Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 2)

My comments a couple of weeks ago about Toronto mayor Rob Ford have attracted a few visits from members of Ford Nation (yes, these people are real). And while none were able to marshall a level of civility sufficient to get their comments past moderation, they were able to communicate to me their strong desire that I elaborate on the various promissory notes I made in my last Ford post, including the suggestion that I would have more to say more about Ford being “dumb.”

I am happy to oblige.

Let me just start by observing that I’m not the only person who has impugned Ford’s intellect. I think the best line came from our former mayor Mel Lastman, who said “this guy makes me look like a genius,” before adding, with the characteristic Lastman touch, “and I’m not a genius.”

This, by the way, was long before the whole crack scandal broke.… Continue reading

Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban?

I was struck by this article in the Globe and Mail: Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban too, Marois says

Quebec’s charter of values does not necessarily exclude the private sector from imposing the same restrictions on their employees as the ones demanded from public servants, says Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

Is it my imagination, or is that a really big deal? I haven’t looked carefully at how Bill-60 amends the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or what other provisions it contains, but if it insulates private employers from discrimination complaints in this way, that could have a huge impact. Two things come to mind: first, this dramatically expands the extent of the equality violation being contemplated — for example, an observant Sikh could be turned down for employment anywhere in the province, for any job whatsoever, and would have no legal recourse? And second, the rationale for the ban (“state secularism”) is completely missing in the case of the private sector.… Continue reading

The conservative bind

Excellent paragraph from Jack M. Balkin, “The Last Days of Disco: Why the American Political System is Dysfunctional” (SSRN), describing the dilemma that radical Republicans find themselves in:

They disdain the expertise- and elite-driven politics that the progressives championed. But they face the opposite problem. The acceptance of scientific policymaking as the proper mode of government action, and widespread popular expectations that the government is now responsible for social welfare, social insurance, full employment, environmental protection, and economic prosperity, means that libertarian radicals will find it almost impossible to dismantle the modern policy state wholesale. Instead, the best they can hope for is to undermine it and prevent its further expansion, leading to… a “permanent siege” against the policy state.

This strikes me as an excellent summary of the bind that Canadian Conservatives find themselves in right now. And while it does not manifest itself in the form of “dysfunction,” the way it does in the United States, it does explain the peculiar paralysis of the federal government (remarked upon by many disappointed conservative commentators), where they can’t seem to find anything better to do with their time than pick fights with the civil service.… Continue reading

Lifestyles of the 1% (Vol. 1: Heated Driveways)

I’m not what you would call a “radical environmentalist”. Nevertheless, when it comes to pollution and waste, there are a few bright lines that I try not to cross. One of those is heating the outdoors. If you find yourself doing this, you should rethink the choices that you’ve made that have brought you to this point in life. For example, I’ve always been a bit scandalized by outdoor patio heaters. My neighbour has one on her back deck. Every time I look at it, I think to myself “Seriously? You can’t just put on a sweater?”

As if this weren’t bad enough, there’s a new lifestyle trend sweeping upper-class Toronto that’s irritating me to the point of distraction. It’s heated driveways. People are installing heating coils in their front driveways, so that they don’t have to clear the snow. It’s just like a radiant heat floor inside your house, except that it’s, you know, outside.… Continue reading

Reason vs. passion in politics

Here’s a video of talk I gave in Ottawa last month (in the parliamentary restaurant), on the subject of “reason in politics.” The presentation is basically an ultrashort version of the argument of a new book that I have coming out April 15 (called Enlightenment 2.0), in which I, quixotically, try to make the case for a return to reason in politics.

The talk is just 25 minutes long, it starts at 4:30 and after 35:00 it’s Q&A.

If I may permit myself a moment of “meta” commentary, I just want to acknowledge that the talk itself is what we in philosophy sometimes refer to as a “performative contradiction,” in that I am making the case for an increased role for system 2 thought processes, while using every trick in the book to make the case in a way that will be system 1 intuitive (even stooping so low as to use cute pictures drawn by children).… Continue reading

Open letter on proposed reforms to Canadian elections

Here is a copy of the open letter in opposition to Bill C-23, signed by 160 Canadian university professors who study democracy and constitutional law. It was published today in the National Post and Le Devoir.

Open Letter on C-23

Lettre ouverte C-23

The number of people who signed it (160 by my quick count), is another way of saying “practically everybody.”

 … Continue reading

Can we talk about Cheryl Gallant and lightbulbs?

If you don’t know who Cheryl Gallant is, it’s probably because A) you don’t live in the riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, and B) you missed one of the more revealing political stories of the year.

I’d like to dwell on this story for moment, because as far as I’m concerned it came and went a bit too fast. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, because for me it exemplifies the thing that disturbs me most about a range of extremely sneaky fundraising tactics that the Conservative Party has been using of late. (I think of it, for example, when reading the more recent story of the Conservative party using the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Aga Khan to harvest email addresses, then sending out party fundraising appeals, thereby co-opting official government business for partisan purposes.)

The story that I’m thinking about was broken by Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen (here).… Continue reading

More thoughts on Kymlicka

As Jocelyn points out, most intellectuals in Quebec have had their say about the PQ’s proposed Charter of Values, and are now forced to observe things from the sidelines, with a growing sense of frustration and impotence. Things have now moved decisively into the realm of politics, in the pejorative sense of the term; it seems pretty clear that whether or not the policy is adopted will have nothing to do with its merits as a strategy for managing pluralism.

Nevertheless, as an intellectual, I can’t stop myself from intellectualizing. And so without any illusions about the political significance of these debates, I just want to draw attention to a really interesting exchange that occurred between Will Kymlicka and David Miller in September, 2011 in the journal Ethnicities (unfortunately gated), which lays out all of the issues that we’ve been debating for the past year with exemplary clarity.

I missed this when it came out – I must admit that I find it increasingly difficult to follow Will’s work, because all of his titles seem to involve different variations on the same six or seven words (like the names of James Bond films), so I can no longer remember which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t, or what he said in any specific paper.… Continue reading

A backgrounder on Canadian multiculturalism

One of the most baffling features of the debate about the Charter of Values in Quebec is the number of politicians and commentators who have lined up to defend the Charter by denouncing multiculturalism in Europe, but without showing even the faintest notion of how multiculturalism functions in Canada. Consider, for example, the bizarre lede of Jean-François Lisée’s op-ed in the New York Times:

Angela Merkel deemed multiculturalism — the idea that social harmony is best achieved through celebrating our differences — a complete failure in Germany. David Cameron claimed it facilitated the rise of radical Islam in Britain and called for “stronger societies and identities at home,” along with a “much more active, muscular liberalism” that “believes in certain values and actively promotes them.” Last fall, the European backlash against multiculturalism crossed the Atlantic and landed in Quebec…

A reasonable person might wonder why a European backlash against multiculturalism might land on the shores of Quebec.… Continue reading