How’s that firewall working out for you guys?

So the federal government announced its “approval” of the Northern Gateway pipeline. The fact that the Prime Minister said nothing, the Minister of Natural Resources was nowhere to be found, and none of the government’s BC MPs were available for comment, says pretty much everything you need to know about the government’s own estimation that the thing will ever be built.

That they would approve it was a foregone conclusion, since failure to approve it would have been the final nail in the coffin of the Keystone XL pipeline. (One of the major talking points of American Keystone XL opponents is that, if pipelines are so fabulous, then why don’t Canadians just build them on their own soil, why do they have to go through the U.S.?) Furthermore, the only thing that the Harper government has really done in Ottawa, with any sort of consistency, is advance the interests of Alberta and the Alberta tar sands.… Continue reading

Restoring Sanity to the Debate over Sex Work

What would sensible policy regarding sex work look like? Let’s begin with what should be something of a truism in a liberal democracy. Policy in this domain should not be moralistic. By that I mean that it should not be grounded in the judgment made by some that there is something inherently wrong with selling and purchasing sexual services. The state acts in an unacceptably paternalistic manner when it claims that, whatever the conditions in which the sale of such services occurs, it is condemnable and should therefore be prohibited by law. If two consenting adults wish to contract in order to exchange sex for money, they should be allowed to do so.

If that is the case, then a decent society needs to ask itself two kinds of questions. First, how can it ensure, or make it as likely as possible, that when a sex worker and a consumer of sexual services engage in such an exchange, they do so consensually?… Continue reading

Temporary Foreign Workers – Why Now?

I admit to being a bit surprised about how just how the temporary foreign worker program hit the front pages over recent weeks. For migration policy wonks, the myriad problems with temporary foreign worker programs are well known, and usually do not centre on putting citizen workers out of jobs.

I’ve been mulling it over and have come to the conclusion that the current uproar might even have been deliberately provoked to provide a politically palatable way to end to the most progressive aspect of the temporary foreign worker program.

Temporary foreign worker programs are not new. Canada has relied on temporary foreign workers off and on for much of the last century. Many other Western democracies have done the same.

The basic idea behind a temporary non-citizen worker program is to create a category of workers who have fewer rights than citizens or permanent residents. This framework ensures that the workers can be directed to particular employers or sectors, and can be compelled to leave when their work is finished.… Continue reading

Still Not Fixed

The crisis provoked by the Prime Minister’s malicious accusations about the Chief Justice has left the front pages. And while there has been some backtracking, the record has not been set straight. So I thought it would still be worth posting the link to this letter from leaders in Canada’s legal community. Take a look here.

There is almost nothing else to be said about this particular bit of craziness as an unusually high number of excellent articles about it have run in the mainstream press across the country, and in many other places besides. My point is simply not to let this become one more thing that we almost forget in the long string of reprehensible actions by this government.

The Prime Minister’s actions in this case demonstrate a basic disrespect for the rule of law, unprecedented in the long history of the relationship between the judiciary and the executive in this country.… Continue reading

Le Devoir/Options politiques

Bruce Wallace, le rédacteur en chef du magazine de l’IRPP Options politiques/Policy Options, m’a demandé au lendemain de l’élection du 7 avril de réfléchir aux causes et au sens du résultat. Le nationalisme québécois est à la croisée des chemins. De nouvelles mouvances se formeront. Je propose une façon d’interpréter l’appui historiquement faible en faveur du projet souverainiste. Mon but n’est pas tant de réfuter l’argumentaire souverainiste que de tenter de comprendre pourquoi il n’est pas très efficace présentement. Je ne cherche pas « à en découdre » avec les souverainistes, mais bien à participer à une réflexion collective sur notre parcours historique et notre situation politique. Le Devoir publie une version abrégée du texte ce matin, et la version complète se trouve dans le plus récent numéro d’Options politiques.

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Perverse incentives in Canadian health care

I notice that Dr. Danielle Martin is going to be giving a talk on Monday (May 12) on campus here at the University of Toronto, so to celebrate the occasion I thought I’d discuss Canadian health care for a bit.

Incidentally, for those who don’t follow these things, Dr. Martin recently quickened the pulse of Canadian nationalists everywhere by smacking down a Republican Senator on television:

 

 

This video quickly came to occupy a place in the policy wonk’s heart, like an understated version of the “Joe Canadian” rant. (For those of you who missed that one, see here:

 

 

One cannot help but be impressed by her poise and self-confidence as she challenges his talking points. At the same time, people familiar with the state of affairs in Canada may have cringed a bit during the discussion of wait times. Because while the Canadian health care system performs very well in certain dimensions, in the area of wait times we are an international underperformer.… Continue reading

Literary Review of Canada

I just received the latest issue of the Literary Review of Canada.

 

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There is a great review of Joseph’s Enlightenment 2.0 by National Post editor Jonathan Key, as well as pieces on transnational financial regulation, Paul-Émile Borduas and the history of religious freedom in Canada. I also have an essay on one of the most pressing and difficult challenges of democratic politics today : how should we think about the connection between grassroot contestatorary politics and electoral democracy? I discuss, among other things, Stephen D’Arcy’s Languages of the Unheard : Why Militant Protest is Good for Democracy and Philip Pettit’s On the People’s Terms : A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy. Although the title the editors chose—“Democratic Unrest. The Case for Protest, from Cicero to Occupy”—implies that I come down in favour of civil society activism, I actually spend a great deal of time showing that institutions and policies matter a great deal.… Continue reading

Two (well, maybe one) cheers for the Senate!

It’s time for a confession. I like the Senate. Not just the general idea of bicameralism, and of an upper chamber. I actually kind of like our Senate, in all of its unelected glory. Now I will grant you that these have been hard times for Senate-lovers, or perhaps I should say Senate-likers, like myself, what with the Pamela Wallins, the Mike Duffys, and the Patrick Brazeaus. But we should not judge an entire institution by sole reference to a few bad apples. Very few of our institutions would survive that kind of scrutiny. And at the same time as we quite justifiably look for ways of ridding the Senate of the kind of corruption that has been brought to light in recent years, we also have to acknowledge the excellent work that it has been capable of. For example, anyone who wants to read a sane, well-documented, and well argued piece on drug policy could do a lot worse than picking up the report on cannabis that was published in 2001 by a Senate committee chaired by Pierre Claude Nolin.… Continue reading

Is Quebec More Left-Wing?

Joe asked the other day whether it is true that Quebec is more left wing than the rest of Canada. He thinks it’s a myth. Although he helpfully debunks some false beliefs about the alleged ideological contrast between Quebec and some of the other Canadian provinces, I want to suggest that he skips over several facts that arguably entitle us to reach a different conclusion.

If you look at public opinion and voting behaviour, it is true that it is far from clear that Quebec is straightforwardly leaning to the left. In 2007, the Action démocratique du Québec and its strong libertarian wing came close to winning the election. The Conservatives made some inroads in Quebec in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections. The Coalition avenir Québec did better than expected on April 7th. The common sense/slash-the-bureaucracy discourse is popular in many suburban and rural ridings in the province. And I’m leaving aside the identity dimension of contemporary debates on social justice.… Continue reading

Les mythes de PKP

Par Jocelyn Maclure et Daniel Weinstock

Ainsi, Pierre-Karl Péladeau estime que le fleurdelisé devrait être mis en berne tous les 17 avril pour commémorer la date funeste à laquelle la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982 fut mise en vigueur. Selon celui qui vient d’être élu député de Saint-Jérôme et candidat potentiel à la chefferie du Parti Québécois, c’est ce jour que s’installa au Canada un « gouvernement des juges », qui fut particulièrement fatidique pour les deux grands acquis de la Révolution tranquille: l’affirmation du fait français et la laïcité.

La lettre de M. Péladeau touche à des questions qui sont sans aucun doute très importantes. Il y est question de l’équilibre entre les différents pouvoirs dans une démocratie libérale, et du partage des compétences entre partenaires dans une fédération. Malheureusement, le propos ne se hisse pas au-delà de la caricature.

Commençons par l’idée que la Constitution de 1982 a instauré un gouvernement des juges.… Continue reading