Thursday, November 29, 2012

Elections not measure of real change

In his recent column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Conrado de Quiros talked about the wisdom behind universal suffrage. According to de Quiros, had the right to vote been limited to those who have education, we would not have reforms or change, in government or in society at large. “Wealth and power would have remained with the landowners, the slave-owners, the gun-owners, the caciques, the compradors, the owners of fabricas and companias, with no end in sight,” de Quiros wrote.
Election festival in the Philippines. Click link to view "Politics as Entertainment:
Covering the 2010 Philippine elections," a project of the University of the Philippines
Open University, 
That’s putting too much unnecessary weight on elections being the most predominant feature of Western democracy. We have often heard American politicians pontificate that the United States should spread the concept of free elections in countries where democracy has not yet gained its foothold. As if elections were the only thing that matters in a democracy.
Before elections became fashionable, political reforms or social change, as history would tell us, was only achievable through the barrel of a gun, not by the ballot box. The revolutions in France and America and the U.S. civil war brought about radical changes that have become the bedrock of their democracies, and models for the rest of the world to adopt. New independent republics were born through people’s armed uprisings against their colonizers or despotic rulers. Wealth and power, in the political and economic sense turned to be more easily redistributable once revolutions changed societies and restructured the ordering of social relations.
But of course, as nations became more civilized, the rule of law has been established as the foundation of governance, for the majority of countries that have opted for the democratic system. So we have elections to select our leaders and representatives, and this process constitutes the hallmark of our democratic government.
Whether modern-day elections continue to serve the purpose of achieving great political and social reforms remain questionable, however, or at least dependent on how the process is put into practice. The gruesome Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009, that was perpetrated by the Ampatuan clan is a grim reminder of how political warlords could subvert the electoral process by means of their private armies, wealth and power. That this kind of aberration in a democracy had actually happened and its recurrence still threaten the so-called free electoral process in the Philippines only shows that elections are a double-edged knife, that it could be both a good or bad thing depending on how it is used.

The massacre of 34 journalists in Maguindanao in November 2009 shocked the
world. What really happened that day; why has so little light been shed on the
killings? Click link to view
"Turning a Blind Eye -- Philippines."

It was in this context that Senator Miriam Santiago made her sardonic commentary on Filipino voters in a talk before a Manila university which then became the subject of Mr. de Quiros’s column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Senator Santiago did not mince her words when she said that majority of Filipinos are “not educated for voting.” That majority of candidates are “not educated for serving” too, she added. The lady senator gave the example of movie stars getting elected in Congress because of the “ignorance of the Filipino electorate.”
Senator Santiago, however, was wrong to ridicule the Filipino masses for being not educated (or schooled, perhaps) for voting, which Mr. de Quiros rightfully debunked. But if Senator Santiago was referring to a level of education (completion of college education perhaps) which she thought every Filipino voter must have achieved before being allowed to exercise the right to vote, then, she could probably be right. With the pervasive level of poverty in the Philippines, way more than a majority of the population have not reached tertiary education or have completed at least a secondary education. But criticizing them for not knowing how to vote only reveals how ignorant even a highly-educated senator like Miriam Santiago could be in appreciating the limits of the electoral process.
The right to choose leaders or representatives in government is not predicated on one’s possession of higher education. If the right to vote is inherent in a democracy, it should be given to all those who have earned that right, regardless of whether a voter is a moron or an intellectual. Every citizen of voting age is a member of a democratic society and should be given the right to exercise the right to choose his or her leaders or representatives in Congress. Attainment of legal age and residence should be enough to qualify a citizen to the right to a democratic vote, all other factors are irrelevant.
This talk about Filipinos not being educated enough to vote is akin to the concept of voter suppression, or disenfranchisement. It has happened during the recent U.S. presidential elections. In Florida, the Republican-dominated state legislature tried to reduce the number of days for early voting, prohibit Sunday voting, and impose a 48-hour time limit on third-party voter groups to register new voters. It was criticized as making voting more difficult, a decision meant to disenfranchise African-Americans and Latinos who were leaning to vote for the Democratic Party. The decision backfired against the GOPs on Election Day as thousands and thousands of voters lined up to vote and had to be accommodated until the following day while the rest of the votes from the other states had already been counted. When the final vote was counted, Florida ended up voting for Obama instead of Romney, but the Florida vote didn’t matter anymore because the election had already been decided by the other states.
