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.

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The golden age of ideological politics in Ontario

One sometimes hears disaffected voters – particularly young people – complaining that they cannot be motivated to cast a ballot because there is “no difference” between the major political parties. I’ve never had much sympathy for this complaint, particularly in Canada, where there is a pretty significant ideological spread between the major parties. Of course no party is going to cater to any individual’s particular tastes – they are, after all, mass parties, trying to cater to the needs and desires of millions of people. At the same time, anyone who can’t see that the parties stand for very different things has probably not been paying much attention.

Nowhere is this more true than in Ontario right now. I was reminded of this when reading Daniel’s complaint about the fact that Quebec politics remains stubbornly polarized along constitutional lines (separatist-federalist), rather than the traditional left-right distributive justice axis. Indeed, every time that it looks as though the political system in Quebec is going to “normalize” (with the rise of the ADQ, or the CAQ, or QS), it seems to last no more than one election before getting pulled back into the old constitutional axis.… 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

Justice Nadon, Canadian constitutionalism and cherry blossoms

There is more to the Supreme Court’s rejection of Justice Nadon than a crude politics. But the politics is so compelling, well nigh prurient, that it is tempting to overlook the legal arguments themselves, or to consider that this was a case with ‘no right answer’. This is absolutely not so.

Justice Nadon was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada to one of the three places on that Court reserved for judges from Quebec. Prior to his appointment, he was a judge on the Federal Court of Appeal. Long ago, he practiced law in Quebec for many years. Knowing that questions about this appointment were brewing, the government sought to amend the key provisions of the Supreme Court Act using the omnibus budget legislation passed last fall.

After Toronto immigration lawyer Rocco Galati challenged Nadon’s appointment, the government stepped into the fray directly by asking the Supreme Court itself to use its ‘reference’ jurisdiction to answer two questions.… Continue reading

On two-tiered medicine in Canada

My boss, Mark Stabile, has an op-ed in the Globe and Mail today, arguing against two-tier health care in Canada. He’s the kind of economist who is interested in facts, and he cites a few. For example, with an added tier of private medicine:

there is little evidence that wait times in the public system go down. And there is little evidence that a private system reduces the costs of public systems. In fact, in some jurisdictions, overall costs in the public system actually went up in those cases where the tax system subsidizes people who purchase private insurance (as Canada does). Over all, those systems that have private insurance have had to continue to grapple with issues of costs and access, much as we do here in Canada.

Now I’m the kind of non-economist who is quite interested in incentives, so I find it interesting to speculate about why allowing people to opt out of the public system and purchase health care privately would not free up resources in the public system.… Continue reading

Before we stop talking about the Charter of Values entirely

A piece I wrote for Global Brief magazine just appeared (not a moment too soon, since it was written before the Quebec election call). It’s aimed primarily at a non-Canadian audience, with the goal of explaining the current dust-up over multiculturalism/secularism:

Misunderstanding Canadian Multiculturalism

There’s not all that much new in it, mainly it brings together in one place arguments that have been made by Daniel, Jocelyn and others, within a broadly “Kymlickian” framework for thinking about Canadian multiculturalism.

There is however one observation that I consider moderately original (or that I have not seen enough discussion of). The fact that religious accommodation is so much more controversial in Quebec than it is in the rest of Canada is, in my view, related to the extremely rapid secularization process that Quebec underwent beginning in the ’60s, which was experienced by many as a cultural trauma:

No visitor to Canada can fail to be impressed by, on the one hand, the vibrancy and enthusiasm of religious communities in immigrant groups – particularly Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus – and on the other hand, the obvious signs of decline in the traditional Christian churches.

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Vote stratégique vs vote de conviction

Comme à l’élection de 2012, les exhortations à « voter stratégique » abondent. Le Parti Québécois étant maintenant deuxième dans les intentions de vote, Jean-François Lisée recycle ses sorties culpabilisantes contre ceux qui se préparent à voter pour Québec Solidaire. À le lire, on croirait que les progressistes qui ne voteront pas pour le PQ sont tout simplement irrationnels. Il semble oublier que le PQ a un bilan pour le moins mitigé sur le plan de la justice sociale, et que la justice sociale comprend aussi un axe identitaire. Cela dit, il est normal que le dilemme vote de conviction/vote stratégique se pose dans un système uninominal à un tour où plus de deux partis sérieux rivalisent pour le pouvoir. L’absence (regrettable) d’un élément de proportionnalité dans notre système électoral fait en sorte que la division du votre entre deux partis assez rapprochés d’un point de vue idéologique peut permettre à un tiers parti dont le programme est plus éloigné de se faufiler entre les deux.… Continue reading

Voter suppression in Quebec

I honestly cannot believe that I have occasion to write about the ugly politics of voter suppression in Quebec. Until recently, I assumed that all political parties in the province were committed to respecting the integrity of the electoral process and would not engage in political rhetoric designed to disenfranchise legitimate voters. But a desperate Pauline Marois has decided to play the democratic theft card. She has been quoted as saying: “It makes me sick to my stomach to even think that someone would try to cheat the democratic system”.  

One might assume that her queasiness was occasioned by the recording of a McGill PhD student being denied the right to vote by an official in St. Henri. But no. Apparently, her nausea was created by the thought that citizens whose political support she cannot count upon might be granted the right to vote. Marois’s putative concern was echoed by Justice Minister Bertrand St-Arnaud who raised the specter of voter fraud when he asked: “Will the Quebec election be stolen by people from Ontario and from the rest of Canada?” Marois and St-Arnaud clearly don’t want Anglophone students residing in Quebec to have the right to vote in the Quebec election. … Continue reading