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.

Continue reading

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

If government were a business, regulation would be a profit centre

Over at my day job, I’m in the midst of writing up a rather lengthy paper on cost-benefit analysis. Rereading some of the literature, I was struck by the following claim made by Cass Sunstein, in one of the many interesting things he’s written since retiring from government work and returning to academia (“The Office of Regulatory Affairs: Myths and Realities”):

In the first three years of the Obama Administration, the net benefits of economically significant regulation exceeded $91 billion – more than twenty-five times the corresponding figure for the Bush Administration, and more than six times the corresponding figure for the Clinton Administration.

We are so used to hearing about the costs imposed by regulation that it is easy to lose sight of the fact that, when properly crafted, regulation is a source of enormous benefit to society. And yet it’s not every day that you see government (or in this case, former government officials) standing up and taking credit, unapologetically, for those gains.… Continue reading

What if the PQ loses?

Two and a half weeks into the campaign in Quebec, and panic seems to be setting in among PQ strategists. Polls are showing a clear trend toward the provincial Liberals. Worse, the upstart Québec Solidaire, whose leader, Françoise David, performed admirably during the first leader’s debate, is nipping at the heels of the PQ in several urban ridings on the island of Montreal.

The PQ has tried everything, yet nothing seems to be working. Pierre Karl Péladeau has failed to ignite any significant interest on the part of the business community that was supposed to be drawn into the PQ fold by his candidacy. The specter of a referendum has clearly cost the PQ in the polls, to the point where Pauline Marois has rather pathetically been repeatedly seeking to distance herself from what should after all be her party’s most central commitment. The Charter of Values, which was trundled out again toward the middle of the week, seems to have exhausted its electoral potential.… Continue reading

Does the PQ have to Say Whether It Will Hold a Referendum?

Apart from convinced sovereigntists, very few people had given serious thought to the possibility of a third referendum on Quebec’s independence before the current election. Support for independence has been oscillating around 40% for years and a huge proportion of the population did not want to hear about it, including disillusioned sovereigntists. Even a deeply disliked conservative government in Ottawa hasn’t been enough to reignite the independence flame. But things can move quickly in politics, and it now appears that a Parti Québécois majority government would switch gear and do whatever it can to create a momentum for sovereignty. As Daniel pointed out, the baby boomers who are masterminding the current PQ strategy are arguably thinking that their best chance to see an independent Quebec during their lifetime is to organize a new referendum as quickly as possible. Media mogul and now PQ candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP) is not known for his patience.… Continue reading

I’m Not A Real Journalist But I Play One On TV

On Sunday evening I watched 60 Minutes. One of the pieces featured the Canadian journalist Morley Safer examining new ‘drone’ technology that permits remotely controlled model aircraft to fly around neighborhoods with digital cameras. The episode was not exactly hard hitting journalism but it did raise some issues about technology and privacy. Soft as the piece was, I assumed that Safer was presenting a news story and not a piece of fictional entertainment.

Then I turned on the Netflix series House of Cards and who did I see? Morley Safer playing himself as a hard-hitting journalist from 60 Minutes pressing a fictional Vice-President of the United States about an alleged political scandal. Safer is not the only journalist who has had a cameo appearance on House of Cards. Kelly O’Donnell, NBC News, Ashleigh Banfield, CNN, Candy, Crowley, CNN, Sean Hannity, Fox News, Rachel Maddow, MSNBC, Chris Matthews, MSNBC, Chris Hayes, MSNBC, Morris Jones, ABC 7, Julianna Goldman, Bloomberg News, Major Garrett, CBS News and Scott Thuman, ABC 7 have all ‘played themselves’ on the hit show.… Continue reading

Thoughts on Rob Ford (vol. 2)

My comments a couple of weeks ago about Toronto mayor Rob Ford have attracted a few visits from members of Ford Nation (yes, these people are real). And while none were able to marshall a level of civility sufficient to get their comments past moderation, they were able to communicate to me their strong desire that I elaborate on the various promissory notes I made in my last Ford post, including the suggestion that I would have more to say more about Ford being “dumb.”

I am happy to oblige.

Let me just start by observing that I’m not the only person who has impugned Ford’s intellect. I think the best line came from our former mayor Mel Lastman, who said “this guy makes me look like a genius,” before adding, with the characteristic Lastman touch, “and I’m not a genius.”

This, by the way, was long before the whole crack scandal broke.… Continue reading