Monthly Archives: January 2020

Improving on a Mandate Letter


Authored by Don Drummond, Stauffer-Dunning Fellow in Global Public Policy and Adjunct Professor, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University.

(Originally published as an Intelligence Memo from C.D. Howe Institute  – January 14, 2020)


From: Don Drummond
To: The Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services

Re: Improving on a Mandate Letter

Your mandate letter falls short of setting out a vision for really making a difference for Indigenous Peoples because it lacks targets for specific, measurable outcomes that would reflect improvements in living standards.

There is much to be applauded in the letter. Set in the context of the need for “capacity building to bring control of and jurisdiction for service delivery back to Indigenous communities,” it correctly identifies many of the areas, such as health, education, housing, water, infrastructure and child and family services, in which improvements are necessary. There is appropriate recognition that success requires shifting toward a long-term, stable funding mechanism although you should have been encouraged to explore statutory forms of payment rather than promoting only the new 10-year grants.

Yet most objectives in the letter come across as incremental improvements.  Worse, in some cases it does not reiterate the clear and more ambitious targets committed to previously by your government.

On several occasions the Prime Minister and his office have committed to closing the gap in living conditions between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians. For example, the 2017 PMO backgrounder issued when two new departments were created to oversee Indigenous issues, referred to implementing a vision to “close the socio-economic gap between Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous Canadians.”  The 2018 Budget Plan stated “the investments in Budget 2018 continue our focus on closing the gap between the living conditions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”  Such statements do not suggest merely improving living conditions for Indigenous Peoples or narrowing the gap. They, unlike your mandate letter, are clear that the gap is to be closed.

The same distinction between closing and narrowing gaps can also be seen in particular policy areas. The 2019 Throne Speech, for example, commits to “work with Indigenous communities to close the infrastructure gap by 2030,” your mandate letter is much vaguer in its call to address critical needs by 2030.

Should you put your mandate letter into the more ambitious context of your government’s previous commitments, your department’s focus could then be on program outcomes rather than inputs. As such, policies and procedures should be targeted at achieving certain results in health, education, and other key areas. Such a shift in emphasis will require a great deal of consultation with Indigenous communities on what outcomes would best reflect improved living standards. This cannot simply be measured in terms now applied to non-Indigenous Canadians but consideration must also be given to Indigenous languages and culture. Realistic time periods should be set for closing existing gaps and efficient and effective programs designed and funded (and be subsequently modified if they are not achieving their objectives).

In order to create capacity in Indigenous communities to deliver their own services, you must remove barriers that are imposed from within government. The many divisions of government responsibility have been a longstanding barrier.

You will benefit from the 2017 action bringing most Indigenous services matters into your portfolio. But there remain exceptions, which will require collaboration with other departments. For example, the funding and revitalization of Indigenous languages remains solely within the Heritage Canada portfolio according to the mandate letter.

Undoubtedly, the omission in your mandate letter notwithstanding, you will need to pay attention to this file as language is deeply embedded in Indigenous culture, which in turn is critical to well-being. One of your priorities should be to consult with that minister on how to interpret the reference to funding. The funds allocated in the 2019 Budget provide only about one-tenth what is needed to achieve the objectives of the Indigenous Languages Act.

The programs being unveiled to support the Act are destined to failure under existing funding and this will become readily apparent by the five-year review mandated in the Indigenous Languages Act, if not much sooner. The language issue illustrates a broader problem that funding for Indigenous communities has always been largely extraneous to the identification of needs and design of programs.

Success in transitioning to Indigenous delivery of service will require differentiation and experimentation by Indigenous communities. You will need to find ways to allow those communities to find what works best for them rather than imposing service delivery protocols from Ottawa. There will be instances where the risks seem higher than usually accepted by risk-averse financial guardians in Ottawa. The right balance will need to be struck between experimentation and accountability.

Above all, success in your portfolio will depend upon embracing the overall objective of closing the gap in Indigenous living conditions and focusing on outcomes rather than just the improvements and inputs as described in your mandate letter.


Authored by Don Drummond, Stauffer-Dunning Fellow in Global Public Policy and Adjunct Professor, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University.

