off European states teeming with asylum-seekers. Canada is already working with Brazil to set up a program there.
Leadership creates solidarity, not fear
Under the Liberal program to resettle 25,000 Syrians by the end of last month, about 8,976 were privately sponsored and a further 2,225 were sponsored by a program that blends private and government support.
The private sponsorship program largely began with the intake of refugees from Vietnam in 1979. In order to admit more people, the government committed to matching numbers sponsored by private groups, mostly churches. By the end of 1980, Canada had accepted 60,000 refugees.
Studies suggest long-term outcomes for privately sponsored refugees are often better than government-assisted ones, in part because of the strong community support. But there are also demographic differences.
Early analysis of Syrians who have arrived in Canada show, for example, that 70 per cent of government-assisted refugees don’t speak English or French, compared to only 37 per cent of the privately sponsored.
Grandi said Canada has a leadership role to play in encouraging other countries to increase their resettlement efforts, as it was mostly leadership that set the tone in Canada for such a swift response to the Syrian crisis last fall.
Leadership created not fear, but solidarity, he said.
“This is what I am saying to European leaders,” he said.
“It is true that some people are afraid here as well, but as everywhere you have people that are supportive and people that are more timid in this and I think leaders should utilize the good forces to create a positive environment. This was done here, there is no doubt.”
Republished in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Helping Syrian refugees fleeing their war torn homes migrate to Canada is not a partisan issue, says new Conservative Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Critic Michelle Rempel, but the Liberal government has provided few details on their plan and there are many questions left unanswered.
“To me this is about compassion, but we also need to have a plan and the government has not shown Canadians [the plan] to date and we’ll keep asking those questions,” Rempel told iPolitics.
CTV News reported that the government is planning to source the majority of the 25,000 Syrian refugees from refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and likely Turkey. Citing leaked government documents, CTV News said 900 refugees are expected to arrive daily, starting as early as Dec. 1.
Taking questions from reporters today, however, Health Minister Jane Philpott said that report was old. Philpott was accompanied by Immigration Minister John McCallum, who said the government’s plan for resettling refugees will be announced next Tuesday.
Putting off the announcement of the plan time and time again is not likely what Canadians want to hear, said Rempel.
“My understanding is that they’re going to have a press conference today to talk about when they’re announcing their plan, so we’re not even close to having that happen yet and their deadline to show a plan has been bumped over and over again,” she said.
Many unanswered questions
According to CTV’s report, the refugees will be identified by the United Nations and screened on the ground by Canadian officials from the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS), which will examine documents and biometric data, like fingerprints.
This prompted Rempel to wonder, “what will that biometric data be screened against, what databases, what screening criteria are being used?”
“First of all, we don’t know what they’re being screened for and we don’t know what will happen if they fail the screening process,” she said.
According to CBC, the refugees will be housed in temporary military sites in Quebec and Ontario.
“What is the transition plan for 25,000 refugees in such a short period of time? I wouldn’t think that it’s appropriate to have people stay in very tight temporary quarters for an extended period of time,” said Rempel.
“What are the language services programs that are going to be provided? How are we ensuring that all elements of social inclusion are being thought of with regard to transition of refugees into Canadian society?” she asked, adding that things like language training, helping those who may suffer from post traumatic stress disorder from coming out of a region of war, are all questions that Canadians want answered.
“Frankly I think it’s very disappointing the government has not provided details to the Canadian public to date,” she said.
Need to consider magnitude of task
Rempel reiterated throughout the interview that Canadians want to help the Syrian refugees, but they have to know how to help. She also said it’s important to always be respectful when asking the government questions about its plan given the gravity of the humanitarian crisis that’s happening in the region.
“I think that we have to be compassionate … but we also have to ensure we’re understanding the magnitude of the task that’s in front of us. Twenty-five thousand in a very short period of time, I think roughly 40 days at this point, is something we need to consider very carefully,” she said.
“But also asking ourselves some pretty frank questions about our role in containing ISIS with our coalition partners. There’s a reason why many of these people are fleeing this region, ISIS has a big part to do with that,” she said.
Rempel said the additional question is whether it’s “prudent and is there reason for us to withdraw our CF-18s and some of our other military equipment from the region, why are we doing that, and will we have a full debate in Parliament to discuss that?”
