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:

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    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

Why u so mad?

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the open letter that was written by my co-bloggers and posted here the other day (which I signed, by the way). There are lots of people out there who dislike Stephen Harper, but who dislike the kind of people who dislike Stephen Harper even more. And I’m sure even now Rex Murphy is penning a diatribe, about how the 587 signatures are a consequence of the tyranny of “political correctness” and “groupthink” in our universities. Others will dismiss it as mere partisanship, the ravings of the “Laurentian elites,” etc.

The “mere partisanship” argument fails to reflect the fact that not every issue attracts this sort of attention, or upsets people quite so much. I’m sure there are many items in the Conservative Party platform that are also broadly opposed by Canadian academics. Boutique tax credits, for instance, are opposed by pretty much every economist in the country.… Continue reading

Lettre sur les tactiques de campagne du Parti conservateur

Contre la politique de propagation de la peur et de la haine

Nous sommes un groupe diversifié d’universitaires ayant des vues et des allégeances politiques différentes. Nous sommes unis par l’intérêt commun que nous partageons pour l’intégrité du processus démocratique et par notre inquiétude concernant le virage dangereux et mesquin dont nous avons été témoins plus récemment dans le contexte de la campagne électorale.

Dans les politiques électorales démocratiques, il y a une frontière éthique qui distingue les stratégies partisanes fougueuses des tactiques cyniques qui trahissent les valeurs de respect mutuel et de tolérance qui sont au cœur du discours démocratique civique. Les politiciens honorables ne franchissent pas cette ligne même quand ils pensent que cela leur serait politiquement avantageux. Les politiciens sans vergogne ignorent cette limite lorsque cela leur convient de le faire.

Le Parti Conservateur sous Stephen Harper s’est déjà approché dangereusement de cette ligne en suggérant que la religion est un critère approprié pour sélectionner les réfugiés et en attisant la peur du terrorisme comme prétexte pour révoquer la citoyenneté de certains concitoyens canadiens.… Continue reading

Open letter regarding Conservative Party campaign tactics

The following letter has been signed by 587 Canadian academics, condemning the tactics being employed by the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election campaign. It will appear in newspapers tomorrow, but there is no room in print to reproduce all of the signatures. So we are making the full list available here:

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We are a diverse group of academics with different political views and different political allegiances. We are united by a common interest in the integrity of democratic processes and a concern about the ugly and dangerous turn we have recently witnessed in the election campaign. In democratic electoral politics there is an ethical line that distinguishes spirited partisan strategy from cynical tactics that betray the values of mutual respect and toleration that lie at the heart of civil democratic discourse. Honourable politicians do not cross that line even when they think doing so will be politically advantageous.… Continue reading

Conservative Party moves beyond the pale

One of the most important concepts in modern democratic politics is that of “reasonable disagreement.” There are a number of different principles or values that most of us subscribe to, at some level, but in cases where they conflict, it is not entirely obvious how they should be ordered. When should public welfare be assigned priority over personal freedom? How much loss of welfare should be accepted in order to promote greater equality? These are the sorts of questions that define the zone of reasonable disagreement in modern politics. The central distinguishing feature of the right-to-left spectrum of political parties is that they propose different answers to these questions, with the right putting more emphasis on personal freedom, the left more emphasis on equality, and the centre focusing on maximizing welfare. This naturally translates into different views about the role of government in society.

The disagreement is “reasonable” because the underlying principles are ones that are very broadly accepted – they are in fact foundational for a liberal democratic society – the disagreement is more one of emphasis.… Continue reading

Trudeau on Secession

So, my stint at L’actualité is over. It was terrific, but very time consuming. I promised myself that I would stay quiet this summer and focus on a book manuscript, but the urge to respond to Trudeau’s attack on Mulcair regarding the Supreme Court’s Reference on Quebec secession was too strong. I wrote an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen. I should have added that there is another aspect of the Scottish referendum that I think should act as precedent: the agreement of both parties on the wording of the question. A question on secession should not be convoluted. The Brits and the Scots, at least with regard to the basic rules of the referendum, acted as grown ups. Our leaders should emulate them.

 

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