(Originally published as an Intelligence Memo from C.D. Howe Institute  – January 14, 2020)

The views expressed here are those of the author. 

The brewing situation between Iran and the U.S. is very much Canada’s problem


Authored by Hugh SegalMathews Fellow in Global Public Policy at the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies

(Originally published in The Globe and Mail – January 6, 2020)

On the surface, it may not be obvious what Canada can do about the brewing crisis around Iran. Investigating the motivations and intelligence that led to the U.S. government’s decision to neutralize Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the most powerful and malevolent supreme commander of Iran’s potent terrorist and proxy forces worldwide, is not likely to be on the agenda of our federal government and the high command of our Armed Forces right now.

But the tensions between Iran and the U.S. are most assuredly our problem. As a founding partner of the NATO treaty, which provides for mutual defence between the 28 member nations, an Iranian attack upon American forces, embassies, homeland or personnel would trigger an Article 5 Treaty obligation for Canada to engage, just as was the case after the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, even though no state actor claimed responsibility.

Canada’s foreign minister was quite correct in urging restraint upon all parties last week – a note that was echoed by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg at a Monday meeting of NATO ambassadors. But restraint is usually the product of a clear understanding by all involved of the consequences of unrestrained aggression. While that meeting was right to consider the dynamics relative to the alliance mission in Iraq that is now under Canadian command – a mission that has been suspended – a broader ministerial meeting to underline the reality of Article 5 would be broadly constructive. After all, it would be a serious path to restraint to make it perfectly clear that NATO would view a clear attack on the United States, its people, forces or homeland – be it kinetic, cyber or via terrorist proxy – as an act of aggression against all NATO members.

Canada should, in fact, be calling for immediate NATO ministerial meetings so that this common resolve can emerge. Doing so would further motivate Russia – which engaged in joint naval exercises with China and Iran in the Gulf of Oman in late December and is not without substantive interests and influence in Tehran – to urge restraint on their Iranian client-state colleagues. A Canadian call for an urgent Security Council meeting would also be of value. The UN Secretary-General has called for restraint as well, but what should the UN be doing to help bring it about?

NATO was created as a bulwark for Western Europe against the old Soviet Union. But that limited mandate did not prevent the organization from engaging in the Balkans and Afghanistan when their stability was threatened. The strategic importance of the Straits of Hormuz to global energy flows, as well as Iran’s deployment of proxy forces to wreak havoc in places such as Buenos Aires, Yemen and many spots in between over the last 20 years, makes the nature of its threat to Western stability more than theoretical.

If, as our Prime Minister has stated, “Canada is back,” then this crisis requires that we engage in a mature and strategic way. There are key questions that need to be crunched: What resources can we deploy from our regular or Special Forces? How can our intelligence resources be deployed in support of our NATO ally? What special self-defence measures will be required to contain Iranian hostilities?

That our Armed Force high command is already considering contingency options is a not a matter of conjecture, because the professional and competent leadership of our Canadian Forces is a given. But the Canadian Armed Forces engage at the discretion of the duly elected government and Parliament of Canada. Now is the time for Canadian ministers and key advisers to be engaging with opposition parties on the nature of the challenge ahead.

If Canada even considers taking a “none-of-our-business” stance, it would constitute an abdication of alarming self-indulgence. The “tit-for-tat” cycle in Iraq began with Iranian proxies attacking and killing a U.S. contractor in Iraq, not to mention the Iranian drone attack on Saudi oil facilities and the shooting down of a U.S. surveillance drone in questionable circumstances, to which the U.S. responded with restraint. The storming of the American embassy in Baghdad by an Iranian-armed and Iranian-financed Shiite militia was a further provocation.

Canada has allies and interests in the region. Pretending this doesn’t concern us could cost Canada seriously on the international stage. Canada has never looked away when our values or allies faced serious threat – and the first crisis of the new decade is not the time to start.

Hugh Segal is a Mathews Fellow in Global Public Policy at the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies, Senior Advisor at Aird and Berlis, LLP, and a former chair of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Special Senate Committee on Anti-Terrorism.

(Originally published in The Globe and Mail – January 6, 2020)