Politics and the Pen 2016

I’m off to Ottawa tomorrow to attend the Politics and the Pen gala, sponsored by the Writer’s Trust of Canada. The highlight is, of course, the announcement of the winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The nominees this year are the following books:

Greg Donaghy, Grit: The Life and Politics of Paul Martin Sr.

Norman Hillmer, O.D. Skelton: A Portrait of Canadian Ambition

John Ibbitson, Stephen Harper

Andrew Nikiforuk, Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World Most Powerful Industry

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, The Right to be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet

Looking back, it’s amazing what a difference a year can make in politics. I must admit that last year I didn’t enjoy myself much at the event, since I was one of the nominees, and I had to figure out what I was going to say, if indeed I won.… Continue reading

Why no one should listen to Lorrie Goldstein

Toronto Sun columnist Lorrie Goldstein has something of a fixation on carbon pricing. He never misses an opportunity to condemn the idea. Even when there is nothing really going on with the climate change file, he will pump out a column complaining about the “hysteria” or the “myths” surrounding global warming. Number one myth is the idea that carbon pricing can be an effective policy response. His reasoning is fairly simple: carbon taxes don’t work, and since they don’t work, they must be nothing other than a cash-grab by the government.

Now if you read his stuff regularly, you get the sense that there is something wonky in his understanding of how the economy works. Indeed, it’s always fun listening to people on the right try to explain why carbon pricing can’t possibly work, because they usually wind up inadvertently ‘proving’ that capitalism as a whole can’t work. In other words, the arguments they make inevitably boil down to the claim that consumers are insensitive to price signals for ordinary market goods, such as gasoline.… Continue reading

The meaning of O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary’s recent musing that he might enter the Conservative Party leadership race has given the chattering classes what we have so desperately been lacking the past few months – something entertaining to talk about.

The bid, of course, would be a non-starter, since O’Leary doesn’t speak French. He claims that would be no problem, since he “understands Quebec” on a visceral level, having been born in Montreal. Of course, people who actually understand Quebec know that there is nothing francophone Quebecers hate more than people who are from Quebec, and yet can’t speak French. People from Saskatchewan at least have an excuse. People from Montreal do not.

In any case, the episode reminded me of a very good question that Tyler Cowen asked a while back (actually, now that I look it up, he was repeating a question asked by Robin Hanson), which is why the upper tiers of the political system in democratic societies (i.e the areas where television is the most important medium) are not simply taken over actors.… Continue reading

The Firewall From the Other Side: The past and future of Stephen Harper’s agenda

It didn’t take long for the new Liberal government in Ottawa to start undoing the changes Stephen Harper made to the way the country is run over his nine years as prime minister. Many of these changes were in the tone and style of governance: Trudeau unmuzzled scientists, said nice things to public servants, promised more access and openness to journalists. From coast to coast to coast, bowling scores are up sharply, and mini-putt scores are way down.

Trudeau also took a few quick steps to reverse some of Harper’s key policies. Most notably, he immediately reinstated the mandatory long-form census, barely in time for the 2016 survey. Interestingly, the minister who oversaw the cancelling of the mandatory census, Tony Clement, could not bring himself to criticize Trudeau’s move last week, saying that in retrospect “I think I would have done it differently.”  (On a related note: Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose has come out in favour of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.… Continue reading

Don’t settle for shallow narratives to explain NDP loss

I published an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen explaining why I don’t think we should be satisfied with the analyses of the NDP’s underachievement in the last election. Among other things, I think that the view that one of the reasons explaining the NPD’s loss is that it was “outflanked from the left” by the LPC deserves more scrutiny. I realize that an electoral campaign is not a political philosophy seminar, but this doesn’t entail that hasty judgments should remain unchallenged. More importantly, the lessons that we will draw from the results will influence how we think about social-democracy’s prospects in Canada.… Continue reading

A Remembrance Day story

One of the things that I dislike about Remembrance Day is the ambiguity that has developed, and has in some cases been encouraged, about what exactly it is we are supposed to be remembering. When I was younger it was much more clear. Most of my uncles fought in the Second World War. The fact that they never talked about it told us most of what we needed to know, about what it had been like. My father was the youngest in his family, and so he did not have to serve. He wrote a story, however, about his older brother returning from the war. It has become a useful reminder, in our family, of what we should be striving to remember:

____________

    The Soldier

    the door of the house opened.  a man in soldier’s uniform came out and stood on the back porch.  he put his boots down one after another on the four steps and then onto the dirt path.  

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Newspaper editors receiving offers they can’t refuse

An extraordinary spectacle is being played out across the land, as newspaper editorial boards are forced by their owners to endorse the Conservative Party. (As Paula Simmons put it, with regard to the Edmonton Journal’s endorsement of Harper: “And yes. Before you ask, this was a decision made by the owners of the paper. As is their traditional prerogative.”) The result has been the most tepid series of endorsements and backhanded compliments I can recall. Here is the Globe and Mail’s, which so far has attracted the most derision. Here is the Ottawa Citizen. The National Post has not released its own yet, but it looks as though they’re having to directly censor Andrew Coyne. So hard to get good help these days! You can make them say what you want, but it’s so hard to get them to sound enthusiastic when saying it.

Update: Andrew Coyne has resigned from his position as National Post opinion page editor… Continue reading

Telling women what they can wear is a sign of weakness

Just when the niqab issue was starting to fade, Stephen Harper brought it up again, with his rather surprising announcement that a Conservative government would consider banning them in the public service (a position that was, not that long ago, ruled out by Tony Clement). So apparently this represents a concerted strategy, of ensuring that the election debate remain focused on the pressing issue of women wearing niqabs.

Globally, I’m not very impressed with this strategy. I think that encouraging hatred and distrust towards minority groups is not an acceptable electoral strategy. Imagine if a principal decided to promote school spirit by picking out a few kids and encouraging everyone in the school to bully them. Harper is basically doing the same thing, at the level of the entire country. As far as I am concerned, it shows him to be unfit for public office. (But hey, so does smoking crack, yet 30% of Torontonians were willing to vote for Rob Ford…) Anyhow, I’ve explained my views on that elsewhere.… Continue reading

Why We Support the NDP

(This op-ed, signed by a group of Quebec academics–including Daniel, Patrick and me–was published in Le Devoir yesterday. As far as I know, and despite Charles Taylor’s involvement with the NDP since the 1960’s, it’s the first time in Quebec’s intellectual history that a group of scholars express support for the NDP publicly)

The vast majority of Quebec voters want a change of government in Ottawa. We are a group of academics who believe it’s time for Quebec to fully exercise its political weight in Ottawa, not just in the House of Commons, but also by voting for a party that aspires to form government.

In a first-past-the-post voting system, parties need to federate different views. It’s unrealistic to think that one party could defend all of our preferred political positions. It comes down to choosing the party that is most likely to adopt the range of policies that is closest to our values and considered judgments.… Continue reading