CPJ in Ottawa: Making Public Justice Front and Centre

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"I see CPJ’s role as bringing a very strong justice perspective to policy discussion, engaging seriously with government debates, and presenting doable policy alternatives."

This was the unsolicited comment from a government official that I and a colleague received in a recent policy discussion meeting in Ottawa. The comment illustrates in many ways what CPJ’s mission is all about and what our move to Ottawa is meant to enhance:

  • putting public justice front and centre
  • shaping key public policy debates
  • engaging government, citizens and leaders in society

In another recent conversation, an official affirmed that CPJ’s work on the limbo situation faced by refugees had a tangible effect on the way that Citizenship and Immigration Canada has recently handled that policy. By offering careful analysis, practical policy options and a strong message of justice, CPJ’s paper "Permanent Protection" helped shape how quickly refugees can become permanent residents of Canada.

Being close to Parliament since July has already assisted CPJ's work

Called to be in Ottawa

In recent years, as CPJ has focused more and more on federal government policy, and on those policies which cut across and affect all provinces and territories, staff have been travelling increasingly often to Ottawa. This level of presence in Ottawa allowed us to have greater impact and to develop good relationships with government officials and partners. However, it was clear that our work could be enhanced by actually having our offices only streets away from those with whom we were engaging, rather than hours away.

To create the kind of layered relationships with federal politicians, government officials and other policy makers that allow for conversations around values, priorities and faith, you have to be where they are. A few issues ago (the Catalyst, autumn 2006), I wrote about how I believed CPJ was called to be in Ottawa at this time. Our mission requires an Ottawa presence. We need to be able to speak to all political parties, to work with diverse partners, and to continue our work of bringing together different viewpoints in answers that serve public justice.

We moved our offices in early July and, already, comments like the ones above have begun to affirm this calling. The welcome we have received from government officials, partner organizations and CPJ members (including those visiting Ottawa for vacations) has been most encouraging.

Public Justice Front and Centre

News headlines often focus on rather shallow and partisan politics. They often simplify policy issues and seek quick answers. However, behind the headlines, governments make important choices that shape a nation, one step at a time.

For example, as I write this article, the Prime Minister has just announced a cabinet shuffle and named the priorities of his government in the coming months. It is in this context, and rooted in Jesus’ gospel of reconciliation, love and compassion, that CPJ’s work focuses on specific public policy issues to help people who experience injustice.

Surrounding the specific issues, however, are CPJ’s vision of a better way of living together, a careful analysis of how society works, and principles to guide government in making decisions that affect daily life.

CPJ’s principled approach to public policy is captured in the concept of public justice. Public justice is the political dimension of loving one’s neighbour, caring for creation and achieving the common good.

CPJ does not espouse a particular recipe book for good government, a narrowly defined (left-handed or right-handed) formula for a just society, or a list of isolated moral issues for Christians to address. Nor do we represent a single, particular segment of society.

Public justice, instead, functions for CPJ as a kind of lens, a norm which we can use to analyze current realities, to form policy options, and to assess the impacts of government action or inaction. Public justice offers an integrated and coherent approach to public policy issues, one that respects the complexity of creation and contemporary life, rather than flattening public life to its economic dimension alone or to a majority opinion. It allows us to draw out the core values behind various government choices and to propose just policy alternatives. Through our work, using the lens of public justice, we seek to reframe policy debates and offer new insights for policy makers and for Canadians who care about justice.

Changes

Enabling CPJ to bring public justice front and centre, 2007 is shaping up to usher in a range of changes.

We have moved into a bright and efficient new workspace, just a short walk south of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. We are now more readily available to get to meetings "on the Hill" in the course of our work. In addition, more easily than in our previous space, we are able to host meetings of partners and others. This will be a marvelous way to introduce CPJ’s work to a new range of contacts.

We have also begun to develop our technological capabilities. We are determined to reach out and engage with our wide community of supporters and new supporters. We have a wealth of wisdom and insights in our support community to tap into as we do our policy analysis. To do so, we hope to make use of technology that will allow us to span the country in our contacts with supporters. Look for more on this in the coming months.

Finally, another significant change is among CPJ’s staff. The move from Toronto means that we are saying goodbye to some long-standing staff members. We will miss their significant contribution to our work. Others are staying on, at least through a transition. We also have energetic new staff who will be joining us this fall. I look forward to letting you know more about these changes in due course.

After nearly 45 years in the public justice arena, a renewed CPJ has much to offer in envisioning what governments should aspire to and how they can craft policies that are truly just. Our presence in Ottawa will enhance our ability to ask public justice questions of both the priorities, and the actual working out of the policies and programs, of Mr. Harper’s government. We will also continue to work with this and successive governments, opposition parties and partner organizations to propose policy alternatives that make public justice sense.

The Catalyst, summer 2007, Volume 30 / Number 3

Harry Kits is a former Executive Director of Citizens for Public Justice.

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