In Pennsylvania, the state legislature passed a law requiring voter-identification, which was criticized by some civil rights groups as having the effect of suppressing mostly poor or minority voters—a demographic more inclined to vote Democrat. Photo ID requirements have been opposed by minority, handicapped and elderly voters who don’t normally maintain driver’s licenses.
Senator Santiago is barking at the wrong tree. Instead of putting down the electorate with her condescending remarks, she should sponsor a law in Congress that would tighten the qualifications of candidates for public office, prohibit political dynasty as envisioned in the Constitution, impose stricter and effective term limits, and limit campaign financing to level the playing field. Every candidate for public office must not only be beyond reproach, but must be able to represent or mirror the needs and issues of his or her constituency. If we must have a functioning representative democracy, the leaders and representatives we elect must stand and speak for the interests of their constituencies, not for their own selfish reasons or for the wishes of the special interests that help them get elected.
We have a dysfunctional electoral system that could easily be manipulated by special interests and professional politicians or “trapos.” The level of apathy or a disengaged electorate is a result of the ability of the elite and special interests to control the elections; it’s never the by-product of an uninformed or uninvolved electorate because it is not well-educated enough to vote.
In The Idea of Justice, the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen wrote: “… in understanding the roots of democracy in the world, we have to take interest in the history of people’s participation and public reasoning in different parts of the world. We have to look beyond thinking of democracy only in terms of European and American evolution. We would fail to understand the pervasive demands for participatory living, on which Aristotle spoke with far-reaching insight, if we take democracy to be a kind of a specialized product of the West.”
The old Athenian democracy, where balloting emerged in a particular form, used a process called sortition where nearly all government offices are filled by lottery of full citizens rather than by election. Women, slaves and aliens had no say. Candidates were almost always male, Greek, educated citizens holding a minimum of wealth and status. Yet, even Plato attacked this system which he criticized as putting the state into the hands of ignoramuses unable to distinguish between right from wrong.
How is this different from the system we have now?
We have a senator who plagiarizes and unabashedly maintains his innocence, senators who are children elected on account of their father’s “splendid” legislative record, a congresswoman who was wife to a former dictator and mother to a sitting senator, or movie stars who continue to “act” in their roles as representatives of the people, or a “know-nothing” or “can-do-all” president (depending on which side of the aisle you stand on) elevated to the highest office in the land on the political legacy of his parents. Is this circus the desire and hope of the people who elected them?
“Democracy’s capacity to shock has been its own demise,” wrote A. C. Grayling. We could only wish, for heaven’s sake, the kind of revenge our democracy will bring upon us next time. Perhaps not through the electoral process, and we could just imagine how those who abuse or shamelessly make a mockery of their democratic responsibilities will enjoy being out of power or less in control than they used to be.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Privatizing immigration

It all began with the rapid rise in the number of temporary foreign workers who have been coming to Canada to fill in labour shortages that cannot be addressed by Canadian workers. There is no quota for this type of workers, no upper limits.
There are more temporary foreign workers in Canada over the past decade, more so and rapidly since 2006. Today their ranks outnumber those of economic immigrants.
In 2010 alone, there were 283,096 temporary foreign workers in Canada, doing work that employers claimed there was no Canadian available to do. This is the highest on record, but only slightly higher than the number recorded during the worst of the recession in 2009.
The highest demand for temporary foreign workers comes from Alberta and Saskatchewan, the fastest-growing economies in Canada. But every Canadian province except Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut has at least doubled its number of “guest workers” over the years.
In an effort to modernize Canada's immigration process, the Harper government has
introduced several key proposals. The Agenda looks at what the proposals mean for
those coming to Canada. Click link to view "Realigning Canadian Immigration,"
Armine Yalnizyan, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has observed that this shift to temporary foreign workers or “guest workers” as others call them, is an indication of government’s off-loading of public policy to private sector interests. The public interest which is much broader than employers’ needs is increasingly being taken over by the private sector such as Canada Immigration’s plan to allow employers to define Canadian immigration policy.
While the involvement of employers can help reduce skill mismatches between local economic needs and immigration quotas set by Canada Immigration, there is a clear and present danger in allowing employers alone to determine the workers they are willing to admit because they are intuitively looking for average workers, not skilled labour. Employers are now taking advantage of the temporary work permit program to bring workers for hotels, fast food outlets, janitorial services and factories – typical Canadian jobs, albeit low-paying.