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
A refugee advocacy group says it is concerned about Premier Brad Wall’s letter asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suspend the resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees in the wake of reports that one of the Paris ISIS attackers entered Europe in the Syrian refugee influx.
“It’s very disappointing that a leader like that would come out with such a position. The government has always been clear that nobody is talking about skipping security clearances for the refugees. Refugees are people who are victims of exactly the kind of bombing we saw in France,” said the executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, Janet Dench.
In a letter to Trudeau, the Saskatchewan premier says he is concerned about fast-tracking refugee claims and that doing so could undermine refugee screening. Wall wrote that the attacks in Paris are a reminder of what can happen when a small number of dangerous individuals make their way into a country. He’s calling on Trudeau to re-evaluate his goal, a campaign promise, of resettling 25,000 Syrian refugees by January 1.
Dench said she hopes that as people respond to the horrific events that happened in Paris Friday they will be even more sympathetic to fellow humans fleeing violence, on a much larger scale in Syria.
“I was disappointed about Premier Wall because he has, in the past, spoken in a very humane way about refugees being deprived of health care and here he’s jumping to a conclusion in a public way and this unfortunately tends to reinforce stereotypes that are completely unfair,” said Dench.
Wall isn’t alone in his reaction. In the U.S., several governors have said they intend to halt efforts to allow Syrian refugees from entering their states.
Dench insists refugees coming to Canada are subject to intense security and they receive much closer scrutiny than people who arrive as visitors.
People tend to focus their attention on refugees as security risks, said Dench, and suggested we think about people who have committed atrocities in Canada recently, “people born in Canada, not refugees,” she said, referencing the murder of Patrice Vincent who had been deliberately run down in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo who was shot and killed at the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
“Our main concern is the unfair association being made between refugees and a security risk — it has a broad impact in terms of how refugees are treated,” said Dench.
With files from the Canadian Press
Re-published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper was not subtle about his use of cultural differences as a trigger for fear during the election campaign. His government pressed its case against a Muslim woman fighting to wear her niqab during her citizenship ceremony — and lost. It unveiled a “barbaric cultural practices” tipline for Canadians to report on their neighbours.
He made a debating point of his position that he’d never tell his daughter to cover her face, a moot point unless she converts to Islam. For Muslim-Canadian women the fact that those tactics backfired in the end is a validation of a particular view of Canada.
For Alia Hogben, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, it shows that Canadians “are rejecting all the divisive and racist and hate mongering that the Conservatives were doing and they’re showing who we really are. It gives me a huge amount of hope.”
Hogben said that for almost every single Muslim, Harper’s vocal opposition to Muslim women wearing the niqab at citizenship ceremonies as the case of Zunera Niqab, who had taken the government to court over the issue, made its way successfully through then legal process during the campaign, was a source of anxiety.
“During that period it was nerve wracking, depressing and discouraging,” she said.
Hogben said she was worried about these new values that were being propounded by the Conservatives.
“We couldn’t tell if Canadians would lean that way or not and now it’s a huge amount of relief that its been rejected,” she said.
“We’re not saying one party is any better than another, but we’re hoping that they will learn from what went on during the election and the kind of feelings that aroused for and against a group of people and that they will learn from that and make everybody welcomed back into the family of Canadians rather than dividing us.”
No room for divisive, mean politics
In a powerful speech to a crowded room of cheering supporters in Montreal, prime minister designate Justin Trudeau said a woman wearing a hijab told him she would vote for him because she wants to make sure that her little girl has the right to make her own choices in life.
“Have faith in your fellow citizens my friends, they are kind and generous. They are open minded and optimistic and they know in their heart of hearts that a Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,” said Trudeau.
Liberal strategist at Crestview Strategy Group, Rob Silver, said there’s no room in Canada for divisive and mean politics.
“I think if anything the niqab issue backfired on Stephen Harper and I think that kind of divisive negative nasty politics will not be seen in Canada for a long time.”
Samer Majzoub, the president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, says by electing Trudeau, Canadians have sent a very strong message to politicians who have campaigned on “hatred and discrimination.”
“They have harvested what they have planted and lost and [were] defeated,” said Majzoub.
“The fact is that Canadians have followed what Canadians believe in — harmony, unity, human rights, that’s why we feel at ease on the subject,” he said.
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit