True, Patriot Act love was a glorious demo of what a free press could be

OTTAWA—Traditional media needs to get its act together for the upcoming election. This has never been more apparent than last week, when Canadians found themselves enamoured with Netflix’s breakout political show Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj, and its report on Canada, complete with an interview with the prime minister.

Patriot Act is a half-hour political comedy show on Netflix and YouTube, and is hosted by Hasan Minhaj, known for his previous work on The Daily Show. Within half an hour, the cohesive investigative reporting done by Minhaj outmuscled the stalwarts of Canadian journalism. In this episode, entitled The Two Sides of Canada, Minhaj adequately skewers Trudeau for the hypocrisy that his government has displayed, particularly on the environment. Minhaj was able to establish the context and tie together interlocking details from an intersectional lens rarely seen in Canadian media. To top it off, it was done with clever humour: no dunking on marginalized groups, and no lazy, worn-out tropes. Sure, he fell back on common tropes Americans have of Canada, but despite that, Minhaj was able to connect the dots on complex issues like SNC-Lavalin, the Trans Mountain pipeline, and reconciliation with precision and clarity.

Minhaj, who, frankly, at this time has no Canadian equivalent, was granted access to the prime minister because he had a large audience and platform to offer. And he didn’t use the opportunity to grovel and thank Trudeau for his charity in making himself available. He didn’t have to rely on the usual five-minute scrums to grill the prime minister. He went all in and asked the tough questions. Not to mention it was pure entertainment to see Trudeau revealed as inarticulate, defensive, and, at some points, bordering on agitated when faced with his own words.

Meanwhile, the Canadian press has fallen into grudge-match journalism of who is ahead, rather than asking the tough questions to elected representatives. Instead, they have written every which way around the issues including, fiscal matters, federal-provincial relations, and who will get more support in the election given their position on the environment and climate change. Maclean’s even went as far as trolling anyone having one iota of concern for climate change by putting five powerful white men on the cover of their magazine and calling them “The Resistance.”

The only resistance is the one that challenges power.

This isn’t an abstract debate about the virtues of media. This election is different. The media landscape is the worst it’s ever been for accurate and comprehensive reporting. There are fewer news outlets and more dubious sources.

Most days the sharpest and most astute observations on Canadian politics come from The Beaverton’s headlines. They probably reach a wider, younger, and more diverse audience than most newspapers. In other instances, we have learned more about Canadian politics from unknown citizens’ iPhone video footage, or from Twitter threads, than we do from actual reporting of the campaign gatherings, fundraisers, and partisan events (see: all the times brave protestors challenged Trudeau on his record).

When these events are discussed in more detail, column ink is spilled over the audacity of a protestor to interrupt the prime minister, and the tone of his response, rather than on the substance of the issue. When traditional media tries their hand at something new, say, for example, podcasts, they bring out their usual anchors to host them, and use the same methods of promoting this content as they do the nightly news. Some even take their on-air programs and stuff it into a podcast, resulting in something resembling spoiled cannoli.

We are skeptical that many Canadians will have a good sense of the issues once the election is underway. (Frankly, we’re not sure we always do.) It doesn’t help that the election platforms, slogans, and ads are already a yawn, and, aside from Jagmeet Singh’s Quebec ad showing him putting on his turban, the campaign materials are already starting to blend together. Without sharp, critical, and hard-hitting coverage of the leaders and their campaigns, including real access to the leaders and candidates, Canadians don’t have a shot of being properly informed, or, in the case of a growing number of Canadians, being motivated to vote at all.

And a debate—or five—won’t be the venue for a thorough examination of election issues, given that it is Canadian media that will decide what these issues are and how much time the candidates are allotted to speak to them. The model itself may even be outmoded, with few outside of those already politically engaged tuning in.

Canadians are starved for good political coverage. There is a reason we know more collectively about the Democratic Party front-runner candidates than we do our own elected leaders. We have more screen time with them, and thus greater access. The American media is far from perfect, but that doesn’t mean we should let perfect be the enemy of good.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek co-host the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times.

The audacity of the inclusivity trope

OTTAWA—A week after the Liberals were caught with their proverbial hands in the cookie jar of yet another ethics violation, they dropped a new mixtape, Antebellum Andy. Apparently, somewhere in the recesses of 2005, Andrew Scheer, stood up in Parliament and debated LGBTQ2+ rights, rife with some sort of bizarre comparison of gay people to the tail of a dog (or is it the leg?). We’ll spare you the details, but you’ve heard it from Fox News before.

What is clear about this election is that the Liberals have decided to paint Andrew Scheer as an out-of-touch, right-wing bigot who hides his Rebel Media bonafides under the veneer of innocence that his dimples underwrite. Basically, a vote for Andrew Scheer is a vote for the 1950s (or the 1890s), where straight white men were atop the socio-economic pyramid and the little lady had dinner waiting for you, on time, without complaint.

And they’re not wrong. What was displayed in Scheer’s speech was an attitude that seemed so regressive and bigoted that questions about how he would govern for the LGBTQ2+ community were warranted. Make no mistake, the Liberals will make the 43rd election one about how each candidate will govern with respect to social issues, not the deficit or the debt. Against the backdrop of the state-sanctioned racism, transphobia, Islamophobia, homophobia, and misogyny proliferating in the United States—and the violence that comes with it—it’s a smart political move. But it’s a cynical one and the Liberals aren’t beyond reproach on these issues, given that they have said very little about the state-sanctioned, systemic, and systematic discrimination of Quebec’s Bill 21.

Bill 21, Quebec’s secularism law that prohibits the display of religious symbols for all public sector employees, is truly the litmus test of the defence of human rights. And while Prime Minister Trudeau the First’s legacy was that of multiculturalism enshrined in Canadian law, the Second’s defence of it has been tepid and selective. While Trudeau, the Younger, talks a good game, including strategically placing people of colour front and centre in his campaign materials, when it comes to standing up for Canadians, he doesn’t stand up for all Canadians in a consistent manner. He stands up for those who help him to market his brand of inclusion, while leaving those who threaten his political standing in Quebec S.O.L.

But he’s not the only one. Even the Conservatives-in-tree-pose Green Party has told its Quebec candidates to chill on all that discrimination talk while campaigning, even though they officially oppose it. And while the Conservatives give us platitudes of “we don’t condone this -ism or that -phobia,” Stephen Harper also supported a niqab ban for public servants in 2015 under the guise of protecting women from violence. Because as we all know, there’s no greater threat to women than the sartorial beatdown of a niqab, whose only competitor in the ring are a pair of Air Jordans.

Contrastingly, the only one to actually stand up for minority rights with respect to Bill 21 is Jagmeet Singh. Hands up if you know why.

Visible minorities, women, and Indigenous people make up a formidable umbrella coalition, and their numbers are growing. Attempts to disenfranchise these voting blocs is hardly surprising, since they threaten the power base of all of these parties—a threat that will only grow in time. The implementation of Bill 21 is just that, a lawful attempt to create a permanent minority underclass whose disenfranchisement begins economically, but will continue into the political realm. The next step is voter suppression, and if the leaders vying for our votes are not standing up for them now, when the ostensible price to be paid is the loss of seats in Parliament, what happens when the consequences include violence?

Oh wait, we already had that. And the result of a shooting at a Quebec City mosque was more platitudes.

Silence is violence, and the disgraceful way in which three out of four political parties have kept ducking this issue tells us a lot about where they stand on protecting the rights of marginalized communities who are politically expendable outside of election season. And when they do form syllables to recite the language of inclusion it is only in service to their political marketing strategy, seasoned with the garnish of hackneyed platitudes. However, platitudes are the lullabies of political discourse which only serve to draw us into a slumber of apathy and cynicism.

Erica Ifill co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times.

