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The Visible Minority Construct

19 minute read

The term “visible minority” is an archaic BUT necessary social construct that is in need of a facelift…implications for human resources (HR) professionals in the Federal Public Service.

Part 1 – History of representation in the public service

In the federal public service, when it comes to representation at the executive table for visible minorities, Indigenous peoples and Canadians who are differently able, Employment Equity is at a standstill. It is time for HR professionals to lead again and engage the public service in a renewed conversation on employment equity. Even though this text focuses on the construct of “visible minority”, the points being raised can easily extend to Indigenous peoples and Canadians who are differently able. For these two groups, we equally need to unpack the historical underlying assumptions behind the Employment Equity Act(theAct) to find solutions to underrepresentation in the public service that are not rooted in the past, but are firmly planted in the present, with a view towards the future.

Visible minority – an outdated term

In Canada, we have come to accept the term “visible minority”, as a categorization of people who have nothing in common except for a shade of skin. The Employment Equity Actdefines visible minorities as ” people, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour. “. The construction of the “visible minority” category for the purposes of employment equity draws upon the historical perceptions of racism and societal disadvantages that ensue. Such a categorization pre-supposes a world where we are divided between the dominant Caucasians and the subordinate non-Caucasians. For the purposes of “race categorization”, you are either Caucasian, non-Caucasian or Aboriginal. Oddly enough, some of the so-called “visible minorities” have come to accept this construct, although it has little relevance to their current reality. I am part of the so-called Vis Minwho finds the term endearing; for one it was a radical departure from the N-word that, growing up, I was so accustomed to, and secondarily, I was lumped-in with others through the old adage “misery loves company”. The term “visible minority” did simplify a worldview now molded into an “us & them” mentality. Who was, or is, a visible minority, may never have been entirely clear but all non-Caucasians had an intrinsic knowledge of the core meaning behind “them”. The term has graced our legal, political, organizational and social landscapes for more than thirty years. So, what happened over the past 30-odd years that has gotten the term “visible minority” to fall from grace, to such an extent that even a convert like me is arguing for a facelift of a very tired social construct?

Many others have raised concerns with this construct. Frances Woolley wrote an opinion piece in 2017 in the Globe and Mail under the title: ‘Visible minority:’ A misleading concept that ought to be retired. Charles N. Farah, wrote in the Ottawa Citizen in 2018 that ‘Visible minority’ is an offensive term. He concluded by stating: “In my opinion, the government’s visible minority category is Eurocentric…is paternalistic and autocratic and is divisive, as it differentiates between Canadians.” The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada to “reflect further” on the use of the term visible minorities. And, Douglas Todd wrote in the Vancouver Sun in 2017 that: “Visible minority” is now a meaningless term in Metro Vancouver and Toronto. There is a consistent chorus of voices asking for a paradigm shift, when it comes to the categorization of people as non-White in colour or non-Caucasian in race. The majority of this chorus opposes the use of the term, either based on its racist nature or the fact that it does not describe our current reality. Some even argue that Caucasians are now the minority. Regardless of your objection to the term, the reality is that its use has fast tracked social progress through integration, and if logic dictates that the construct requires an update, it is because it hides necessary distinctions that are required to understand how different visible minority groups compare with one another on employment outcomes and measures. To object to the use of the term is not cosmetic. It is more fundamental and is very much rooted in the origins of the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment Report (The Abella Report) and the foundations of the Employment Equity Act.

To provide some historical context, when the term was introduced in the early 1980s, Canada was looking backward at a legacy of brutal, overt and unapologetic societal racism, which permeated in the workplace. Whether one considers, to name a few, historical wrongs committed by past governments against Chinese Canadians, or Canada’s legacy of anti-black racism, which traces its origins to slavery in the 16th century, or the uprooting and incarceration of Japanese Canadians in 1942, or our immigration policy, which had a racial origin bias and clearly drew a line between Caucasian and non-Caucasian immigrants, it is clear that our past is marred in a language of hate. Such outward display of intolerance is still part of the public and political discourse; for example, one just has to consider the rhetoric around The Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices(2015), or the Quebec Charter of Values(2015; 2017).

