Monday, September 28, 2015

Two links on the census in Canada and on public institutional memory

As Canada prepares next month's federal election, the governing Conservatives being opposed by a variety of other political parties, the census that the Conservative government undermined is a simmering issue for reasons described in Donovan Vincent's Toronto Star article "Reviving the census debate".

Researchers, public policy advocates, statisticians, business groups, economists — and the Liberal and NDP parties — continue to call for the mandatory long-form questionnaire to be brought back, arguing that important statistical data is getting lost.

In a package of recently proposed reforms on transparency, the Liberals are promising to immediately restore the mandatory long form if they form government in the Oct. 19 federal election.

And Jean Ong, a spokesperson for the NDP, said in a statement that the party has long advocated for the restoration of the long-form census and continues to do so.

The lost data has massive implications for public policy decisions, business planning and a host of other areas, proponents of the mandatory long survey say.

Yet so far, the census hasn’t been in the spotlight on the campaign trail. But could it become an election issue?

Paul Jacobson, a Toronto economics consultant who relies heavily on census data for his work, believes it should. He says business planning is being seriously harmed by the new census data collection system.

“All the money in the world given to business surveyors could not replace the (mandatory) long form, period. You need a mandatory survey to get the quality of data you need to make good comparisons in small areas. That’s how you do business planning,” Jacobson says.

Stephen Toope, president of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, a national public policy advocate for Canada’s scholars, students and practitioners in the humanities and social sciences, says the “essence of the concern” about not having the mandatory long-form census is the impact on public policy.

“Thinking about questions around immigration, social service, children’s health and what kind of investments need to be made and where they need to be made — if we don’t know who is where, it’s very difficult to make informed policy decisions,” Toope says.

This is part of a broader disturbing trend in Canadian governance, away from the collection of vital data and towards increasing inaccessibility. The implications of this was described ably in Anne Kingston's front-cover article in MacLean's, "Vanishing Canada: Why we’re all losers in Ottawa’s war on data". The census is not alone in being gutted.

Stories about government data and historical records being deleted, burned—even tossed into Dumpsters—have become so common in recent years that many Canadians may feel inured to them. But such accounts are only the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. A months-long Maclean’s investigation, which includes interviews with dozens of academics, scientists, statisticians, economists and librarians, has found that the federal government’s “austerity” program, which resulted in staff cuts and library closures (16 libraries since 2012)—as well as arbitrary changes to policy, when it comes to data—has led to a systematic erosion of government records far deeper than most realize, with the data and data-gathering capability we do have severely compromised as a result.

Statistics Canada no longer provides a clear snapshot of the country, says John Stapleton, a Toronto-based social policy consultant. “Our survey data pixelates—it’s a big blur. And the small data, we don’t know if it’s right.”

How many Canadians live in poverty now, compared to 2011? We don’t know; changes in income-data collection has made it impossible to track. Austerity measures, ironically, have resulted in an inability to keep track of the changes: StatsCan used to provide detailed, comprehensive data on salaries and employment at all levels of government; now we can’t tell where, or how deep, the cuts have been.

Disappearing data is only one part of a larger narrative of a degradation of knowledge—one that extends from federal scientists being prevented from talking about their research on topics as mundane as snow to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission being forced to take the federal government to court to obtain documents that should have been available under Access to Information. The situation has descended into farce: Library and Archives Canada (LAC), entrusted with preserving historic papers, books, photographs, paintings, film and artifacts, was so eroded by cuts that, a few years ago, author Jane Urquhart was unable to access her own papers, donated to LAC in the 1990s.

The result is a crisis in what Canadians know—and are allowed to know—about themselves.

Without accurate and dependable sources of data, Kingston documents how difficult it is for Canadians to know what has been happening with their country, and to respond to these changes with useful actions. If Canadians lack good data on poverty among First Nations, for instance, or on particular types of pollution, or indeed on the effectiveness of past government policy, this makes it all the more difficult for Canadians to respond effectively. I would speculate that, if a government does not want to act in a particular area and wants to make it more difficult for people and governments to act in this area in the future, poor data collection would inhibit this.

The census, in Canada, is an election issue. I really hope that this issue will have serious consequences for the government that made it so.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

On Joe Daniel, Syrian refugees, Eurabia, and the Canadian elections

Joe Daniel, Conservative MP for the Toronto riding of Don Valley East, has today caused something of a stir. As reported by the Toronto Star's Tim Harper, in talking to his constituents Daniel ended up talking about Eurabia. Yay.

On the same weekend Conservatives expedited a refugee processing system in a nod to what they called “Canadian generosity,” one of their candidates seeking re-election was telling voters about an “agenda” to move Muslims into European countries.

And that is something Joe Daniel doesn’t want to see in Canada.

In a video obtained by the Star, Daniel offered this warning to voters in Don Valley North: “So I think there is a different agenda going on in terms of these refugees.

“Whereas at the same time Saudi Arabia is putting up money for 200 mosques in Germany I think the agenda is to move as many Muslims into some of these European countries to change these countries in a major way.

