Those who pay attention to the “republic of letters” in Canada will have noticed that Tanya Talaga’s book, Seven Fallen Feathers, has been cleaning up the awards for literary non-fiction, having won the RBC Taylor Prize, and now the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing (announced yesterday at the Politics and the Pen gala in Ottawa). Since I was a member of the jury that awarded it the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize, I thought I might say a few words about why the book stands out among all others published this past year.
With the release of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there has been an enormous amount of discussion of the need for reconciliation (or even just normalization of the relationship) between Canada and its First Nations. A great deal of this discussion has been rather fruitless, in part because it has been confined almost entirely to the plane of symbolic politics.… Continue reading
À toutes les époques, la guerre fut discutée et critiquée de diverses manières. On a certes souvent condamné les guerres mal menées, qui mènent à la défaite. Mais ce n’est pas tout, les Athéniens ont de manière célèbre condamné à mort leurs généraux victorieux en 406 avant notre ère pour avoir négligé de traiter morts et blessés selon la tradition.
Dès lors, on peut dire que depuis des millénaires, on critique non seulement la conduite de la guerre en termes d’efficacité, mais aussi suivant des critères moraux. On dénoncera par exemple les excès contre les populations civiles et les lieux saints, et divers mouvements ont même remis en question toute guerre, le pacifisme se retrouvant bien avant le 20e siècle, par exemple chez les premiers chrétiens et certains courants bouddhistes.
Cependant, un grand oublié de cette longue histoire est la question de l’expérience individuelle du soldat. Ainsi, on a beaucoup plus rarement critiqué la guerre pour ce qu’elle infligeait psychologiquement au soldat individuel.… Continue reading
The other day I was sitting at my computer, writing an abstruse philosophy paper on an abstruse topic, when suddenly the very issue that I was discussing found its way into the headlines. The new leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh, was accused of failing to respect the boundary between religion and politics, on the grounds that, while in the Ontario legislature, he introduced a private member’s bill that would have granted an exemption for Sikhs from motorcycle helmet laws. (There was a lot of grousing coming from Quebec about the “ostentatious” religious symbolism of Singh’s mode of dress.) The example, I thought, was ill-chosen, because one need not appeal to any exotic religious concerns in order to support such accommodations, they follow rather straightforwardly from the liberal norm of equality. Or so I argue. This is what I was writing:
The impression that exemptions necessarily involve some violation of equality is, of course, encouraged by the popular view that treating people equally involves treating them all the same.… Continue reading
I led a double life in the 1960s and ‘70s, growing up in Snowdon, which was then a largely Anglophone, lower middle-class neighborhood in the Western part of Montreal. We were pretty much the only French-speaking household in the area. My mother, a Hungarian Jew, had spent her adolescence in France (long story), had acquired French citizenship which she passed on to me (Thanks, Mom), and more importantly, had developed a very strong sense of French identity, and perhaps even of French cultural superiority. I therefore attended Collège Stanislas, an educational gulag which, though it did everything it could to stifle any creative spark that might have been flickering among its pupils, did instill upon me a strong grasp of the rules of agreement of the French language. My friends at school were for the most part French Canadian. There were a few anglos – but we lived in French. I was fully attuned to French pop culture.… Continue reading
The University of Toronto’s recent decision not to allow a white nationalist group to hold some kinds of a meeting/rally on campus (details here) would be largely uneventful, except for the fact that the new leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer, made a rather incautious commitment to have the federal government intervene in various ways to protect freedom of speech on university campuses in Canada. I did an interview with CBC’s The 180 on this a while back (here). At the time, I mainly wanted to observe that Scheer got this idea from one of Donald Trump’s tweets, which is probably not the best source of policy ideas. I also found it absurd that Scheer saw the primary threat to free speech on campus coming from undergraduate students, as opposed to academic administrators. This on the heels of l’affaire Potter, and the fact that universities in Canada are increasingly hiring faculty into non-tenure track positions, and in the case of McGill, disposing of them when they say something unpopular.… Continue reading
Between Jeremy Corbyn’s showing in the last U.K. election and Emmanuel Macron’s phenomenal sweep in France, there is grounds for optimism that the fever of right-wing populism is beginning to break. In part I think this is due to Donald Trump himself, who is such a perfect specimen of the ugly American that his election and subsequent behaviour no doubt did considerable damage to the fortunes of populists in countries where voters would like to think of themselves as above the impulses that brought him to power. (This is, I suspect, an important part of the story in France.)
