Arrogance or Bias?
A conversation with Andrew Griffith, Canada’s former Director General of Multiculturalism and author of the recently published Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias.
December 1st, 2013
The idea of multiculturalism, as a result of 19th- and 20th-century immigration, gained a new impetus."
From Discover Canada – The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship, Canada’s official citizenship study guide.
In 2007, Andrew Griffith was named Director General of Multiculturalism and began working with Minister Jason Kenney, a position he held for four years. Griffith looks back on that experience in his book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, his analytical case study of the complex working dynamic between public servants and politicians. He experienced the tumultuous transition during the shift from a Liberal to a Conservative federal government and shows how existing programs and new policies challenge the way public servants and politicians go about doing their work.
In an interview for this website about his book, Griffith described the 2006 change in government as “a transition unlike any other. In addition to the normal suspicion or the distrust of the public service because they’re Ottawa based, they’ve been working for the Liberals for too long, in addition to that, you have a very different ideological origin because the origins of the Conservative Party is the Reform Party, which was much more critical of government intervention, much more critical of government programs, and much more suspicious of the political consensus on Canadian history. And so the ideological gap between the government and the public service was much wider than in previous transitions.”
Runs: 0:52 seconds
What happened inside Griffith’s department does, in its own way, reflect some of the experiences faced by new immigrants when they arrive in a new setting. In this case, public officials, like people newly arrived in Canada, had to adapt to unfamiliar ways of thinking about issues and different ways of doing things. In one chapter, Would that be Evidence or Anecdote?, Griffith writes: “In general, ministers and their staff draw heavily on anecdotes, stories and what ‘people on the ground’ are saying.” By contrast, “A professional bureaucracy draws on more impersonal, large-scale studies and research, or evidence-based policy, to have a wider base of information.” The result? A tension-creating level of distrust between both parties.
Griffith acknowledges that different governments have “different flavours” and that within a short time Canada’s new federal government declared its particular taste preferences. It “tightened up the citizenship process” and introduced a new guidebook for citizenship candidates, Discover Canada. This new guide presented “a different national narrative, a more Conservative focus on military and the crown, on responsibilities versus rights, and a selective use of the charter provisions, which is a valid alternative narrative.” Griffith continues, “But if most Canadians read it they would probably find that it does not quite resonate with what they have been used to hearing.”
The language level used in this new guide is more advanced and is “causing an increase in the failure rate for the test.” Between 2011 and 2012, the failure level rose from 17% to 27%, explains Griffith in his book. A more rigorous test, though, is not necessarily a bad thing. “I’m a great fan of program integrity. If people perceive it’s too easy, that it’s not serious enough, or that people can bend the rules to get around it, then it undermines the support for the program.”
- Name four (4) fundamental freedoms that Canadians enjoy.
- Who was Sir Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine?
- What are the three levels of government?
Sample study questions from Discover Canada
What then, I ask him, is the implication of these changes in policy for newcomers for members of long-established groups such as Canadians of Hungarian origin? He answers with reference to Hungary’s Roma community and their recent difficulties in getting to Canada and the role that Canadians might play in response to such a difficult issue. “What is very clear in today’s word is that there is no issue which is isolated. All the communities, from whatever region, if there is an issue happening in the country of origin, there is a ripple effect here. It does get translated here: the tension, suspicion, mistrust of the Roma that happens in Central Europe, it comes over here. It’s just natural the way it happens. But I’m not sure how much of the message here goes the other way.” This uncertainty is based on his observation that such reporting tends to move in only one direction. It’s important to him that people “here” who have benefitted from multiculturalism have an opportunity to respond to governments “there” when they learn of measures they can’t support in their country of origin. How to respond to the Roma situation is “one thing I’m not so sure about,” he says. “I’m not sure how that gets played out in the local community [here].” He is confident, though, that action in Canada can be effective. “Ultimately, it will be the local community that makes a difference.”
In a recent government reorganization, Jason Kenney is now Minister of Employment and Social Development, as well as Minister for Multiculturalism and Chris Alexander is the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Griffith is concerned about the impact of this decision. “[T]o split the Ministerial political function (Minister Kenney) from the departmental function (Minister Alexander), has likely fatally weakened the multiculturalism program,” he writes in his book.
#3: “Three Steps Plus One”
There is one issue, however, about which Griffith remains determinedly optimistic. “When I look at indicators at how Canada is doing in general, the one indicator that I always come back to is that we have no political party against immigration. We have no political party which is against making immigrants citizens. We have no political party against multiculturalism. It’s very different from Europe. It’s very different from the United States, and it’s very different from Australia. All political parties in Canada know that that’s where their votes are and that they have to address these issues. For the Reform Party’s successor to go from criticizing multiculturalism, wanting to abolish it, to putting in a Historical Recognition program that basically addressed long-standing concerns of the Canadian Ukrainian community, the Chinese Canadian community, the Indo-Canadian community etc., etc., tells me that that’s all part of the Canadian mosaic, Canadian culture.”
#4: “Whose Narrative?”
When journalism doesn’t “cover” the story the government’s narrative fills the gap.
Runs: 0:59 seconds
Andrew Griffith’s website and book.