Before we stop talking about the Charter of Values entirely

A piece I wrote for Global Brief magazine just appeared (not a moment too soon, since it was written before the Quebec election call). It’s aimed primarily at a non-Canadian audience, with the goal of explaining the current dust-up over multiculturalism/secularism:

Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism

There’s not all that much new in it, mainly it brings together in one place arguments that have been made by Daniel, Jocelyn and others, within a broadly “Kymlickian” framework for thinking about Canadian multiculturalism.

There is however one observation that I consider moderately original (or that I have not seen enough discussion of). The fact that religious accommodation is so much more controversial in Quebec than it is in the rest of Canada is, in my view, related to the extremely rapid secularization process that Quebec underwent beginning in the ’60s, which was experienced by many as a cultural trauma:

No visitor to Canada can fail to be impressed by, on the one hand, the vibrancy and enthusiasm of religious communities in immigrant groups – particularly Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus – and on the other hand, the obvious signs of decline in the traditional Christian churches.

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If government were a business, regulation would be a profit centre

Over at my day job, I’m in the midst of writing up a rather lengthy paper on cost-benefit analysis. Rereading some of the literature, I was struck by the following claim made by Cass Sunstein, in one of the many interesting things he’s written since retiring from government work and returning to academia (“The Office of Regulatory Affairs: Myths and Realities”):

In the first three years of the Obama Administration, the net benefits of economically significant regulation exceeded $91 billion – more than twenty-five times the corresponding figure for the Bush Administration, and more than six times the corresponding figure for the Clinton Administration.

We are so used to hearing about the costs imposed by regulation that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, when properly crafted, regulation is a source of enormous benefit to society. And yet it’s not every day that you see government (or in this case, former government officials) standing up and taking credit, unapologetically, for those gains.… Continue reading

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