According to Naomi Alboim, Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University, “while the use of temporary foreign workers to address acute skill or labour shortages is justifiable, some employers are using them to fill ongoing vacancies without exploring more durable long-term solutions. This is an illustration of how federal policies which facilitate temporary entry to Canada sometimes have long-lasting detrimental effects.”
Temporary workers come to Canada practically as guests of the employer. Oftentimes, they have very few rights or which they are usually unaware. They have no access to services available to other immigrants, and rarely is there a path for them to permanent residency.
Yessy Byl, a lawyer who volunteers with the Edmonton Community Legal Centre describes the temporary foreign worker program as really about contracting out immigration. “In fact the government is setting the stage for a bizarre non-immigration program because those workers can’t immigrate,” Byl adds.
Now comes the Expression of Interest (EOI) program that Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenny proposes to install beginning January 2013. It’s a program borrowed from New Zealand and also adopted by Australia last July 2012, which builds a pool of skilled worker applicants that will allow employers to cherry-pick potential immigrants to fill regional labour shortages. By the end of 2014, Canada Immigration expects this pool of candidates to be made available to employers who can screen and choose the workers they would allow to immigrate.
Essentially, this amounts to privatizing immigration. Whether unintentional or not, the present Conservative government seems bent on passing to employers the responsibility for focusing the country’s immigration program towards meeting their labour market needs. To Minister Kenney, allowing employers to determine who they are willing to accept is needed to generate growth for the Canadian economy. In a statement issued last year, Mr. Kenney said “Employers are best positioned to decide who can best fill the open jobs rather than a passive and bureaucratic system.”
Based on the New Zealand experience, the Expression of Interest program is nothing but a paper review of an immigrant’s application, minus the required proof or documents needed to assess the application. An applicant can submit electronically or on paper an expression of interest to apply under the skilled migrant category. The questionnaire that accompanies the application is no different from the same standard questions an applicant needs to answer when applying for immigration. It’s still in a long format that asks for personal information, work experience, job qualifications and educational background. But the application appears to be biased in favour of those who have undergone post-secondary schooling or post-graduate studies in New Zealand, and those who have had work experience in New Zealand. If after a review the expression of interest is accepted, one must score at least 100 points to be included in the pool, then the applicant is required to submit all documentary proof of his or her answers to the questionnaire.
The pace and scope of change in Canada's immigration system in recent years leaves
one breathless. Click link to view
Prof. Naomi Alboim's "Shaping the Future: Canada's Rapidly Changing Immigration
How different is the Expression of Interest system from the current assessment of an application for any of the categories under Canada’s Immigration system? If New Zealand or Australia can accomplish its EOI assessment in 6 months or less, there is no excuse for Canada not to do the same. Except for one thing, there could be more Canadian applications than those submitted for New Zealand and Australia. But it’s not a good excuse if Canada Immigration is really sincere in its objective of reducing or eliminating the backlog of applications, which appears to be addressed by more efficient processing rather than by legislation or by a single ministerial decision.
Remember that all applications for immigration to Canada that were received prior to 2008 have all been wiped out from the backlog. More than 280,000 applications were affected, simply by a sweeping decision of an Immigration Minister, without comprehensive consultation, discussion and parliamentary debate. This also shows unpredictability in Canada’s immigration policy. The fact that changes in criteria can now be made unilaterally by a single minister and imposed retroactively indicates that the rules of the game are constantly changing.
Since the affected applicants had been waiting for seven years for their applications to be considered, they have refused to accept Minister Kenney’s decision to annul their applications. Lawyers for the applicants have asked the court for permission to bring a class action against the government. Lorne Waldman, a lawyer representing the applicants, has said that Mr Kenney's decision is unconstitutional and inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s Bill of Rights.
The Expression of Interest system that is being proposed by Canada Immigration will not fully solve the issue of qualification and employment, especially if the determination is going to be left primarily to employers. While it is the federal government that regulates immigration, provincial and professional bodies play key roles in facilitating the employment of immigrants once they have settled in the country. Today, there is less coordination between professional bodies and industry and the government. Attracting qualified new immigrants with promises of good jobs would be misleading them, more so if they find out that it’s the provincial and professional bodies that really control access to jobs. The sad consequence is that these immigrants become deprofessionalized and are forced to accept jobs in the labour market that either underemploy or deskill them.
