By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, May 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
Actually, Forum Research’s last poll in Labrador was fairly reflective of the final vote—and Conservatives could point to that as evidence of Mr. Trudeau driving voters away, but then the 20-point drop they claimed on Monday night becomes a nine-point drop (from 57% in early April to 48% on by-election night).
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, May 6, 2013 at 11:09 PM - 0 Comments
Last week, Thomas Mulcair recalled, it was discovered that the Conservatives had lost track of $3.1 billion. The Auditor General, Mr. Mulcair declared, has regularly suggested that the Conservatives be more transparent. And so what, Mr. Mulcair wondered, have the Conservatives done to date to find that $3.1 billion.
Jason Kenney, leading the Conservatives this day, was unimpressed.
“Mr. Speaker, as usual,” Mr. Kenney lamented, “the question of the honourable Leader of the Opposition is not fair.”
Life, alas, is not fair. But protesting that fact tends to be counter-productive.
The Auditor General, Mr. Kenney explained, had said that the money hadn’t been used in a way in which it should not have been. Thus, it is all good.
Mr. Mulcair, mostly eschewing his notes to engage the government side directly and with the benefit of something the government seems unable to account for, was confidently unpersuaded. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 5:39 PM - 0 Comments
Thomas Mulcair offered a simple premise.
“Mr. Speaker, a year ago the Conservatives created a new accelerated approval process for hiring temporary foreign workers,” the NDP leader offered. “They allowed them to be paid 15% less than Canadian workers doing the same job. That is an incentive to hire temporary foreign workers instead of Canadians. Today, Conservatives are begging Canadians to believe that this time they are really going to crack down, but Conservatives have not removed the incentive to hire temporary foreign workers. Why have they not changed the 15% rule? Their message is still, ‘Work for less or you’ll be replaced.’ ”
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney rejected this premise entirely.
“As always on this matter, Mr. Speaker, the NDP is wrong,” Mr. Kenney declared. “I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition has been improperly briefed or whether he knows he is wrong when he says that the rules allow for foreign workers to be underpaid. That is not true. People cannot come into this country to work on work permits unless they are paid at the prevailing regional wage rate. However, of course, in every occupation there is a range and this allows for some people to be paid as long as Canadians are paid within that range, at the same wage level.”
That said, the answer to Mr. Mulcair’s actual question was apparently yes. Indeed, an hour and 45 minutes later, Mr. Kenney convened a news conference to declare that, a year after it was the introduced, the 15% rule was no more. Only, as Mr. Kenney explained, for entirely different reasons. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 11:12 AM - 0 Comments
Delivered the inaugural speech to the Albany Club’s William Pitt Society. Spoke on Pitt, Burke & the conservative conception of Parliament.
In preparation for tonight’s speech, I finally got around to reading @WilliamJHague‘s masterful 2004 biography, “William Pitt the Younger.”
1/ Prime Minister at age 24, Pitt governed for 19 years, effectively founded the Conservative Party; modernized Britain’s public finances;
2/ massively strengthened Royal Navy, leading to victory at Trafalgar; was ahead of his time on abolition of slavery & Parliamentary reform;
3/ led the fight against French Jacobinism; and was a man of unimpeachable integrity. A remarkable leader in every respect.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 9:21 PM - 0 Comments
Chris Selley wonders how the NDP went from Alexa McDonough’s response to 9/11 to Randall Garrison’s response to Justin Trudeau’s response to the Boston Marathon bombing.
John Geddes explains where Mr. Trudeau went wrong.
So how does Harper’s two-pronged critique apply, as he clearly intended, to Trudeau’s answer in the CBC interview? It’s a long and rather meandering reply. However, I don’t hear Trudeau rationalizing or excusing terror. He does clearly call for an exploration of root causes.
And that part of Trudeau’s answer strikes me as unsettling only because he introduces his interest in causes without first offering the three essential elements that the Prime Minister persuasively tells us must be there in a leader’s response—condemn, pursue, prosecute.
There is a certain meandering to Mr. Trudeau’s answer. Maybe more than was necessary or wise when basically nothing was known about the motives or individuals responsible for the attack. (Here again is a fuller compendium of Mr. Trudeau has said in regards to the Boston Marathon bombing.)
The Internet notes that Peter MacKay used the phrase “root causes” in relation to the Oslo attack by Anders Breivik (though I’m not sure “Peter MacKay said it” is the sort of precedent Mr. Trudeau would want to use as justification).
The basic debate goes back at least as far as September 2001. Here is every use of the phrase “root causes of terrorism” in the House since then. Here is Jason Kenney objecting to “root causes” on September 17, 2001 and here he is again the next day on the same subject.
Somewhat relatedly: In 2002, Jean Chretien seemed to link 9/11 to wealth disparity and Western arrogance. Nine years later, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Stephen Harper was asked about those comments and offered this assessment, in which he dismissed Mr. Chretien’s wealth versus poverty theory and focused on failed states.
Update 10:50pm. Post-script. It seems generally less controversial to invoke the “root causes of crime.” (Maybe because we’ve all decided we know what those are?) But in the case of terrorism the discussion becomes more fraught and complicated, all the more so in the immediate time period after an attack.
By Emma Teitel - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 12:50 PM - 0 Comments
NDP immigration critic Jinny Sims recently revealed that she is uncomfortable with the revised edition of the Welcome to Canada guide—a 146-page document compiled by Citizenship and Immigration Canada and presented last week by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Sims doesn’t care about the guide’s monarchist bent, or its omission of ”O Canada” lyrics. But she does take umbrage with the following passage:
“Canada’s openness and generosity do not extend to barbaric cultural practices that tolerate spousal abuse, honour killings, female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence. Those guilty of these crimes are severely punished under Canada’s criminal laws.”