“That is something that I certainly don’t want to see happening in Canada. I think Canada is the greatest country in the world.”

A later CBC report quotes his manager as saying these reports are taken out of context.

Daniel's comments were circulated online days after the Conservatives announced an expedited process to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 2016, in an effort to move past criticism the government wasn't doing enough to help ease the crisis.

In a phone interview with CBC News, campaign manager Didar Khokhar said it was ultimately up to Daniel to explain his comments, but immediately went on to say they were "taken out of context."

"He was touching upon the controversy that has seized Europe," Khokhar said Wednesday afternoon.

Khokhar said Daniel gave a brief speech during a barbecue with some 30 people in attendance, where he touted the government's record on the resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

"He made the comments in passing," Khokhar said.

Both news agencies feature the video in question. The CBC"s version is below.

Readers should make their own judgement.

I rather dislike the introduction of unfounded Eurabian conspiracy theories into the Canadian elections. That such potentially dangerous falsehoods are apparently being passed off casually by candidates at meet-and-greets is appalling. I will note that Daniel at least apparently chooses not to own up to this. I'll also note that Daniel himself is of immigrant background, both to parents of Malayali background in Tanzania, product of the Conservative Party's effective outreach to "new" immigrant communities. Might, I say only partly jokingly, the propagation of nativist and xenophobic myths by these people at least show that integration is working in some skewed way?

More, about Syrians and Canada's elections, later this week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On francophone immigration to Toronto and Ontario

Back in July 2008, as part of a long post on the gradual assimilation of most Francophone minorities in Canada outside of Québec ("Demography and culture: French Canada's fall and Québec's isolation"), I mentioned in passing the possible role on Francophone immigration in bolstering Francophone numbers. The numbers involved would of necessity have to be substantial, especially given the strong pressure for Francophone minorities in the rest of Canada to shift to English. Even so, Francophone immigration to Canada is a real and growing phenomenon, and while Québec is the obvious focus of this migration--around a hundred thousand French immigrants are in Montréal alone--it is also a reality elsewhere. Here in Toronto, as Selena Ross' article in The Globe and Mail mirrored at noted, this has had a significant impact on the number of French-medium schools in Toronto. As Francophones continues to immigrate to Ontario and older-established Francophones start to make use of these facilities, the numbers of students keep rising.
Despite guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, French-only schools in Toronto have historically been few and far between. For decades, a real fear for many francophones settling in Hogtown has been that they would fail to pass on their language and culture to their offspring.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity is starting to change that, and it promises a bigger cultural shift in Toronto. As enrolment in English-language schools declines, a crop of school properties is being put up for sale and the region’s two French school boards have jumped to buy. What no one predicted is the snowball effect that has followed each new school opening, drawing “invisible francophones” out of a reluctant assimilation and making new connections between them.

Lianne Doucet, a mother of three in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood, laughs and lowers her voice to a spooky register. “We always say, ‘We’re all around you.’”

The cultural isolation of Toronto-area francophones – whether by mother tongue or schooling – can be so extreme that many don’t know that Section 23 of the Charter promises French-language K-12 education for their children. The Toronto area’s first French-language school board was created in 1988, and there are now two serving the region, one public and one Catholic. Still, nearly 30 years later, the secular board, the Conseil Scolaire Viamonde, must diligently advertise its schools to get the word out, superintendent Sylvie Longo said.

It has had a lot of ads to put out lately: 12 new schools in the past eight years, with four more under construction. The board’s Catholic counterpart, the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud, has opened 10 in the same time span. The two boards’ enrolment rose respectively by 33 and 16 per cent from 2008 to 2014.

That’s in sharp contrast with the shrinking English system. The Toronto District School Board’s enrolment dropped by nearly 5 per cent in the same period.

And still, French schools consistently fill up faster than predicted. École Élémentaire La Mosaïque opened in Toronto’s Danforth area in 2008 and has already had to rezone, unable to fit in all the eligible children. École Ronald-Marion in Pickering opened in 2013 and now needs portable classrooms to meet demand, while a French Catholic school in Stouffville is at full capacity and hasn’t even opened yet.

“When we build schools, they come,” Ms. Longo said.

Toronto may be one of the world’s most diverse cities, but within Canada, it’s also a bastion of English – and Quebec, a more obvious destination for francophone immigrants, is just a few hours away. Who are the tens of thousands of Toronto-area residents itching for all-French education?

Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement's January 2014 report "Ontario Francophone Immigrant Profile: Immigration Trends & Labour Outcomes" (PDF format) took a look at the basic dynamics of Francophone immigration to Ontario.

From 2001 to 2012, francophone immigration nationally accounted for on average 9.9% of all immigration to Canada. Excluding Quebec, francophone immigration, on average, accounted for 4.1% of all immigrants. Francophone immigration to Canada remained stable with no average decrease or increase per year. When Quebec was removed, there was a slight decline.

[. . .]