More to the point, Canada Immigration is increasingly becoming a slave to the labour market. The reliance on temporary foreign workers who are selected by employers based on their own short-term interests is headed towards a very troubling path. It is a policy that augurs well for the normalization of migrant labour in Canada, but doesn’t bode well for diversity, appalling for the workplace, and could potentially turn immigration into a source of social tension.
Privatizing immigration adds to the growing list of public services that the present Conservative government insists are better delivered and more cost-effective if transferred to the hands of the private sector. Health care, education, social services, utilities, even the prison system, are just a few of those targeted for privatization. The overhaul of Canada’s Immigration system is a clear sign that employers and the labour market are being given the primary responsibility to determine public policy to the detriment of national interest.
Throughout its history, Canada has been a welcoming nation to immigrants, unifying their families and providing citizenship and accepting their full participation in Canadian society. Canada’s radical shift in immigration policy from one that is based on the huge potential of human capital is reversing this trend and pushing Canada downwards to a troubling new direction.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Canada’s dream daycare program

One of the recurring program changes that Canada Immigration considered between 2008 and July 1, 2012 was the proposal to impose a four-year limit on temporary foreign work in Canada and a four-year waiting period to return to Canada. This was supposed to include all temporary foreign workers, without exception.
On April 1, 2011, Canada Immigration implemented this program but Canada’s Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had a change of heart and exempted the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) from the four-year limit on temporary work visas, thus continuing the right of foreign domestic workers to apply for permanent residence after completing two-years of live-in service. Maybe the thousands of Filipino caregivers under the LCP have worked their magic charm on Mr. Kenney after they have hailed him as their hero and the “king of Canada’s multiculturalism.”
Filipino nanny takes care of employer's child. Photo courtesy of Kia, Marin & Liam.
Click to view  "Nanny Documentary 1."
But the exemption covers only those caregivers who have already completed their work contracts and have submitted their applications for permanent residence when the new rules took effect in 2011. We just have to wait and see if the final Rules and Regulations in January 2013 will still contain this important exemption for workers under the LCP.
There is reason to worry because this has been done before by the Canadian government. Before the Foreign Domestic Movement in 1981 and the LCP in 1992 were adopted, foreign domestic workers, particularly those from Europe and those of English ancestry, were given the right to enter and stay. Prior to the 1970s, domestics from Britain were granted permanent residence after providing live-in services for six months. These domestics were given this right with the eye toward their future roles as wives and mothers. But this right was not given to Caribbean women who were allowed to enter Canada under short-term work permits. 

The LCP and the previous Foreign Domestic Movement program were seen by Third World domestic workers as the necessary purgatory to obtain permanent residence. But this may change if the path to permanent residence will be removed from the program by Canada Immigration in 2013.
Right now, nanny placement agencies in Canada are looking for various alternatives in case the LCP becomes a four-year temporary contract without giving workers hired under the LCP to apply for permanent residence after two years. The only reason why the LCP has become so popular, especially among Filipino women, is because these workers look at their mandatory two-year live-in requirement as a transition to a better future. These workers are unlikely to complain no matter how exploitative their work and living situations are. Even if their work amounts to being underemployed and de-skilled, it is still better than remaining in the Philippines with no prospect of a better future. Judging from the success of their predecessors, they all know they can also do well in the open job market after becoming permanent residents.
An alternative being considered by nanny placement agencies is the hiring of au pairs from Europe for 12 months under the existing working holiday visas. These visas are faster to process and since holiday visa workers do not stay permanently after one year, this option for Canadian families is of low cost to the government.
Daycare has always been a critical problem for Canada’s young families, where many Canadian women are torn between the choice of keeping their professional careers and putting them on hold to look after their young children. The cost of daycare has also increased sharply in the last 20 years, driving spouses to consider alternative working hours so that one parent is left to provide care to the children while the other works. This is especially true for parents who prefer home-based child care rather than the child care centre. It is estimated that the national average for child care in Canada is more than $4,500 a year, and 7.8 percent of a family’s budget is directed to child care.
Click link to view "The
Canadian National Child Care Policy."
