Recent commentary on Premier Wynne's floating the idea of a 'race lens by Jim Maclean illustrates the risk of anecdote and assertion-based commentary.
Highlights of Macleans piece:
Wynne told the Post that it’s time to use “the race lens” when formulating government policy, adding, “we need to start,” although she said she has yet to discuss the idea formally with cabinet. But if she is musing about it in public, you can bet a formal proposal is in the works.
To ensure the government’s “race lens” focuses properly, Wynne says a “structure” will need to be created “that is going to allow us to filter the policies we put in place, to create new policies to put protections in place.” How these race-based “protections” will differ from or supersede the broader (but apparently inadequate “human rights” protections that already exist in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and many other pieces of provincial legislation is unclear. Also yet to be determined: the shape and size of the “structure” that Ontario will need to establish to filter government policies through Wynne’s “race lens.” Will it be akin to the bureaucracy that administers Quebec’s French language laws?
If anything, it will likely be bigger, because in order to ensure that Ontario’s current and future policies are properly “racially focused,” a large and racially-diverse number of civil servants will need to be hired so that the filtering is fully representative of all of the racial groups that make up Ontario’s diverse population. How else to ensure that the racial lens focuses correctly?
But let’s not stop with race. What of ethnicity? To be truly sensitive and inclusive, perhaps “ethnic” lenses may have to be used in addition to “racial” lenses, to focus more accurately, because, of course not all members of a particular race share the same views.
A little thinking is clearly a dangerous thing, and perhaps the Premier should do a lot more thinking about this initiative.
….One can only hope that intelligent, thoughtful opponents to this ill-considered proposal will find their voices, and that they do so soon, before serious damage is done to the multi-racial and multicultural fabric of Ontario.
So, as hopefully an intelligent and thoughtful proponent of a diversity lens, let me note a few fallacies in his arguments:
- Ontario is the second most diverse province, with 26 percent visible minorities, and with greater diversity within visible minorities than British Columbia;
- When devising policies and programs, it is important to understand the needs of the population served. In Canada’s four largest provinces, that means understanding the range of groups being served;
- Government has long-applied a gender lens to various policies and the federal government did apply a rural lens at one time;
- This is no different from the private sector, where sectors as diverse as banks, grocery chains, fast food outlets and telecoms all conduct such research to better understand, and respond to, client needs;
- Understanding citizen needs does not automatically mean a targeted policy or program response but it ensures policy makers have the necessary information to make recommendations; and,
- any response can range from substantive policy or program adjustments to improve outcomes, or improved ways to let citizens know about government programs that may be relevant to them.
From the theoretical to some practical examples:
- Would police-carding practices not have been questioned if a race-lens highlighted the disproportionate carding of Blacks?
- Would the Toronto District School Board have been able to develop programming to improve high school graduation rates among Somali-Canadian youth without a diversity lens?
- Would the roll-out of Ontario’s new sex education program not have been smoother had resistance from some segments of some communities been identified earlier through such a lens.
Lastly, to Maclean’s fear that the Ontario government will have to hire a « large and racially-diverse number of civil servants, » he can rest easy: 20.4 percent of Ontario’s public service are already visible minority.
In any case, the purpose of a « lens » is for all public servants, whatever their origin, to become more attuned to the population they serve.
Photo: Jason Hargrove / some rights reserved