In the early 1980s the term visible minority came to symbolize an attempt to look forward. The term took prominence from the Abella Report, which guided us to never look back. It was a useful social representation to capture the state of disadvantages that many hard-working Canadians had to endure. The Report revealed evidence that “visible minorities”, women, Aboriginal peoples and differently-abled Canadians experienced lower participation rates in the labor force, high unemployment and underemployment rates, occupational segregation and low-income levels; ultimately being the consequences and effects of systemic discrimination. Although the term was presented for the purposes of the Employment Equity Act, in the absence of another official definition, it is now used far beyond the activities related to employment equity. The term has extended to other fields beyond employment, including health research, policing, social services, etc.

Racism exists

The introduction of the construct was timely. Canada’s change in immigration policy opened the door to more and more immigrants of many different notable ethnicities. In the late 1950s, 85 percent of the total number of immigrants came from Europe. By the beginning of the 1980s, the percentage from Asia had increased to 35 percent, and 8 percent came from Africa. There has been a dramatic growth of this population in recent years. According to the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS), approximately 19%, or close to one-fifth, of the Canadian population are members of visible minority groups (Statistics Canada, 2013). This represents an increase from 16% in 2006 (Statistics Canada, 2010) and from an estimated less than 2% in 1971. According to Statistics Canada’s population projections, the proportion of Canada’s foreign-born population could reach between 24.5% and 30.0% by 2036. It was, and is, indeed convenient to lump, into an easy social construct that is “visible minority”. Since its introduction, the term helped unearth societal beliefs that South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean and Japanese, are inferior. Philippe Rushton, professor at Western University, argued in 1989 that genetic determination of intelligence is bequeathed by heredity. Although, the case he made was racist, these beliefs were quite prominent in organizational culture and deep-rooted in the Canadian psyche. It was generally believed and argued that visible minorities did not have access to positions of authority because they did not possess the qualities required for these positions.

Many would argue that not much has changed from days past. In 2013, Chicha and Charest wrote a Report for the Centre d’études ethniques des universités montréalaises, in which they concluded that equality in employment is far from being achieved, due to systemic discrimination and a lack of engagement from political actors. In 2018, in a Globe and Mail article, Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes is unequivocal that: “Systemic racism exists,” …citing a statistic that less than 5 per cent of CEOs are non-Caucasian women.”

Part 2 – How government HR can respond to today’s reality

In the federal public service, there has been substantial progress from the early 80s, when the public service was almost White-only mostly comprised of Caucasians. Employment equity, as a blunt instrument, has led to meaningful change for organizations that are subject to the Act, or for organizations that are subject to the Federal Government Contractors Program. The representation of visible minorities in the federal public service, changed from 3.8% to almost 15%. Federally regulated private-sector workforce, which represents approximately 3.7% of the Canadian workforce, also saw significant changes from 5% in 1987 to over 22% in 2016. These numbers could be further refined and represent less than 10% of the workforce; however, as a general indication, they suggest a level of progress. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that the term did what it was intended to do, which indeed makes it difficult to ask for a reboot. Yet, that is exactly what is required to continue our progress.

Unlike others, I am not advocating for the elimination, or a replacement, of the construct. In recent years, there has been a plethora of terms used as euphemism for “visible minority”: racialized groups, racialized persons, racialized Canadians, racial minorities, ethnocultural diversity, marginalized ethnic groups, etc. Such efforts are futile, as a rose by any other name is still a rose. Race is still a dominant theme in our society. We are far from being post-racial, certainly not with baby boomers dominating the landscape. As well, there are still fundamental problems to solve within the public service when it comes to representation of visible minorities, particularly at the executive levels in proportion to their representation overall. What is required is not a pointless debate on the construct or its origin. Rather I propose that the Federal Public Service needs to be more critical of the underlying assumptions behind the term, and in so doing, start crafting new solutions to new problems for 2018 and beyond.

Responding to a new paradigm

HR professionals in the federal public service need to question the underlying assumptions of systemic discrimination contained in the Employment Equity Actand the Abella Report. Parisa Mahboubi, in an article in the Globe and Mail in 2017, concluded “Discrimination is often blamed… However, that answer is too easy.” I tend to agree with Mrs. Mahboubi. The construction of the Abella Report and the Employment Equity Actare rooted in brutal societal racism. In 1984, it was rampant. The question is: Do we still have the same reality in 2018, as we had in 1984 within the federal public service? Most observers would conclude that the mindset has shifted, as a result in part of HR implications and leadership showed by unions, employees and managers. Misguided attempts, such as the Public Service Commission’s name-blind recruitment pilot project, tend to perpetuate this narrative of systemic discrimination in the public service. And although the end result of the pilot shows no sign of bias from managers in their recruitment practice, what will be remembered by most is that hiring managers were de factoperceived as discriminating on the basis of the name of an individual. This is not to suggest that we don’t have managers with racist views in government. Individual experiences abound of visible minority group members claiming racism. We should be inspired by #MeToo, #TimesUp, #IdleNoMore, and be more inclined to believe visible minorities when they do come forward.