Sims’ problem isn’t with sentiment (she agrees such crimes are barbaric). It’s with semantics.
“All of those practices are barbaric, but they are barbaric no matter which culture they happen in,” she explained. “As soon as you put the word ‘cultural’ in there, you are putting it as if it doesn’t happen here.”
I called Sims and asked her to elaborate. Why the opposition to the word “cultural?”
“It is barbaric,” she said. “You don’t need any other adjective. They are barbaric. Period.”
I tried to press her: Isn’t there a cultural difference, I argued, when you’re dealing with immigrants who are coming from a place where certain barbaric practices are condoned? Doesn’t the cultural acceptance of those practices render them culturally barbaric, as opposed to just plain old barbaric?
We have our fair share of gender violence, of course, I argued, but our culture rejects it overwhelmingly as immoral. That’s a stark cultural difference.
Sims didn’t want to talk semantics, or ethnicity. When asked if the word “cultural” stigmatizes certain cultures, she changed the subject to the Conservatives.
“I see a little bit of hypocrisy,” she said. “We’re telling newcomers all of these things are barbaric, but my question is, what has this government actually done? What has the government done right here in Canada and internationally to address those issues?”
Although Sims wouldn’t say directly why she objects to the word “cultural,” the obfuscation in her answers leads me to the following:
Describing vaginal mutilation and honour killings in a cultural context is inappropriate, she and others probably feel, because there is gender violence in Canada. Therefore, labelling imported gender violence as “cultural” is potentially racist and misleading. The same barbaric things happen here as well. Or as Sims said, on average, “every six days a Canadian woman is killed by her partner.”
Forgetting for a moment that the incidence of vaginal mutilation in Canada is probably lower than it is in Djibouti, there’s a glaring logical error in this argument: it confuses behaviour with attitude.
It may be true that gender-based violence and other barbaric practices occur “here” and “there,” as Sims suggests. But if you mutilate a child’s genitals here, you go to jail; there you carry on and go about your business. Culture is attitude.
Jinny Sims likely feels that by condemning certain “barbaric cultural practices,” we are judging entire countries and civilizations. But when behaviours are antithetical to what we believe and at odds with what we consider to be civilized, it’s our responsibility to underline our antipathy in terms that leave no room for misinterpretation.
The “Welcome to Canada” guide says we are a tolerant society, but our tolerance does not extend to intolerance or savagery — here or there. The Canadian government’s rejection of cultural barbaric practices from afar is not a tacit approval of cultural barbaric practices at home. It is a clear message to our immigrant population that where gender violence is concerned, there are no sacred cows.
When I was an undergrad, I tutored adult ESL at a public library. My students were women, the majority of them immigrants from theocracies where “barbaric cultural practices” aren’t barbaric — they’re what you do on a Tuesday afternoon. Many told stories I will not repeat here and don’t like to think about. But I am reminded of their words every time a well-intentioned person like Justin Trudeau or Jinny Sims equivocates and obfuscates in the name of cultural sensitivity.
I am also reminded of the time I tried to discuss with my ESL students, this strange breed of well-intentioned Canadians (which for me, at that time, was a university classroom of white feminists debating the freeing qualities of the burka). They were, I assured my students, really well-intentioned. My students laughed, loudly.
They thought I was telling a joke.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, March 17, 2013 at 5:03 PM - 0 Comments
Here is a fascinating moment for politics, public policy and humanity.
Thomas Mulcair wanted to lay down a marker, to publicly dine with Gary Freeman as a show of support for the African-American vilified as a cop killer and barred from Canada because of links to the radical Black Panther party – an accusation he flatly denies. So the New Democratic Party Leader brushed aside aides’ warnings not to risk meeting with a felon. On his first visit as Opposition Leader to Washington, D.C., Mr. Mulcair said he had principles to act on, not just messages to deliver.
And he wanted it witnessed. So in the din of the gaudily ostentatious lobby of the hulking Renaissance Hotel on Monday, Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Freeman met and talked candidly about race and victimization and justice and whether Canada is still the refuge it was when the young black man who shot a policeman in Chicago fled there more than four decades ago. Mr. Mulcair invited a Globe and Mail correspondent to join the group on condition that the details of the meeting not be disclosed until after his three-day visit.
Jason Kenney and Vic Toews promptly, and predictably, tweeted their displeasure. (Perhaps Mr. Toews would have been more sympathetic if the meeting had been part of an upcoming episode of Border Patrol.)
Mr. Freeman’s situation is uniquely complicated. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, March 10, 2013 at 6:03 PM - 0 Comments
Ezra Levant, the carnival barker of the conservative movement in Canada and the foremost heel to Canadian progressives, was trying to explain the problem with environmentalism.
“I have no problem with treating the environment on an issue by issue basis: we’ve got to fix this or solve that,” he said. “But environmentalism is a philosophy, like most words ending with ism. Socialism, communism… hinduism, it’s a faith. And so the question is if your true ideology is conservatism or libertarianism, and you also think you can be an environmentalism person, you may have a conflict there.” Continue…
By Alec Castonguay - Saturday, February 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
The secret to the success of Canada’s immigration minister
Last year, L’actualité, the sister publication to Maclean’s in Quebec, got unprecedented access to Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Chief political reporter Alec Castonguay was given a rare behind-the-scenes look at the man who is arguably most responsible for delivering the Conservatives a majority in the last federal election and who is remaking the nation’s immigration policy. This is an edited, translated version of the story that appeared in the magazine and as a L’actualité ebook.
