The Conservative Exception

John Kenneth Galbraith famously wrote that “the modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” I must admit to having shared this suspicion myself on more than a few occasions. I do, however, try to resist this claim, partly because for liberals it seems too self-congratulatory by half, and partly because many conservatives seem quite earnest in their rejection of it.

There are, of course, some exceptions to this, Ayn Rand being the most notable. Indeed, part of the reason that liberals love Rand – or love to pick out Rand as a focus of opprobrium – is that she divides things up in a way that they find quite congenial. In her view, the left believes in altruism and morality, while the right rejects the idea that anyone is obliged to care about the well-being of anyone else.… Continue reading

Identité: l’obligation de résultat du PLQ

Le gouvernement du Parti libéral a sagement décidé de ne pas déposer en catastrophe un projet de loi sur la laïcité ou la neutralité religieuse de l’État avant la fin de la dernière session parlementaire. La précipitation n’est pas de mise lorsqu’il est question d’enjeux aussi profonds et délicats. Cela étant dit, le gouvernement libéral a maintenant une obligation de résultat dans ce dossier.

Le Parti québécois est entièrement responsable du fiasco qu’a été son projet de Charte de la laïcité. Les problèmes et les risques inhérents à la démarche du PQ ont été identifiés dès que le projet de Charte a été coulé dans les médias. Il faut néanmoins admettre que l’attitude du gouvernement Charest eu égard aux questions identitaires a pavé la voie à l’approche populiste du PQ. On se rappellera que le PLQ a rapidement fait comprendre qu’il ne donnerait pas véritablement suite aux recommandations du Rapport Bouchard-Taylor et qu’il ne voulait pas approcher les questions liées à l’identité et à la place de la religion dans l’espace public avec une perche.… Continue reading

John Stuart Mill et le courage de la vérité

J’ai récemment eu la chance d’avoir à expliquer, à l’émission de radio Plus on est de fous, plus on lit, pourquoi je considère qu’il est toujours pertinent de lire John Stuart Mill aujourd’hui. Les raisons ne manquent pas. Dans le temps qui m’était imparti, j’ai surtout insisté sur sa défense de l’individualité et sa critique du paternalisme de l’État ou de l’opinion majoritaire. Pour Mill, on peut légitimement interdire des comportements au nom du tort qui pourrait être causé à autrui, mais jamais pour protéger les individus contre eux-mêmes. Les individus doivent être libres de faire leurs propres expériences, et ils doivent assumer les conséquences de leurs actes. Prévenir le « tort à soi » ne justifie pas, selon lui, la restriction de la liberté. Or, plusieurs positions défendues dans nos débats publics sont fondées au moins en partie sur l’idée que l’État ou la majorité connaît mieux les intérêts des certaines personnes que ces personnes elles-mêmes; pensons, par exemple, au débat sur le sens du hijab, sur les mères porteuses, sur la prostitution ou sur le statut juridique de l’union de fait.… Continue reading

And exhale…

For all those who don’t care much about Ontario politics, my apologies for having laid it on a bit thick this past month. I pledge to be both less parochial and less partisan in the future. I did however feel obliged to write about the provincial election campaign underway (which culminated last night in the surprise election of a Liberal majority government), because like many people I was genuinely alarmed at how far to the right the Progressive Conservative party was positioning itself. On the one hand, this struck me as a poor strategic move, and a violation of one of the most elementary principles of electoral politics (once you have your base locked down, you move to the centre). On the other hand, people in this province are not going to keep electing the Liberal Party forever, eventually there has to be a change of government. So there was an obvious concern that the PCs might ride to power on anti-Liberal sentiment, despite having a platform that is quite far to the right of the vast majority of the electorate.… Continue reading

Mariage et union de fait: le paternalisme justifié du Conseil du statut de la femme

Au Canada, c’est au Québec que l’on trouve le plus grand nombre de couples vivant en union de fait. C’est aussi au Québec que le conjoint le plus vulnérable est le moins protégé au moment de la dissolution d’un couple non-marié. Le plus souvent, le « conjoint le plus vulnérable » est la conjointe. En gros, il n’y a pas de véritable partage du patrimoine et le conjoint le plus fortuné n’est pas obligé de verser une pension alimentaire, sauf une pension pour l’enfant né de l’union, le cas échéant.

