The term, affirmative action, in the 1960’s was a dictate given to the Government of the United States under then President John Kennedy to hire or give equal opportunity to the disadvantaged, to hire “without regard for race, religion and national origin”. It was often designed to compensate for past discrimination, persecution, or exploitation by the ruling class.
A laudable goal to be sure, as the intention was to pull up those that were disadvantaged, to take away any roadblocks that kept some down and not able to compete in the economic world of the day. It was a typical liberal policy reflective of those times, it was “Camelot” and the Kennedy era, where equality and fairness were the principle objectives and would be emblematic of the ensuing two decades of U.S. policy. It was the era in which I grew up and came to self-identify. It was the era when governmental change was an instrument of good and it was a time when people wanted to give back.
The goal of affirmative action advocated a generational change, a lengthy process to be sure. Not to be accomplished overnight, or even over a single Presidential term. In almost all circumstances, a formative change actually requires patience, and it requires a cultural change.
If these goals outlined by Kennedy and to a smaller extent by Pearson in Canada in the 1960s were to reach fruition, then there needed to be education and time. Politicians being what they are in our democratic and fixed term systems are not patient, they want to see and boast about change in shorter windows of time. Long term planning or even projecting out for 10 years is difficult if not impossible, and there in lies the rub.
So “affirmative action” and what it came to mean began to evolve, mainly to suit political need for instant gratification. They needed to force the issue, to put persons into roles or jobs, or education, earlier than generational change would allow. Qualifications, or deservedness would have to take a back seat. That some tolerance be built into the selection process, that qualifications be bent and sometimes lowered so that these persons could immediately or quickly fill these roles.
In other words instead of all boats rising with the tide, it became necessary to “favour” certain groups. This re-interpretation of the meaning of affirmative action was not a subtle change, it was one which has had a massive ripple effect.
The world began to follow suit. Some countries, including the U.S. even began to use a quota system, where a certain percentage of government jobs, political positions, and school vacancies were reserved for specific members of certain politically chosen groups. And this continues to this day.
Of course this by definition means that not everyone is treated equally and it would be only a matter of time, before some took umbrage with a system, which by its very nature excludes certain individuals, albeit usually the more advantaged groups.
So in most recent years, it has been generally true that countries where there are laws dictating racial and gender “equality”, many of these affirmative action programs which had dictated quotas were now declared illegal. The U.S. courts in particular saying that affirmative action programs dictate that not all persons are treated equally, and therefore should not be allowed.
However there are countries in the world where quotas are still allowed, and have been used, and continue to be used extensively.
Nathan Glazer in the Harvard Crimson argues that the quota system divides people into categories, into racial, ethnic, and gender profiles. And benefits, and penalties would now adhere to these various compartments. “People would try to advance on the basis of group membership rather than individual capacity”.
In Canada, the politicos sensing some possible rejection of affirmative action and quotas, began to use a new term, something they believed to be less offensive. So we now have been programmed to accept the new “diversity”. Diversity, is defined as “the condition of having or being composed of different elements”. The Miriam dictionary then goes on to say that it can mean”the inclusion of different types of people, (such as people of different races or culture)”.
It is government speak for affirmative action in general, and they have replaced the likely illegal “quotas”, with “goals” or “targets”. They play to the “disadvantaged” groups, to try and counter balance a legally tenuous position. There is little argument to the fact that affirmative action is in fact discriminatory. Discrimination defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather on individual merit”.
But whether one agrees or not, we have a government who has become fixated with the need for “diversification.”
Of course the real balancing act is how far does one swing the pendulum, how far and to what level is for instance, is one prepared to ignore merit in favour of ethnicity, or gender, or a visible minority. Practically, in terms of hiring or university admissions, it is difficult to give specific policy or guidance as to how one needs to approach the problem without stepping over the line. How does one apply goals or targets without imposing quotas? Very few politicians and bureaucrats seem capable of reflection, they approach it like a quota, easier to apply, and easier to boast about their numbers.
In 2016, the Federal government announced a new appointment process for boards, agencies, tribunals, officers of Parliament and Crown Corporations. It specified that “diversity” was the goal, while it opened up the applications to the public. In other words, it did not set or say the word “quota” per se but encouraged the government mandarins, and put them on notice that they would be measured by their attempts and delivery of “diversity”.
