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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Voting rights for non-resident citizens

Guest post by Blain Neufeld

So there will be a federal election in Canada on October 19th. I’m a Canadian citizen. But from 2007 to this year I was not able to vote in federal Canadian elections. The reason is that – despite living in Canada on a regular, albeit sporadic, basis (2-3 months every year, depending upon my teaching schedule) – my primary residence was abroad (Ireland until 2008, the United States from 2008 to 2014). Fortunately, my year in Toronto has ‘re-booted’ my residency here, so I will be able to vote in the forthcoming election.  But more than a million other Canadians who live abroad will not be able to do so.Since 1993, Canadians who live abroad for more than 5 years have been ineligible to vote.  Until 2007, however, merely visiting Canada was enough to ‘reset the clock’ with respect to one’s status (that is, after a visit, one would have to be away for another 5 years in order to lose the right to vote).  … Continue reading

One last thought on Jim Prentice

People who are dismayed by the current federal Conservative government, and the fact that they stand a good chance of being re-elected this fall, can at least take comfort from one thing. When Canadians finally get tired of Stephen Harper – which inevitably they will – the Conservative party faces the worst succession crisis of any party in recent memory. Indeed, lack of “depth in the bench” has been one of the defining features of this government, one that may help to explain some of its more puzzling features (such as its ineffectiveness on the legislative front).

The standard narrative on the Conservatives (to be found, for instance, in Michael Harris’s Party of One), seeks to explain the extraordinary concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s office as primarily a consequence of Stephen Harper being an unusually controlling person. This is of course set against a background of a more general trend toward concentration of power in the central agencies, in particular the Privy Council Office.… Continue reading

Our simpering public service

The Pierre Poilievre “vanity video” story is starting to get more interesting. There was an excellent piece in the Ottawa Citizen today that raises exactly the right issue. I think one could reasonably argue that the civil servants who agreed to produce this video, along with those who authorized the expenditure, acted in violation of their ethical responsibilities as public servants. They should probably have refused to do it.

Key quote from Donald Savoie:

If you are an EX-1 or above you should know the importance of the value-and-ethics code and when you see a red flag like this a few months before a general election, live by it. You should be asking if this is appropriate. Values and ethics code covers everybody, not just the clerk.

Those who shot the video, along with the minister, conspired to spend public funds in order to advance an obviously partisan political purpose.… Continue reading

What Did Loyola Really Decide?

My first serious engagement in public policy matters occurred in 1997 when I was asked to join the Groupe de travail sur la place de la religion à l’école publique du Québec. Our mandate was to reflect on the place that religious teaching should have in Quebec’s public schools. Quebec was already in the process of eliminating religious school boards, but that administrative measure left untouched the content of religious teaching in Quebec’s public schools. Parents of a certain age will remember that for a number of years, they were required to tick off a box when signing their kids up for school indicating whether they wanted them to receive Catholic religious teaching, Protestant religious teaching, or non-confessional moral education.

That situation was clearly unstable. First, now that schools in the public system were no longer Catholic or Protestant, it required of each school that it provide three different kinds of course, a logistical nightmare for resource-strapped public schools.… Continue reading

John Ralston Saul: The Comeback

Over the next few weeks I’m reading all the books that have been selected as finalists for the Shaughnessy Cohen prize for political writing (not including my own), and writing up my reactions — mainly to promote conversation. Today we have John Ralston Saul’s The Comeback: How Aboriginals are Reclaiming Power and Influence.

I must admit that I have always struggled with John Ralston Saul’s books. I own several. My biggest problem is that I never know what the hell he’s talking about. It could be him, or it could be me, but something tells me it’s him. I’m constantly getting pulled up short. He’ll be writing along, and he’ll say something like “you know how whenever you do blah-blah, someone will come up to you and say blah-blah,” and I’ll be like, “um, er, no actually, that never happens to me.” It’s always like that.

Reading Saul reminds me of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a transporter malfunction leaves Geordi and Ensign Ro “out of phase” with everyone else on the ship.… Continue reading

Physician-Assisted Dying: What Now?

Five years ago, I agreed to join an “expert panel” of the Royal Society of Canada. Our mandate was to provide a broad assessment of end-of-life care in Canada, and to make recommendations on how it might be improved. One of the recommendations that we made in our 2011 report was that there was no ethical justification for the maintenance of the criminal prohibition preventing physicians from helping their critically ill patients to die a dignified death, one that conformed to their wishes, and avoided them needless suffering.

I was therefore naturally very pleased when the Supreme Court of Canada issued its judgement in the Carter case, declaring that those articles of the Criminal Code were incompatible with Canadians’ Section 7 rights to life, liberty and security of person. Looking back at the 1993 decision in which a 5-4 majority had ruled that those articles were not in fact unconstitutional, a unanimous Court this time argued, in essence, that the empirical environment in which it was now being asked to render judgment had changed.… Continue reading

Thinking about Secession in Catalonia

I’m in Barcelona for a couple of weeks, teaching an accelerated seminar in the European MA program at Pompeu Fabra University. Yeah, I know, tough life.

Shortly before my arrival, requests for interviews with major Spanish newspapers started filling my inbox. Well, “filling” may be a bit too strong a word. I actually received three such requests, but they were from major outlets such as El Pais, a major national paper, and Aran, a newish paper started by Catalan separatists. They all wanted me to comment on recent events in Catalonia. (A referendum of sorts was held here on November 9th. The Spanish constitutional court deemed it illegal, and so it ended up being a bit of a non-event, with slightly under 40% of eligible voters turning up to vote in what had been downgraded to a “participatory consultation”. The “yes” option received a resounding majority of votes from those who showed up.… Continue reading

Free Spirits: An Argument against State-Run Booze

When I lived in Oxford, I loved to go shopping for wine. There were a couple of wine stores down the street from where I lived that were clearly owned by wine-lovers. New arrivals had lovingly inscribed tasting notes taped to them. The selection in the two stores was quite different, and clearly reflected the tastes of the owners.

I don’t enjoy shopping for wine in Montreal that much. That’s because rather than being able to walk into a small store with lots of character, I have to go to the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) retail stores. Don’t get me wrong: these stores are bright and efficiently run. There’s nothing wrong with them, but there is nothing particularly right about them either. Each store is pretty much the same as any other. The folks who work there are unfailingly courteous and knowledgeable, but they are knowledgeable in the way you become knowledgeable when you take a 3-week training course, rather than in the way you are because you have developed a personal obsession with a particular cépage, and have idiosyncratically but charmingly stocked your store to reflect your particular obsession.… Continue reading