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.
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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
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
My dinner was just interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing there was a young volunteer from the Conservative Party, handing out election material and asking me to support the local candidate. I guess this is the brave new world of fixed election dates, and thus, perpetual electioneering.
Can someone explain to me how this works though? I haven’t been paying enough attention. Because we’re outside the writ period, there’s a different set of spending rules that apply? I suppose also it’s not an accident that the Conservative Party are first out of the gate, with actual election material. I should have asked whether I can get a lawn sign yet…
Who ever thought this was a good idea?
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A few years ago, I wrote a blogpost in which I described a blunt taxonomy carving political observers into two types. I suggested that everyone falls somewhere on the line (which is a continuum) between political naifs, at one extreme, and politicl cynics, at the other. My central claim was that naifs believe that politics is fundamentally about devising and implementing good policy. Cynics believe that it is about acquiring and exercising political power.
While virtually no one is a pure cynic or unalloyed naif, I think there is no doubt that the distinction does articulate two clear approaches to understanding how politics does, or ought to, function. I also think that understanding whether a given columnist is coming at things from one side or the other can be a useful heuristic for understanding the argument that is being made.
At any rate, the original post gets tweeted and mentioned on social media fairly regularly by people whose work I respect and admire, so it suggests to me that I’m not the only one who finds the schema useful.… Continue reading
Last week I did a post complaining about how journalists tend to use the undifferentiated term “political correctness” to describe a complex group of behaviours that one can find in contemporary academia. I was trying to make the case that “classic” political correctness – such as language policing – has been on the decline, but that there were other worrisome trends that continue. This week I would like to pursue the discussion, by talking about another slightly pernicious habit, which those of us who like to classify these things refer to as the problem of “normative sociology.”
The whole “normative sociology” concept has its origins in a joke that Robert Nozick made, in Anarchy, State and Utopia, where he claimed, in an offhand way, that “Normative sociology, the study of what the causes of problems ought to be, greatly fascinates us all”(247). Despite the casual manner in which he made the remark, the observation is an astute one.… Continue reading
These arrived in my inbox yesterday:
For those who haven’t been following the Tim Horton’s dust-up, you can catch up on the story here.
The court painter is Allan Mackay.… Continue reading
An old friend writes to me:
Your recent analysis of political correctness was particularly good in diagnosing the dynamics of how academic discourse in the “critical theory” vein so often ends up getting us for away from anything like the ideal of deliberation. But one line in that post really stuck in my craw:
“In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.”
Clearly, the objection made to your use of the word “crazy” on the jacket cover for Enlightenment 2.0 was idiotic. There is nothing ablest about using that term derisively. But what you actually say in the passage quoted put you dangerously close to the “jerk” category. As you know, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time following and even participating in disability studies.
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People who are dismayed by the current federal Conservative government, and the fact that they stand a good chance of being re-elected this fall, can at least take comfort from one thing. When Canadians finally get tired of Stephen Harper – which inevitably they will – the Conservative party faces the worst succession crisis of any party in recent memory. Indeed, lack of “depth in the bench” has been one of the defining features of this government, one that may help to explain some of its more puzzling features (such as its ineffectiveness on the legislative front).
The standard narrative on the Conservatives (to be found, for instance, in Michael Harris’s Party of One), seeks to explain the extraordinary concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s office as primarily a consequence of Stephen Harper being an unusually controlling person. This is of course set against a background of a more general trend toward concentration of power in the central agencies, in particular the Privy Council Office.… Continue reading
Actually, the Alberta budget and election has been the most interesting thing going on in the country for a while now, but it keeps getting more interesting! Of course, as we know from the last election, polls in Alberta are worth practically nothing. Still, even contemplating the possibility of an NDP government in Alberta is mind-expanding. (For Stephen Harper, this would be like Rob Stark losing Winterfell…)
First, about the Alberta budget. It seems to me obvious that Jim Prentice took the only sensible course of action available to him, which was to go with a mix of budget cuts and tax increases. Let’s be clear: public sector spending in Alberta is bloated. Alberta’s health care spending, for instance, at $6,781 per capita, is the highest of the 10 provinces (Quebec, at $5,616, is the lowest). Alberta’s education spending, at $11,086 per student, is the highest of the 10 provinces (Prince Edward Island at $9,260 is the lowest).… Continue reading