Agenda Setting 101 (What, no Ministry of Truth?)

One thing the current national government does very well is to occupy rhetorical terrain. I am thinking in particular of how the government deploys short form titles for its legislation. This week we are hearing a lot about the Truth in Sentencing Act. Last week it was Victims Bill of Rights Act. And for months now, the Fair Elections Act. In my little corner of the world, the latest legislation is called the Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act, and before that, the Faster Removal of Foreign Criminals Act and the Balanced Refugee Reform Act.

There are days when I think what I most resent about this legislative agenda is that as a law teacher, I am required to stand up and say these things aloud.

What is more, even as Canadians engage in a public, private, Parliamentary, and scholarly debate about these laws, these short form titles get repeated over and over.… Continue reading

Rex Murphy knows nothing about Canadian universities

Rex Murphy had the usual sort of paint-by-numbers column in the National Post this weekend, voicing his outrage over Brandeis University’s decision to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Nothing particularly remarkable there. The headline could have read “Tiny little American liberal arts college caves in to political correctness.” That would have been about right.

Instead, the column ran under the headline “Universities have become factories for reinforcing opinion.” Now I know headlines are not written by the same people as the columns, and so sometimes say wacky things, but Murphy goes on to make the same extraordinarily broad generalization, based on a single data point: “Universities are losing their halo. They are now factories for reinforcing received opinions, what the market holds as right and true — so-called ‘progressive’ ideas. They have a deep hostility to ideas and opinions that wander outside their small circle of acceptability.”

How does he know this?… Continue reading

Restoring sanity to politics

The Ottawa Citizen was kind enough to publish a long excerpt from the last chapter of Enlightenment 2.0 today. It’s the part where I try to say something positive about how to improve the current situation in democratic politics, which is rapidly descending into “all demagoguery all the time.” I must admit that it’s a bit half-hearted. Basically what I have is an awesome theory of why things are so bad, and how they got that way, and why it’s incredibly hard to do anything to improve the situation. So I wind up painting myself into a bit of a corner. But everybody likes a happy ending, so I try to say something helpful at the end.

 … Continue reading

The Ball is in ROC’s Court

Pretty much everyone agrees that last Monday’s election was one of the most meaningful in Quebec’s recent history. But not everyone agrees on what that meaning was. Some observers rightly noted that the Parti Québécois’ campaign was shockingly, and surprisingly, incompetent. From the moment Pierre Karl Péladeau raised the issue of Québec’s independence, the PQ seemed to slip into improvisational mode. But unlike good improvisational practice, party officials and operatives were not playing with each other, but against each other. This was at no point more evident than when three péquistes dealt with the question of whether the PQ’s secularism charter might lead to state employees being dismissed in three radically different ways on the same day. A second-rank candidate stated that they very well might. Cabinet Minister Jean-François Lisée opined that they most certainly would not. And Premier Pauline Marois, in what must surely rank as one of the most fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along moments in recent campaign history, offered that the government might help find employment in the private sector for those public employees laid off because of their refusal to shed their religious apparel.… Continue reading

Does it matter whether Quebecers care about Canada?

Many people outside Quebec were quite surprised (although not unpleasantly so) by the results of the recent provincial election. Part of the reason for the surprise, I suspect, is that we have been subjected to a steady stream of hand-wringing over the lack of emotional commitment that many Quebecers seem to feel toward Canada. Many English-Canadian observers have professed shock, dismay and anxiety over this apparent indifference. Because of this, the strong reaction in Quebec against the fist-pumping referendum talk was unexpected.

Those who have been doing the hand-wringing never quite get around to explaining why they consider a lack of emotional attachment to be such a problem. Personally, I don’t think it’s an issue at all. In fact, I take it to be an encouraging sign. It seems to me evidence that Quebec is becoming more of a normal province.

