Final Ford

Rob Ford’s recent death has prompted some great thinking and writing (e.g. here, here and here). I don’t have much to add, except for one little observation, which I don’t think has been given enough play. It is about social class.

Rob Ford was often described as a champion of the little guy, of being the “people’s mayor.” He was also inordinately popular among what we academics refer to, euphemistically, as “low-SES individuals” (SES standing for “socio-economic status”). And yet it was often pointed out that Ford himself was rich, he was born to a rich family, and had never really had to work for a living – outside the family business – before he entered politics. He was, in other words, a comfortable member of the economic elite. (Furthermore, many of Ford’s policies did not really benefit his supporters. Property taxes, in particular, are about the closest thing we have to a pure wealth tax in our society, so his insistence of keeping them as low as possible generated significant benefits for the wealthy and little more than spare change for the downtrodden.)

And yet somehow the charge, that Ford was just a rich guy, pushing through an agenda that benefited the rich, never seemed to stick.… Continue reading

Fascist in the literal sense of the term

Several years ago, during a municipal election in Toronto, someone was running around plastering stickers on newspaper boxes and telephone posts throughout downtown that said “Let the police choose the mayor!” I recall having seen them at the time and thinking to myself, “wow, that’s actually fascist – not just as a figure of speech, or a term of abuse, but literally fascist.” (I suspect, but am not sure, that this was the election in which Rob Ford won the mayoralty.)

The problem, of course, is that “fascism” has been vastly overused as a term of political abuse – particularly during the ‘60s – so it has lost all force. We have become overly used to people calling others “fascist” whenever it looks as though they might have to do anything that they don’t want to do. The result is that we lose track of the actual meaning of the term.… Continue reading

The meaning of O’Leary

Kevin O’Leary’s recent musing that he might enter the Conservative Party leadership race has given the chattering classes what we have so desperately been lacking the past few months – something entertaining to talk about.

The bid, of course, would be a non-starter, since O’Leary doesn’t speak French. He claims that would be no problem, since he “understands Quebec” on a visceral level, having been born in Montreal. Of course, people who actually understand Quebec know that there is nothing francophone Quebecers hate more than people who are from Quebec, and yet can’t speak French. People from Saskatchewan at least have an excuse. People from Montreal do not.

In any case, the episode reminded me of a very good question that Tyler Cowen asked a while back (actually, now that I look it up, he was repeating a question asked by Robin Hanson), which is why the upper tiers of the political system in democratic societies (i.e the areas where television is the most important medium) are not simply taken over actors.… Continue reading

The Firewall From the Other Side: The past and future of Stephen Harper’s agenda

It didn’t take long for the new Liberal government in Ottawa to start undoing the changes Stephen Harper made to the way the country is run over his nine years as prime minister. Many of these changes were in the tone and style of governance: Trudeau unmuzzled scientists, said nice things to public servants, promised more access and openness to journalists. From coast to coast to coast, bowling scores are up sharply, and mini-putt scores are way down.

Trudeau also took a few quick steps to reverse some of Harper’s key policies. Most notably, he immediately reinstated the mandatory long-form census, barely in time for the 2016 survey. Interestingly, the minister who oversaw the cancelling of the mandatory census, Tony Clement, could not bring himself to criticize Trudeau’s move last week, saying that in retrospect “I think I would have done it differently.”  (On a related note: Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose has come out in favour of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.… Continue reading

Telling women what they can wear is a sign of weakness

Just when the niqab issue was starting to fade, Stephen Harper brought it up again, with his rather surprising announcement that a Conservative government would consider banning them in the public service (a position that was, not that long ago, ruled out by Tony Clement). So apparently this represents a concerted strategy, of ensuring that the election debate remain focused on the pressing issue of women wearing niqabs.

Globally, I’m not very impressed with this strategy. I think that encouraging hatred and distrust towards minority groups is not an acceptable electoral strategy. Imagine if a principal decided to promote school spirit by picking out a few kids and encouraging everyone in the school to bully them. Harper is basically doing the same thing, at the level of the entire country. As far as I am concerned, it shows him to be unfit for public office. (But hey, so does smoking crack, yet 30% of Torontonians were willing to vote for Rob Ford…) Anyhow, I’ve explained my views on that elsewhere.… Continue reading

Final thoughts on Naomi Klein

Readers of this blog will have noticed that I’ve spent a fair bit of time since the beginning of the year discussing Naomi Klein’s book on climate change, This Changes Everything. Some have suggested, either subtly or not-so-subtly, that my apparent obsession with Klein has become somewhat unseemly. So let me offer a few words in my defence, and also provide something of a “roundup” of what I’ve written over the past year. Here are the posts:

Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything
Naomi Klein postscript 1
Naomi Klein postscript 2

Then there are my own posts on climate change:

What is a tax not a tax? Carbon taxes vs. carbon prices
The two worst talking points on carbon taxes/pricing
Hobbes’s difficult idea
and finally the syllabus for my course on climate change policy (for those who are interested in what I do consider to be worth reading).

Part of why I talked about Klein’s book at length is just that I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change lately.… 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

Stephen Harper versus the intellectuals, part 2

The case of Tom Flanagan

Someone mentioned Tom Flanagan, so I thought I’d add a small footnote to the whole Flanagan “child pornography” story (documented in his book, Persona Non Grata, quick summary here), explaining a few things that may not be so obvious to non-academics. There are a lot of people, myself included, who have very little sympathy for Tom’s politics, or the contributions he has made to Canadian public life. And yet there were very, very few of us who did not feel some sympathy for him, after the mobbing he endured from the conservative movement in 2013 – spearheaded by Danielle Smith, the leader of the Wildrose Party at the time, as well as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office.

It’s important to understand that, in piling on Flanagan the way they did, they managed to do more than just traumatize him, they also alienated pretty much every conservative intellectual in the country.… Continue reading

Stephen Harper versus the intellectuals

Looking back over Stephen Harper’s time as Prime Minister, one can see two significant “discoveries” associated with his mandate. The first is that he discovered a way of ruling the country without any support in Quebec. The second is that he discovered a way of ruling the country without any support from the intellectual classes.

The latter trick is, of course, much easier to pull off, since intellectuals do not command many votes, and they tend to cluster together in a very small number of ridings. Republicans in the United States wrote them off a long time ago. (I can still remember a pathetic issue of the New York Review of Books published just before the 2004 presidential election, in which a who’s who of American intellectuals got together to say “please do not re-elect George W. Bush.” It made not a whit of difference.)

The reasons for this hostility toward Harper in Canada are manifold.… Continue reading