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.”

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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

Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 1)

Like many, many people in Toronto, I woke up this morning trying not to think about our mayor, Rob Ford. I couldn’t bring myself to watch him on Jimmy Kimmel late night (the pathos is too much for me). But then I noticed that Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle was giving a talk on campus at noon, so I surrendered — might was well make it an all-Ford, all-the-time sort of day. So I took a look at the Kimmel appearance, and now, what do you know, I’m writing about Rob Ford.

As far as the late-night appearance is concerned, people paid a lot of attention to the fact that Kimmel was “mean” to Ford, or that he had “ridiculed” him, or that it was “embarrassing” for the city. I actually thought it made us (i.e. people living in Toronto) look marginally less insane. Here’s why. My guess is that any political strategist watching that appearance could see exactly why Ford is a successful retail politician.… Continue reading

How do we feel about MPs being on Twitter?

Anyone who reads the news has no doubt noticed that MPs have been using Twitter a lot. Not only are the content of tweets showing up more often in news stories, but increasingly the Twitter chatter is becoming the subject of the news. Here is an example of a story, for instance, that essentially concerns a Twitter fight that broke out during a Parliamentary session (and where what was being said on Twitter was more interesting than what was being said in the house). Here is another story that is basically a Twitter story, about a politician’s tweet and the response to it.

I’m not sure how I feel about all this. I know that debate in the House of Commons is terribly degraded, that the media is only looking for soundbites, and so on. But I’m not sure we should just give up and have politicians debate one another in snippets of no more than 140 characters.… Continue reading