Jason Kenney scans the dense crowd of roughly 20,000 Sikh Canadians in traditional dress and multicoloured turbans here to mark Vaisakhi—the annual celebration commemorating the foundation of this community originally from India’s northeast. Sitting cross-legged on the thin grey carpeting covering the enormous stage, the minister is inwardly cringing.
He doesn’t like what he sees. In front of him, a dozen yellow and blue Khalistan flags are splitting the crowd near the podium, held by men fighting the hot early May sun in T-shirts. The man at the mic, speaking Punjabi, suddenly speeds up and radicalizes his tone. He speaks of genocide, of violent clashes and of the independence of Khalistan—a country that a faction of Sikh nationalists would like to carve from India. It’s too much. Kenney, who’s picked up some Punjabi since becoming minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism in 2008, stands mid-sentence, crosses the room and exits as three baffled Conservative MPs look on, unsure whether or not they should follow.
At the bottom of the steps, Kenney puts his shoes back on and raises his hand as if to rip off the orange bandana that all visitors wear inside Rexdale’s Sikh Spiritual Centre. He takes a deep breath, and restrains himself. A Sikh organizer approaches, looking contrite. “You are trying to exploit my presence here,” Kenney shouts, his stare fixed on the man in a white turban. “This is not a civilized way to behave. I warned you, and you did it anyway. I am aware that you would like to entertain the Prime Minister next year. You can forget it. He won’t be coming.” The minister makes his way to the exit, the Sikh organizer fast on his heels, apologizing profusely.
It had all started so well 25 minutes earlier. The party was in full swing. People sang and danced in all corners to a traditional Indian beat. Hundreds of children played in inflatable games erected along the four-lane street. Smells of spices and roast chicken tickled the nostrils.
Kenney took the stage with compliments reserved for a guest of honour. At the microphone he shouted a well-timed greeting: “Bole sonai hai? Sat siri akal!” Thousands of people responded: “Sat siri akal!” (The Sikh greeting roughly translates to: “Who stands up for truth?,” to which the crowd responds, “We stand up for truth, God is the ultimate truth!”)
The minister had bragged of the government’s achievements, including the creation, at the heart of the ministry of Foreign Affairs, of an office of religious freedoms to promote and defend all faiths. He highlighted that Vaisakhi is now a Canadian tradition because it is celebrated every year on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. It was after his speech, once he was seated, that the Khalistan flags suddenly appeared.
At the entrance, several long minutes pass before the minister’s driver pulls up in his black Nissan SUV. As we sit down, Kenney turns to me. “I am so sorry,” he says in French.
He finally pulls off his bandana and explains that Sikh nationalists are now waging their war in Canada. They hope to convince the roughly 450,000 Canadians of Sikh origin, the majority of whom live in the suburbs of Toronto and Vancouver, to put pressure on their families still in India, but also on the Canadian government, to support their demands. They want Ottawa to recognize a genocide in which Sikhs were victims, in 1984 in India.
“It was an extremist speech,” he says. “I had to leave the room, otherwise the community would think I endorse such a campaign. Certain groups have sometimes tried to wield my prominence to advance their cause. I have to be vigilant at all times. They shouldn’t be encouraged to reproduce, in Canada, the tensions of their homelands.” It’s a message he reiterates to new immigrants from China and Tibet, Greece and Turkey, Israel and Iran.
He glances out the window and sighs. “Welcome to my world.”
He could just as easily have said “my worlds,” given how dramatically Canada’s new immigrant and multicultural canvas is growing and diversifying—it now includes almost 200 languages. More than 250,000 new immigrants arrive in Canada every year; in 2010, that number hit 280,000, the equivalent of 0.8 per cent of the population—the highest proportion of any industrialized country, followed by Great Britain and Germany (at 0.7 per cent each). Inevitably, this has brought profound political change. Kenney is at the forefront of these changes.
His objective: understanding, seducing and attracting ethnic communities to the Conservative party, an electorate once taken for granted by the Liberal Party of Canada. He has shaken thousands of hands, put away hundreds of very spicy meals and pulled off his shoes an incalculable number of times in entering mosques, temples or integration centres to give speeches. His methods are old school, far removed from social networks, where human contact, proximity and the fight for values undertaken by the Conservative party have gradually won over a large number of new Canadians. In the halls of government, it is plainly acknowledged: Kenney is the architect of the Conservative majority, having worked discreetly, yet tirelessly, for the past five years to build bridges with Canada’s ethnic communities. It’s a success that Britain’s Conservative Party would like to replicate, and that the U.S. Republican party, after its electoral drubbing in November, is cautiously eyeing.
It’s meticulous work, long and complex. With the patience of a Buddhist monk, the minister has had to figure out the subtleties of every community and learn its traditions in order to navigate competing demands and interests. It was no accident that after Justin Trudeau formally declared his intention to run for Liberal leader last October, his first destinations were Richmond, B.C., and Mississauga, Ont., two cities with heavy immigrant populations. Both had been Liberal ridings conquered by the Conservatives. In their way, Kenney, 44, and Trudeau, 40, represent the future of their parties.
And as they fight on this same battlefield, Kenney is putting everything on the line . He could become the next leader of the Canadian conservative movement.
Kenney’s longevity and the scope of his reforms have surprised experts. “Immigration generally gets inherited by a junior minister with no real presence, anxious to trade up for a better cabinet post,” says Stephan Reichhold, director of an immigrant support network in Quebec. “Kenney is practically a deputy prime minister. He has been there for four years and has undertaken an unending number of reforms. Some are good, others are very ideological.”
Not bad for a guy who was barely interested in the politics of immigration before 2006 and wanted nothing to do with that role in cabinet. The young Alberta MP had even refused the role of immigration critic when the Tories were in opposition. “I saw the enormous pressure and the very delicate handling of complex politics the job required. Even when we took power, I wanted to run screaming when the Prime Minister talked to me about it,” Kenney recalls.