There has been a move toward regulated child care in all provinces, away from informal family arrangements. In Quebec, which subsidizes daycare heavily, 72 percent of children attend regulated centres. In the rest of Canada, the rate is 40 percent. It is also estimated that more than 165,000 regulated spots are needed to meet the demand for space.
In Quebec, its newly-elected premier Pauline Marois has promised low-cost day care for all families, a project which she launched 15 years ago when she was education minister in 1997. The heavily government subsidized $7-a-day daycare system has been plagued by a shortage of available spaces and many families have been on the waiting list for so long. Marois promises to create 28,000 new spaces, a project which will take four years and cost the province $261 million more per year. But this project, according to Marois, will eventually leave the province with a spot for every child.
A recent study showed that the Quebec daycare system works and it provides economic benefits to families and has helped single parents to enter the workforce. The study also concluded that the province’s daycare program added 1.7 per cent to Quebec’s GDP in 2008 and brought back $1.50 in tax revenue for the federal and provincial governments, combined, for every $1 spent by Quebec. In Ottawa, the last time the federal government toyed with the idea of creating a national daycare system based on the Quebec plan was during the Liberal government under Paul Martin.
At present, Canada provides cash transfers and tax exemptions for child care services that benefit disproportionately the wealthiest Canadians, but offer very little support to middle-class families. Outside Quebec, parents are paying between $1,000 to $2,000 a month for each child care space, an enormous fraction of a middle class family’s income.
The concept of a national childcare program has been proposed by the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in 1970. Finding that reliable child care is fundamental to women’s equality in employment, the Commission recommended that “the federal government immediately take steps to enter into agreements with provinces leading to adoption of a national Daycare Act.” The Vanier Institute of the Family also noted that “most women and men expect to have jobs and careers. With the high cost of living, most families require two earners to achieve an average standard of living.”
Nothing has been accomplished at the federal level and the provinces—with the exception of Quebec—in successfully implementing an effective and low-cost daycare program.

By virtue of default by the federal and provincial levels of government, the Live-in Caregiver Program has become Canada’s substitute daycare program: home-based daycare plus the added benefit of a caregiver who looks after housekeeping, cooking and other menial chores that Canadian mothers would prefer not to do by themselves. It’s a dream daycare program: low-cost to the government, and an affordable and comfortable luxury to families who can afford to hire a live-in caregiver.
However, the mandatory live-in residence requirement for LCP workers undermines the LCP workers’ personal freedoms and increases their vulnerability to every form of abuse and exploitation. Domestic workers have to endure two years of indentured service just to have a shot at the prize of landed or permanent resident status.
Whether live-in caregivers keep their chances of gaining permanent residence after two years of work, the obvious winner in this type of arrangement is the Canadian government. Foreign domestic workers bear the heaviest of burden among all new immigrants—that of modern-day slavery only to get a crack at that much-vaunted Canadian life in the future, while others get instant landed status and the opportunity to pursue the careers they’ve prepared for.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The end of Canada’s multiculturalism

Very recently, Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism announced that Canada will soon have an immigration system that works for Canada’s economy. Instead of a system plagued with backlogs, by the end of 2013, Canada’s new immigration system will become more flexible and responsive to the labour market, Mr. Kenney said.
The overriding objective of Mr. Kenney’s initiative in overhauling Canada’s immigration system is to install a fast, flexible just-in-time immigration system. To Mr. Kenney, the bottom line is to make the system work for Canada’s economy, anything short is unacceptable.
Mr. Kenney’s package of initiatives will be implemented on January 2013, a totally revamped immigration program that features a new point-grid which harkens back the old era when Canada’s immigrants and settlers were primarily people of European Christian heritage. This was prior to 1967 when Canada’s immigration policy, just like most other countries at that time, used race, ethnicity, religion and language in selecting new immigrants.
Canada Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Photo courtesy of Andrew Forget,
QMI Agency. Click link to
view "Minister Jason Kenney on the Irish Late Late Show."
Of course, the new immigration policy will not directly identify race, ethnicity or religion as criteria in choosing newcomers in this country, obviously an indication that Canada is also sensitive to issues of racism and discrimination. However, the emphasis placed on proficiency in either of the official Canadian languages of English or French as the most important decisive factor in the selection process unmistakably tilts it in favour of certain source countries. Already, critics of this potential shift from non-English speaking countries have pointed out the return to Canada's ethnocentric roots, which was the main reason for adopting the points system in the first place.
