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

Independent Oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency

A week ago the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers joined together to call for independent oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The press conference was well attended, and the mainstream press ran a series of pretty good stories about it. But almost no one reported on the CBSA horror stories that those of us involved the conference thought would get the most attention.

I am still wondering about this. I just can’t bring myself to conclude that the mainstream press in Canada is not interested in salacious detail.

Here are some of the things that did not get noted in the dozen or so stories that followed the press conference:

  1. A CBSA officer handcuffed a man who had voluntarily attended a meeting and told him that during his deportation flight if he caused trouble he would be forcibly put into a diaper.
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Open letter on proposed reforms to Canadian elections

Here is a copy of the open letter in opposition to Bill C-23, signed by 160 Canadian university professors who study democracy and constitutional law. It was published today in the National Post and Le Devoir.

Open Letter on C-23

Lettre ouverte C-23

The number of people who signed it (160 by my quick count), is another way of saying “practically everybody.”

 … Continue reading

Can we talk about Cheryl Gallant and lightbulbs?

If you don’t know who Cheryl Gallant is, it’s probably because A) you don’t live in the riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, and B) you missed one of the more revealing political stories of the year.

I’d like to dwell on this story for moment, because as far as I’m concerned it came and went a bit too fast. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, because for me it exemplifies the thing that disturbs me most about a range of extremely sneaky fundraising tactics that the Conservative Party has been using of late. (I think of it, for example, when reading the more recent story of the Conservative party using the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Aga Khan to harvest email addresses, then sending out party fundraising appeals, thereby co-opting official government business for partisan purposes.)

The story that I’m thinking about was broken by Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen (here).… Continue reading

Québec at a crossroads

So Quebeckers will be going to the polls on April 7th.  At issue is whether my fellow citizens will follow the Parti Québécois’ hard right turn on identity issues. The centerpiece of that turn is the so-called “charter of values” which would, among other things, alter the province’s own Charter of Rights and Freedoms so as to allow the government to prohibit anyone drawing a salary from the public coffers from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols.

What’s going on here? To begin to answer that question, one has to realize that many strategists within the governing Parti Québécois have come to the conclusion that unless a winning referendum can be held during the PQ’s present turn in power, the dream of an independent Quebec can pretty much be kissed goodbye forever. Were they to leave power without getting a “yes” on a sovereignty referendum, they would next be coming to power after 7 or 8 more years of Liberal rule.… Continue reading

L’endurance civique : le débat sur la Charte et l’envie de se barrer

Le débat sur la Charte de la laïcité est psychologiquement éprouvant pour ceux qui, comme moi, s’opposent à l’interdiction des signes religieux pour tous les employés des secteurs public et parapublic. Après six mois de débat, les opposants sont toujours minoritaires. Des amis ont vu leur réputation attaquée, et il fait moins bon aujourd’hui d’être un Québécois de confession musulmane qu’avant le début du débat. Le Parti québécois, les Janette et les autres ne l’ont pas eu facile jusqu’ici, loin s’en faut, mais la Charte reçoit l’assentiment de la moitié de la population. Les partisans d’une laïcité apaisée et équilibrée gagnent les débats d’idées, mais perdent pour l’instant la joute politique. Certains diront que mes biais cognitifs embrouillent mon jugement, mais on ne peut nier que les universités et la majorité des chercheurs spécialistes des questions soulevées par la Charte, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés du Québec, la Fédération des femmes du Québec et d’autres acteurs majeurs se sont tous prononcés contre la Charte.… Continue reading

Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 1)

Like many, many people in Toronto, I woke up this morning trying not to think about our mayor, Rob Ford. I couldn’t bring myself to watch him on Jimmy Kimmel late night (the pathos is too much for me). But then I noticed that Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle was giving a talk on campus at noon, so I surrendered — might was well make it an all-Ford, all-the-time sort of day. So I took a look at the Kimmel appearance, and now, what do you know, I’m writing about Rob Ford.

As far as the late-night appearance is concerned, people paid a lot of attention to the fact that Kimmel was “mean” to Ford, or that he had “ridiculed” him, or that it was “embarrassing” for the city. I actually thought it made us (i.e. people living in Toronto) look marginally less insane. Here’s why. My guess is that any political strategist watching that appearance could see exactly why Ford is a successful retail politician.… Continue reading

How do we feel about MPs being on Twitter?

Anyone who reads the news has no doubt noticed that MPs have been using Twitter a lot. Not only are the content of tweets showing up more often in news stories, but increasingly the Twitter chatter is becoming the subject of the news. Here is an example of a story, for instance, that essentially concerns a Twitter fight that broke out during a Parliamentary session (and where what was being said on Twitter was more interesting than what was being said in the house). Here is another story that is basically a Twitter story, about a politician’s tweet and the response to it.

I’m not sure how I feel about all this. I know that debate in the House of Commons is terribly degraded, that the media is only looking for soundbites, and so on. But I’m not sure we should just give up and have politicians debate one another in snippets of no more than 140 characters.… Continue reading