Stephen Harper convinced him with an argument that resonated: the very future of the conservative movement in Canada depended on it. Just before forming his first cabinet in early 2006, Harper met with Kenney in a hotel suite in Ottawa. “Do you remember the conversation we had in October 1994?” he asked. Kenney remembered it perfectly.
On that chilly fall day, the Reform party congress had just wrapped up in the capital and Harper, a newly elected MP of just 35, was sipping a beer at the Royal Oak Pub on Bank Street when Kenney went over to him. The two men knew each other because Kenney, despite his 26 years, was already heading the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Kenney laid out his theory: the division of the conservative movement between the Reform party and the Progressive Conservative party wasn’t the right’s only problem. “Even with a united right,” he said, “conservatism has peaked. Votes are becoming stagnant.” Conservatives, he added, would have to cross the “final frontier”: that of immigrants. “Look at demographic trends—it’s the future. Immigrants have the same values as us, we have to talk to them, to convince them.” Harper, skeptical, responded that this very liberal segment of the population would never vote Conservative. Better, in his opinion, to focus on native-born Canadians.
When, 12 years later, Harper took power at the helm of a minority government, he proposed that Kenney pursue the mission that he had defined, without quite realizing it, beer in hand, in an Ottawa bar. “Prove to me that I was wrong,” the Prime Minister challenged him. He named him prime minister’s parliamentary secretary and secretary of state for multiculturalism, with a double mandate.
The first, more political role requires that he make sure new immigrants integrate well. “People have to be able to conserve their identity as they are becoming integral parts of Canada,” Harper told him. “Multiculturalism cannot lead to the ghettoization of immigrants.” The other mandate is partisan: becoming the link between the government and cultural communities in order to increase the party’s odds of success in the next election.
Kenney came to understand the magnitude of the task in March 2006, during one of his first meetings in his new role. A leader from the Korean community of Vancouver, a respected doctor, squarely asked him why Conservatives are racist and anti-immigration. Surprised, Kenney shot back that it was former prime minister John Diefenbaker who eliminated racial discrimination in the selection of immigrants, in 1962. Then he launched into a speech about the values they share: family, a strong work ethic, the fight against criminality.
The Korean listened to him for a few minutes, then interrupted him. If the Korean community had voted for the NDP and the Liberals in Vancouver, he said, it was because those MPs helped immigrants settle and find housing. They became the face of Canadian authority. “Elected officials take part in our celebrations, they’re present in our media.”
For Kenney, a light went on. “It woke me up,” he says. “I understood that I would have to be everywhere at all times. Personal contact is crucial for new immigrants.”
Ever since then, the minister has been on the road three weekends out of four. Some Sundays, in Toronto, Vancouver or Montreal, he takes part in as many as 20 cultural activities, starting at dawn in a temple and ending in darkness at a partisan reception. “In the last election campaign, I’d done so many that I became confused: I bowed to the wrong God in a church. I looked completely ridiculous,” he admits, laughing.
He only spends one day a month in his home riding of Calgary Southeast, which he’s represented since 1997. That didn’t stop him from being re-elected in 1997 with 76 per cent of the vote and a crushing lead of 42,000 votes—one of the country’s best results. “My voters understand that I work for the Conservative cause and that I have a full schedule,” Kenney says.
It’s a rhythm he manages to maintain, but it doesn’t stop him from bottoming out from time to time. “When I see the weekend arrive with 20 or 25 scheduled events—not counting travel—I sometimes feel a profound fatigue take over. I have to motivate myself by thinking that every gesture will count over the long term,” he says. It’s also a physical challenge. “People from the communities like to touch you, to embrace you, to hug you, and physical contact isn’t my strong suit.”
The minister has neither wife nor children. He shares his home in Alberta with his mom, Lynne, and has little time for friends or a love life. Those closest to him, however, don’t describe him as a loner. And he makes it a point to organize one or two receptions per year at his condo in Ottawa for his colleagues in government and Tory staffers.
Building a trusting relationship between the government and immigrant communities has fast become Kenney’s priority. Six to 10 times per year, his team organizes “friendship days” on the Hill, where leaders from cultural communities—spiritual leaders, heads of community centres, presidents of ethnic chambers of commerce, etc.—can arrange to meet ministers of their choosing. “It gives a chance for the communities to be heard at the highest level in Ottawa, and they appreciate the gesture,” says Agop Evereklian, who was Kenney’s chief of staff from 2008 to 2010 and, until recently, chief of staff to former Montreal mayor Gerald Tremblay.
That access, however, makes teeth grind on the Hill. “They receive unfair treatment—effectively unofficial lobbying,” says one civil servant who requested anonymity.
The Kenney team has established itself as cabinet’s go-to brain trust on ethnic communities. They coordinate all the Prime Minister’s press releases to highlight different cultural holidays (Diwali, Vaisakhi, Yom Kippur, Chinese New Year). The apology and financial compensation for the Chinese head tax and the official recognition of the Armenian and Ukrainian genocides were also handled by Kenney. “He acts as a conductor to correct historical wrongs,” says Evereklian. “It might not seem important to the majority of the population, but for the concerned communities, it’s huge.”
In 2008, Kenney put in place the Community Historical Recognition Program, with a $13.5-million budget to finance commemorative projects and the erection of statues to honour key historical figures. Italian, Jewish, Indian and Chinese communities have all profited abundantly from it.
Kenney insisted that all his cabinet colleagues integrate into their inner circles Canadians of immigrant stock. His own staff is one of the most multi-ethnic, with political assistants in all the big cities who make connections with community leaders. It’s a veritable spiderweb that captures information in the field and transmits it to Ottawa every day.