When Canada adopted the points system for selecting new immigrants, it was hailed as a Canadian innovation. The system removed any type of formal discrimination from immigration policy. Individuals would no longer be denied immigration to Canada, as it was in the past, based on their ethnicity, nationality or religion.
Mr. Kenney has emphasized many times that proficiency in English or French accelerates the integration of newcomers in the workforce and in the larger Canadian society. “Extensive research has consistently shown that the ability to communicate effectively in either French or English is a key factor in the success of new immigrants,” said Minister Kenney.
Language proficiency will not only be imposed as the most requirement for new immigrants but also to applicants for Canadian citizenship as well. With this stringent language requirement for citizenship, immigrants who have been successful as permanent residents and have lived, worked and contributed to Canada for years will find it more difficult to become citizens.
Effective November 1, 2012, applicants for citizenship will be required to submit acceptable evidence of their language proficiency, such as the results of a CIC-approved third-party test, or evidence of completion of secondary or post-secondary education in English or French, or evidence of achieving the appropriate language level in certain government-funded language training programs. This requirement will be in addition to passing a harder citizenship exam and a 75 percent minimum passing grade. There will also be no automatic citizenship for foreign-born children and for everyone born in Canada of immigrant parents.
Making proficiency in English or French as the most important requirement for social integration and job placement strikes at the heart of Canada’s policy of multiculturalism. In 1971, the federal government has recognized the cultural and racial diversity of Canadian society, and acknowledges the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage. That Canada is not mainly English or French, but a composite of many and diverse ethno-cultural communities.
In 1988, Parliament passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, and enshrined this policy of multiculturalism in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guaranteeing among others, equal protection and benefit of the law, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of gender, religion and racial or ethnic origin. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also upholds Canada’s multicultural policies in its objectives by respecting the federal, bilingual, and multicultural character of the country.
Vancouver Multicultural Day Committee’s National Multicultural Day event.
Courtesy of BC Gov Photos. Click link to view "The State of Multiculturalism
in Canada,"
As immigration continues to change the country’s demographics, Canada’s multiculturalism program has focused on making its institutions more responsive to the needs of Canada’s diverse population. Therefore, this new language proficiency requirement for new immigrants and citizens is unquestionably a step backward, a decision that ignores the ethnic and cultural make-up of Canada’s present-day immigrants.
Since 1991, China, India and the Philippines have been the top source of immigrants to Canada – countries where neither English nor French is the first language. Other immigrants and refugees come from countries in the Third World where they don’t speak English or French as their mother tongue. In due time, these immigrants have mastered their ability to speak English or French. Although not without the hardship that usually comes with every immigrant’s struggle to survive, they have contributed to the country’s economy and have become established and law-abiding citizens.
While mastery of the language might produce better economic outcomes for immigrants in the short term, it could also make it more difficult to find enough people with sufficient levels of fluency to maintain Canada’s immigration levels. And language is not the only focus of the present overhaul of Canada’s immigration system.
A study conducted by Prof. Naomi Albiom of Queen’s University has found that the present government’s immigration policies are making Canada less welcoming as it was. The new emphasis on reducing backlogs and short-term labour market needs is reshaping Canada’s future as a country for immigrants. Prof. Albiom has also criticized the pace these changes are being made through undemocratic methods like embedding them in omnibus and budget bills, and giving the immigration minister with almost unlimited authority to set policies with little public or parliamentary oversight.
All this makes us wonder if Immigration Minister Kenney’s reform initiatives are simply a reaction to the failure of multiculturalism in Europe where the leaders of Germany, France and Britain, have each declared that multiculturalism has been a failure in their countries, serving to separate and segregate, rather than integrate. Is Mr. Kenney trying to avoid a similar backlash against multiculturalism in Canada by revamping the immigration system now, rather than wait for the kind of European upheaval against accommodation of diversity issues?
The 2004 United Nations Mission on contemporary racism, for instance, concluded “that racial discrimination in Canada was tangible as reflected in the high incidence of poverty, overrepresentation in the prison population, racial profiling and under representation of ethnic and racial minorities in the upper and middle layers of political, administrative, economic, cultural and media institutions and mechanisms.” An effective way, it seems for the present government to prevent this situation from blowing up is to control the influx of new immigrants, and to ensure that these immigrants will conform to Canada’s original ethnocentric values and culture.