We still need to cleanse the system of individuals who still hold stereotypical views of visible minorities and who actively act on those views. However, the question is: within the public service is racism systemic in our policies, practices, culture, rules, beliefs, attitudes, etc.? I would suggest that it is not the case. Many past and present brave deputies have taken a leadership role and have worked tirelessly to ensure a representative public service. The institutional commitment to representation overall has been massive. Every department requires an employment equity plan, has a manager and staff responsible for diversity, has likely a diversity committee and provides diversity training for managers and employees. Most departments evaluate managers on some aspects of advancing diversity. Most departments have countless networks for social gatherings for employees. Other departments provide formal mentoring programs for designated groups. Considering these massive efforts and investments to enact the provisions of the Employment Equity Act, it seems clear that the Actis no longer sufficient to explain the underrepresentation of visible minorities, particularly at the most senior executive levels. The centerpiece of the Actis an employment system review to eliminate all instances of systemic discrimination. I firmly believe we have accomplished that objective in the federal public service.

Second, the current crop of managers and executives do not hold the same views on race, as the managers and executives that were part of the system in 1984. This is evident in the opinions on employment equity shared by successive cohorts of participants at the Institute on Governance Executive Leadership Program. This is a program in which departments send their emerging talent to further develop their leadership skills. This program offers a forum for executives and aspiring executives for frank discussions on all aspects of public service, including employment equity. Most often, these cadre of executives are eager to have a representative public service, but often find limits, imposed by archaic HR rules, in their desire to achieve representation. The fundamental difference between 1984 and 2018 is that, refreshingly, the new cadre of executives do not question the necessity or legitimacy of representation. If executive malfeasance was the dominant theme in 1984, it is unlikely to be the same in 2018. HR professionals have more champions willing to undertake the hard work of representation than at any point in time in the past 30 years.

Third, for HR professionals, the construct “visible minority” needs unpacking. Visible minorities are often treated as a monolithic category, ignoring the diversity within this growing population; for example, differences by nativity, ethnic origin, and other characteristics. Each group has its own range of economic and social differentiation. One must be aware of how the amalgamations of different groups affect the analysis of data concerned with visible minorities in Canada. For example, visible minority immigrants differ from Canadian-born visible minorities in important ways, including official language proficiency, cultural backgrounds, and familiarity with Canadian society and institutions.

In addition, Canadian society in general holds different stereotypical views depending on the composition of the visible minority population. Stereotypical views of Chinese are fundamentally different then stereotypical views of Blacks or Arabs. These views have a differentiated impact in employment for each group. As such, labour market disparities vary among these groups. The overwhelming majority of visible minorities are South Asian (25 per cent), Chinese (21 per cent) and black (16 per cent). Chinese employment earnings, on average, are 91 per cent of non-visible minority earnings while Black earnings are about 73 per cent, according to the 2016 Census. HR professionals need to understand their employment equity data beyond the amalgamation represented by the construct “visible minority”. It is no longer about system reviews, but more important, HR professionals need to understand differentiation between and within groups. To do so, HR professionals need to guide a conversation on what is meant by Diversity and what is meant by Inclusion. These are two different concepts and yet, they are used interchangeably. The first is a statement of recognition. However, Inclusion is a paradigm with its own disciplinary matrix. And it requires the “system” to adapt to the individual, as opposed to the individual integrating into the system.

Fourth, there is a pressing need for HR professionals to move away from the seemingly unifying view presented by the construct “visible minority”. For one, as a Black man of Haitian origin, I have nothing in common with a Black man from Jamaica, except for a shade of skin. It is more likely that I would find cultural alignment with a Caucasian francophone from Québec than some brethren from Jamaica. This is a difficult concept to apprehend, but it is nonetheless true. To a large extent in the federal public service we have overcome the strife of ethnicity. We have, by and large, won the fight between the colour of skin and the content of character. We can easily accommodate ethnicity. Most employees are working collegially with all shades of colour. However, we still need to tackle the differentiation brought about by culture. And yes, ethnicity differs from culture. I may be from a different ethnic group than a Caucasian Canadian; this, however, does not mean I am from a different culture.

