40 theses against the Harper Conservatives: nos. 21-30

This summer, Catherine Lu decided to write up a list of reasons to vote against the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election. Over a period of 40 days, she came up with one new reason per day, which she posted to her Facebook page. In recognition of her labours, over the next few days we will republish them here:

Reason #30

When I’m planning a large party, I try to get details on things such as how many people are coming and what kinds of drinks and food they prefer, and so on. No one wants to be short on food or drink or, at my age, have too much leftover dessert. Governing a country – at municipal, regional, provincial and federal levels – also requires accurate information on what citizens need and how policies are functioning, so that government resources can be spent wisely, appropriately and efficiently.Continue reading

40 theses against the Harper Conservatives: nos. 31-40

This summer, Catherine Lu decided to write up a list of reasons to vote against the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election. Over a period of 40 days, she came up with one new reason per day, which she posted to her Facebook page. In recognition of her labours, over the next few days we will republish them here:

Prologue

Earlier this summer on a short visit to Ottawa, I happened to see the ‘Northern Lights’ show,  a visually-stunning light display over the Parliament Buildings that tells the story of Canada to visitors of the great institutions of Canadian democracy. I was dismayed that after seeing this show, a visitor to Canada might leave thinking that relations between indigenous peoples and arriving settlers were based on ‘mutual interest’ and exhibited ‘partnership’, rather than dispossession and genocide; and that World War One was a meaningful sacrifice of Canadian lives that helped to build the nation, rather than a monumental and meaningless political catastrophe that generated irretrievable losses for thousands of families.… Continue reading

Sex education and the dilemmas of immigrant integration

Back when I lived in Montreal, there were about a dozen women in my neighbourhood – obviously recent immigrants – who had a strange hangup about dogs. Whenever I was out walking the dog, they would take great pains to avoid us, sometimes even crossing the street to walk on the other side. Once I came around a corner and startled one of these women, who when she saw the dog, literally screamed and ran away from us. At other times, if they were walking with their children, I would notice them covering their children’s eyes, so that they would not make eye contact with the dog.

Now I know there are some cultures where the thought of living with a dog is considered rather disgusting, but this seemed to go far beyond mere disgust, entering the realm of fear bordering on terror. So I asked a friend who studies this sort of thing what was up.… Continue reading

Stephen Harper versus the intellectuals, part 2

The case of Tom Flanagan

Someone mentioned Tom Flanagan, so I thought I’d add a small footnote to the whole Flanagan “child pornography” story (documented in his book, Persona Non Grata, quick summary here), explaining a few things that may not be so obvious to non-academics. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have very little sympathy for Tom’s politics, or the contributions he has made to Canadian public life. And yet there were very, very few of us who did not feel some sympathy for him, after the mobbing he endured from the conservative movement in 2013 – spearheaded by Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party at the time, as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

It’s important to understand that, in piling on Flanagan the way they did, they managed to do more than just traumatize him, they also alienated pretty much every conservative intellectual in the country.… Continue reading

Stephen Harper versus the intellectuals

Looking back over Stephen Harper’s time as Prime Minister, one can see two significant “discoveries” associated with his mandate. The first is that he discovered a way of ruling the country without any support in Quebec. The second is that he discovered a way of ruling the country without any support from the intellectual classes.

The latter trick is, of course, much easier to pull off, since intellectuals do not command many votes, and they tend to cluster together in a very small number of ridings. Republicans in the United States wrote them off a long time ago. (I can still remember a pathetic issue of the New York Review of Books published just before the 2004 presidential election, in which a who’s who of American intellectuals got together to say “please do not re-elect George W. Bush.” It made not a whit of difference.)

The reasons for this hostility toward Harper in Canada are manifold.… Continue reading

A mystery solved

Lately a road crew has been mucking around the gravel road out in front of my place. Not quite clear what they’re doing. A bit of regrading on the side, deepening the ditches:

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It’s weird though, they show up maybe once a week, put in a couple of hours of work, then disappear again. They’ve been at it for around two months, and have done about a kilometer of road.  Here they’ve regraded the hill by the side of the road… not sure why. So the snowploughs can clear better?

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Weird stuff. Oh look, they replaced a culvert. I guess that’s kind of useful:

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All of this seems totally unnecessary. And why is it taking them so long?

Oh, right:

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Conservative riding. Thanks Kellie!… Continue reading

Man whose livelihood depends upon status quo finds no problem with status quo

My “Forever Campaign” piece in the Ottawa Citizen this past weekend received a lot of positive response (a shorter version was published in the National Post, as well as several other Postmedia papers). Today the Citizen has a column by Randall Denley (“Politicians are no Threat to Democracy”), retired journalist, failed Ontario PC candidate and now “strategic communications consultant,” taking issue with some of the claims that I made.

Apparently my concerns about the future of democracy are not only ill-founded, but in some cases positively “funny.”

I just want to focus on two aspects of Denley’s piece. He starts out by making a fairly big move, which is to dismiss the major premise of my argument. I claimed that the “point” of a democratic political system is to produce “good government” (which, to be pedantic, should be taken to mean “to improve our chances of getting good government,” or “to improve the average quality of government,” or something like that).… Continue reading

The forever campaign

 

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Attentive readers will have noticed that I’ve spent the past month busily doing things other than writing for this blog. I’ve actually been working on a few academic articles, but also a long piece for the Ottawa Citizen, which just came out online today. It’s called “The Forever Campaign” and it deals with the problem that John Stuart Mill referred to as “the great mischief of unintermitted electioneering.”

Here’s a bit that pertains to our current electoral campaign:

Perhaps the signature accomplishment of the Harper Government, when it comes to accelerating the decline of Canadian democracy, has been the transformation of parliament itself, and of the legislative process, into an instrument of the political campaign.

Governing parties have always passed laws that they feel will appeal to their favoured constituencies. Historically, however, these laws have also attempted to achieve something, above and beyond merely appealing to these groups.

Continue reading

On the disappearance of the centre-right in Canada

Jeffrey Simpson wrote a column today on an issue that I think is of a paramount importance in Canadian politics – I’ve often said that the near-total collapse of the centre-right is the most important development in our political system over the past two decades. Unfortunately, the way that Simpson articulated the idea confused many people. First of all, he described it as “The Disappearance of the Moderate Conservative“, and second, he tied it to the unfortunate term “red Tory,” which is a complex political tradition that is not exactly relevant to the current set of issues.

The biggest problem has to do with the term “moderate,” because it suggests a person who takes a position between some set of extremes, and so if you think of the three political parties arranged on a left-to-right spectrum, a moderate conservative is just someone who is more like a liberal. This is not a helpful way of framing the debate (because conservatives just dismiss it, as the sound of a downtown Toronto media elite whining, “why isn’t everyone a liberal like me?”).… Continue reading

The challenge of maintaining a “normal” rate of crime

Emile Durkheim upset a lot of people, back in the late 19th century, by claiming that there was a “normal” rate of crime, which society seeks to maintain. He argued that the apprehension and punishment of criminals served a social function, by reaffirming everyone else’s commitment to the social order. In the same way that public rituals serve as a reaffirmation of faith for members of certain religion communities, the punishment of criminals plays the same role for members of society more generally. We find it easier to do our part in maintaining the social order when we have visible evidence that those who fail to do so are being appropriately sanctioned.

This is why the general public takes such a keen interest in the punishment of criminals, and much less in, say, road maintenance, even though with the division of labour, there are agents of the state whose job it is to make sure that each is done expeditiously.… Continue reading