In praise of status quo-ism, or, 10 theses arising from the Brexit fiasco

Stability:
1. Citizens of reasonably free and reasonably democratic societies tend to underweight the value of stability. This is particularly the case when that society has been stable for a couple of decades or more, and so memories of previous instability are either foggy or non-existent.

2. The leader of a reasonably free and democratic society should overweight the value of stability. That is, in the absence of an overwhelming or unavoidable reason to do otherwise, he or she should strive to maintain the status quo at almost all cost. Put a bit crudely: A prime minister’s prime directive should be to defend the constitution.

3. The leader of a reasonably free and democratic society should never confuse intramural instability for national instability. That is, just because there are deep and existentially threatening cleavages within a political party, it does not mean there are similar cleavages within the nation that need attending to.… Continue reading

Trump and electoral reform: connecting the dots

I did two media pieces this week, the first an article opposing electoral reform for Policy Options, the second a panel discussion on Donald Trump on TVO’s The Agenda. There is actually a connection between the two, but I didn’t have enough time on the TV show to explain it. And so let me do so here.

First, electoral reform. The point I’m always trying to make in this debate, which is very difficult to get across without being misinterpreted, is that there is a family of recognizably “democratic” voting systems, all of which have advantages and disadvantages, but none of which is more inherently democratic, or fair, than the others. This is why most academic experts, when they debate the merits of the various systems, tend to talk about extremely pragmatic and consequential considerations, not fundamental democratic principles. In other words, the type of discourse engaged in by Fairvote Canada is, in my view, rank demagoguery.… Continue reading

Politics and the Pen 2016

I’m off to Ottawa tomorrow to attend the Politics and the Pen gala, sponsored by the Writer’s Trust of Canada. The highlight is, of course, the announcement of the winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The nominees this year are the following books:

Greg Donaghy, Grit: The Life and Politics of Paul Martin Sr.

Norman Hillmer, O.D. Skelton: A Portrait of Canadian Ambition

John Ibbitson, Stephen Harper

Andrew Nikiforuk, Slick Water: Fracking and One Insider’s Stand Against the World Most Powerful Industry

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, The Right to be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic, and the Whole Planet

Looking back, it’s amazing what a difference a year can make in politics. I must admit that last year I didn’t enjoy myself much at the event, since I was one of the nominees, and I had to figure out what I was going to say, if indeed I won.… Continue reading

Three observations on the Leap Manifesto

With the way that the NDP convention played out last weekend, it looks like we’re going to be hearing a lot more about the Leap Manifesto over the course of the next year or two. So in the spirit of discussion, I thought I’d throw in my two bits.

I have three specific observations, but before getting to that, I’d just like to comment on the public reception of the manifesto. Setting aside stylistic complaints, the thing seems to me fairly reasonable as an aspirational document. Other than being a bit of a laundry list, I don’t see that much specifically wrong with it. However, the idea that we are in a position to take this “leap” right now is just old-fashioned balderdash (I’ll elaborate on this a bit below). But if you wanted to map out where we should be in, say, 50 years, there’s not all that much to object to in this document.… Continue reading

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