Stephen Harper, warmonger

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a warmonger. Yes, you read that right. You haven’t accidentally wandered over to I’m not trying to score cheap points either. I’m just observing a fact. Stephen Harper is pro-war. He thinks that war is something worth doing. He thinks that war has numerous redeeming qualities.

Various commentators have pointed this out. After all, how many political leaders go out of their way to celebrate the beginning of the First World War? Or who thinks that the War of 1812 is more worthy of commemoration than the adoption of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms? The Harper Government is constantly sending out weird press releases, celebrating the anniversary of some battle or skirmish that no one has ever heard of. (The various quixotic initiatives undertaken by the government on this front have been documented in some detail by Ian McKay and Jamie Swift in their book, Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.Continue reading

Are these really the Border Services we want?

It’s curious that complaints about the egregious behaviour of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) get so little traction. I wish there were a sophisticated, multi-faceted, complex explanation for this, but having watched the press on this for almost a decade, I think the explanation is pathetically straightforward: the CBSA deals mostly with foreigners. Sure, the Agency does a few bad things, a few human rights abuses and arbitrary exercises of power, but the broadly defined ‘we’ group is essentially willing to ignore this – or at least put up with this – in exchange for the sense of security that an armed border guard gives us.

Today, in my regular pursuit of near futile causes, I’d like to highlight just two things, to serve as a reminder that CBSA practices are quite far from the norm of what ‘we’ typically will tolerate from armed state officials and jailers in Canada.… Continue reading

Waldron, Sunstein, and nudge paternalism

It is not my policy to comment on articles published in the New York Review of Books, but Jeremy Waldron had a piece a little while back – a discussion of Cass Sunstein’s book, Why Nudge? – that I feel impelled to respond to. That’s because the view Waldron puts forward, in criticizing Sunstein, is a precise articulation of exactly the view that I think we need to be getting away from. One of the major objectives of my own recent book, Enlightenment 2.0, was to explain why we need to stop thinking this way. (That’s actually the reason for the “2.0” in the book title. What Waldron is urging upon us is what I like to think of as the “Enlightenment 1.0” position.) And Sunstein’s response, in the most recent issue, is too tepid by far.

Sunstein, it may be recalled, is a proponent of “nudge” paternalism, based on the observation that the way choices are presented to people, although seemingly neutral from the standpoint of economic rationality, often actually favour one option over some other.… Continue reading

Le financement des écoles privées: le dilemme des progressistes

Le gouvernement libéral contemplerait l’idée de réduire de 50% le financement des écoles privées. Si on considère généralement que 60% du financement des écoles privées subventionnées est public, un rapport récent démontre que le financement public réel du système privé atteint dans certains cas 75%. Le financement de l’éducation primaire et secondaire est un terrain de jeu idéal pour la gauche et la droite. La gauche soutient généralement que le système d’éducation doit favoriser l’égalité réelle des chances et doit, par conséquent, être universel et unique (voir le billet de Ianik Marcil ici). Puisque les écoles privées subventionnées, principalement parce qu’elles attirent les meilleurs élèves et enseignants, offrent en moyenne un meilleur enseignement et encadrement, les jeunes qui les fréquentent partent avec une longueur d’avance par rapport à ceux qui fréquentent les écoles publiques. Un système à « deux vitesses » contribue ainsi à la production des inégalités. C’est pourquoi l’État devrait mettre un terme au financement public de l’école privée.… Continue reading

What’s Wrong With Cap and Trade? Klein on Climate Change

I read many pieces this week on Naomi Klein’s recent book on climate change. Since she is widely read, I’m happy that she decided to zero in on global warming and climate change. Since my children are young, I often think that they will hold it against my generation that we didn’t act with more conviction and determination to slash green house gas emissions. As far as I can tell—I’ll get the book this weekend—she argues against market-based solutions for halting climate change, and she advises against thinking that modest reforms compatible with capitalism will be sufficient.

I agree with her that it would be foolish to place our hopes in the hands of rich philanthropists who think that their business acumen will enable them to tackle complex collective problems. I argued before that philanthropy cannot replace higher marginal tax rates for the wealthy, and that a philanthropist deciding how and where he will give his money is not the same as democratic decision-making.… Continue reading

Language in Quebec Schools: It’s Time for a Rethink

A report on “linguistic indicators in the education sector” published this summer by Quebec’s Ministry of Education reveals that the decline in enrollment in English schools is continuing apace. Somewhere on the order of 15% of the children who received certificates of eligibility to attend English schools in Quebec have ended up in the French school system. The actual proportion of eligible children pursuing their studies in French in Quebec is of course higher. Many parents simply don’t bother to apply for these certificates. My wife was educated in English in Quebec, and so our kids are eligible for English instruction. We applied for a certificate for our eldest daughter, sort of on the “use it or lose it” principle, but we ended up placing her in a French school anyway. We never even considered applying for a certificate for either of our younger kids.

The reason is simple. There are no more really English schools left in Quebec.… 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

The equalization program does not subsidize Quebec’s welfare state

François Boucher (Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre de recherche en éthique, Université de Montréal) and Jocelyn Maclure

It is not unusual to hear Canadians, from all the provinces, including some on the right in Quebec, complaining that fiscal federalism disproportionately benefits Quebec. Central in such concerns is the view that the equalization program allows Quebec to ship the costs of its social programs to the richest provinces, mostly Alberta, and keeps Quebec in a state of economic dependency.

The equalization payment program is enshrined in the Canadian constitution in section 36 of the 1982 Constitution Act, which states that: “Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable levels of taxation” (Subsection 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982).

This year, Quebec will receive $9.3 billion from the federal equalization program.… 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

Maximes pour le blogueur contemporain

Dans la quantité monstrueuse de mémoires, thèses, manuscrits et autres travaux universitaires que je dois évaluer cet été, je suis retombé sur les célèbres maximes de Grice pour une « conversation coopérative ». Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de penser que le blogueur contemporain aurait tout intérêt à respecter lesdites maximes, du moins si son but est de contribuer à améliorer la qualité de notre conversation démocratique. Le blogueur dont le but est strictement de raisonner de façon stratégique, de marquer des points, de caricaturer la position de ses adversaires idéologiques, et ainsi de suite n’a que faire des ces normes communicatives.

Paul Grice a été l’un des philosophes du langage les plus influents dans l’univers philosophique anglo-américain du XXe siècle. L’histoire s’en souviendra entre autres pour son « principe de coopération conversationnelle » et les maximes qui en découlent. Ce principe doit idéalement gouverner les discussions visant la coopération entre les locuteurs.… Continue reading