In his book, The Hidden Dimension, Edward T. Hall referred to culture as a language. In essence, I speak Haitian culture and I speak Canadian culture. But I don’t speak Jamaican culture or Nigerian culture. The importance of this differentiation for HR professionals is to understand the variability of life experiences within the “visible minority” group construct. But secondarily, it is to recognize that visible minorities hold violent racist attitudes and stereotypes against each other, as evidenced by the case of Emile Wickham, an Afro-Caribbean, who was asked to pre-pay at the Hong Shing Chinese restaurant before receiving his meal. The Ontario Human Rights tribunal’s ruling stated: “This case illustrates that the restaurant did not extend the applicant the benefit of the doubt, or assumption of his decency as a black person, rather he was presumed to be deviant.” In essence, it is not because you are a visible minority that you do not carry the seeds of racism and intolerance. HR professionals will need to devote the same efforts, as was done for Caucasians in the 1980s, to the visible minority groups in forging a conversation around intolerance. Where it was convenient in 1984 to have an “us” – visible minorities” and “them”- Caucasians” mentality, the reality in 2018 is that among the “us” there could be more acts of stereotyping and racism, then we would find actually in “them”.

Finally, HR professionals in the federal public service need to come to terms with rejecting the notion of labour market availability (LMA) as a measure of the proportion of visible minority that should be represented at the executive levels. This measure is flawed for a number of reasons. One, it does not recognize the massive underemployment of immigrants that occur in society and has also no recognition that there is a multitude of visible minorities who could do executive roles in the federal public service, by virtue of their human capital acquired in their country of origin. However, here in Canada, many are forced to work way below their capacity. As such, when Statistics Canada conducts its LMA and arrives at a percentage in the external market, this percentage represents a gross underestimation of the capacity available. The problem stems from the fact that this percentage is then utilized to justify a false sense of accomplishment that the federal public service has made progress. It would be more impactful for HR professionals to use internal metrics – the overall representation of visible minorities within the public service – and posit that everything being equal, this representation should be at every hierarchical level. The logic of such a change is sound. At present, the overall percentage is approximately 15%, we should therefore expect for that percentage to be equally distributed across all levels. Hence, the percentage being used (9%) to justify that the federal public service is meeting its employment objectives at the executive level, does not help the institution move forward. If there is a process of ghettoization in particular departments or job groups, it is incumbent on HR professionals to understand what is at play and find meaningful solutions for the federal public service.

In summary, HR professionals must:

  • Unpack the construct “visible minority” and become more comfortable with the less comfortable and less comfortable with the more comfortable
  • Guide the public service away from 1984 solutions to 2018 problems
  • Generate a renewed conversation that differentiates inclusion from integration as policy options
  • Develop new metrics for progress on employment equity, beyond labour market availability
  • Recognize and act on the notion that systemic racism in the federal public service, as it existed in 1984, would be fundamentally different in 2018, if it is still a reality

My argument takes note of the fact that we have the most educated, open-minded, culturally conscientious cohort of leaders ever in the history of the public service. That we have overcome ethnicity, but we are still struggling with culture. That it is a misappropriation of concepts, when we interchange “Diversity” and “Inclusion”. Diversity is a state of differences amongst individuals. Inclusion is an operating paradigm that flows from assimilation, integration and now inclusion. I advocate that most employees in the public service are not ready for the Inclusion paradigm. I am also advocating that the Employment Equity Act, as a tool, cannot explain the underrepresentation at all hierarchical levels of visible minorities in the federal public service. Employment Equity cannot explain the thinning-out of visible minorities that happens at the EX04, EX05 and Deputy levels. It cannot explain the virtual absence of visible minority women within the EX cadre, considering that over the past 30 years, women in general have come to represent approximately 50% of the population of EXs in the federal public service.

Faced with these realities, HR professionals need to move beyond the tried and true and start seeking to understand new underlying problems that require urgent solutions. We must never be complacent. The success of our social contract rests on making someone like me – first generation immigrant, Black, coming from poverty and being raised by a hardworking single mother – to believe that I can accomplish my true destiny, based on the strength of my character. If this belief disappears, because we collectively fail to ensure representation at all levels, then the dream of an integrated multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Canada also disappears.