Time for party leaders to step up, show who’s going to be the best for public servants

OTTAWA—Many historians trace Labour Day celebrations back to the Nine Hour Movement, an international mobilization effort begun in 1872 to bring about standardized nine-hour working days. From this flowed the early legal rights that made unionization and organizing possible.

Today, workers continue to fight for basic protections across the country. Some of these battles will hopefully land on the national agenda and party platforms come the election.

New changes to the Canada Labour Code, a recent and long-overdue victory for workers, come into force on Sept. 1, just in time to mark Labour Day. These “modernization” reforms include a right to a 30-minute break, eight-hour rest period between shifts, advance notice of work schedules and shift changes, five days of personal leave, domestic violence leave, and a right to refuse overtime for family-related responsibilities. Sounds rather basic, yet sadly many federally regulated workers (which account for only six per cent of the workforce) are in industries such as broadcast, telecommunications, banking, transportation, etc., and do not currently have these protections, which are enjoyed by most workers in other jurisdictions across Canada. Without minimum standards set out in law, powerful employers have been allowed to wreak havoc on the well-being, health, and safety of workers and their families.

Although the reforms come into force on Sept. 1, some employers are criticizing the speed and scope of the legislation. And without greater political pressure from the public, the federal government may simply permit broad categories of workers to continue to toil under regressive and dangerous conditions if exemptions are granted. Every political party needs to take a clear position on where they stand with respect to the rights of federally regulated workers.

Every leader running for the job of prime minister must be ready to step up as a compassionate and caring employer of public sector workers. As the single largest employer in Canada, the federal government employs just less than 300,000 employees who are governed by their own set of employment legislation, which do not include any minimum employment standards, or collective bargaining rights for staffing and pension issues; it is one of the largest contributors to the precarious work conditions through casual and term contracts, eroding one’s ability to eke out a decent living. One place to start would be bringing much needed modernization reforms to the legislations that govern public sector workers. Another is to take responsibility and finalize long awaited collective agreements, including proper compensation for the damage done by the Phoenix not-pay system.

The agonizing toll a disastrous pay system has had on public service workers, some of whom have still not been paid correctly and others who have lost their homes and savings, should be front of mind this election. Anyone looking to take the reins of the federal government must be prepared to speak to how they, as an employer, will ensure the dignity of federal sector workers, including those currently outsourced.

The federal government directly and indirectly employs countless other workers, including consultants, contractors, and a growing and precarious class of temporary help service workers, dubbed the “Shadow Public Service.” It sound like something out of a Jordan Peele movie, and frankly, it is as horrifying. Temporary help service workers, for instance, are significantly undercompensated, left without benefits or job security, and often work for multiple employers, none of whom on paper are the federal government. It is next to impossible for them to organize and have a collective voice. All while they carry out the work of the federal government. In fact, the House of Commons Human Resources Committee tabled a report on reducing precarious work in June 2019, but there has been silence from the government to date.

Fair wages for federal contractors is another Liberal promise not yet realized. The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, which came in in 1935, was repealed in 2012 by the Harper Conservatives following the lobbying efforts of non-unionized contractors. Now the federal government is permitted, if not induced, to hire the lowest-paying contractors for government-funded projects, rather than taking up the mantle of creating good jobs that ensure workers’ dignity. Not all job creation is created equal.

More broadly, increasing privatization generally has come at a cost to workers. Privatization of heating and cooling plants, ports, and other previously held public institutions are being handed over to private interests, and with them better paying and more secure public sector jobs.

And Baby Boomers wonder why their university-educated children can’t get a career off the ground.

Hundreds of thousands of workers will be directly impacted by the outcome of the federal election. Their issues are not often front of mind, but they ought to be. Federal and public sector workers need a government that is on their side, and one that will not hesitate to push back against employers who are trying to keep workers rights in the 1800s.

Amy Kishek co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast and is an in-house labour lawyer for a national union.

As published in The Hill Times.

Tale as old as time: Liberal ethics breach proves politics still about comforting the comfortable

OTTAWA—This past April, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke to the Daughters of the Vote delegation, which included Indigenous women protesting his treatment of former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould following her expulsion from the Liberal party over the SNC-Lavalin debacle. He pontificated in response that “diversity only works if there’s trust.” Now, after having been found to have broken the law—the first sitting prime minister in Canadian history—he is insisting that he does not have to apologize because “you [only] apologize when you did something wrong.”

Well, you have lost our trust, Mr. Prime Minister.

Thanks to the ethics commissioner’s report, there finally is evidence that nakedly displays what many believe are age-old problems of cronyism and corruption at the highest level of Canadian politics, spelled out in black and white for all the world to see. Other investigations and rulings may follow, and likely will. We anticipate they will vindicate what we have suspected all along—that the Liberal government, like all federal governments past, has worked to serve the interests of corporate elites.

Liberals will, and have, retorted, “that’s politics, and if you don’t recognize that you’re naïve.” They miss the point entirely.

We do get it, and that’s precisely the problem. The time is now to expose these truths. Whether we risk a Conservative government by bringing awareness to this fact, so be it.

Canadians have no reason now to believe or trust the prime minister when he says he is running on a platform of “real change” and “fair and open government.”

Real change is a government that holds itself accountable.

Real change is a government that upholds the rule of law.

Real change is a government that doesn’t kowtow to corporate interests and feign that it is acting in the service of the people.

The SNC-Lavalin affair is more than a single finding of breach of conflict of interest. It has revealed to us who the Liberals, not unlike their Conservative predecessors, really serve.

The report has led to shocking revelations about the extent of SNC-Lavalin’s lobbying efforts towards the introduction of deferred prosecution agreements into Canadian law. The Liberals acquiesced by tailoring the law to suit a specific corporation and a specific case.

As it turns out, the Bank of Montreal (BMO) had a role in this, too. The ethics commissioner’s report revealed that two senior BMO officials lobbied then-cabinet minister Scott Brison to help SNC avoid a criminal prosecution. Not long after, Mr. Brison left politics to work for BMO.

Not to sound conspiratorial, but this is part of a long line of dangerously cosy connections between the Prime Minister’s Office, cabinet, and corporate interests.

One glaring example is the Liberal pharmacare policy which is being partially overseen by a finance minister whose family legacy and previous career rested with a pensions and benefits consultancy, Morneau Shepell. Finance Minister Bill Morneau, too, has been found in violation of the ethics laws.

Another example is in the Parliamentary Budget Office’s finding that the Liberal government paid Kinder Morgan sticker price on the Trans Mountain pipeline. You’ll forgive us if, given the above, we are not a little bit suspicious of the wheelings and dealings behind that purchase.

And let’s not forget that this is, in fact, Trudeau’s second ethics violation. The first came from a 2017 ruling which found that by accepting a gift from the Aga Khan, a director of a foundation registered to lobby the federal government, in the form of an all-expenses paid holiday to the Bahamas in 2016, Trudeau contravened the act in multiple ways.

It would appear that Trudeau and his Liberal colleagues are more comfortable in the company of corporate executives, and the wealthy and privileged classes; and it makes sense given many have emerged from those classes. However, these are not exactly the kind of people I want drafting tax reform, pharmacare, housing, or environmental policies.

This is not a case of bad actors. Multiple cabinet ministers took a run at the former attorney general and, arguably, colluded with SNC-Lavalin. This affair is about a political system that is rife with abuse, and those responsible for the recent abuses are seeking re-election on a platform of open and transparent government.

And they think we can be duped because the other guys are “worse.”

There’s an adage you hear in progressive circles in Canada: Liberals, Tories, same old story. It may sound trite, but in this moment it feels very much true.

Amy Kishek co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times.