According to this same article, the Privy Counsel office has now released its numbers so that of the 429 appointments that have been made to date since 2016; 56.6 per cent women, 11.2 per cent were visible minorities, and 9.6 per cent were indigenous.
It then goes on to prove its point by counting the numbers: 48.3 % women, 16.1 per cent minorities, and 6.5 per cent indigenous. In Canada it points out, there is actually 50.9 per cent women, 22.3 per cent visible minorities, and 4.9 per cent indigenous. They are not arguing a generational change, they are pointing to their targeted “goals”, their “quotas” having been met. There is no other way of explaining it. Are we to believe that in one year, more indigenous people, or more visible minorities have been in a position to apply for more governmental posts because of improvements in their education or in their qualifications. That would be difficult to believe. It is far more likely they have been pulled up to fulfill a quota.
Justin Trudeau often brags about his “diverse cabinet”. What he actually means is that his cabinet has been chosen in a quota system. Today in the news, the CBC headlines the fact that the Canadian government is now beginning to be as “diverse as Canada”.
Wendy Cukier, who is the director of Ryerson University “Diversity Institute” is happy with the numbers and lauds PM Trudeau for having made “great strides on gender”. She would like us to believe that in a year period, more females became more qualified for various jobs because there was “equal opportunity” got those jobs. Or is it possible that they were told to fill more positions with women regardless of merit?
This is playing out in every walk of governmental life. In policing we went through the quota hiring of women, and various visible minorities over the years. Every government department Provincially and Federally has fallen in line with this type of quota hiring.
Persons are gaining management positions, or being accepted into specialized jobs, not because they are the best person for the job, but by the fact there application is being skewed in their favour, sometimes to a large degree; skewed by their colour of their skin or their gender. It is troubling, for example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, should merit not be the only single factor?
There are those that would put a strong argument in favour of “quota” hiring as a way of righting the wrongs of the past. If one accepts this principle, one is in effect accepting and proposing one level of discrimination, to right the wrongs of a historical discrimination. But be it as it may, my argument is that if the government of the day feels that this is acceptable, then at the very least they should be honest in their intentions. It should not be allowed to be portrayed as an equal playing field to the general public. It is not.
Where “diversity” is a stated goal and gender or sex is part of the selection criteria it should be stated clearly. People should know that if you are applying for a police force as an example, other factors are coming into play, including the colour of your skin and your gender, and they should be told what is the given priority, and how it would affect their application.
An issue that also naturally evolves from this process is the growing need to determine if there are some significant after effects to this practise. If one continues to hire under qualified people, does the job suffer, does the output suffer? If they are not the best people for the job, is the job being done in the proper manner? If one throws out merit, or lessens merit in a bureaucratic system, does advancement and morale suffer?
We are now in a position where we have to question both the deserved and the undeserved. When you know the hiring process, and the priorities of government, it makes one question, why or how someone was chosen for this job. It may reflect badly on the person holding the job, tainted by this quota policy, even in cases where in fact it was deserved.
Were members of Trudeau’s cabinet chosen because they were the best for the job, or because they met his mandated quotas and play to his constituencies for whom he wants to be seen as the saviour. Women voters, non-visible minorities, and the up and coming indigenous groups are the stronghold of the Liberals, the bastion they hope to win over in future elections. The answer seems obvious. Trudeau and the Liberals are engaging in obvious vote buying, and the Conservatives and the NDP are trying to do the same and get in on the action.
They are all playing politics to a high level, and it is costing this country. Merit has been given a back seat, “diversity” is the mantra being extolled by every politician from every pulpit. Do not challenge or you will be portrayed as a racist.
One could point out that the apartheid government in South Africa, as a matter of state policy favoured white-owned, especially Afrikaner owned companies. It was clearly in place to prolong white rule and power, and this quota system was discriminatory and the world celebrated its eventual downfall. But any quota system is discriminatory, the only thing that changes is the target of that discrimination.
I believe that when merit is given such short shrift, when merit becomes secondary to optics, everyone loses. We become compartmentalized. My stand is the one echoed by Nathan Glazer in that affirmative action, as it was originally intended is still a worthwhile intention. However, quotas, thinly disguised as “targets” or “goals” should not be acceptable at any level, whether being practised by your government or your workplace.
And if you think some level of discrimination is o.k., then at least have the backbone to articulate and specify who in society you wish to treat as more equal than others. And then let the public decide.
Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons via Flckr by Edyta Mazur – Some Rights Reserved