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

Agenda Setting 101 (What, no Ministry of Truth?)

One thing the current national government does very well is to occupy rhetorical terrain. I am thinking in particular of how the government deploys short form titles for its legislation. This week we are hearing a lot about the Truth in Sentencing Act. Last week it was Victims Bill of Rights Act. And for months now, the Fair Elections Act. In my little corner of the world, the latest legislation is called the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, and before that, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

There are days when I think what I most resent about this legislative agenda is that as a law teacher, I am required to stand up and say these things aloud.

What is more, even as Canadians engage in a public, private, Parliamentary, and scholarly debate about these laws, these short form titles get repeated over and over.… Continue reading

The Ball is in ROC’s Court

Pretty much everyone agrees that last Monday’s election was one of the most meaningful in Quebec’s recent history. But not everyone agrees on what that meaning was. Some observers rightly noted that the Parti Québécois’ campaign was shockingly, and surprisingly, incompetent. From the moment Pierre Karl Péladeau raised the issue of Québec’s independence, the PQ seemed to slip into improvisational mode. But unlike good improvisational practice, party officials and operatives were not playing with each other, but against each other. This was at no point more evident than when three péquistes dealt with the question of whether the PQ’s secularism charter might lead to state employees being dismissed in three radically different ways on the same day. A second-rank candidate stated that they very well might. Cabinet Minister Jean-François Lisée opined that they most certainly would not. And Premier Pauline Marois, in what must surely rank as one of the most fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along moments in recent campaign history, offered that the government might help find employment in the private sector for those public employees laid off because of their refusal to shed their religious apparel.… Continue reading

Is Quebec more left-wing than the rest of Canada?

There is a widespread perception that Quebec is more left-wing, or more “social-democratic” than the rest of Canada. Indeed, one branch of the sovereignty movement suggests that a commitment to social justice requires separation from Canada, because English Canada encumbers Quebec, preventing it from realizing its vision of a more egalitarian society. (It is because of this belief that many people in Quebec think of separatism as a natural extension of left-wing political commitments.)

This is an illusion. The part of Canada that I grew up in – Saskatchewan – was far more left-wing than Quebec has ever been. And it never once occurred to anyone that you couldn’t have “socialism in one province” (or that being a member of the Canadian federation in any way impeded the realization of the essentially socialist vision that was at the time predominant).

What makes Quebec distinct is the fact that, over the past 30 years, the Quebec political system has been tilted to the left.… Continue reading

Whither the Left in Quebec?

            I live in a Montreal riding that has been voting Liberal since time immemorial. Deciding who to vote for is therefore for me something of a theoretical exercise. Whatever happens in the province more broadly, you can be sure that Kathleen Weil, who served as Minister of Justice in the Charest government, will be returned to power with a hefty majority. Weil is a credible candidate, but I won’t be voting for her. Like many Quebeckers, I worry about the degree to which Philippe Couillard has managed to rid the party of the stench of corruption in the few months that he has been leader. Like many people on the Left, I don’t see him as having in any significant way arrested the rightward drift that Jean Charest imprinted upon the Liberals. And as a civil libertarian, I am not ready to forgive the Liberals (and Mme. Weil) for having enacted repressive legislation aimed at stemming the protests that gripped the province in the Spring and Summer of 2012.… Continue reading

Does the PQ have to Say Whether It Will Hold a Referendum?

Apart from convinced sovereigntists, very few people had given serious thought to the possibility of a third referendum on Quebec’s independence before the current election. Support for independence has been oscillating around 40% for years and a huge proportion of the population did not want to hear about it, including disillusioned sovereigntists. Even a deeply disliked conservative government in Ottawa hasn’t been enough to reignite the independence flame. But things can move quickly in politics, and it now appears that a Parti Québécois majority government would switch gear and do whatever it can to create a momentum for sovereignty. As Daniel pointed out, the baby boomers who are masterminding the current PQ strategy are arguably thinking that their best chance to see an independent Quebec during their lifetime is to organize a new referendum as quickly as possible. Media mogul and now PQ candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP) is not known for his patience.… Continue reading

Non-citizens and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Almost thirty years ago, when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was brand new, the Supreme Court of Canada made two decisions that were vitally important for the rights of non-citizens in Canada.  Since that time, it has been all down hill.

What has gone wrong and why?  The beginning was promising.  In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled than anyone physically present in Canada was protected by the Charter.  This ruling was followed in 1989 with a decision that a lack of citizenship was analogous to the grounds of discrimination listed in the Charter and thus was a basis for equality protection.

My study published late in 2013 showed both that very few questions of non-citizens’ rights reach the Supreme Court of Canada, and that those that claims that do are frequently rejected by the Court.  The commitment of the Court to ensure that the Charter meets international human rights standards is not being met in this area.  … Continue reading

Reason vs. passion in politics

Here’s a video of talk I gave in Ottawa last month (in the parliamentary restaurant), on the subject of “reason in politics.” The presentation is basically an ultrashort version of the argument of a new book that I have coming out April 15 (called Enlightenment 2.0), in which I, quixotically, try to make the case for a return to reason in politics.

The talk is just 25 minutes long, it starts at 4:30 and after 35:00 it’s Q&A.

If I may permit myself a moment of “meta” commentary, I just want to acknowledge that the talk itself is what we in philosophy sometimes refer to as a “performative contradiction,” in that I am making the case for an increased role for system 2 thought processes, while using every trick in the book to make the case in a way that will be system 1 intuitive (even stooping so low as to use cute pictures drawn by children).… Continue reading