As eco-fascism takes hold, Canada’s leaders have yet to prove they’re up to the fight

OTTAWA—Many have been ringing the alarm about the terrifying connections between climate change, economic anxiety, and white nationalism movements and ideology. Eco-fascism, as it is otherwise known, is no longer a theory that resides in the depths of seedy internet forums. It is a fatal threat that must be challenged in the open.

The El Paso shooter’s manifesto is one example of this that should not be buried and ignored—to do so would mean we are burying our collective heads in the sand after a deadly and hateful mass shooting that killed 22 people and injured two dozen others on Aug. 3.

The manifesto, titled The Inconvenient Truth, was posted shortly before the attack on the online forum, 8chan: “… the American lifestyle affords our citizens an incredible quality of life [yet this] lifestyle is destroying the environment of our country.” Therefore, he argues, “the next logical step is to decrease the number of people in America using resources” so that if “we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can become more sustainable.”

These environmental and economic takes are directly tied to the shooter’s concerns over the so-called “Great Replacement,” the white nationalist notion that white European populations are being replaced by non-white people through mass migration, demographic growth, and declining white birth rates.

Eco-fascism is a growing movement that is insidious and far more dangerous than even climate change denial. We have seen this new far right-wing ideology taken up in France by the National Rally party, and by far-right movements across Europe. Earlier this year, an Ipsos Public Affairs poll found that 37 per cent of Canadians say immigration is a “threat” to white Canadians.These views now appear to have a political voice in Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada.

The sad reality is that the climate crisis is the cause of significant numbers of forced global migration, with millions already migrating due to environmental and climate forces. Despite this, political parties, politicians, and even some social movements in Canada have treated issues of immigration, racism, economics, and climate change in isolation. And they do so at the peril of marginalized communities.

The answer to eco-fascism is environmental justice. Environmental justice asks us to approach issues of environment from the perspective of equity, and in a manner that protects the most vulnerable communities, not only the environment and physical nature itself. Environmental justice recognizes that the climate change crisis (including exposure to toxins, clean drinking water, etc.) disproportionately affects Indigenous, racialized, and low-income communities. The language of environmental justice allows us to address economic anxiety of low-income and working class folks, while addressing climate change, and supporting climate crisis migrants.

Historically, mainstream environmental organizations and movements in Canada have been largely led by white people and focused on natural conservation. In fact, environmental justice was not mainstream until the recently proposed Green New Deal, an economic stimulus package put forward by some Democrats in the United States, which aims to address climate change and economic inequality.

Canada’s major political parties are still largely behind on adopting environmental justice policies.

The Green Party, which bills itself as the only party capable of moving to a fossil-fuel free economy, has nary a word to say about race, inequality, nor Indigenous environmentalism, specifically, in its climate change platform, called Mission: Possible—though it does reference needing equity for Indigenous peoples to achieve climate security. These issues are mostly divorced from climate matters, and are siloed off in their positions on universal basic income and other social programs, which make no mention of climate change.

The New Democratic Party has taken up the cause, in part, by proposing their own plan, called New Deal for Climate Action and Good Jobs. A plank of the climate change platform is “supporting Indigenous leadership in climate action” and notes that “Indigenous communities are on the front lines, dealing with the impacts of climate change every day, and are best placed to protect cultural and biological diversity through control over their territory.” The rest of the platform is silent on issues of race and inequality where they intersect with environmental action.

The Conservative Party of Canada has put out what they call A Real Plan to Protect Our Environment, which, to my surprise, acknowledges the importance of working with Indigenous people to address climate change, and states that “a changing climate disproportionately impacts Canada’s Indigenous peoples—especially those living in remote and Northern communities and working in industries such as mining and forestry.” Yet makes no other commitments to inequality and climate crisis.

The Liberal Party, which has yet to release its 2019 platform, ran in 2015 on a climate change policy centred almost exclusively on carbon pricing. The Greener Communities 2015 platform similarly failed to mention issues of inequality. Their more recent efforts to declare that Canada is in a national climate emergency is completely bereft of any analysis as to who is affected by the climate crisis. Meanwhile, the Liberal Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, bragged on Twitter about the quality of Ottawa’s drinking water while First Nations communities face decades-long water crises.

Continued silence on environmental justice will leave space for eco-fascist views to take hold, virtually erasing any efforts made on reconciliation and equity to date. Canadians and politicians alike have a duty, especially in the face of growing white nationalism and violence, to promote and fight for environmental justice.

Amy Kishek co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times

#NotSoEqualVoice: the race for equality can’t be completed wearing blinders

OTTAWA—Equal Voice, an organization “dedicated to electing more women to all levels of political office in Canada,” has spent the better part of the last two decades purportedly trying to achieve its mission through campaign schools, panels, luncheons, award ceremonies, mentorship programs, conferences, and parties (oh, the parties). All the usual ways Hill-adjacent organizations try to draw in funders, donors, and supporters. You, dear reader, were probably there. Shaking hands, enjoying a drink, and feeling good about yourself for furthering this noble cause. We know, because we were right there, too.

We all watched with great interest as a diverse group of women and gender non-binary delegates from all 338 federal ridings took their seats (or left them empty in protest) in the House of Commons for the Daughters of the Vote event in 2017, and again this spring of 2019. They inspired us and raised our consciousness to issues rarely discussed in such candid terms in Canadian politics. Srosh Hassana spoke of her experience facing Islamophobia in 2017. Taqtu Sabrina Montague brought tears to our eyes with her speech this year about the suicide crisis facing Inuit communities, including her own.

We wouldn’t blame you if, seeing this, you believed that Equal Voice was a force for good in Canadian politics. We had the same yearnings. So, too, did the Government of Canada when in the fall of last year, the now Department of Women and Gender Equality announced that in order to close this gap of political representation, Equal Voice would receive additional federal funding.

Unfortunately, the marketing of women of colour and Indigenous women, meant to signal the organization’s diversity and commitment to equity, appears to be just that—marketing. Behind the scenes, Equal Voice has reportedly been perpetuating the exclusionary and silencing practices that have kept our political spaces rooted in whiteness and settler colonialism.

As reported by The Hill Times (“‘My ancestors did not survive 300 years of slavery to feel like I had an overseer’: systemic change needed at Equal Voice after three racialized women fired, say women’s rights advocates,” Aug. 5, 2019), the National Observer (“These three racialized women explain how they got fired by Equal Voice,” Aug. 2, 2019), and The Canadian Press, (Advocacy group Equal Voice faces fallout after firing three racialized staffers,” Aug. 1, 2019), employees tasked specifically with making Daughters of the Vote a safe and equitable experience for delegates, particularly those from equity-seeking groups, allegedly experienced immeasurable pushback and mistreatment, including surveillance and monitoring, harassment and bullying at the hands of the executive director and board members. These employees, four women of colour, were let go from Equal Voice, out of their nine full-time staff members. Three were dismissed the same day, and four in total were dismissed in the past month. Other racialized employees have quit in recent months. Resignations of members of the board of directors followed.

Equal Voice responded with a canned, public relations statement, which included the trite and hackneyed support for diversity that is now ubiquitous and equally meaningless.

In the statement, Equal Voice says it has “been actively working to ensure that our programs are based on principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

According to reports, the three women said they were were fired for the “harassment and defamation of [Equal Voice executive director Eleanor Fast] and Equal Voice both internally and publicly on social media.” Though Ms. Fast would not speak to the substance of the social media posts Equal Voice took issue with, she told The Hill Times they would be “inappropriate at any workplace.”

The organization has also told reporters the recent terminations had nothing to do with anyone’s race, gender identity, culture, sexual orientation, or religion. Ms. Fast also told The Hill Times the organization still has racialized staff.