The minister follows news first-hand by closely following the ethnic media, which he has translated and reads every morning as he wakes up. “I look at it before I read the national papers,” he says.
Kenney flips through a Chinese-Canadian newspaper he bought at a corner store en route to an event in Toronto. He asks his driver, who is of Chinese descent, to translate a few headlines and practises saying in Mandarin: “Hello, I am the minister of immigration.” His driver gives a full-throated laugh and tries to correct the accent of the minister, who is also enjoying himself. “Don’t you go making me look like an idiot,” Kenney says. “I’m counting on you.”
The minister’s car stops in front of the Lucky Moose Food Mart on Dundas Street. A two-foot-tall pink moose guards the entrance. In 2009, the store made headlines when its owner, David Chen, took justice into his own hands when he caught a shoplifter red-handed. After a scuffle, he tied him up before calling police. The thief filed assault charges. The NDP and Conservatives took the opportunity to draft a bill to permit store owners to use “reasonable force” against intruders without facing charges.
Today, photographers and journalists from the community wait for Kenney. He greets them in Mandarin, and buys a bottle of water and two more Chinese papers. He shakes Chen’s hand. Flashing cameras capture the moment. “We have kept our word,” he says. “We passed your bill into law.” Chen, who speaks broken English, contents himself with a smile. Later, Kenney tells me: “That story made a lot of noise in the Chinese press in Canada. That’s where I first heard about it.”
From 2006 to 2011, the number of Canadians who speak Mandarin jumped 51 per cent. There are now three daily papers published in the language in the country, not to mention TV news programs, weekly magazines and websites. There is similar growth with every ethnic community, be they Indian, Korean, Ukrainian or Filipino. “Previously, the Conservative party was completely absent,” Kenney says. He turns the page of the newspaper, where he sees a photo of NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair at an event with the Chinese community in Richmond, in suburban Vancouver. “He seems to understand that this is important,” Kenney notes.
In the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina, with its significant immigrant population, the minister is greeted by honking horns as he walks the sidewalk. People stop to talk to him. A woman in her 20s insists he is as well-known in the Chinese community as Justin Bieber. “I can walk for hours in Calgary without being recognized, but not here,” he says.
Olivia Chow, the local New Democrat MP and widow of Jack Layton, admits that Kenney’s work forces MPs from other parties in ridings with sizable immigrant populations to “watch their backs.” “He’s a political animal,” she says. “He’s always there at the right moment, and his photo winds up in the papers.”
In Kenney’s office, everything is carefully planned. Less than a month before the last election campaign, his director of multicultural affairs, Kasra Nejatian, sent a letter to MPs and Conservative operatives asking them to quickly collect $200,000 for an ethnic media ad buy. With a total value of $378,000, it had to launch March 20, 2011, the date of the first match in the Cricket World Cup, a popular event in Asia.
Attached to the mailout was a 21-page document titled: “Breaking through: Building the Conservative brand in cultural communities.” Aimed at the Chinese, Jewish, Ukrainian and South Asian communities, the document outlined the Conservative strategy. “If Greater Toronto’s South Asians formed their own city, it would be the third-largest city in the country,” it read. The take-away points were neatly summed up: “There are lots of ethnic voters. There will be quite a few more soon. They live where we need to win.”
Once charmed, the document added, ethnic communities could stay loyal for a very long time. Ten “very ethnic” ridings—where immigrants represent more than 20 per cent of the population—were targeted in pre-election Conservative advertising: four in Ontario, four in B.C., one in Quebec and one in Manitoba. On election day, May 2, the Conservative party won seven of them.
The partisan document was printed on the official letterhead of Kenney’s ministry office—a point that drives New Democrat MP Pat Martin crazy. In this, he sees the perfect example of a government that has forgotten its neutrality and has thrown itself into serving the party’s political machine. “They violated all the rules in using government resources to solicit money for a party campaign,” says Martin. “It’s shocking. The minister should have resigned over it.”
Certain colleagues compare Kenney to a beaver, not just because of his slightly round frame or his patriotism but because he never stops working. By the time his assistants get to the office at 7 a.m., the minister is already there. And at 8 p.m., when they head home, Kenney leaves the Hill and heads to Laurier Street in downtown Ottawa, to his second office at the Immigration ministry. He heads to the 21st floor, closes the door, plugs his iPod into the stereo and listens to classical music or Gregorian chants as he reads his files, which are sometimes delicate—notably cases where a person is being deported from the country and he has the power to authorize a reprieve.
It’s generally during this second phase of his workday that he receives a call from 24 Sussex Drive. The Prime Minister often takes a few minutes, late in the night, to consult with Kenney (neither man sleeps much). The minister rarely heads home to his condo before midnight.
Devoted to his work, at ease with media (he is one of few anglophone ministers to give interviews in French), Kenney has gradually become one of Ottawa’s most influential ministers, along with John Baird at Foreign Affairs and Jim Flaherty at Finance. He sits on the cabinet committee on priorities and planning, the only committee to meet weekly to formulate government strategy. “He is one of very few ministers to command Harper’s total faith,” says a source close to them both.
The Toronto Marathon is paralyzing traffic this day, annoying Kenney, who likes to keep his schedule rolling. “Push back all appointments by 20 minutes, otherwise we’ll never make it,” he tells his assistant.
The car moves at a snail’s pace as we cross Parkdale-High Park, one of Hogtown’s most important immigrant landing grounds. Through the window, the minister takes the time to show me around the disadvantaged riding represented by New Democrat Peggy Nash. He knows these communities, and their habits, by heart. There, a Vietnamese community centre; here, a Polish Catholic Church; there, two Romas pushing a shopping cart. All along King Street, it’s a Canada belonging to new immigrants and refugees, often disoriented and troubled.
