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

Intégrité morale et politique partisane

J’ai déjà tenté de décrire jusqu’à quel point le débat sur la Charte des valeurs a été éprouvant pour ceux qui s’y opposaient. On sait aussi que les intellectuels et organismes crédibles étaient majoritairement contre le projet de loi 60. La Fédération des femmes du Québec, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés de la personne et de la jeunesse du Québec, Québec Inclusif, la Ligue des droits et libertés et les universités se sont dressés contre la Charte. 60 chercheurs dont les recherches portent sur des sujets comme la laïcité, l’immigration et la démocratie ont rédigé un mémoire qui était une charge à fond de train contre l’interdiction générale des signes religieux et la façon dont le débat a été mené. Bref, les raisons de s’opposer au projet de Charte étaient nombreuses et bien connues.

Il était pratiquement certain que des ministres péquistes entretenaient des doutes sérieux quant au PL 60.… 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

Is Quebec more left-wing than the rest of Canada?

There is a widespread perception that Quebec is more left-wing, or more “social-democratic” than the rest of Canada. Indeed, one branch of the sovereignty movement suggests that a commitment to social justice requires separation from Canada, because English Canada encumbers Quebec, preventing it from realizing its vision of a more egalitarian society. (It is because of this belief that many people in Quebec think of separatism as a natural extension of left-wing political commitments.)

This is an illusion. The part of Canada that I grew up in – Saskatchewan – was far more left-wing than Quebec has ever been. And it never once occurred to anyone that you couldn’t have “socialism in one province” (or that being a member of the Canadian federation in any way impeded the realization of the essentially socialist vision that was at the time predominant).

What makes Quebec distinct is the fact that, over the past 30 years, the Quebec political system has been tilted to the left.… Continue reading

Le multiculturalisme, un despotisme? Réplique à Mathieu Bock-Côté

Il est pratiquement impossible de discuter sérieusement avec quelqu’un qui ne respecte pas des critères comme la véracité ou la correspondance avec les faits, la rigueur argumentative et la cohérence logique. Le respect de ces standards épistémiques est essentiel à toute discussion rationnelle ou à une véritable dialectique entre des positions opposées. Je ne refuse pas les débats publics avec des intellectuels qui plongent selon moi trop souvent la main dans le sac de la sophistique, de la démagogie et de la polémique car je doute beaucoup que la politique de la chaise vide soit efficace. Dans mes interventions écrites, toutefois, je préfère de loin critiquer la meilleure version de la position adverse. Comment la pensée pourrait-elle progresser autrement ? Quel intérêt y a-t-il à réfuter une position faible ou une caricature?

La faiblesse d’une telle posture, toutefois, est qu’il s’agit d’une autre façon de pratiquer une politique de la chaise vide.… 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