But now, former employees, past delegates, and others continue to share their experiences with the organization using the #NotSoEqualVoice hashtag. If true, some of the experiences detailed there are quite harrowing. Supporters of Equal Voice should pay close attention and listen to the accounts participants in Daughters of the Vote programs, and former employees of Equal Voice have bravely shared.

We think Equal Voice was always for cisgender white women and we don’t believe it was ever in its mission to be an intersectional feminist organization. The words and the leadership were not there. An intersectional approach—that is the understanding of equity through the lens of not just gender, but other identities, including race, gender diversity, and abilities—was an afterthought.

Like the Canadian suffragettes of yore, Equal Voice seems like it was only ever comfortable advancing the interests of white women working within the system, after reading these recent accounts. We are left asking, how could Equal Voice be entrusted to disrupt the current electoral system that shuts so many out when the organization is beholden to the status quo of partisan electoral politics for much of its funding? And, most importantly, why should you, or I, or the newly minted Department of Women and Gender Equality give them our time, money, and support?

Tear up your figurative membership cards, the time has finally come to leave Equal Voice behind.

The organization’s mission was flawed from the jump. You cannot fix a broken political system without disrupting the current social order. You cannot bring more young women of colour and Indigenous women into political spaces without also doing the work of decolonizing these spaces. You cannot run an organization premised on equality without centring Black, Indigenous, and racialized people.

The vehicle for great political change and transformation will not be found in Equal Voice. We need to envision and support a new way of doing electoral politics, and we need to give space and support for leaders from Black, Indigenous, and racialized communities to lead us there.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek co-host the Bad + Bitchy podcast. Amy Kishek sat on the Equal Voice board of directors from 2011 to 2017.

As published in the Hill Times

Canadians deserve more than a white-bread response to racism

“That’s not how we do things in Canada.”

Are you sure about that?

This was the statement our racially unsavvy prime minister gave to reporters in the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump’s statements telling four congresswomen to “go back to where they came from,” and it’s very Canadian. So too is Bill 21, Quebec’s new secularism law that quite literally excludes and punishes religious minorities by preventing those who wear religious symbols from accessing public service jobs, including as judges, teachers, and Crown prosecutors.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the National Council of Canadian Muslims are seeking to have the Quebec law struck down for being unconstitutional. On July 18, they lost a motion for an injunction to suspend the law while the merits of the constitutional case are argued. The Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that there is no evidence of a demonstrated serious or irreparable harm flowing from the new act. Yet the number of Islamaphobic incidents has reportedly risen since the legislation was tabled in March, with many convincingly arguing that the state sanctioned discrimination has emboldened racists and xenophobes.

Sunny ways don’t apply to Muslims.

Trudeau’s remarks show that he doesn’t understand the country he lives in, nor the riding he represents. Or has he forgotten suddenly that he is “the Member from Papineau?”

Meanwhile in Toronto, the Canada Border Service Agency was surreptitiously stopping anyone darker than drywall for their “papers please.” Why wouldn’t racialized and newcomer Canadians feel perfectly at home here? And this is being done in the riding of Ahmed Hussen, Canada’s immigration minister.

“A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian”—more wisdom from Trudeau, which would be true, except for the minor detail that it’s not. Certainly not if you’re Black or brown, or, God forbid, not Canadian at all, in which case you can be held in administrative detention anywhere from 48 hours to five years. This is to say nothing of Canada’s continued treatment of Indigenous people, reconciliation be damned.

Last month, the federal government released its anti-racism strategy, entitled Building a Foundation for Change: Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019–2022. The strategy makes little mention of Islamophobia, nor does it get into the particulars of how to address racism and makes nary a mention of the rise of white nationalism and white supremacy, despite the fact that in April the head of CSIS said that the agency was seeing an increase in white supremacist behaviour.

We suppose Justin Trudeau might say, to paraphrase his July 15 remarks, Canadians ought to know exactly what he thinks of racism. The trouble is, we don’t.

Canadian exceptionalism is so well known, it’s almost a meme. We love nothing more than doubling down on the fact that Canada is consistently within the top five of global surveys for quality of life and the best places to live. (Pay no mind of the living conditions of First Nations people or that Canada is a leader of discriminatory hiring practices). But Canadian exceptionalism around racism, the idea that it cannot and does not happen here, is entirely unfounded and yet perpetrated by neophytes. And not only is it disingenuous to say “that doesn’t happen here,” as some often retort, or to minimize the role racism plays in Canadian society, it is harmful, too.

Hollow catchphrases and platitudes are not enough. Anti-racism efforts are a substantive issue that merit the same rigorous and nuanced debate and diligence as any other crisis facing our country. More than a year-and-a-half after the deadly and heinous Quebec City mosque shooting, this should be more than obvious to elected officials and policy-makers.

Canadians deserve better than a prime minister who shies away from confrontation on issues of racism, and cannot even use the term “racist” in a situation that calls for it. We deserve better than a leader who merely falls back on a flawed premise of multiculturalism as a Canadian-made panacea from the era of his father’s reign.

While Justin Trudeau seeks shelter behind flowery maxioms, Jagmeet Singh wears these values despite great personal and political risk.

Singh, the leader of the NDP, the first racialized federal party leader, and a man whose faith and religious symbols, a turban and kirpan, are targets of Bill 21, is campaigning to change sentiments around the legislation, one voter at a time in the face of ignorant remarks on the campaign trail. He has vowed to lead the opposition against the legislation, where so many political leaders have fallen silent.

The human rights and dignity of Canadians and non-Canadians alike are at stake in the upcoming election. Black, Indigenous, and other racialized people have shown us the way to creating a truly more equitable society, one that doesn’t rely on nationalist and colonial ideals of who belongs and what determines their value; the validation of belonging continues to be decided by the white majority and centred around their needs. We see this across the pages of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry report, and through the work of Black Lives Matter Toronto, Justice for Migrant Workers, and the National Council of Canadian Muslims, to name a few.

As Rep. Ilhan Omar said in response to Donald Trump’s tweets directed at her, “We are all deserving and we don’t need permission or an invitation to exist and step into our power.” Omar is showing the way for what it means to be both critical and hopeful of your country in the face of hate. “This is not about me; this is about us fighting for what this country truly should be and what it deserves to be,” she said in a July 18 press conference. Justin Trudeau should take note.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek co-host the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times.

Mainstream media already has itself on the ropes in the fake news fight

OTTAWA—Months after the 2019 budget announced the details $600-million bailout meant to help the fledgling and inflexible Canadian news media industry, they’ve been complicit in spreading disinformation.

Canadian mainstream media needs to check itself.

Over the Canada Day weekend, right-wing political advertiser and digital media platform Canada Proud tweeted a video of an interaction between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. In an effort to characterize the interaction, the Canada Proud tweet read, “This is just sad. Nobody respects Justin Trudeau.” The video showed Trudeau seated between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Bolsonaro, with Trudeau gesturing towards Bolsonaro before Bolsonaro turns away from Trudeau and towards the person on his other side, showing a seeming snub. Quelle horreur.

Except the video wasn’t an accurate depiction of what took place. What’s worse is that it didn’t originate with Canada Proud—a partisan group; Global News tweeted it, thereby showing a truncated version of events by removing the context and creating a false narrative. Since then, Global updated their timeline with a longer (and accurate) version.

This is as much of a smoking gun as Hillary Clinton’s emails. And with the comparable level of hysteria.

Twitter exploded, as it is wont to do: politicians, pundits, and reporters retweeted it without verification, only to discover a day later that it was inaccurate, because the longer version of the video surfaced that showed Trudeau was trying to tell Bolsonaro that the person seated on the Brazilian leader’s other side was trying to get his attention. Of course that didn’t stop pundits and journalists who, not only refused to acknowledge their error, but also pivoted to Trudeau’s interactions with President Xi. And the press corps followed like lemmings.

