Inside Politics

UPDATED - Will Canada's lead multiculturalism minister please stand up?

Pity Tim Uppal.

No sooner had he been officially sworn in as Canada's new Minister of State for Multiculturalism when his ostensible predecessor took to twitter to stress that he was still in charge of the file.

His assertion was bolstered by a PostMedia report the following day, in which unnamed 'senior officials' claimed that Uppal would be reporting to Kenney instead of newly minted citizenship minister Chris Alexander. 

So how, exactly, will that work? As it turns out, no one really knows for sure.

According to a CIC spokesperson, while "responsibility for Multiculturalism remains with Kenney," the Multiculturalism Program itself is staying at Citizenship and Immigration, where officials "are currently determining how we will support these two [multicultural] positions."

It's worth noting that this particular ministerial gig comes with more than just a standing VIP invite to every camera-friendly meet 'n' greet on the cultural/religious celebration circuit.

In 2011-2012, the government spent just over $21 million on "multiculturalism for newcomers and all Canadians," with an additional $25 million allocated for the current year, and $14.2 million for 2013-2014.

That includes just over $10 million per year for "grants and contributions in support of the multicultural program."

Among the major initiatives are  Inter-Action, which provides financial support for "community based events ... that create concrete opportunities for interaction among cultural and faith communities," as well as "long-term, multi-year community development and engagement projects .. targeting elements such as intercultural/interfaith understanding, civic memory and pride [and] respect for core democratic values," and the Community Historical Recognition Program, which has funded interactive art projects, museum exhibits and other awareness-raising campaigns on the Chinese head tax, the World War II internment of Italian-Canadians, the Komagata Maru and the Holocaust

UPDATE: I'm told the CHRP no longer exists, although the website still includes it in the list of funding initiatives. 

If those programs will continue to be administered by Citizenship and Immigration, it's not clear which of the three ministers involved would be in charge of approving or rejecting funding requests -- nor, for that matter, who would ultimately be accountable to Parliament -- and, of course, Canadians. 

Which member of the trio will take questions in the House, or appear before the committee charged with studying that section of the estimates? Who would have signing authority over money doled out to worthy-seeming initiatives -- and who would have to take the blame if it were to be misspent?

This isn't the first time that the multicultural program has been passed around the cabinet table under the current government.

Originally run out of Canadian Heritage, it was officially transferred to Citizenship and Immigration as part of the post-2008 election shuffle, thus ensuring that the newly promoted Kenney, who had previously served as Minister of State for Multiculturalism, would maintain control over the file that had launched both his cabinet career and his now legendary role as the party's one-man ethnic outreach machine.

An additional Order in Council was required to update the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, which states that the responsible minister "shall encourage and promote a coordinated approach to the implementation of the multiculturalism policy of Canada."

The Act also lays out a "specific mandate" for the designated minister -- who, at press time, would seem to be Chris Alexander, as no superseding post-shuffle order appears to have been passed to overwrite the existing change of command: 

5. (1) The Minister shall take such measures as the Minister considers appropriate to implement the multiculturalism policy of Canada and, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, may

(a) encourage and assist individuals, organizations and institutions to project the multicultural reality of Canada in their activities in Canada and abroad;

(b) undertake and assist research relating to Canadian multiculturalism and foster scholarship in the field;

(c) encourage and promote exchanges and cooperation among the diverse communities of Canada;

(d) encourage and assist the business community, labour organizations, voluntary and other private organizations, as well as public institutions, in ensuring full participation in Canadian society, including the social and economic aspects, of individuals of all origins and their communities, and in promoting respect and appreciation for the multicultural reality of Canada;

(e) encourage the preservation, enhancement, sharing and evolving expression of the multicultural heritage of Canada;

(f) facilitate the acquisition, retention and use of all languages that contribute to the multicultural heritage of Canada;

(g) assist ethno-cultural minority communities to conduct activities with a view to overcoming any discriminatory barrier and, in particular, discrimination based on race or national or ethnic origin;

(h) provide support to individuals, groups or organizations for the purpose of preserving, enhancing and promoting multiculturalism in Canada; and

(i) undertake such other projects or programs in respect of multiculturalism, not by law assigned to any other federal institution, as are designed to promote the multiculturalism policy of Canada.

I've asked the department if there are any plans to designate Kenney -- or, for that matter, Uppal -- as the responsible minister under the Act, and will update this post with any new information.

 In response to my follow-up query, a departmental spokesperson has confirmed that no new Order in Council has been passed that would shift responsibility for the multiculturalism program out of Citizenship and Immigration, or designate another minister under the Act, which means that as far as the official chain of command goes, the buck stops with Chris Alexander.  

UPDATE: Two days after submitting what seemed to be a very simple follow-up question -- specifically, which minister is responsible for tabling the annual report on multiculturalism, as required under the Act -- an answer has arrived -- and it turns out my above reasoning was correct. 

According to the department, "statutory responsibility" for the file remains with the Citizenship and Immigration Minister -- specifically, Chris Alexander -- and it is he who will deliver the report in question, as well as fulfill all of the above listed duties that now rest in him under the Act. 

In the meantime, it seems that so far, the summer festival circuit has been able to support multiple ministerial appearances by multiple ministers.

Last week, Uppal headed west to do the honours at the Surrey Fusion Fest and Stanley Park Walk With the Dragon while Kenney joined the celebrations at the Miramichi Irish Festival. 

A sampling of their respective tweets from the road:

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