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:


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

40 theses against the Harper Conservatives: nos. 1-10

This summer, Catherine Lu decided to write up a list of reasons to vote against the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election. Over a period of 40 days, she came up with one new reason per day, which she posted to her Facebook page. In recognition of her labours, over the next few days we will republish them here:

Reason #10 (with a nod to Kurt Vonnegut’s classic short story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’)

‘This is a society that is transparent, open, and where people are equal.’
–Prime Minister Stephen Harper (February 2015).

The year was 2016, and all Canadians were finally ‘equal’ and living in a ‘transparent and open’ society. Nobody was not being watched by the government’s spy agency (CSIS). Nobody demonstrated against this Harper Government surveillance, and nobody even discussed strategies to thwart these Harper Government operations, at least not since 81-year-old protestor, Doreen Routley, was charged with engaging in an “activity that undermines the sovereignty, security or territorial integrity of Canada,” and “interfering with the capability of the Government in relation to … the economic or financial stability of Canada.” Nobody could wear a niqab or a hijab or hockey mask while swearing the oath of citizenship.… Continue reading

40 theses against the Harper Conservatives: nos. 11-20

This summer, Catherine Lu decided to write up a list of reasons to vote against the Conservative Party of Canada in the current federal election. Over a period of 40 days, she came up with one new reason per day, which she posted to her Facebook page. In recognition of her labours, over the next few days we will republish them here:

Reason #20

Supporting our troops does not mean cutting their access to benefits when they need them the most, or requiring disabled veterans to submit to a demeaning bureaucratic process in order to receive benefits. Of the forty thousand Canadians who served in Afghanistan over 12 years, more than 2,000 were wounded in battle. In 2006, the Harper Conservative government changed the way it compensates the wounded, offering a lump sum payment rather than a lifetime pension. The change costs the government less in the long run, so will save Canadian taxpayers money (!), but introduces a significant inequality in lifetime benefits between soldiers severely wounded before or after April 2006 (to the tune of $1 million).… Continue reading

The forever campaign



Attentive readers will have noticed that I’ve spent the past month busily doing things other than writing for this blog. I’ve actually been working on a few academic articles, but also a long piece for the Ottawa Citizen, which just came out online today. It’s called “The Forever Campaign” and it deals with the problem that John Stuart Mill referred to as “the great mischief of unintermitted electioneering.”

Here’s a bit that pertains to our current electoral campaign:

Perhaps the signature accomplishment of the Harper Government, when it comes to accelerating the decline of Canadian democracy, has been the transformation of parliament itself, and of the legislative process, into an instrument of the political campaign.

Governing parties have always passed laws that they feel will appeal to their favoured constituencies. Historically, however, these laws have also attempted to achieve something, above and beyond merely appealing to these groups.

Continue reading

On the disappearance of the centre-right in Canada

Jeffrey Simpson wrote a column today on an issue that I think is of a paramount importance in Canadian politics – I’ve often said that the near-total collapse of the centre-right is the most important development in our political system over the past two decades. Unfortunately, the way that Simpson articulated the idea confused many people. First of all, he described it as “The Disappearance of the Moderate Conservative“, and second, he tied it to the unfortunate term “red Tory,” which is a complex political tradition that is not exactly relevant to the current set of issues.

The biggest problem has to do with the term “moderate,” because it suggests a person who takes a position between some set of extremes, and so if you think of the three political parties arranged on a left-to-right spectrum, a moderate conservative is just someone who is more like a liberal. This is not a helpful way of framing the debate (because conservatives just dismiss it, as the sound of a downtown Toronto media elite whining, “why isn’t everyone a liberal like me?”).… Continue reading

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