There’s been a proliferation of organizations like Ontario Proud, which appeared before the House of Commons Ethics Committee in December 2018 and questioned about, among other things, a lack of transparency in their out-of-province funding. They have since been exposed as getting the bulk of their funding from large corporations and developers, who have benefited handsomely from the election of Doug Ford in Ontario, in some cases directly. Canada Proud, which shares the same personnel and founder as Ontario Proud, is already hard at work in an effort to “defeat Liberals all over the country,” according to founder Jeff Ballingall. Sounds like a reliable and unbiased source, eh.

There is also a real and emergent issue with fake news—more than just a Trumpian slur leveled at legitimate criticism. Fake news is a real phenomena occurring online and especially on social media. A recent poll from Ipsos Public Affairs for Canada’s Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) found that 90 per cent of Canadians have fallen for fake news, i.e., wholly or partly false information. This explains why the anti-vaxxer movement is thriving, at the risk of our collective health.

Some fake news comes from the mainstream media itself, or are we forgetting the 2016 U.S. general election when everyone from the New York Times to CNN failed to fact check then-candidate Donald Trump?

This is to say nothing of legitimate findings of foreign interference into American elections and, according to CSIS and CSE, Canadian ones, too.

Why then is the media not more vigilant?

The same Ipsos poll for CIGI found that 89 per cent of Canadians now distrust social media companies. We saw some reporters blame Twitter for their failure to scrutinize the June 29 Canada Proud tweet. Yes, social media is to blame. In part. But what good is a journalist if they can’t vet a source? Or at the very least, provide a video that shows a complete interaction, thus allowing the viewer to form their own opinion?

Media literacy, whether social or mainstream, is hugely important. Educators and civil society groups are now working to educate kids on how to spot fake information online. Looks like media outlets could use a tutorial, too.

This election is already acrimonious, but what confidence can we have in news if the media can’t exercise enough digital judgement to decipher the wheat from the chaff? And why would we pay $600-million to save an industry that has devolved into clickbait?

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As published in The Hill Times

Public servants handcuffed by unreasonable expectations of political neutrality

OTTAWA—On June 25, Blacklock’s Reporter broke a story that a prominent quasi-partisan Twitter personality, Neil Waytowich (a.k.a. “Neil Before Zod” on Twitter), was actually a former public service worker by day and anonymous Twitter political commentator and podcaster by night. Hot on the trail were MPs who quoted the public service code of conduct on political activities, paying no mind to the state of the law and workers’ rights to freedom of expression.

As we near the federal election many public service workers are surely already wondering whether they can play any part in our democratic system, beyond simply casting a hidden ballot.

According to the Public Service Employment Act, an employee can “engage in any political activity so long as it does not impair, or is not perceived as impairing, the employee’s ability to perform his or her duties in a politically impartial manner.” For its part, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a public service workers’ right to freedom of expression under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be balanced against their duty of loyalty to their employer, the government of Canada. There was a time when, indeed, all public service workers were banned from political activity, a law that was found to be unconstitutional. The court ruled that the government must take into account that the need for impartiality, or its appearance, varies depending on the type of work being performed and the employee’s relative role, level, or importance in the public service.

That balancing act is the crux of this issue. Unfortunately, despite numerous decisions on the question, the Public Service Commission (PSC) continues to actively dissuade public service workers from expressing their political views and exercising their political rights outside of work, via information spread through its online tools, and education materials, as well as in their application of the legislation. Not only has this infringed on the rights of workers, it has had a chilling effect on all employees who self-police to avoid attracting the ire of the PSC. 

“Politics” is a dirty word in the federal public service, and yet it is everywhere.

We need to unpack the notion of what it means to be politically engaged, and ensure that loyalty to the employer, although an integral aspect of any employment relationship, does not override an individual’s right to express themselves, and in particular where to do so is a necessary part of expressing and protecting one’s identity.

Politics is everywhere, and everything is political. Neutrality itself is a hoax. Our experiences, our beliefs, and how we live in the world are political, and they are also politicized without our say. Dammit, even believing in climate change is political, and considered highly partisan by some.

The politics of existing are especially obvious to young people, women, Black, Indigenous, and racialized people, persons with disabilities, religious minorities, and members of LBGTQ2+ communities whose identities and existence are under constant attack in partisan and nonpartisan political spheres alike.

Even those for whom the status quo is peachy keen are engaged in a political act or belief when they uphold existing practices, or even in going about their daily life—say, by unapologetically benefiting from property rights on unceded Indigenous land. Infringements on freedom of expression may then have a disproportionate effect on members of equity-seeking groups.

Yet somehow public service workers are expected to suddenly become apolitical once those golden handcuffs are on.

Showing up at the Women’s March, attended by partisan political leaders, holding a sign with a political slogan, shouldn’t be cause for investigation or discipline. Neither should door-knocking with a political candidate as a volunteer on one’s down time. Nor writing a letter to the editor about a policy issue where one signs the letter without mention of their job in the public service. These are all legitimate and protected forms of expression. In fact, most public service workers, whose work is “completely divorced from the exercise of any discretion that could be in any manner affected by political considerations,” to use the language of the Supreme Court of Canada, would be permitted to engage in these activities based on the legal test set out by the court.

Sadly, most public service workers don’t know this.

The code of conduct and false notions of the “political” are weaponized to silence public service workers, and chill freedom of expression. This has never been easier to do than with social media, where a comment or an Instagram photo can turn into a complaint very quickly.

Why then all the fear-mongering from the PSC to NDP and Conservative MPs alike?

To completely disregard workers’ fundamental right to freedom of expression in favour of a model of subservience to their employer is an injury to the dignity of workers who keep our society running everyday—from the guarding our coasts, inspecting our food, issuing our employment insurance, preserving our parks, the list goes on—and all in the face of their own pay issues and workplace struggles.

Amy Kishek co-hosts the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

The Hill Times

Feds making a wreck of reconciliation

OTTAWA—Now that the hysteria over the audacity of a national inquiry’s use of the word “genocide” has died down, let’s take stock of how the Canadian government continues to proactively perpetuate systemic and systematic racism against Indigenous peoples.

In Grassy Narrows First Nation, children have been suffering (sometimes fatally) from mercury poisoning for the better part of the last half century. Community activists have been fighting to bring attention to this issue, while all levels of government drag their feet, at best, and at worst, laugh off the issue. The community is still without answers, far from receiving any form of justice, while the current government pats itself on the back for vacuous iterations of ostensible progress on reconciliation.

Furthermore, on June 12, a mere 90 minutes after an Indigenous mother gave birth, British Columbia Children and Family Services arrived at the hospital to take her child away saying they received a report of neglect, despite no investigation into said report, while the infant continues to be held in foster case. This is one of countless stories of the forcible separation of families—the legacy of residential schools and the “60s scoop” persists.

It took a protracted human rights complaint by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, led by Cindy Blackstock, for the government to finally acknowledge the neglect of First Nations children. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in 2016 that Ottawa discriminated against First Nations children by underfunding child welfare services on-reserve. Although some of these issues are addressed in Bill C-92 (the law that transfers child welfare to First Nations communities), which passed in Parliament on June 20, the federal government has still not paid a cent to First Nations children, despite four orders from the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to comply with their 2016 ruling.

In another episode of this bad reality show, this winter, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated that Canada still discriminates against First Nations women and their descendants in the Indian Act. Despite amendments in 1985, which made it possible for women with “Indian” status who marry non-Indigenous men to maintain their status, in reality their status is far from equal. Again, it took a B.C. Court of Appeal decision, owing to Sharon McIvor’s human rights complaint, for there to be any government action. Despite this, cabinet cannot be bothered to pass an order-in-council to eliminate sex discrimination from the Indian Act.

