Second open letter concerning reform of Elections Act

An Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Members of the House of Commons, and Senators of Canada:
 
Last month, over 160 professors signed an open letter to express grave concerns about the damage to Canadian democracy that the  “Fair Elections Act” (Bill C-23) would cause. Today, we the undersigned, an even larger group of professors at Canadian universities who share a deep concern over this legislation, urge the government to withdraw this Bill and draft truly fair election reforms based on meaningful consultations with opposition parties, non-partisan experts, Elections Canada, and the public. There is no reason to depart from this laudable Canadian tradition for electoral reform. 
 
Committees in both the House of Commons and the Senate have now heard from many experts and citizens’ groups. Overwhelmingly, these witnesses have criticized the legislation. Despite the government’s claim that “ordinary Canadians” support the Bill, a recent poll reveals that a majority of citizens oppose it.Continue reading

Is Quebec More Left-Wing?

Joe asked the other day whether it is true that Quebec is more left wing than the rest of Canada. He thinks it’s a myth. Although he helpfully debunks some false beliefs about the alleged ideological contrast between Quebec and some of the other Canadian provinces, I want to suggest that he skips over several facts that arguably entitle us to reach a different conclusion.

If you look at public opinion and voting behaviour, it is true that it is far from clear that Quebec is straightforwardly leaning to the left. In 2007, the Action démocratique du Québec and its strong libertarian wing came close to winning the election. The Conservatives made some inroads in Quebec in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections. The Coalition avenir Québec did better than expected on April 7th. The common sense/slash-the-bureaucracy discourse is popular in many suburban and rural ridings in the province. And I’m leaving aside the identity dimension of contemporary debates on social justice.… Continue reading

What do libertarians and pedophiles have in common?

Answer: Before the internet, nobody realized how many of them there were.

Okay, that’s just a joke I made up to get your attention. But it serves to set the tone for today’s discussion, which involves a critique of libertarianism that is somewhat less than doctrinal. In fact, I want to make an ad hominem argument against it. Or more precisely, I want to criticize libertarianism indirectly, by making an observation about the kind of people who typically espouse libertarian doctrine.

In order to get at this, I’d like to introduce a new concept, or better yet, describe a group of people, whom I refer to as the “self-control aristocracy.”

The idea is very simple. Some people have more self-control than others. Let me give you an example. I love my wife dearly, but sometimes she freaks me out. Several months ago she got tired of paying for proprietary statistical analytics software and so decided to learn R, the open-source alternative.… Continue reading

Les mythes de PKP

Par Jocelyn Maclure et Daniel Weinstock

Ainsi, Pierre-Karl Péladeau estime que le fleurdelisé devrait être mis en berne tous les 17 avril pour commémorer la date funeste à laquelle la Loi constitutionnelle de 1982 fut mise en vigueur. Selon celui qui vient d’être élu député de Saint-Jérôme et candidat potentiel à la chefferie du Parti Québécois, c’est ce jour que s’installa au Canada un « gouvernement des juges », qui fut particulièrement fatidique pour les deux grands acquis de la Révolution tranquille: l’affirmation du fait français et la laïcité.

La lettre de M. Péladeau touche à des questions qui sont sans aucun doute très importantes. Il y est question de l’équilibre entre les différents pouvoirs dans une démocratie libérale, et du partage des compétences entre partenaires dans une fédération. Malheureusement, le propos ne se hisse pas au-delà de la caricature.

Commençons par l’idée que la Constitution de 1982 a instauré un gouvernement des juges.… Continue reading

Enlightenment week wrap-up

It’s been a great first week for my book Enlightenment 2.0, and obviously I owe an enormous debt to both the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post for running substantial excerpts (the Citizen last Saturday, and the Post every day this week). Looking over these different pieces, however, it occurs to me that a casual reader might be left wondering, “What the hell is this book about?”

So in the interest of making it seem less disjoint, I thought I might present a short summary of the argument – and how the various pieces hang together.

I take Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” as the point of departure, in order to make the point that many people have been concerned by the recent trend towards increased irrationalism in politics. Stewart is not alone in having called for a return to sanity. At the same time, there have been a huge number of recent books published by psychologists telling us that reason is useless, that we are hopelessly biased, etc.… Continue reading

Political Assholes

Aaron James, a philosopher at University of California Irvine, has a wonderful short book entitled Assholes: A Theory (Doubleday 2012). The title may suggest that it is a silly pop philosophy book aimed at titillation rather than illumination. But it’s actually a highly insightful and persuasive analysis of what it means to be an asshole as opposed to a schmuck, bitch, or psychopath. Crucially for James being an asshole involves a specific kind of moral failing and it is the character of this moral failing that makes assholes both infuriating and destructive to valuable forms of social cooperation. The theory in a nutshell has three components. The asshole: “(1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically; (2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and (3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other”.  (James offers a brief summary of his theory here.Continue reading

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