He pulls out the previous day’s Globe and Mail, which launched a series on immigration. The article states that Canada should be admitting one million new immigrants per year—four times what it now admits—to fuel economic growth. “That’s insanity,” says Kenney. “You need to allow people time to integrate. They need good salaries, good-quality jobs, not just quantity.”
Above all, you need to consider perceptions, he adds, citing a recent Angus Reid poll that showed nearly one Canadian out of two (46 per cent) believes that immigration has a negative effect on the country—a five-point jump in a year. Almost 39 per cent of respondents believe immigration should stay at current levels, and 38 per cent think it should be reduced. “I need to assure myself that Canadians continue to have confidence in the system,” he says. “Immigration is an asset, but prejudices run deep. Opening the floodgates won’t help new Canadians.”
Does Kenney have ambitions to succeed Harper? Among Conservative activists and party faithful, there is no doubt: Kenney will be waiting in the wings. His bilingualism and the formidable network he’s built at the heart of ethnic communities will be his greatest assets.
Another indication of his intentions: he’s established a vast database to keep in contact with activists. A few times a year, they receive an email from Kenney outlining his achievements.
Evereklian wouldn’t be surprised if Kenney took a run at the top job. “But he will never talk about it,” he says. “If anyone brings it up in his presence, he gets angry and puts the person in their place.”
In an interview, Kenney carefully qualifies his answer, without closing the door. “I’m too busy to think about it. In Stephen Harper, we have the most efficient leader the conservative movement has ever seen, and he will be there a long time. It’s not possible for me to be good at my work if I think of that.”
On a hot afternoon, in an industrial park in Mississauga, Kenney has been listening for more than 30 minutes to a dull speech from a Buddhist priest, sitting on the ground in the tiny Mahadhammika Temple of the Burmese community—which welcomes 500 refugees to Toronto every year.
The minister finally gets up, a knowing smile spreading across his face. He starts by highlighting that Canada spent $35 million in 2010 to help Burma rebuild after a horrific typhoon. He repeats that Aung San Suu Kyi, celebrated figure of Burma’s democrats, was named an honorary Canadian by the Harper government.
And then he delivers the goods: in his car, on the way to the temple, Kenney approved the refugee status of Burmese opposition leader Ler Wah Lo Bo, who arrived in Canada in 2002, but whose status was uncertain because of his contentious past in Burma. Screams and clapping shake the small prayer room, which is better used to Buddhist calm.
Later, back in the car, Kenney notes the Conservatives won 24 of 25 suburban Toronto ridings: “Without the support of the ethnic communities, we could never have done that.” The Conservatives estimate that they captured 42 per cent of the country’s ethnic vote last election—more than 30 per cent of their total vote, and more than any other party. “I have no intention of stopping now.”
A source close to the Prime Minister admits that the day after the election, many believed Kenney would change ministries and be given a promotion for his service to the cause. But the idea never crossed Harper’s mind. “He had too many important reforms under way, and the message sent to the cultural communities would be all wrong. After having courted and then obtained their vote, we take away their champion? No.”
Although he sometimes wishes for a change of scene and a new challenge, Kenney refuses to complain. The minister feels the Conservative cause needs his efforts.
After 15 minutes on the road, the car nears yet another event. Multicoloured turbans are more and more numerous. He starts listing the cities in suburban Toronto and Vancouver: Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond, Surrey, Etobicoke. A big part of the 30 seats that will be added to the House by the next election, in 2015, will come from these rapidly growing, increasingly multi-ethnic regions. He smiles. “It should be very good for us,” he says, taking a step toward the turbans.
By Mitchel Raphael - Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 10:16 PM - 0 Comments
Mitchel Raphael takes in the Speaker’s second annual celebration of the Scottish bard
Speaker Andrew Scheer hosted his second a Robbie Burns dinner on Wednesday evening on Parliament Hill.
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 6:55 PM - 0 Comments
Just before Question Period this afternoon, Costas Menegakis, the Conservative MP for Richmond Hill, stood in his spot along the back row of the government side and lamented for the NDP’s quibbles with a piece of government legislation.
“The NDP has proven once again that they will always put the interests of criminals first,” he reported, his words thus committed to the official record where they will remain in his name for eternity.
Was this uncivil?
A few spots after Mr. Mengakis, it was Ted Opitz’s turn. “Yesterday my NDP colleague from Scarborough Southwest said that his party will offer practical solutions,” explained the Conservative MP who had to fight all the way to the Supreme Court for the honour to stand in this place and say these words. “What he fails to mention is that the NDP solution is a new $21 billion job-killing carbon tax.”
This is mostly ridiculous, but is it uncivil?
Question Period then began. Soon enough, Bob Rae was on his feet, speaking loudly and wagging his finger at the Prime Minister.
“Mr. Speaker, it is clear after the Minister of Finance’s attack on the Parliamentary Budget Officer, Mr. Kevin Page, that it is the Prime Minister’s intention to turn the taxpayers’ watchdog into his personal lapdog. That is the plan that the government has,” he declared. “Why is the government having to fire Marty Cheliak, Pat Stogran, Linda Keen, Peter Tinsley, Paul Kennedy, Adrian Measner, Munir Sheikh, Steve Sullivan and Remy Beauregard? Why is the name of Kevin Page being added to this list of people who are being thrown out of the bus because they had an independent opinion about something?”
Was that uncivil? Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 12, 2012 at 10:24 AM - 0 Comments
The noble basket weaver refuses to be your easy punchline.