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New Leadership Training at the IOG

1 minute read

You may have seen a little story that’s been circulating on social media these days. A financial advisor asks a CEO, “What if we pay to develop our people and they leave?,” to which the CEO answers, “What if we don’t and they stay?” The IOG is aware of the strategic importance of developing leaders in the public service. Therefore, we are proud to offer you, starting this January, an extended range of services.

Leaders develop first by understanding who they are, their strengths, and their areas for development. The IOG will now offer organizations and individuals two excellent 360-feedback instruments based on the six Key Leadership Competencies of the Public Service of Canada. These tools will include a strict confidential approach and one-on-one debrief with a certified member of our team.

Working in the public sector, interpersonal effectiveness is at the heart of work. To support your development efforts in this area, the IOG is proud to offer a well-known and celebrated tool: Insights Discovery. The Insights workshops are fun, insightful, and extremely effective for both individuals and teams. To complement this tool, we will also be offering two instruments and accompanying workshops on Emotional Intelligence and Resiliency.

Learning about yourself is the beginning of the journey. To further your development as a leader, a coach is an invaluable resource. Our coaches will offer you individual and highly effective coaching programs to help you develop the skills that you identify as important to you. We also offer career coaching and interview preparation for executive level positions.

To support leaders who are at the manager level, the Institute now offers two unique and well-established leadership development programs: the Indigenous Leadership Program and Stepping Into the Executive Cadre. These programs are designed for middle managers and offer an in-depth learning experience over the course of 9 months. Our next cohort of these programs start in March.

Click here to learn more about upcoming leadership development opportunities at the IOG.

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A Reflection on Black History Month

2 minute read

By Gérard Étienne, Vice-President, Diversity and Inclusion, Institute on Governance

I was recently asked by a learned colleague: why do we still need a Black History Month? It is a legitimate question stemming from a true desire to understand the aspiration of a People and the historical legacy that makes such a yearly occurrence necessary. However, the answer requires nuance and I was only able to use the analogy of the 10-year old traveling on a journey and constantly asking the parents “are we there yet?.” Black Canadians have been asking that question ever since the underground railroad took us to Nova Scotia and slavery was abolished in Canada in 1834.

I have been asking myself that question from the time elementary schoolmates were chanting “Go back to Africa” and most recently with the dismal failure of the Employment Equity Act, which masks the inequity of Black Canadians under the rubric Visible Minorities. For indeed we are visible, this colour of skin cannot go unnoticed, we do not blend in and we do not bend. But our common experience has been difficult in this unique journey that seems to be ours.

Our health outcome is poorer than most Canadians. Immigrant Black women have significantly higher odds of hypertension, diabetes, and fair/poor self-rated health. Native-born Black women and immigrant Black men have higher odds of hypertension and diabetes. (Revue Canadienne de santé publique, vol 107, no 3). Black men are more likely to be incarcerated. Ontario Superior Court Justice Shaun Nakatsuru wrote, “I find that for African Canadians, the time has come where I as a sentencing judge must take judicial notice of such matters as the history of colonialism (in Canada and elsewhere), slavery, policies and practices of segregation, intergenerational trauma and racism both overt and systemic …,”. The United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent concluded in their 2016 Report that they were “deeply concerned about the human rights situation of African Canadians. Canada’s history of enslavement, racial segregation and marginalization has had a deleterious impact on people of African descent.” The population of black Canadians in the Ottawa-Gatineau region increased by 73.6 per cent between 2006 and 2016, according to Statistics Canada, but that’s not reflected in top-level jobs. Labour force participants of African descent tend to be overrepresented among health care workers, as well as those employed in either manufacturing or sales and service jobs. Canadian workers with African roots are underrepresented in management jobs.

As such, our struggle continues and it stands to reason, that we would still need a month to remind ourselves − and remind Canada − that the quest for equity and the promise of equality are ideals still to be pursued. And, as I reflect on Black history month, I ponder, “when will we ever get there?”

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Calling all ‘Program-Wonks’: Improve Government Program Delivery by Putting the Citizen First

3 minute read

Ask basically any citizen on the street what they think government does for them, and it is unlikely that they will respond with direct reference to a particular public policy. Instead, they will likely refer to a specific set of government interventions in the form of services or initiatives. In other words, they will refer to a program.