So much for gender-based analysis.

Last week, an important bill died in the Senate. Bill C-262, a private member’s bill from NDP MP Romeo Saganash, which would have implemented the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Canada (UNDRIP), was defeated by the unelected Senate. The initial Liberal government line was that UNDRIP was “unworkable” in Canadian law, even though it was among their myriad of 2015 electoral promises; however it wasn’t until backlash from folks in the Indigenous community that the bill was backed by the Liberals.

This winter, the RCMP forcibly removed Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and supporters from their unceded territory to allow for the LNG pipeline. And now, despite passing a motion that declared a national emergency on climate change, the federal Liberals charge ahead with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, paying no mind to the toll exacted on and the land forcibly stolen from Indigenous communities.

These perversions of justice, in addition to the countless findings in the MMIWG inquiry report, are only what took place in 2019.

Justin Trudeau will have you believe that no relationship is more important than Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples. He’ll don a pair of moccasins and flash his Haida tattoo, but like his land acknowledgements, this is nothing more than window dressing.

This is not reconciliation, it’s Wreckonciliation, an ongoing colonial project of systemic and systematic genocide, and the Liberal government is one of its chief proponents in both actions, words, and sometimes, criminal negligence. Stolen land and stolen sisters are not part of Canada’s past, a shameful history we can simply apologize for.

Acknowledging colonialism, and recognizing that we occupy stolen land is the bare minimum. Failing to say that stolen lands should be returned, and failing to fight for reparations for Indigenous people is tacit approval of the colonial and genocidal system from which all non-Indigenous people reap immense benefits.

Your land acknowledgements are nothing more than lip service. You need to do the work and dismantle Canada’s genocidal regime. Because the Liberals sure as hell won’t.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

The Hill Times

#LivingWhileBlack: High stakes on basketball court, school campus, or Parliament Hill

OTTAWA—There is a virulent strain of anti-Black racism spreading through the “I don’t see colour” racial Canadian landscape. Anti-Black racism is distinct and stubborn and it flares up every so often—only the Canadian response is a half-assed topical treatment, rather than a cure.

On June 13, the Toronto Raptors ended a 26-year drought by bringing home the NBA championship to a city—and a country—that hasn’t seen a championship come north of the border since the Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in1992 and 1993.

While professional sports have a special sort of racist undertone, the Raptors celebration was marred by anti-Black racism before it even began. As he was stepping onto the court in the Oakland, Ca., arena to celebrate with his team, a deputy of the Alameda County Sheriff got into an altercation with Raptors president Masai Ujiri. Ujiri, who could be facing misdemeanor charges for assaulting a (white) police officer, was confronted by an officer as he made his way and asked for his papers, er, credentials, even though video footage from right before and right after the incident shows him carrying his credentials in his hand.

Even when following the rules, #winningwhileblack is prohibited.

But that’s the United States, you may say; Canada is much more tolerant and open to people of different ethnicities, look at how multicultural Toronto is. But the truth is these experiences in America don’t disappear once you cross the border.

Just hours before the Raptors claimed victory, another Black man was being racially profiled right here in Ottawa, in the shadow of the Parliament Buildings. Jamal Boyce, a University of Ottawa student and student leader, was forced by campus security to produce his ID while on his way to class, because he dared ride a skateboard on campus property. Apparently not having his wallet with him was some great offence warranting police intervention, as he was handcuffed and detained by police while classmates and colleagues looked on. Boyce called the experience “humiliating” and “demeaning”; the police said they were “teaching him a lesson about the law.”

What has followed are other Black and racialized students, professors, and researchers sharing their accounts of having been carded on campus. Here’s hoping all involved get a real lesson in the law when Boyce inevitably sues for both discrimination and the wrongful detention.

Meanwhile, just days before the incident at the University of Ottawa, two Black graduate students were racially profiled and targeted at the University of British Columbia by their peers, who demanded to see their registration numbers for the 88th annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, a conference that brings together 8,000 academics. More accounts followed about racial profiling at the event (#blackatcongress), in academic spaces, and on the UBC campus. Turns out #learningwhileblack is prohibited, too.

And it’s not just on campuses either. Or we have all forgotten that fateful day during Black History Month this past February when a delegation attending—ironically enough—an event called Black Voices on the Hill, were profiled by both a Hill staffer and a Parliamentary Protective Service officer for, god forbid, #politikingwhileblack?

No matter how successful, how educated, how connected a Black person may be, there is no escaping the fact that race is one of the principle ways our society is ordered, and gatekeepers are always there to remind you of that, whether you are on your way to earning your PhD or your place in Parliament.

These encounters are not minor, and they’re not isolated. They rob you of your value. Each instance, however small, builds up to undermine your sense of self worth, something white people never have to consider. Too often, Black people are told it is simply “imposter syndrome,” that with some confidence you can get past the feeling as though you don’t belong.

Enough with the gaslighting already. When Black people perceive racism it’s because there is racism. There is an acute awareness of the need to centre white comfort, which is why perceptions are the eggshells upon which Black people walk, oscillating between pacifying white fear (which could end in violence against Black bodies) or white guilt. They are viewed as threatening, no matter the level of income.

There is not enough money and confidence in the world to end the racism directed at Black people, which by design is intended to keep boardrooms, universities, and places of power quite white.

Forget the capitalist handbook to ending racism. You cannot “transcend race,” no matter how rich and famous you are—just ask Oprah, who was denied the purchase of a handbag in Switzerland because the store clerk thought it was too expensive for a Black woman like her.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

The Hill Times

Conservatives haven’t quite learned their lines in the theatre of inclusivity

OTTAWA—If you are a member of a marginalized community in Canada, the Conservatives have trolled you over the last couple of weeks with the Justice Committee’s devolution into Trumpian Theatre under the guise of tackling online hate speech.

On Tuesday, May 28, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights held one hearing of many on online hate. During the testimony of witness, Faisal Khan Suri, president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, shared what is a well-known fact: “In January 2017, the Québec City mosque killer, Alexandre Bissonnette, gunned down six Muslim men in execution style when he came into the mosque with two guns and fired more than 800 rounds. The evidence from Bissonnette’s computer showed he repetitively sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators; mass murderers; U.S. President Donald Trump; and the arrival of Muslim immigrants in Quebec.”

This is not controversial, it’s a fact. However, in Trumpian Theatre, facts are fake and conservatism is being attacked by lefties with an agenda to destroy 1950s civilization as we know it. Performative victimization is the motif, and the show requires a Conservative MP to star in this performance like Keanu Reeves playing Hamlet—like his career depended on it.

Enter Michael Cooper, stage right. “First of all, Mr. Suri, I take great umbrage with your defamatory comments to try to link conservatism with violent and extremist attacks. They have no foundation. They’re defamatory and they diminish your credibility as a witness.” (You know someone’s stroking their plumage when they use the word “umbrage.”) He then proceeded to read into the record a part of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto to a Muslim man.

Let this sink in: a white, Conservative MP introduced online hate from someone who murdered 50 people in the worse hate crime in New Zealand’s history, into the record to berate a Muslim man’s testimony about online hate. This is what white supremacy looks like. The Justice Committee (with Conservative members abstaining) has since voted to remove Cooper’s words from the day’s record. Though he initially stood by his statements that Suri’s testimony was “deeply offensive,” Cooper later apologized.

Not to be outdone by that episode, the Conservatives decided to continue this shitshow by inviting Lindsay Shepherd, Mark Steyn, and John Robson as witnesses in the persecution parade under the guise of defending free speech—only the three people they invited are not exactly paragons of online virtue and respect.

Lindsay Shepherd gained notoriety after being hauled on the carpet by her superviser at Wilfrid Laurier University following complaints from students after she showed clips of controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson in class.