Au moment du débat sur l’arrêt Éric c. Lola, j’étais malgré tout en faveur du maintien d’une distinction juridique significative entre union de fait et mariage. Cela m’a toujours semblé une question difficile, mais l’existence de l’ « union de fait » en tant que catégorie juridique distincte en droit de la famille offre une option supplémentaire aux couples en matière de vie conjugale.… Continue reading

Why a Conservative government would be bad for Ontario

Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of time fussing over the astonishingly mendacious campaign that the Progressive Conservative party has been running in Ontario. The centrepiece of it all was the fiasco of the “million jobs plan,” which turned out to be based on ridiculously faulty math. From there the PCs moved on to a campaign ad called “Truth,” the central premise of which was an obvious falsehood (“The truth is,” Hudak intoned, “that a million people in our province woke up this morning without a job” — this is true only if you count children and seniors. There are only about a half-million people looking for work in Ontario.) And the strategy has been the same at all levels. Just the other day, I got a flyer at home from my local PC candidate, with a picture of a subway train one side – along with a promise to build new subways – and a commitment to lowering my taxes on the other side.… Continue reading

Restoring Sanity to the Debate over Sex Work

What would sensible policy regarding sex work look like? Let’s begin with what should be something of a truism in a liberal democracy. Policy in this domain should not be moralistic. By that I mean that it should not be grounded in the judgment made by some that there is something inherently wrong with selling and purchasing sexual services. The state acts in an unacceptably paternalistic manner when it claims that, whatever the conditions in which the sale of such services occurs, it is condemnable and should therefore be prohibited by law. If two consenting adults wish to contract in order to exchange sex for money, they should be allowed to do so.

If that is the case, then a decent society needs to ask itself two kinds of questions. First, how can it ensure, or make it as likely as possible, that when a sex worker and a consumer of sexual services engage in such an exchange, they do so consensually?… Continue reading

The Unholy Alliance Between Conservatives and Progressives

Daniel and I have been arguing for several years that one of the main reasons why the reaction against a liberal and pluralist political model of secularism is strong in Quebec is that an unlikely coalition between some progressives, including some feminists, and conservative or culturalist nationalists took shape in the course of our ongoing debate on religious accommodation (see here, p. 4). With regard to the controversies about the status of religion in the public sphere, Quebec appears to be closer to many Western European countries than to ROC. The French social scientist Olivier Roy just published a very powerful piece in the NYT showing how the European far right has been pushing for an “aggressive” form of secularism in order to defend against an alleged Islamic threat. It still pays lip service to the notion of a Christian Europe, but it now arguably uses the language of liberal secularism more than the language of culture and tradition.… Continue reading

On political lying

Like many commentators, I’ve been complaining a lot about the so-called “post truth” political environment. In response, some people have been trying to enlist my support for a “truth in politics” act. The idea is pretty simple. Why not make lying illegal? Why not punish politicians for saying one thing while campaigning, then doing another?

This is something that Democracy Watch has been pushing for a long time. Perhaps the highest-profile supporter of the idea is Andrew Coyne (e.g. here), which I find in some ways rather surprising.

I do not support this idea, because I think the issue is far too complicated to be dealt with legislatively. Just to pick an obvious point, there is an important difference between telling a lie and breaking a promise, which the concept of “honesty” unfortunately obscures. I would support narrower, more targeted legislation, dealing for instance with the problem of misrepresentation in political advertising.… Continue reading

Temporary Foreign Workers – Why Now?

I admit to being a bit surprised about how just how the temporary foreign worker program hit the front pages over recent weeks. For migration policy wonks, the myriad problems with temporary foreign worker programs are well known, and usually do not centre on putting citizen workers out of jobs.

I’ve been mulling it over and have come to the conclusion that the current uproar might even have been deliberately provoked to provide a politically palatable way to end to the most progressive aspect of the temporary foreign worker program.

Temporary foreign worker programs are not new. Canada has relied on temporary foreign workers off and on for much of the last century. Many other Western democracies have done the same.

The basic idea behind a temporary non-citizen worker program is to create a category of workers who have fewer rights than citizens or permanent residents. This framework ensures that the workers can be directed to particular employers or sectors, and can be compelled to leave when their work is finished.… Continue reading