Presumably in the background of all this worry is the thought that emotional bonds are somehow needed to hold a country together.… Continue reading

Entrevue dans Le Devoir

Une entrevue sur les causes de la défaite du PQ publiée dans Le Devoir:

Les sources du mal
Souveraineté, nationalismes et autres causes de la défaite péquiste

Stéphane Baillargeon
S’il y a un mal, il doit bien y avoir des symptômes. Pour le Parti québécois (PQ), la raclée de lundi est un grand mal, et le philosophe Jocelyn Maclure est capable de dénombrer les signes qui permettent de poser un diagnostic.

” La déconfiture est totale, résume le professeur de l’Université Laval. Et cette défaite grave est symptomatique de problèmes importants au sein du parti. ”

Lesquels ? Le spécialiste de la philosophie politique, qui a été expert auprès de la commission Bouchard-Taylor (2007-2008) sur les accommodements religieux, en voit au moins quatre. Un trio de causes internes et une autre raison liée à la manière de mener la politique.

La souveraineté.” À ce stade-ci de notre histoire, il y a un désintérêt assez grand par rapport à l’idée même de débattre du statut constitutionnel du Québec,dit-il.… Continue reading

The Party’s Over

When I was growing up, the cool kids were pretty much all péquistes. Even among the anglos and allos, the political movement launched by René Lévesque, Gérald Godin, and others, had undeniable youthful allure. Think about it: on the one hand, you had a hard-drinking, hard-smoking ex-journalist and his merry band of poets, academics, and all purpose dreamers. On the other, you had…, well, you had Robert Bourassa and his drab-but-sensible technocrats. If you were a 17 year-old aspiring leftie who thought that politics was about the hope for a better, more just world, then the PQ was your go-to party. Now, granted, you don’t have much of an idea about what it might mean for the world to be better and more just when you’re 17, but surely, having a poet in a Cabinet position had to be part of it.

I never ended up voting for the PQ, I should add.… Continue reading

Enlightenment 2.0 drops next weekend

Came home from work today to find this bad boy sitting on my porch:

e2

First copy of new book! The official release date is April 15. Look for a sneak peek in the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday, April 12th. And then look for me popping up everywhere to promote it. Actually, not so much, but I will be doing a talk at the Ottawa Writer’s Festival on April 27th.

And kudos to HarperCollins for their support of Canadian non-fiction publishing.… Continue reading

The central challenge for the left in Canada

Anyone who read my last post will no doubt have sensed that I’m having a lot of difficulty summoning up much enthusiasm for the current politics of the NDP in Ontario, in particular, their willingness to assign redistribution of wealth priority over the need to solve certain pressing collective action problems. Thinking about the issue reminded me of the opening paragraph of a book I read recently, by Samuel Bowles (The New Economics of Inequality and Redistribution):

Socialism, radical democracy, social democracy, and other egalitarian movements have flourished when they successfully crafted the demands of distributive justice into an economic strategy capable of addressing the problem of scarcity, and thereby promised to improve living standards on the average. Redistributing land to the tiller, social insurance, egalitarian wage policies, central planning, and providing adequate health care and schooling for all have been attractive when they promised to link a more just distribution of economic reward to enhanced performance of the economic system as a whole.

Continue reading

Whither the Left in Quebec?

            I live in a Montreal riding that has been voting Liberal since time immemorial. Deciding who to vote for is therefore for me something of a theoretical exercise. Whatever happens in the province more broadly, you can be sure that Kathleen Weil, who served as Minister of Justice in the Charest government, will be returned to power with a hefty majority. Weil is a credible candidate, but I won’t be voting for her. Like many Quebeckers, I worry about the degree to which Philippe Couillard has managed to rid the party of the stench of corruption in the few months that he has been leader. Like many people on the Left, I don’t see him as having in any significant way arrested the rightward drift that Jean Charest imprinted upon the Liberals. And as a civil libertarian, I am not ready to forgive the Liberals (and Mme. Weil) for having enacted repressive legislation aimed at stemming the protests that gripped the province in the Spring and Summer of 2012.… Continue reading