Just a few months ago, things were looking quite different. At that time, a fairly widespread discussion broke out over the seemingly anomalous circumstances that prevailed in Canada, where nativism seemed to be gaining no traction. The picture we all saw of a smiling Justin Trudeau greeting Syrian refugees at the airport was reprinted in newspapers around the world.… Continue reading
As I write these lines, McGill University is reeling from the scrutiny that has been brought to bear upon it in the handling by its upper administration of what has come to be known as the “Potter Affair”. I think we could have come out of this crisis much better that we have done. I offer the following reflections, not because I think there is any way that the present situation can be made good – the well has been poisoned to far too great a degree for that – but in the hope that it might guide our institution, as well as others, through similar challenges.
First, let’s get a couple of matters out of the way. To begin with, yes, Andrew is a friend. He was my postdoctoral student many years ago at the Université de Montréal. Our life trajectories have not led to our having had that much contact since then, but we have been in regular touch.… Continue reading
(Those who have been following the news will no doubt know that Andrew Potter, our co-blogger here on In Due Course, as well as my friend and sometime co-author, has been at the centre of not one, but two, recent scandals, the first when he published an unpopular column in Maclean‘s, which he quickly came to regret, and the second when he stepped down from his position as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Unsurprisingly, I have a few thoughts on the matter…)
The McGill administration appears to have sleepwalked into what is arguably the most egregious violation of academic freedom in this country in living memory. To see how outrageous it is, consider how it would look had it occurred to me. Suppose, for instance, that I wrote an opinion column called “10 things I hate about Toronto.” That actually wouldn’t be much of a stretch, because I hate Toronto, and it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a list of 10 things.… Continue reading
On Friday, Canadians were treated to the rather distressing spectacle of a protest being held outside a mosque in Toronto, calling for, among other things, an end to Muslim immigration and a ban on the practice of Islam in Canada. The total number of protesters, according to reports, was only 15, so one should not blow this out of proportion. But it should give pause to all those in the Conservative party, who have been lying and otherwise making a fuss about the M-103 motion.
I wouldn’t have much to say about the whole thing, except that I heard a great interview with one of the protesters on CBC radio (which I can’t seem to track down online). Now I know that many, many people in small-l liberal societies are not actually small-l liberal. Nevertheless, it is seldom that one hears the anti-liberal viewpoint expressed so compactly and efficiently. The interviewer asked one of the protesters, basically, “what’s the difference between what you’re doing and someone who dislikes Judaism, protesting outside a synagogue?” The answer was, roughly, “the difference is that Judaism is not evil, whereas Islam is.”
It doesn’t get much better than that.… Continue reading
If the next federal election were being held under a proportional representation system, would the Conservative Party care if their leader spoke French?
That’s the question. My answer is “no.” That is, of course, speculative, but here is my thinking.
Right now what the Conservative Party is aiming for is a majority government. If that is the objective, then you can’t afford not to compete for the 70-odd Quebec seats that have a francophone majority electorate. If there’s one thing everyone can agree upon, it’s that first-past-the-post electoral systems create enormous pressure to create very broad-based political parties, that appeal to the maximum number of voters. That is the precisely the pressure that the Conservative party is experiencing now.
Proportional representation (PR) takes majority government off the table, even with the current party configuration. PR would also generate new parties over time, further increasing the difficulty of obtaining a majority. So all political parties, including the Conservative, will be looking at forming coalition governments.… Continue reading