While Canadians are principally concerned with government program delivery, governments seem more interested in speaking about policy. Yet, public policy proposals without program implementation remain in the realm of ideas. So why are policy-wonks getting all the attention? Perhaps it’s time we start contemplating how to encourage and enable “program-wonks”?

It’s not simply about the Program Manager, it’s about the Citizen

Governments are being re-shaped through the lens of service delivery. In a world where knowledge is ubiquitous, where governments no longer hold all the pieces, we have to ask what roles contemporary governments, citizens, and non-governmental organizations play. Open data arrangements and digital technologies are beginning to create platforms from which citizens can share in decision-making, dialogue, information sharing, and even co-development of policies and programs. In other words, the public has the opportunity – and expectation – to share in how governments create value and address complex societal issues.

Citizens need to feel that service provision has been organized with their needs in mind, not based on the needs and processes of the government. While this begins with quick, convenient access to services, it must go further toward realistically anticipating citizen needs and providing solutions that integrate programs and jurisdictions. Without exception, the needs of the citizen must be visible in the outcomes that governments are trying to achieve.

It is important to acknowledge that governments have made progress in moving toward citizen-centred program delivery. Moving services online has been one strategy that has enabled citizen-centred delivery. However, the full logic of citizen-centred program delivery inevitably leads to opening the entire policy and program development process to citizens. In recent years, governments in countries as diverse as Brazil, the United States, and Kazakhstan, have opened their processes to the co-design and co-development of policies and programs. Canada’s own national commitment under the Open Government Partnership speaks to moving beyond public consultations and enabling opportunities for civic input to government decision-making.

Investing in Public Service Capacity and Learning are Necessary Steps for Becoming More Citizen-Centred

Across jurisdictions, Canada’s public service has continually ranked among the best in the world. In a context of changing citizen expectations, however, facilitating an increasing and meaningful role for citizens in government policy and program development, design, and delivery requires more than political willingness: it requires a willingness to take risks. It also requires active support from the senior ranks of the public service and the development of citizen-centred skills and competencies. Senior leaders across Canada’s public services – including the federal Clerk of the Privy Council’s “enterprise-wide commitment to learning” – increasingly understand and support the need to invest in professional development that supports the changing nature of the policy and program development process. Intentions are all well and good, but implementation takes a specific set of skills.

Invest in a Citizen-Centred Skillset

The reminders from the senior levels of the public service about the future of policy and program design should be heeded throughout the ranks. A future-oriented, citizen-centred skillset must include (although it is not limited to): leadership, citizen engagement and public deliberation, human resources management, and communications. Developing these skills should start with a meaningful conversation about individual roles and responsibilities and their relationship to the delivery of citizen-centred results and outcomes. This conversation could form the basis for a learning plan, or toolkit, that is adapted to mid- and long-term professional development goals, so that current and future ‘program-wonks’ can develop the skills and competencies they, and by extension, the citizenry, require.

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The Accessible Canada Act: An Aspirational Path Toward Equality, Albeit one not Devoid of Shortcomings

3 minute read

Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada, while long overdue, is a welcome step in the right direction. It has been 38 years since Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, thereby guaranteeing Canadians with “mental or physical disabilities” equality and freedom from discrimination. Provinces have established accessibility standards and rights, and it is good to see the federal Government act on this file. In fact, federal standards would have the benefit of crossing jurisdictions, as the federal reach is pan-Canadian. This provides provinces, in turn, with a good opportunity for reflection: how do their standards line up? Is any one left out? Is there room for improvement? Are provinces doing enough to ensure equality is met for those with visible and invisible disabilities?

That’s not to say that Bill-81 is a silver bullet; it is a step, but it lacks the depth of a destination. In late October last year, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and Communication Disabilities Access Canada submitted an open letter, signed by over 90 Canadian disability organizations, expressing some of their concerns that the Act omits several vital elements. Indeed, the Act is relatively skeletal, reads as recommendations rather than requirements (notably, the language suggests that the Government “may” provide accessibility in key areas, rather than “shall”), and imposes no timelines for implementation. The letter lists other valid concerns and recommendations for strengthening the Bill, and it would be wise for the government to take heed. Accessibility rights are equality rights, and they speak to the dignity of the individual. A country’s character can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable, and we should aspire to facilitate workplaces that provide equality of opportunity and, by extension, dignity, to all who aspire for public service.