So, the Conservative government’s immigration momentum appears to run counter to the basic idea of multiculturalism that successful integration occurs when newcomers retain a sense of their heritage and culture while also becoming engaged in the larger society. While Europe has struggled with this concept, the defining feature of Canadian culture seems to be under siege not much from the immigrants this country fears may strike like their counterparts in Europe, but more from a government that seems tied to old-fashioned assimilation.
Like Europe where mandatory civic integration policies are now being implemented, Canada is similarly paving the way to a more comfortable road to assimilation of its new immigrants by ensuring that they conform to its ethnocentric culture right at the gates. Against a backdrop of increasing social isolation of immigrants and their rising political radicalization, it is only a matter of time when Canada eventually sheds off the reputation of being the first country in the world to adopt a policy of multiculturalism.
When Mr. Kenney insists on language proficiency and emphasis on hiring of temporary foreign workers without a path to permanent residence and citizenship, the undercurrent in this policy is clear: Canada can no longer tolerate a live-and-let-live attitude towards immigrants. New immigrants to Canada, to the Conservative government’s approval, must be “Canadian first,” at least in relation to public life. If their ethnic identities are to be preserved, these must be expressed only in private and not be the basis for political claims to multiculturalism.
The death knell to multiculturalism has already been sounded. Allan Gregg wrote in The Walrus that the elite consensus on a feel-good multiculturalism is blinding us to the reality of growing ethnic divides and animosities. Canada is not immune to the European conundrum and failure to contain multiculturalism.

To avoid the ethnic and religious divisions that are so visible in Europe, Jason Kenney is learning his lessons fast. He may not admit that he intends to abolish multiculturalism as an objective of immigration reform, but his immigration policies appear to be directed towards post-multiculturalism, a new order that avoids the excesses of multiculturalism without imposing the harsh policies of assimilation that are happening in Europe where he has been borrowing most of his ideas of reform.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bring back power to the people

The Filipino family is the most enduring political unit in Philippine society, according to American anthropologist Brian Fegan in his book, An Anarchy of Families. It is considered almost customary in preserving political continuity to allow the transfer of political power among family members. Rivalry between families is very common during election time and as soon as they get elected, these families tend to entrench upon themselves a permanent right to political office.
Any talk about political theory is one thing, and political reality, another. The 1987 Philippine Constitution prohibits political dynasties to guarantee equal access to opportunities in public service. Obviously, the intent of the framers of the Constitution was to level the playing field. But the Philippine Congress has not enacted the enabling legislation that will define and restrict wealthy politicians and their families in establishing their monopoly of political offices.
We have to look back at our history to fully understand why the wealthy have entrenched a dynasty over political offices. When the Philippine Commission established the national assembly in 1902, William Howard Taft, then Governor-General of the islands who also became U.S. President and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, identified affluent Filipino politicians to become members of this assembly. Taft also wrote a book, Political Parties in the Philippines wherein he concluded that Filipino politicians had yet to learn the idea of individual liberty and the practical elements of a popular government. He wanted the Philippine Assembly as a training ground for self-government. Eventually, this assembly became the Congress of the Philippines and the Jones Act of 1916 created the Senate replacing the Philippine Commission.
The American colonial government planted the roots of oligarchy in the membership of the Philippine Congress. While the Americans trained the Filipinos for self-government, they did not change the Filipino social structure. They merely imposed a political system that allowed the existing social structure to gain political power. Taft’s idea of letting society’s affluent members constitute Congress resulted in the formation and circulation of elites that perpetuate their hold on political offices. Since the oligarchic elite also controls the economic levers of the country, passing political power to and between members of their families became almost as natural as bequeathing their fortune to their heirs.
2013 Senatorial candidates. Guess who's related to who? Click link to view "Political Dynasties in PH."
In the beginning, political dynasties were mostly limited to scions of the wealthy oligarchy. But with the enactment of term-limits, political dynasties have become a family affair. Thus, when a member of Congress is forced to step down after three terms, the wife, husband or child or cousin can run for office as successor while he or she runs for the governor of the province or the city or town mayor. After the end of the three-term limit, the vicious cycle of political succession among family members resumes again and there has been no end to it. The Filipino family, as Fegan has said, is thus the most enduring political unit.