While she was cleared of wrongdoing by the school, Shepherd has been capitalizing on her newly acquired free-speech warrior bona fides, most recently appearing on the YouTube channel of far-right personality Jean-François Gariépy, in a discussion touching on white genocide and population replacement theories, where she muses, “Are whites becoming a minority in Canada?” Yes.”

Mark Steyn frequently bloviates about the Islamification of the West, writing “if you can’t outbreed the enemy, cull ’em.”

The public audience and media were fixated. Despite 59 witnesses appearing before the Justice Committee to testify on issues on online hate-—including testimony of real physical and psychological harm—only these three, whose controversial conduct often spurs online hate, were given oxygen in the wider media accounts of the study.

All three of these witnesses, despite being white supremacy adjacent, have written for mainstream Canadian media publications: Shepherd and Steyn for Maclean’s, Robson for the National Post. So much for persecution.

We don’t condone racism in this country, we just perpetuate it with the dexterity of a Japanese chef wielding his Ginsu knife. And it cuts just as deep.

To top it off, these theatrics played out in the shadow of the release of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report, which sparked a wildly racist backlash online and across mainstream media, targeting Indigenous people who dared to label the atrocities they experience daily—case in point.

Andrew Scheer has gone through great pains to tell Canadians that his party abhors racism, intolerance, and extremism, and to let us know he means business, he removed Michael Cooper from the Justice Committee. However, Cooper remains deputy justice critic. And come October, Scheer will be asking Canadians, not only for their vote, but for their trust that he can keep Indigenous people, Canadians of colour, LGBTQ2S Canadians, and religious minorities safe from members of his own party.

Perhaps he’s just not ready.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

The Hill Times

Doing politics differently? Sure, Jan

OTTAWA—Often considered to be the season of change and rebirth, spring has finally arrived in the capital and that is evident for no party more than the Liberals, for whom the comings and goings reveal their true regard for the women in their ranks.

Last week, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott announced their candidacy for re-election as Independents after having been tossed out of the Liberal caucus by Justin Trudeau last month. They, along with Celina Caesar-Chavannes were recruited by the Liberal Party to, in part, support a multicultural agenda which played a significant role in Trudeau’s 2015 election campaign. Seeking an unmistakable shift from the reign of Stephen Harper, a Trudeau government would demonstrate the party’s commitment to communities oft-marginalized by the political process: women, Indigenous peoples, people of colour, and youth, all of whom were a huge part of the “real change” marketing.

Only, it was just that—marketing. Women, and particularly women of colour, are the first in, and the first out. They were part of a “Because it’s 2015” catchphrase and political zeitgeist, and promptly set aside when they actively exercised a modicum of independence in carrying out their duties. A gender and racially diverse cabinet was a nice dalliance, like Miley Cyrus’ hip-hop phase, but the Liberals are returning to their respectable girlfriend, the typical white male of the Old Boys’ Club.

Now Liberal insiders, would-be king-makers, are looking to tap Bank of England governor Mark Carney to lead the Liberal Party after Trudeau’s presumably inevitable failure in the fall federal election. Though it is unclear who these “insiders” are and what power they yield, it should concern everyone that Carney is the political future envisaged.

As Chantal Hébert, who broke the story in the Toronto Star, writes: “The eternal quest for the next bright shining leadership object is in the political DNA of the Liberal party. In the past, it has sent some of its best and brightest on a quest for what turned out to be fool’s gold.” From Martin, to Ignatieff, to Trudeau, Liberals are drawn to these elite white male saviours in a crisp suit and polished leather shoes, not sullied by sidewalks or subways—all of whom came to power through forces beyond the ballot.

Ironically, the SNC-Lavalin scandal was about a loss of public trust in public institutions. Trust in public institutions is waning globally, and in part it is directly related to the dissonance between citizens and their elected officials—they neither look like us, live like us, nor are they connected to us. And news items like the Carney rumours undermine whatever trust remains, because they are a brutal reminder that our democratic systems are not really ours.

In this context, when women tend to be the first in and the first out, why would any woman of substance, conviction, and integrity run for office, let alone leadership? Although there are campaigns to increase the participation of female candidates, many of them have the effect of infantilizing women, much like Catherine McKenna’s (Ottawa Centre) infamous “Run Like a Girl” campaign. In an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen McKenna wrote, “Many people told me to worry about the old boys’ club in politics. And if you don’t feel like you’re part of it, you can feel like an imposter. But the good news is there’s a new girls’ club.”

Sure, Jan.

While the Liberal Party continues to put lipstick on a pig, nothing has been done to change the structure of politics to encourage a greater range of women to participate. And when women do enter politics, there is very little opportunity for those women to exercise their agency in representing the constituents who voted for them in the first place, lest they be “ungrateful.”

The Liberal Party is the only federal party never to be led by a woman, (and certainly never by a person of colour). Is a woman’s name ever top of mind when these kingmakers gather? If there is, she is most likely a woman who invests more in the status quo than in change. And then we must ask, when will the Liberal Party cease being beholden to backroom dealings that place members of the Old Boys’ Club in positions of power?

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

As appeared in the The Hill Times.

Social media can be powerful campaign tool, but Canadian politicians have much to learn

OTTAWA—From the moment we heard about her, the radical young woman from New York who dared issue a primary challenge to a long-sitting House Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has illustrated that social media can be a powerful campaign tool—if used correctly.

Candidates for our upcoming federal election should be taking notes, because their social media game needs work.

Take Jagmeet Singh, for example. Over the Game of Thrones finale weekend, the leader for the NDP tweeted a photo of himself on the Iron Throne on May 19 with the text: “The election is coming. House New Democrat. Our words: Love & Courage.”

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, seated on the Iron Throne, flanked by his brother, Ontario NDP MPP Gurratan Singh. Photograph courtesy of Twitter

Tired and overly staged, the post screams of a grasp at relevance. (Photos of people on the Iron Throne were rampant across Twitter in the days leading up to the finale). Posts like these centre the politician, rather than shifting the focus to the most important thing—the voter. It’s no longer 2015. Nobody cares about your selfies.

Staged social media posts by politicians abound. For his birthday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s Instagram account posted a photo of him reading piles and piles of the exact same shiny birthday card with, one can assume, birthday wishes, with nary a coffee stain or errant pen mark in sight. How human!

CPC Leader Andrew Scheer posted this picture to Instagram on May 22, writing: ‘Thank you for all of the birthday wishes yesterday everyone.’ Photograph courtesy of Instagram

Seamus O’Regan embarrassed himself, and frankly offended some, when, as the newly minted Minister of Indigenous Services, on Feb. 14 he tweeted an official, very much staged photo of himself working on a private flight. The caption read like a pull quote from a sappy self-help book circa 1995: “Leaving Northern Saskatchewan, there are things that are clear to me. That the road to Reconciliation is one that we must walk together… .” Of course he was taken to task for the emptiness of his message, despite the stakes of his portfolio. And the tweet was promptly taken down “because it distracted from the work O’Regan was doing in the province,” according to his office.

Social media is not a distraction. Nor is it a place to simply be seen. Social media has become a key way to connect with voters, with Instagram in particular as the main platform to engage with younger people whose votes may be up for grabs.

The since-deleted photo tweeted out by then-newly minted Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan on Feb. 14. Photograph courtesy of Twitter

However, people are savvier than ever. They know the ins and outs of social media, and set the tone, language, cultural norms, and etiquette. They comment, participate, and engage because social media is not the one-way communications tool that is the tired old Ten Percenter. Young people, and frankly millennials who are approaching middle-age, are creating searing political memes, and they are sharing their most authentic selves, by baring their intimate thoughts, fears, and insecurities online—nothing is off limits. And they see through the bullshit. They can spot a fake meme a mile away, and they are not afraid to clapback.

