Against ranked ballot electoral systems

One of the things that I’ve never succeeded in doing is figuring out how to do a popular or accessible presentation of some of the major findings in “voting theory.” The academic literature gets pretty complicated pretty quickly, but it has a single, unequivocal conclusion: of the basic family of voting procedures, none is intrinsically superior. If you start by working out a list of desirable, intuitively plausible criteria that you want a voting system to satisfy, you will find that no system satisfies them all. As a result, the best way to evaluate a system, in my view, is pragmatically – in terms of its likely consequences, which is to say, by the type of government and political dynamics that it is likely to generate.

There are, however, a huge number of organizations and activists pushing for various types of electoral reform – almost always claiming virtues for these systems that they do not possess.… Continue reading

Doug Ford has a policy idea, and it’s a bad one

For those who haven’t been following these things, our current Toronto mayor Rob Ford has dropped his bid for re-election and his brother Doug has taken over for him. How much of a difference this makes remains to be seen. One might be tempted to say that there’s no real difference between the two, just six of one, a half-dozen of the other. That’s not entirely accurate, it’s more like schlemiel, schlemazel.

Anyhow, Doug Ford (aka “schlemiel”) has been sticking fairly closely to the “post-truth” playbook, essentially saying whatever sounds best, in a way that shows total disregard for the norm of truth. Yesterday though he announced a genuine policy commitment, which is to reduce Toronto’s land transfer tax by 15% per year for 4 years. Reducing this tax is something that his brother Rob (aka “schlemazel”) campaigned on four years ago, and failed to gather enough support on council to implement.… Continue reading

Lessons for the left from Olivia Chow’s faltering campaign

Olivia Chow entered the Toronto mayoralty race as the acknowledged front-runner, the only left-wing candidate running against no fewer than four candidates from the right (John Tory, Rob Ford, John David Soknacki and, before she dropped out, Karen Stintz). Chow has star power (as the widow of the late Jack Layton), obvious outreach to visible minorities (who, collectively, are close to being the majority of voters in Toronto), recently had her biography published by Harpercollins, and is well-known to voters in Toronto thanks to her years of service as a city councillor.

According to a string of recent polls, she is now running in third place, behind Rob Ford, a man so demonstrably unfit for office that many of his own supporters would be mortified were they to discover that he had become, say, the principal of their child’s school.

To say that something had gone wrong with Chow’s campaign would be an understatement.… Continue reading

Who should get to vote in secession referenda?

The folks over at the European University Institute’s Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies host an excellent website on all matters related to Europe and to European citizenship. They recently hosted a forum on the upcoming Scottish referendum, in which they asked a number of political scientists and political philosophers to reflect on the question of who should receive the right to vote in the referendum (and, by implication, in others like it). They were nice enough to ask me, and notwithstanding my contribution, it is an excellent read. You’ll find it here.Continue reading

John Stuart Mill et le courage de la vérité

J’ai récemment eu la chance d’avoir à expliquer, à l’émission de radio Plus on est de fous, plus on lit, pourquoi je considère qu’il est toujours pertinent de lire John Stuart Mill aujourd’hui. Les raisons ne manquent pas. Dans le temps qui m’était imparti, j’ai surtout insisté sur sa défense de l’individualité et sa critique du paternalisme de l’État ou de l’opinion majoritaire. Pour Mill, on peut légitimement interdire des comportements au nom du tort qui pourrait être causé à autrui, mais jamais pour protéger les individus contre eux-mêmes. Les individus doivent être libres de faire leurs propres expériences, et ils doivent assumer les conséquences de leurs actes. Prévenir le « tort à soi » ne justifie pas, selon lui, la restriction de la liberté. Or, plusieurs positions défendues dans nos débats publics sont fondées au moins en partie sur l’idée que l’État ou la majorité connaît mieux les intérêts des certaines personnes que ces personnes elles-mêmes; pensons, par exemple, au débat sur le sens du hijab, sur les mères porteuses, sur la prostitution ou sur le statut juridique de l’union de fait.… 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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Misunderstanding public pensions

The battle lines have now been fairly clearly drawn between the position of the Ontario Liberal Party and the Federal Conservative Government on public pensions. The Liberals would like to expand the government pension program, and since the feds are not willing to expand CPP, they are proposing the creation of an Ontario Pension Plan. The Harper Government is opposed to this, as is the provincial Conservative party. Their view is that people should just save for their own retirements.

This is a line of argument that one hears fairly often, but which upsets my inner economist. (You hear it all the time in the United States – whenever people talk about privatizing Social Security, they propose individual savings accounts as the alternative.) The problem is that it involves comparing apples and oranges. Wynne is saying “we are going to provide oranges,” and Harper is saying “why should people get oranges from the government, when they can just go out and buy apples?” — to which the natural response, it seems to me, is to say “because they want oranges.”

Okay, that’s a bit obscure so let me try to explain.… Continue reading

Divided we fall

So it looks as though we’re going to have a provincial election in Ontario, triggered by the NDP’s refusal to support the budget put forward by the minority Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne. As the recent Quebec experience shows, what happens during an election campaign can matter a great deal. Still, it’s hard to figure out what is going through NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s mind, looking at the latest poll:



(h/t Three Hundred Eight)

There’s a lot wrong with the current situation, and the current government, but it’s hard to see how any of the likely outcomes would constitute an improvement from the NDP’s perspective. (Personally I think a PC government is the most likely outcome at this point.) The only insight I can find is in the following CP wire story:

Several large labour groups, including the Unifor union and the Ontario Federation of Labour, urged the NDP to pass the budget and avoid an election, but public sector unions complained the fiscal plan puts jobs at risk.

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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

Intégrité morale et politique partisane

J’ai déjà tenté de décrire jusqu’à quel point le débat sur la Charte des valeurs a été éprouvant pour ceux qui s’y opposaient. On sait aussi que les intellectuels et organismes crédibles étaient majoritairement contre le projet de loi 60. La Fédération des femmes du Québec, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec, Québec Inclusif, la Ligue des droits et libertés et les universités se sont dressés contre la Charte. 60 chercheurs dont les recherches portent sur des sujets comme la laïcité, l’immigration et la démocratie ont rédigé un mémoire qui était une charge à fond de train contre l’interdiction générale des signes religieux et la façon dont le débat a été mené. Bref, les raisons de s’opposer au projet de Charte étaient nombreuses et bien connues.

Il était pratiquement certain que des ministres péquistes entretenaient des doutes sérieux quant au PL 60.… Continue reading