The immigration system for the past 40 to 50 years has been ignoring highly trained workers, said Kenney. “It was easier to get your permanent residency in Canada if you had a master’s degree in basket-weaving than if you had 20 years experience as a welder,” he said on CBC. “We need the welders. We need these guys who work with their hands.”
Ann McRae McIsaac, of the Basket Weavers of P.E.I. Cooperative, said downplaying the importance of craftspeople shows narrow-mindedness. McIsaac trained with a fourth-generation Acadian whose family had been basket-weaving since the late 1800s. “Basket-weaving is the oldest known arts around. There’s a lot of history with it and a lot of Canadian history associated with basket-weaving,” she said.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 5:52 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. The Finance Minister should at least feel chuffed that the Leader of the Opposition feels it important to pay very close attention to what he has to say.
“Mr. Speaker, yesterday the Finance Minister said that Canada is ‘not in need of a contingency plan’ to deal with the threats facing our economy,” Thomas Mulcair recounted this afternoon. “That was quite a surprise because just two weeks ago the same finance minister said, ‘we have contingency plans not only with respect to the fiscal cliff, but with respect to the European situation.’ Which is it? Facing the real threat of another recession, do the Conservatives have a contingency plan or not? Canadians deserve a straight answer.”
Perhaps Jim Flaherty was merely a bit too cute with his response yesterday. But he surely couldn’t say so now. And anyway, he was elsewhere, so here came Jason Kenney to offer the government side’s official explanation.
“Mr. Speaker, of course, this government is and will continue to be prudent in our fiscal and economic planning,” Mr. Kenney explained. “That is why we have the best fiscal position in the G7. It is why we have the best job creation record among the major developed economies. It is why the OECD says we will have the best economic growth for many years to come.”
With that much sort of clarified, Mr. Kenney moved to segue. Continue…
By John Geddes, Paul Wells, Jonathon Gatehouse, Julie Smyth, Aaron Wherry and Michael Petrou - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Maclean’s 2012 power list
Ask around about the attributes of influence in the federal government during Stephen Harper’s rule. The answers will vary widely depending on who’s doing the talking, but certain elements will pop up with intriguing regularity. Just about everyone, for instance, agrees that power these days tilts westward. And, sure enough, the top three on our list—the Prime Minister himself, inevitably, followed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the governor of the Bank of Canada—all hail from Alberta.
Yet Harper had little to do with the rise of Beverley McLachlin and Mark Carney. So is this top-of-the-list cluster of Albertans mere happenstance, or a true sign of a pattern of power? One thing it isn’t, we promise, is a contrivance. Maclean’s writers and editors compiled this admittedly subjective list based on our own combined experience covering Ottawa’s most important people, tested against the sage insights of political strategists, veterans of the public service and lobbyists who make it their business to size up the city’s elite.
What makes one partisan or public servant, public figure or private power broker seem to matter more than another can be mysterious. In some cases, managerial style lifted a figure into our sights, like McLachlin’s subtle touch with the nine egos on the top court, or the way top bureaucrat Wayne Wouters boosts the morale of a public service whose pinnacle he commands. Often power flows in well-worn channels, as through the offices of the finance or foreign minister. Sometimes, though, someone cracks the institutional edifice, and influence streams in unexpectedly. Look at what Kevin Page has done as the first parliamentary budget officer. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 26, 2012 at 5:30 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Ralph Goodale stood with right hand in pocket, a piece of paper in his left hand, to read the indictment against his former assistant.
“Mr. Speaker, the government’s decision to deny health care services to certain refugee claimants faces very stiff opposition. Doctors, nurses and every significant health care organization in Canada says the decision is wrong. Media editorials say the immigration minister has dropped the ball. Most especially, provincial governments are universally critical, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba. Saskatchewan’s premier describes federal refugee cuts as ‘unCanadian,’ ” the deputy Liberal leader reported to the House.
This much seemed inspired by the case of a man from Pakistan who arrived in Saskatchewan and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer. The man received chemotherapy, but, apparently as a result of the Harper government’s changes to the refugee health care program, the man’s anti-nausea medication was not covered. The Saskatchewan government has said it will cover the costs, but the Premier is unimpressed. This just a month after Conservative MP Kelly Block was criticized for celebrating the new policy.
“Before this gets worse and people die,” Mr. Goodale asked, “will the government correct itself and reinstate sensible health coverage for refugee claimants?”
Jason Kenney was perfectly passive aggressive in response.
“Mr. Speaker, we continue to provide health coverage to refugee claimants,” he assured. “We provide the same package of basic hospital and physician services that are typically available to Canadians. Not every province funds all of the same services precisely the same way. However, if provinces want to provide additional insurance for certain services to asylum claimants, they are more than free to do so.”
The issue seems rather more contentious than Mr. Kenney’s reading here might otherwise suggest.
“I would remind the member that, for example, we have no federal insurance at all for people who are here illegally, for temporary visitors, for newly arrived permanent residents, or for Canadian citizens who are re-establishing themselves,” the Immigration Minister went on. “They get no federal, or for that matter, provincial coverage. However, provinces are always free to provide insurance to people where they think it is appropriate.”
Mr. Goodale was unconvinced, his right hand emerging from his pocket to jab at the air in front of him for emphasis. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, November 23, 2012 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
“It’s unbelievable that some of the decisions that have been taken federally are having this impact on people who are clearly the most vulnerable, refugees who are obviously fleeing something quite terrible — that’s why they’re refugees,” Wall said Thursday. “On the face of it, you just consider the case of this particular gentleman or others who, for example, as it was pointed out … might need prenatal care, this is just common sense. You just do this. This is the kind of country we are. You cover it.”
Previous coverage of the cuts to refugee health care is compiled here.