Just look at the composition of today’s Philippine Congress. You see father and son, or mother and daughter, one a senator and the other a member of the lower house. Or siblings sitting together as senators. Or children of their once-famous or infamous father or mother who also sat in Congress before them. Point a finger to an individual member of Congress and you can trace his or her family connections: the Aquino-Cojuangco family, the Macapagal-Arroyos, the Ponce Enriles, the Estradas, the Rectos, the Osmenas, the Marcoses, the Cayetanos, and the Angaras— almost everyone is related to each other, whether as a sibling, a parent or a distant relative. Go down further the government pyramid and you see governors, mayors, and barangay chairmen and their councils who are related to each other, either by blood or affinity.
Even the party-list system, which is supposed to promote proportional representation in the House of Representatives, has been held captive by wealthy and influential families. In fact, party lists are being financed by the already-entrenched political elite to ensure access to Congress by their relatives.
To level the playing field of the political arena and to prevent public office from becoming the monopoly of influential families and clans, there is now in Congress a bill that will give force and effect to the Constitutional prohibition against political dynasties. The proponents of the bill believe that it will remove the damaging effects of the extended Filipino family system on the Philippine political structure or on how the government is run.
But the proposed law will not alter the political landscape. Monopoly of political power and public resources by entrenched political dynasties will continue for as long as they can hold on to their economic power. With their unlimited economic means, they can continue to bankroll their elections or those of their relatives.
The Marcos family - political life after Ferdinand. Click link to view "Dynasties in Democracies:
The Political Side of Inequality."
If serious reform of the political structure is being envisaged to cause dramatic changes that would equalize access to political office by all, then what seems logical to do is to overhaul the entire government. Not by an armed revolution or another EDSA People Power, but through a revision of the Constitution by the initiative of the people. It is unlikely that the present members of Congress would pass any legislation that would curtail their influence and their families’ political succession. That would be like asking them to bang their heads on a stone.
The current Constitution allows amendments through a people’s initiative. A petition must be initiated by at least twelve percent of the total number of registered voters, of which every legislative district must be represented by at least three percent of the registered voters. How this works will depend on Congress which shall enact the enabling legislation for the implementation of the right of the people to amend their Constitution through initiative.
Forget Cha-Cha through a constitutional convention or a constituent assembly. The Filipino people cannot rely on their elected representatives, so they must exercise their initiative to bring out the necessary reforms. So, let’s begin this process by petitioning our representatives and senators in Congress to pass a law that will implement this people’s initiative.
A people’s initiative to amend the Constitution may also be a big blessing in disguise for President Noynoy Aquino if he needs to ensure that the Bangsamoro Agreement he signed with the MILF is constitutionally valid.
What could a people’s initiative to amend the Constitution likely entail? Let’s look at one possible scenario.
First, abolish Congress. Replace it with a unicameral legislative assembly that will be composed of representatives elected directly by their constituents by electoral districts or wards, which shall not be more than 100,000 registered voters. Assuming the total registered voting population is 5o million, the assembly will consist of 500 elected members.
Second, abolish the Senate. The present crop of senators, although directly elected nationally, does not actually represent a natural constituency. Besides, there is no need for an upper house which could be the cause of legislative gridlock. Electing senators nationally gives the advantage to those who have the money and popularity.
Third, limit campaign financing to one peso per registered voter, which by our example would cost 100 thousand pesos. This would make the election more accessible to all. Personal or private donations to campaigns will be strictly required to be disclosed. All donations over and above the limit of 100 thousand pesos per candidate will escheat to the Commission on Elections, which in turn shall equally apportion the total collections to each candidate for additional campaign expenses such as television, radio or print advertising.
Fourth, continue the election of the President and Vice President at large, but no President shall be declared elected without getting the majority of the votes (50 percent plus 1). This may require a second or third run-off election if there are more than two candidates running for office.
And fifth, provide for implementing law for the recall of representatives who fail to meet the expectations of their constituents.
A people’s initiative may sound wistful to many, but why the heck do we have this provision in our Constitution if we cannot avail of it? There is no better time than now to make use of this initiative. Besides, this mode of amending the Constitution seems far more democratic than anything else inasmuch as the people will be directly making the proposed changes. Not our Congress or our elected representatives when the people have obviously lost their trust in them.