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

Impôt progressif vs tarification progressive: vers une démonstration plus étoffée?

Le gouvernement Couillard soupèse l’idée d’augmenter modérément le tarif des places en CPE pour les familles fortunées. Comme c’est toujours le cas lorsqu’il s’agit des questions touchant à la tarification des services publics, ce ballon d’essai suscite un débat passionné. Une des dimensions particulièrement intéressantes du débat sur la tarification progressive des places en garderies qui sont présentement à 7$ est qu’on peut s’y opposer pour des raisons qui sont elles-mêmes diamétralement opposées.

D’un côté, des personnes qui ne sont pas du tout à droite s’insurgent contre l’idée de devoir payer davantage que les ménages dont les revenus sont plus modestes en raison du fait qu’ils paient déjà, toutes proportions gardées, plus d’impôts que ceux qui sont moins fortunés. Comme notre système d’imposition progressive fait déjà en sorte que le taux marginal d’imposition des mieux nantis est plus élevé, il serait inéquitable de leur demander en plus de payer davantage pour des services publics.… Continue reading

Ford, Hudak, Harper: the impending trifecta

Again apologies for the light blogging. It’s partly due to travel, but partly because I was writing an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen. The column was just published a few moments ago:

The Year of the Suspiciously Round Number.

Ontario politics stuff, which I felt compelled to comment on, just because the situation is so alarming. The campaign has been a bit baffling so far. The NDP, which brought on the election, seems to have been caught unprepared (which seems impossible, but how else can one account for the lack of a platform, lack of a bus, etc.?) The Liberal government is, like the old Charest government in Quebec, exhausted and tainted by scandal (although what counts as a scandal in Ontario is slightly less scandalous than what goes by that name in Quebec). Losing an election would do them some good. But the Conservatives, rather than presenting themselves as the safe, friendly alternative, have been tacking hard right, and have now made a number of ‘promises’ that would be disastrous if actually carried out.… Continue reading

Le Devoir/Options politiques

Bruce Wallace, le rédacteur en chef du magazine de l’IRPP Options politiques/Policy Options, m’a demandé au lendemain de l’élection du 7 avril de réfléchir aux causes et au sens du résultat. Le nationalisme québécois est à la croisée des chemins. De nouvelles mouvances se formeront. Je propose une façon d’interpréter l’appui historiquement faible en faveur du projet souverainiste. Mon but n’est pas tant de réfuter l’argumentaire souverainiste que de tenter de comprendre pourquoi il n’est pas très efficace présentement. Je ne cherche pas « à en découdre » avec les souverainistes, mais bien à participer à une réflexion collective sur notre parcours historique et notre situation politique. Le Devoir publie une version abrégée du texte ce matin, et la version complète se trouve dans le plus récent numéro d’Options politiques.

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Paikin drops tiny truth bomb

TVO’s Steve Paikin did an “ask me anything” session over at the excellent CanadaPolitics subreddit, mainly about the Ontario provincial election. There was some mildly interesting small talk about the leaders, nothing to write home about. This answer, however, gave me great satisfaction.


Hey Steve, welcome back to our humble subreddit, and thank you for doing another AMA. Transit expansion is now a household issue in the GTA, after perhaps decades of neglect. You have been around for a while, why do you think successive governments stopped investing in public transit after the 1970s or so?


they didn’t. the government from 1990-95 under bob rae’s premiership invested a lot in building new subways. the next government (1995-2003) under mike harris’ and ernie eves’ leadership decided in their wisdom we couldn’t afford to build those lines, so they filled in the holes. in hindsight, it was clearly a mistake, as we’re trying to build those same lines today, only at significantly more cost.

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Misunderstanding public pensions

The battle lines have now been fairly clearly drawn between the position of the Ontario Liberal Party and the Federal Conservative Government on public pensions. The Liberals would like to expand the government pension program, and since the feds are not willing to expand CPP, they are proposing the creation of an Ontario Pension Plan. The Harper Government is opposed to this, as is the provincial Conservative party. Their view is that people should just save for their own retirements.

This is a line of argument that one hears fairly often, but which upsets my inner economist. (You hear it all the time in the United States – whenever people talk about privatizing Social Security, they propose individual savings accounts as the alternative.) The problem is that it involves comparing apples and oranges. Wynne is saying “we are going to provide oranges,” and Harper is saying “why should people get oranges from the government, when they can just go out and buy apples?” — to which the natural response, it seems to me, is to say “because they want oranges.”

Okay, that’s a bit obscure so let me try to explain.… Continue reading

Literary Review of Canada

I just received the latest issue of the Literary Review of Canada.




There is a great review of Joseph’s Enlightenment 2.0 by National Post editor Jonathan Key, as well as pieces on transnational financial regulation, Paul-Émile Borduas and the history of religious freedom in Canada. I also have an essay on one of the most pressing and difficult challenges of democratic politics today : how should we think about the connection between grassroot contestatorary politics and electoral democracy? I discuss, among other things, Stephen D’Arcy’s Languages of the Unheard : Why Militant Protest is Good for Democracy and Philip Pettit’s On the People’s Terms : A Republican Theory and Model of Democracy. Although the title the editors chose—“Democratic Unrest. The Case for Protest, from Cicero to Occupy”—implies that I come down in favour of civil society activism, I actually spend a great deal of time showing that institutions and policies matter a great deal.… Continue reading

Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 3)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s decision to take a time out from his campaign (and his job) to go into rehab obviously came as a great relief to many residents of the city. The thought that we might be able to have a debate about real issues is almost an exciting prospect. (I am also finding the experience of not feeling obliged to vote for Olivia Chow to be somewhat liberating.)

But before we get to that, a few parting thoughts about Ford, because, like everyone else, I can’t resist. (Also, not really parting, because I fully expect him to be back in 30 days. Perhaps “hopefully parting” would be more accurate.)

Many people in Toronto have been shaking their heads this past year and saying to themselves “What have we done to deserve this?” And looking at Ford’s stubbornly high popular approval ratings, many have also been wondering – as my wife put it – “What the fuck is wrong with people in this city?”

So by way of comfort, I want to point out that there is nothing special about Ford, or the Toronto electorate.… Continue reading

Le Rapport Godbout-Montmarquette : une place pour l’éthique économique et sociale?

Le débat d’éthique sociale et économique sur les finances publiques est très polarisé au Québec. Peu tentent de se frayer un chemin entre le discours du « Québec qui vit au dessus de ses moyens » et celui de la « dérive néolibérale ». C’était une des vertus de l’essai La juste part de mes collègues David Robichaud et Patrick Turmel de tenter de le faire. Le débat sur le Rapport Godbout-Montmarquette n’a pas jusqu’ici généré une réflexion collective à la hauteur des défis qui attendent le Québec. Tant la conception étriquée de la démocratie promue par M. Montmarquette que les attaques ad hominem contre les deux auteurs sont désolantes.

Cela étant dit, j’ai été déçu par les brèves recommandations proposées par les deux économistes. Admettons d’abord que leur rapport a été réalisé incroyablement rapidement et qu’il a la grande vertu de nous offrir le portrait le plus à jour de nos finances publiques.… Continue reading