Recently, Justin Trudeau has revealed that discussions on accessibility are ongoing. During a town hall event in Milton, Ontario (January 31, 2019), the Prime Minister answered a question about making sign language an official language by acknowledging that the question had come up in a previous town hall, and that he plans to discuss this with Kirsty Duncan, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. It is somewhat disappointing that, following consultation in 2016-2017 with over 6,000 Canadians, 18 in-person public meetings with local leaders from the disability community, and 110 experts, the Prime Minister only recently became aware of this concern, but it is a good sign that he is willing to engage further on this file. Likewise, while the report based on the consultations (Assessible Canada: Creating new Federal Accessibility Legislation: What we Learned from Canadians, May 29, 2017) mentions as its first point that “The new legislation should be ambitious and bold” (emphasis in original), the Act as it currently reads hardly fits that description, but it at least represents federal aspiration toward removing barriers and provides the legislative foundations for growth.

Bill C-81 puts the 1 in 7 Canadians with disabilities in the national spotlight, and, once enacted, can provide a degree of uniformity in accessibility standards across the nation. Now is a good time for provinces to re-evaluate their programs and ensure that the best practices from other provinces are adopted into their own. Accessibility is, in principle, about equality and fairness: we should aspire for a country where accessibility standards are equal across the board and no barriers are left in any public space, regardless of province. This will also require training and ongoing education for federal decision-makers. As evident from his town hall response, the Prime Minister himself acknowledges he is still learning about the needs of Canadians with various disabilities, and it can be assumed executives will have a lot to learn once the bill is enacted and they begin putting accessibility reforms into practice. The Bill as it now reads is a good start, but it contains a few shortcomings, such as the terminology of “may” rather than “shall,” that still need to be overcome.

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Dialogue on the North: The Jane Glassco Fellowship

2 minute read

by Corrigan Hammond

On February 21, 2019, the Institute on Governance will be hosting representatives from the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship for a discussion on leadership initiatives in the North. This fellowship provides future leaders in the Territorial North and Inuit Nunangat with the tools needed for success, and the following article provides some context on its history and work, in the form of a Q&A with Corrigan Hammond, Communication’s Officer at The Gordon Foundation.

What is the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship?

The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship is a two-year policy development program connecting and empowering the next generation of northern leaders. Since 2010, the program has worked with more than thirty Fellows – aged 25 to 35 – who are at the forefront of economic, social and political transformations in the Territorial North and Inuit Nunangat.

The Fellowship is built around four gatherings and offers skills training, mentorship and networking opportunities with Indigenous leadership and all levels of government. By the end of the program, Fellows develop policy recommendations addressing priority northern issues. Fellows work closely with a northern mentor who guides them through their research and policy work. Through the program Fellows also foster lifelong connections with other pan-northern leaders. The benefit of these bonds will be felt for decades to come.

At the end of the program, their policy recommendations are shared with hundreds of government officials and Indigenous leaders as well as civil society stakeholders. The most recent policy recommendations can be found here:

Who are the Fellows?

A fourth Fellowship cohort was announced in early 2018 which includes Fellows from all three territories as well as Nunavik in northern Quebec. This is the largest cohort yet – and, as always, is as diverse as the North itself.

Current Fellows include civil servants, academics, community leaders, aspiring entrepreneurs and even a former mayor. They are among the best and brightest young minds in Canada. In 2018 they gathered in Whitehorse and Iqaluit. This February they will meet again in Ottawa followed by a final summer gathering in Yellowknife.

The Fellows have strong connections to their home communities where they are already taking on important leadership roles.

Why the Gordon Foundation?

The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship is a crucial part of The Gordon Foundation’s mission, which is to promote innovate public policies for the North and amplify northern voices.

The Foundation supports Fellows through research grants, stipends, travel funding and access to a Canada-wide network of policy experts, academics and current and former government leaders.

How did the Fellowship come into being?

The Fellowship was established in honour of Jane Lockhart Glassco. Throughout her life, Jane worked tirelessly to bring ideas and projects from the North to the attention of the Canadian philanthropic community.

Following Jane’s passing in 2010, The Gordon Foundation honoured Jane by launching the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship to support young northerners to amplify their voice on public policy issues.

Next Steps

In late 2019, the Jane Glassco Northern Fellows will publish their policy recommendations. Visit… for program updates.