Young people also turn to YouTube stars and social media influencers for important information (with the quality of that information secondary to the source), and, as we’ve learned from Ocasio-Cortez, it is very important and difficult to attain status as either.

On Twitter Ocasio-Cortez does not tweet generic lines from her election platform, as some are prone to do in Canada (Environment Minister Catherine McKenna painfully comes to mind). Instead, she breathes life into old debates, with pithy precision. For example, on Dec. 21, 2018, she tweeted: “For the wall’s $5.7 billion, every child in America could have access to Universal Pre-K. Yet when we propose the SAME $, we’re told that Universal Edu is a ‘fantasy’ & asked ‘how are you going to pay for it’ Education is an investment in society that yields returns. Walls are waste.”

She wields her social media accounts as tools to communicate policies and unleashes scathing critiques in ways that allow her to be authentic, no highly crafted and polled persona necessary.

Over on Instagram on Feb. 24, using their live video feature, she prepared dinner and explained her Green New Deal proposal, and engaged with viewers’ instant comments.

Imagine that: an unscripted politician who wings it on camera without speaking points to fall back on. Quelle horreur! They may actually sound… human. And sounding human allows any politician to connect with—and centre—the voter.

Erica Ifill and Amy Kishek are co-hosts of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.

Green Party big on recycling faux-progressive status quo

As the House finishes up its final weeks before campaign season kicks off, the Green Party is crossing every extremity in the hope that they are, indeed, starting to ride a wave. This is especially true as the Conservatives and Liberals drag each other in the media for attention—and eventual votes—and the NDP continues to ghost Canadians like a bad date; the Greens have risen up from the ashes to snatch victory from the status quo—or at least try to reach official party status. They’re basically Ben Affleck’s horrible phoenix back tattoo.

But the question remains: are they ready? Not Elizabeth May; to be clear, she’s proven herself to be a strong and capable representative in the House, given that she has been the lone Green Party Member of Parliament for much of the last eight years. Her patience and resilience has paid off though, as the Green Party of Canada gained a second seat in the House following the election of Paul Manly in the recent Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C., byelection, and having an extremely strong showing in the P.E.I. provincial election while also holding the balance of power in the B.C. legislature.

When we think about the Greens, we think of a progressive party with fresh ideas—the upstarts. But, how progressive can you be if your party is hesitant or unable to deviate from the ingrained power structures that uphold whiteness and maleness? If you consider yourself radical and fighting against the man (literally and figuratively), how can you expect to tear down power if you are supporting the underlying structures? Answer: you can’t.

The power structure in this country rewards white, cis-male actors disproportionately for their effort, while women, Indigenous, people of colour, Muslims, LGBTQ2+ folks, the differently abled, and others fight to be recognized and valued for ours. This is what white supremacy is: systems of power that work to ensure white men are visible, represented, valued, deferred to, and rewarded over and above everyone else in order to keep the fruits of labour concentrated within that demographic. It is more than just Nazis in the streets, it is the fundamental way Canada has operated before, and since, Confederation and we are all actors within this socio-economic construct.

Canadian progressive politics, while allowing people from marginalized communities into the tent, create policies and engage in political strategies that continue to centre whiteness, and men in particular, as the default, with everyone else viewed as a function of that default. So, when your party consists of mostly white men in positions of power and prestige (also known as candidates), one can only assume that this approach will continue to be the default, even if the leader of the party is a white woman.

The Greens’ platform, which has all the bells and whistles of progressive policies—from climate change to implementing the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to proportional representation—nearly erases marginalized communities. Their policies attributed to the reduction of inequality only recognize gender as a basis upon which to oppose discrimination—not race, religion, sexual orientation, or ability. Creating policies for those traversing multiple identities of marginalization is what intersectionality is all about. Instead, for the Green Party, the approach to social justice is focused only on poverty and housing.

But that doesn’t matter, right? Well, a recent Ekos poll, which measured attitudes towards visible minority immigrants by party, asked: of all those who immigrate to Canada, are there too many, the right amount, or not enough visible minorities? While we rightly assume that the Conservative answer to this question is an enthusiastic “yes” (71 per cent think there are too many), the Greens had the next-highest proportion that think there are too many people entering the country who are darker than a No. 2 pencil, at 34 per cent (the national response in the affirmative is 42 per cent because… Conservatives). Guess who experiences poverty and housing issues at a disproportionate rate? People of colour.

So, while these figures may seem innocuous, especially to those who don’t think race is an issue, guess what? It’s an issue. This is a red flag, especially when half of the country will be an immigrant or children of immigrants by 2036, according to Statistics Canada. With tectonic demographic shifts already afoot, how can the Greens truly represent a changing Canada with personnel that mirrors the status quo?

A lesson for the boys in short pants: the war on data hurts us all in the end

In a few short months Canadians will head to the polls to elect our next government. But before they do, voters need to appreciate that their ballots will have lasting effects for years to come—well beyond a single government’s mandate, and in ways exceeding the imaginations of election platforms.

Following nearly 10 years of Conservative government, we are finally feeling the effects of the Harper government’s attack on evidence-based decision-making, which continues to notably hamstring our ability to combat the most dire policy issues of our time.

The most central of these issues is climate change: an increase in the frequency and severity of flooding, wildfires, and tornadoes are evidence of the volatile weather patterns as a consequence of our changing climate. The most important weapons we have in this battle are data and the scientific research it supports.

The collection and analysis of data is necessary for effective policy development and decision-making. Credible and reliable information in an increasingly anti-intellectual world not only serves up good policy, but access to complete data neutralizes the propensity to rely on ideology as the foundation of “research.” Currently, ideological bias against believing in the existence of climate change is preventing action to reverse its impending effects.

This anti-intellectual stance started with Budget 2011, where the Conservatives introduced what would come to be known as the Deficit Reduction Action Plan (with among the most awful sounding acronyms: DRAP). Among the casualties of these cost-cutting measures was the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy, whose mandate was to research how government policies and business would contribute to sustainable development. Environment Canada also fell victim to the Conservatives’ ruthless strategy to reduce government.

From there, the war on data moved to Statistics Canada, whose long-form census was on the chopping block, replacing it with a voluntary alternative, thereby opting not to collect demographic data that would inform major policy decisions, but also missing a crucial time period when Canada’s demographics were changing. If you can’t count the brown people, they don’t exist and you can further marginalize them in the absence of policy. These cuts were so Draconian that the then-chief statistician and head of Statistics Canada, Dr. Munir Sheikh, resigned in protest.

This decade-long assault on Canada’s ability to collect important data and research related to climate change is being felt now. In the Ottawa-Gatineau area, we are under states of emergency as our cities experience the worst flooding in a generation, only after suffering from these same generational floods two years ago. Hundreds of people have registered as flood victims in order to receive support from the Red Cross and provincial governments. Their homes are destroyed, their lives in tatters, and their prospects for financial stability dimmed while various levels of government bean count over liabilities.

While data wouldn’t have prevented the floods from happening (because nature), greater data stores would have allowed policy-makers to develop better policy options to mitigate the impacts of this event and others like it. In missing a decade’s worth of information, we are left vulnerable to the effects of climate change and our understanding of how it impacts a swath of other federal policy areas, including defence, immigration, fisheries, agriculture, and Indigenous peoples.

Without data, we might as well close our eyes, cross our fingers and throw darts at the wall, hoping we hit the bullseye. When we can’t create effective policies, use predictive analytics to track the next environmental crisis or inform those who may be affected, we can’t act or plan to act.

The irony of it all? While cutting programs and services may make sense in the short term, those costs will come back to bite governments in the ass because when push comes to shove, it’s always more cost-effective to invest the money up front in the planning phase than it is to react to a given situation. The boys in short pants should know that.