[. . .] The average percent of francophones to Ontario (as a proportion of all immigrants) was 2.5%. This percentage ranged from a low of 1.9% in 2002/2003 to a high of 3.4% in 2010. Over the past two years, the percent francophone immigration has hovered around an average of 3.2%. There was an average growth of 0.1% per year, which is above both the national average growth (0%) and the national average growth without Quebec (-0.1%).

The provincial government has stated an interest in boosting Francophone immigrant numbers to 5% of the total. The promotion of immigration into Francophone minority communities actually has been a goal of the federal government and many provincial governments, a way to try to slow down or even reverse the language shift I described back in 2008. One factor of note in this goal, as the Ryerson report observes, is that the communities chosen by Francophone international migrants in Ontario do not necessarily correspond to the communities where Francophones currently live.

In order to gain an understanding of how francophone immigrants are contributing to existing francophone communities, a profile of francophone immigration to traditional francophone centres was constructed based on the 2011 National Household Survey. Traditional francophone centres are defined as places in Ontario with large French speaking populations relative to the total population. The CMAs [of Greater Sudbury, Hawkesbury, Ottawa-Hull, and Timmins] were chosen because they have high populations of francophones relative to the total population, ranging from 15.8% to 64.3%. In comparison, non-traditional francophone centres such as Toronto and Hamilton, which have received higher absolute numbers of francophone immigrants, only had francophone populations that accounted for 1.3 to 1.6% of the total population.

Amongst the traditional francophone centres, only Ottawa-Hull attracts a considerable proportion of francophone immigrants. Indeed, Ottawa-Hull was the second largest CMA destination for francophone migrants in Ontario. Outside of Ottawa-Hull, francophone immigrants are not settling in traditional francophone centres in Ontario but rather in traditionally-considered Anglophone cities like Toronto, Hamilton, and Windsor. Could this be part of some larger francophone movement towards non-traditional francophone centres? The latest results from the 2011 National Household Survey indicate that the answer is no. A comparison of the geographic distribution of francophones immigrants versus all francophones finds different patterns in their settlement. Shown as a per cent of the total of each group, a larger proportion (on average, 2.3%) of non-immigrant francophones reside in traditional francophone centres (such as Ottawa, Timmins, Sudbury, and Hawkesbury). Indeed, by this measure Timmins is the fourth largest francophone centre in all of Ontario.

According to this cursory NHS analysis, francophone immigrants show a spatial distribution that is consistent with the findings of this report. The largest proportion of francophone immigrants reside in Toronto followed by Ottawa and Hamilton. It is also interesting to note that a slightly larger proportion (3.5%) of francophone immigrants live in Ottawa as opposed to non-immigrant francophones.

Ottawa, it should be noted, not only is the second-largest city of Ontario by population with a Francophone population of its own both proportionately and absolutely large, but it is part of the National Capital Region, including strongly Francophone Gatineau on the Québec side of the Ottawa River. The other communities named--Timmins, Sudbury, Hawkesbury--are relatively smaller centres in the north and east of Ontario. If international migrants are not moving to these communities and are instead opting for Ottawa and the cities of southern Ontario, this might well note their sensitivity to poor economic conditions.

Is this working? In the specific case of Ontario, possibly. Statistics Canada's profile of Canadian Francophones noted that not only did Ontario's Francophone population grow between 2006 and 2011, but it nearly maintained its proportion of the total population. Selena Ross' article, quoted above, does suggest that international Francophone migration might well galvanize Francophone consciousness generally. Then again, as noted above, it's not clear that this international migration can do much for the older Francophone communities in the province. The November 2002 report "Official Languages and Immigration: Obstacles and Opportunities for Immigrants and Communities" notes that there are any number of ways in which Francophone international migrants can just not have a successful experience, with a lack of common ground between migrants and natives spoiling the project.

Monday, September 07, 2015

What do you think will be the outcome of the Syrian refugee crisis?

Over at my blog, I asked my readers what they thought about the Syrian refugee crisis. This is a week to ask people what they think of this, after all: Between photos of dead children and reports of Germans welcoming refugees by the trainload, the issue has been getting a lot of press this week.

If I was to make any predictions about where this would all end up, I would be willing to commit to the statement that, in coming decades, Syria is going to become one of those countries to which millions of people around the world--millions more, I should say--trace their ancestries. Given the unpleasantness of the Assad regime and the Islamic State and the devastations associated with civil war, there are going to be very good reasons for Syrians to want to leave their homeland for some time to come. They may be neighbours, like Turkey and Lebanon; they may be in the same hemisphere, like Germany or Sweden; they may be on the other side of the planet, even.

I would also be willing to commit to the argument that few of these refugees will return. They will have had very good reasons to leave Syria, and there is little reason to think conditions in their homeland will improve enough to attract more than a few people. One thing we have found from refugee displacements in the past two decades is that, unless displaced refugees return quickly, they will be displaced. Depopulation can be permanent, even when the fighting has stopped.

Beyond that, I'm reluctant to make any predictions. Do I think that the plight of Syrian refugees will improve significantly, perhaps on the model of what happened to the boat people of Indochina? Maybe. Do I think this might lead to lasting global changes, for good or for ill? I am skeptical.

What do you think the end results of all this will be?