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The Need for Mindful Resilience of Citizens and Public Institutions in the Age of Trump

4 minute read

By Nathan Gorall, Executive Director of Public Governance, Institute on Governance

How does one cover the effects of Trumpism on governance trends in one article? One can’t, and does not even attempt it. This is the first installment of ongoing IOG commentary on what this phenomenon means for Canada and the world.

If you are not a supporter of the American President Donald Trump, you likely have one of two reactions to the man. You are either horrified by his words, temperament and actions, and his disregard for the decorum and conventions of the office he holds, or you are patiently trusting in the machinery of democracy to continue to grind forward and ultimately lead to a new president in 2020. In this state of resigned Zen, you assume a momentary loss of consciousness by American voters in 2016 that will be rectified in two more short years.

If you are paying attention you probably oscillate between these two groups. You have likely also become aware that for some reason, there is still strong and stubborn support for Trump, and for what he represents. In short, a return to a more forcefulpersonality type among leaders, more interested in supporting the perceived needs of some sub-set of citizens and economic interests rather than the needs or views of all, or even those of a future generation (for example, climate change policy, or lack thereof). This can manifest itself in policies and laws and even in how we speak to each other. It is inherently divisive and laden with values that resonate with some segments of society who feel aggrieved. Moreover, with a wink and nod towards populism, this strain of political thinking tends to eschew expertise and analysis in favour of symbolic gestures.

But this is not an American pathology; these views cross borders, oceans, language, religion and race. The rise of far-right political parties and leaders with an authoritarian bent threaten to upend the presumptive ideal political model: western style liberal democracies. Around the globe, journalists, court systems, and minority rights have come under duress, directly counter to the trends stemming from the conclusions of the Second World War and the Cold War. In many respects, the discussion of the relative merits of political systems was viewed as an archaic conversation a few years ago; yet now it appears as though many citizens of other countries are reopening this debate.

So what does this mean for Canada? In the short term, not much. There are no identifiable extremist parties vying for seats in federal or provincial legislatures. There are no charismatic leaders of national or regional standing who are agitating for a change to the way we conduct our democracies or to provide some groups with special rights over others.

Our country is one of compromise and accommodation. Our conflicts are generally assuaged through the ballot box and our rights through the courts. We hold “peace, order and good government” as a national goal. This reconciliation of conflicting values and interests through an agreed upon democratic framework is the essence of a liberal democracy.

Yet extreme views do exist in Canada. We are not an isolated country unaffected by global trends; there have always been far right political perspectives in Canada (and far left) and yes, populism will continue to be dogmatic grist for the political mill in parts of Canada. As long as Canadians continue to seek redress and compromise through our democratic institutions, these points of view will usually be accommodated and sorted. The system is built to withstand diversity: different people, different perspectives, and different policy preferences. Importantly, our people may not be homogenous but for the most part our underlying political values are; diversity, the rule of law, inclusion, free press, and fairness. These are what are under attack in other places, and should be guarded against here.

So how do we maintain awareness of the risks to our governance in the age of Trump? Unfortunately, quick, easy and permanent fixes are not possible, but here is an idea to ponder: we can make a conscious effort to focus on engagement. For starters, we can commit to being engaged in our communities (i.e. volunteering or even helping a neighbour). Civic engagement makes for better communities, a sense of efficacy within ourselves, and shared ownership in creating better outcomes for fellow citizens.

We can also engage in the political process by demonstrating higher turnout, understanding the views of our candidates, or joining a party. In some nations with fair election laws and challenging social or economic concerns, turnout can be as high as 90%. That is what ‘being engaged’ looks like.

Finally, we should consider meaningful engagement with each other as citizens. At a time technology has made the entire planet flat and accessible, we have become less engaged in exploring ideas and more engaged in positions and labels and slights. Think of this the next time you want to fire off that angry tweet, or find yourself joining in on some form of political tribalism. As the Covey maxim states, ‘seek first to understand before being understood’. Understand that civil dialogue matters. That ideas matter.

So while we patiently (or impatiently) wait for 2020 to roll around, let us practice engagement and in doing so protect our common political values and support for the institutions that matter. As Canadian political commenter David Frum wrote:

“Perhaps the very darkness of the Trump experience can summon the nation to its senses and jolt Americans to a new politics of commonality, a new politics in which the Trump experience is remembered as the end of something bad, and not the beginning of something worse.” (David Frum,Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic)