On Israel, Gaza, and double standards

One of the objections that has most often been leveled at critics of the Israeli government’s conduct of its war in Gaza, and of its policies towards the Palestinians more generally, has been that their criticisms are based on insidiously double standards. The Israeli government, according to this objection, is held to standards that no other country is held to. It is according to this view surrounded by enemies, and yet it is expected to act like a choirboy. “Look at Assad, look at ISIS”, the argument goes, “if you are so deeply concerned about injustice and about the killing of innocents, how come you are not raising your voices against them?”.

I confess that of all the arguments that have been made in recent weeks in the debate over the war in Gaza, this is the one that puzzles and worries me the most. It puzzles me for a number of reasons.… Continue reading

L’Affaire Bolduc

The honeymoon is over. Three months more or less to the day after having been voted into power in Quebec City with a shiny new majority, Philippe Couillard’s government finds itself embroiled in its first, honest-to-god political scandal. It seems that Yves Bolduc, a physician, who is now in Cabinet as the Minister of Education, but who was Minister of Health under Jean Charest, racked up $215 000 worth of bonuses as a practicing physician while he was in opposition. The opposition, and a good part of the chattering classes, are now clamoring for his head. No less a figure than Claude Castonguay, the father of Quebec’s system of public health insurance, wrote an open letter to Philippe Couillard calling upon the Premier to sack his Minister.

Some context: somewhere close to 30% of Quebeckers do not have a GP. In order to attempt to lower that number, the Charest government (with Bolduc as Minister of Health) instituted an incentive scheme to get general practitioners and family physicians to take on more patients.… Continue reading

Some Half-Baked Thoughts on the Economics of City-Life after Returning to Montreal after a Week in Paris

One of the great fringe benefits of my job is that I often get invited to some pretty great cities for work. I’ve just returned to Montreal from a week in Paris. I love Paris. What I love most about Paris are its neighborhoods. Walk a few kilometers outside the tourist center, and you will find fantastic inner city areas that each have their distinctive character and identity. For a long time, I used to hang out in the 14th arrondissement (intra muros Paris, the Paris that lies inside its internal ring road, le Périphérique is divided up into 20 boroughs). These days, I am more likely to try to find a place in the 20th, which is one of Paris’ most riotously multicultural neighborhoods. On this recent trip, I watched Chile win a World Cup match in a Chilean bar, watched Brazil triumph in a Brazilian restaurant, and don’t even get me started about what happened when Algeria beat South Korea!… Continue reading

Restoring Sanity to the Debate over Sex Work

What would sensible policy regarding sex work look like? Let’s begin with what should be something of a truism in a liberal democracy. Policy in this domain should not be moralistic. By that I mean that it should not be grounded in the judgment made by some that there is something inherently wrong with selling and purchasing sexual services. The state acts in an unacceptably paternalistic manner when it claims that, whatever the conditions in which the sale of such services occurs, it is condemnable and should therefore be prohibited by law. If two consenting adults wish to contract in order to exchange sex for money, they should be allowed to do so.

If that is the case, then a decent society needs to ask itself two kinds of questions. First, how can it ensure, or make it as likely as possible, that when a sex worker and a consumer of sexual services engage in such an exchange, they do so consensually?… Continue reading

Québec’s Right-to-Die Legislation: A Dilemma for the Conservatives?

Quebec’s National Assembly passed legislation today that would enable competent adults in the throes of intolerable suffering caused by a terminal illness to request aid in dying from their physicians, and that would allow physicians to accede to that wish under a fairly strenuous set of conditions. It also requires of all health-care institutions that they provide themselves with a palliative care plan. Rather than viewing physician-assisted death as an isolated question, the law places it at the end of a continuum of end-of-life medical care.

In my view, this is a very good law. It is the result of a 4 ½ year non-partisan process of consultation and deliberation that heard from specialists, ordinary citizens, and organized groups. This process gave rise to countless modifications to the original draft bill, designed not only to allay the fears of those not ready to take the step of decriminalizing physician-assisted death, but also genuinely to incorporate some of their concerns into the body of the law.… Continue reading

On sports partisanship, or, why I bleed bleu-blanc-rouge

I have been derelict in my blogging duties these last few weeks. I could claim that the exigencies of the end of the academic year, with its grading and travelling to academic conferences, have been responsible for my silence. I could also claim post-election fatigue. But those would only be half-truths. The fact is that all that I have been thinking about these last few weeks – all anyone has been thinking about in Montreal – has been hockey. At time of writing, our city’s much-beloved Canadiens are three rounds deep into the NHL playoffs. The rhythms of the city have over the course of the last month-and-a-half or so been those of more or less thrice-weekly hockey games, followed by off-days during which the city attempts to recover a normal heart rate and breathing pattern, before being plunged again into collective hyperventilation and cardiac shock.

Here are some of the things that I have done these last few weeks in order not to have to miss any games: during a recent trip to the UK for academic talks, I stayed up by myself in my hotel room in Southampton until 3AM watching the Canadiens clinch their second-round series against the dastardly Boston Bruins on a choppy CBC feed (which for some reason was in Punjabi!).… Continue reading

Two (well, maybe one) cheers for the Senate!

It’s time for a confession. I like the Senate. Not just the general idea of bicameralism, and of an upper chamber. I actually kind of like our Senate, in all of its unelected glory. Now I will grant you that these have been hard times for Senate-lovers, or perhaps I should say Senate-likers, like myself, what with the Pamela Wallins, the Mike Duffys, and the Patrick Brazeaus. But we should not judge an entire institution by sole reference to a few bad apples. Very few of our institutions would survive that kind of scrutiny. And at the same time as we quite justifiably look for ways of ridding the Senate of the kind of corruption that has been brought to light in recent years, we also have to acknowledge the excellent work that it has been capable of. For example, anyone who wants to read a sane, well-documented, and well argued piece on drug policy could do a lot worse than picking up the report on cannabis that was published in 2001 by a Senate committee chaired by Pierre Claude Nolin.… Continue reading

Les mythes de PKP

Par Jocelyn Maclure et Daniel Weinstock

Ainsi, Pierre-Karl Péladeau estime que le fleurdelisé devrait être mis en berne tous les 17 avril pour commémorer la date funeste à laquelle la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982 fut mise en vigueur. Selon celui qui vient d’être élu député de Saint-Jérôme et candidat potentiel à la chefferie du Parti Québécois, c’est ce jour que s’installa au Canada un « gouvernement des juges », qui fut particulièrement fatidique pour les deux grands acquis de la Révolution tranquille: l’affirmation du fait français et la laïcité.

La lettre de M. Péladeau touche à des questions qui sont sans aucun doute très importantes. Il y est question de l’équilibre entre les différents pouvoirs dans une démocratie libérale, et du partage des compétences entre partenaires dans une fédération. Malheureusement, le propos ne se hisse pas au-delà de la caricature.

Commençons par l’idée que la Constitution de 1982 a instauré un gouvernement des juges.… Continue reading

The Ball is in ROC’s Court

Pretty much everyone agrees that last Monday’s election was one of the most meaningful in Quebec’s recent history. But not everyone agrees on what that meaning was. Some observers rightly noted that the Parti Québécois’ campaign was shockingly, and surprisingly, incompetent. From the moment Pierre Karl Péladeau raised the issue of Québec’s independence, the PQ seemed to slip into improvisational mode. But unlike good improvisational practice, party officials and operatives were not playing with each other, but against each other. This was at no point more evident than when three péquistes dealt with the question of whether the PQ’s secularism charter might lead to state employees being dismissed in three radically different ways on the same day. A second-rank candidate stated that they very well might. Cabinet Minister Jean-François Lisée opined that they most certainly would not. And Premier Pauline Marois, in what must surely rank as one of the most fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along moments in recent campaign history, offered that the government might help find employment in the private sector for those public employees laid off because of their refusal to shed their religious apparel.… Continue reading