Ralph Goodale asked the Immigration Minister about this yesterday. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 22, 2012 at 6:23 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Jason Kenney walked out into the foyer, towards the appointed microphone, perhaps appearing not quite as ashen as he was supposed to look.
“Why are you smiling, Mr. Kenney?” a TV reporter quipped.
“Because it’s lovely outside,” the Immigration Minister responded cheerfully. “And I’m always glad to see you, Bob.”
Then it was time to get very serious.
“I’m very disturbed to see comments that were made by Liberal leadership candidate Justin Trudeau two years ago that have just come to light and completely contradict his criticism of his Liberal colleague Dalton McGuinty’s attack on Alberta and Albertans.”
He meant David, of course.
A generous member of the Conservative staff had just been by to hand out copies of Mr. Trudeau’s remarks—in the original French and helpfully translated into English—but in case anyone was unable to read, Mr. Kenney proceeded to reenact the instantly infamous exchange. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 6:03 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Oh how happy Conservatives must’ve been made last night to read the inflammatory remarks of Liberal MP David McGuinty. Oh how giddy they must’ve been at the prospect of hanging this one on the Liberal side. One presumes several backbenchers could barely sleep, so anxious to get on with today’s festival of shame.
Well, of course, happy and outraged. Deeply, terribly outraged. Yes, yes, incredibly outraged. Profoundly saddened even.
So immensely outraged, in fact, that the Immigration Minister was sent out after the meeting of the Conservative caucus to specially address the matter. And no less than four Conservatives—each of them an Albertan who could claim a personal affront—were sent up before Question Period to variously fume. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
The Citizenship and Immigration Department has spent $750,000 monitoring ethnic media coverage—including perceptions of the Immigration Minister and coverage during the last election.
“A series of interviews and appearances by minister Kenney and his representatives were strong contributors to the upswing in the ministerial image,” says a report from May 5, 2010, under a pie graph titled “Minister Overall Perception.”
The ministerial perception charts were weekly fixtures in the lengthy media monitoring reports in the spring of 2010, when the minority Conservatives were on a constant election footing.
Mr. Kenney’s office says it was not involved in the department’s media monitoring decisions.
By Mitchel Raphael - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 8:43 PM - 0 Comments
A tribute dinner was held to honour Conservative Senator Doug Finley at the War…
A tribute dinner was held to honour Conservative Senator Doug Finley at the War Museum. Proceeds went to the Scottish Society of Ottawa.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 31, 2012 at 5:59 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. Of all the festive games to be played on Halloween, shaming committee chairs is somewhat less messy than leaving a bag of flaming dog poop on a neighbour’s doorstep, but decidedly less fun than bobbing for apples. Alas, under the stodgy rules of parliamentary decorum, it was the best the NDP could offer this afternoon.
The New Democrats have been occupying themselves these days with attempting to convince various committees to take up study of C-45, the government’s latest budget bill. The Conservatives, soon after tabling the bill in the House, had said that they would allow the bill to be studied at 10 committees. The Conservatives vowed they would move a motion at the finance committee to do just that. But the New Democrats were apparently keen to see those studies commence post haste and so have been proposing motions hither and yon. Each of those efforts seems to have been stymied. And so now the New Democrats get to claim great umbrage.
“Mr. Speaker, this is simple,” Megan Leslie explained this afternoon. “A motion was proposed, we went in camera, and the motion never came out again.”
Ms. Leslie wondered if the chair of the environment committee—Conservative MP Mark Warawa—might stand and confirm that he was going to be scheduling hearings on C-45. To respond though stood Transport Minister Denis Lebel, who assured Ms. Leslie of the validity of the budget’s changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, October 24, 2012 at 11:12 AM - 0 Comments
CBC News has examined the election files of a number of Conservative candidates, including those on the list of the 10 targeted ridings. The records in the Elections Canada files indicate strong control from party headquarters, large amounts of money spent on communications and polling, and tight, take-no-prisoners messaging. That said, the analysis also shows it’s not just about money. Of those 10 target ridings, the candidate who took the riding out-spent the other candidates in six of the races, but sometimes just barely …
The presentation distributed by Nejatian laid out the numbers: by 2017, about half the 7.1 million people in the Greater Toronto Area would be visible minorities. A full 1.3 million would be South Asian and another 900,000 would be Chinese. Other targeted groups included Ukrainians, who make up more than 20 per cent of the population in Manitoba’s Elmwood-Transcona riding, and Jews, who form more than 35 per cent of Quebec’s Mount Royal and, in Toronto, 25 per cent of both Eglinton-Lawrence and York Centre. For advertising purposes, those are large but focused groups, groups that you can reach easily through advertising in the language spoken at home.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 5:48 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. The House had managed just half a dozen rounds this afternoon before the Speaker was first compelled to admonish those in attendance for the noise. Two more questions after that, he was calling for order again.
It should have been obvious then that we would not get through these 45 minutes without someone being accused of McCarthyism.
About halfway through Question Period, the NDP’s Mylene Freeman stood to state her disappointment with a Conservative MP’s recent choice of committee witnesses.*
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney stood and identified the parliamentary secretary in question—Chungsen Leung—as an immigrant from Taiwan, who received a suggestion from one of his constituents, but who demanded, upon learning of the “totally inappropriate” comments of the potential witnesses, that they be removed from the witness list. Mr. Kenney also declared the current Conservative caucus to be the most ethnically diverse in history and reported that immigration levels have been kept at their highest.
It should not surprise you that the matter was not then dropped.
“Mr. Speaker, voting to take away women’s rights an hour after inviting racists to a parliamentary committee is a new low even for Conservatives,” declared the NDP’s Jinny Sims.