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

Les leaders péquistes comprennent-ils leur propre charte ?

Comme le souligne Joseph, l’idée que les entreprises privées pourraient décider d’appliquer la Charte de laïcité est ahurissante. Bernard Drainville, le ministre responsable du dossier, dit depuis le début que les entreprises pourraient « s’en inspirer ». Pauline Marois et François Gendron viennent tout juste d’opiner que les entreprises seront libres d’appliquer la Charte si elles le désirent. Il y a tout lieu de se demander si la première ministre et le vice-premier ministre comprennent leur propre Charte, ainsi que la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés. Questionnés par les journalistes, ils auraient dû préciser que le chapitre 5 du projet de loi 60, à savoir l’interdiction pour tous les employés des secteurs public et parapublic de porter un signe religieux dit « ostentatoire », ne s’applique pas aux entreprises privées, à moins qu’elles soient sous contrat avec le gouvernement. En vertu de l’article 10 de la Charte québécoise des droits et libertés, les entreprises privées ne peuvent discriminer sur la base de l’appartenance religieuse d’un employé.… Continue reading

Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban?

I was struck by this article in the Globe and Mail: Private sector free to adopt Quebec religious symbols ban too, Marois says

Quebec’s charter of values does not necessarily exclude the private sector from imposing the same restrictions on their employees as the ones demanded from public servants, says Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

Is it my imagination, or is that a really big deal? I haven’t looked carefully at how Bill-60 amends the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or what other provisions it contains, but if it insulates private employers from discrimination complaints in this way, that could have a huge impact. Two things come to mind: first, this dramatically expands the extent of the equality violation being contemplated — for example, an observant Sikh could be turned down for employment anywhere in the province, for any job whatsoever, and would have no legal recourse? And second, the rationale for the ban (“state secularism”) is completely missing in the case of the private sector.… Continue reading

The Péladeau effect

A week and a half into the election campaign, and things are not exactly going according to the script. A couple of weeks ago, it seemed as if the governing Parti Québécois would easily saunter into majority status. The Liberal Party had a terrible time of it in the run-up to the election. Its untested leader, Philippe Couillard, seemed weak and indecisive in dealing with Fatima Houda-Pépin, the Liberal MNA who took exception with what she saw as her Party’s excessively lax stand on religious accommodation issues. She managed to steal the headlines from her boss for weeks, before ultimately slamming the door on him in a very public way. (She will be running in her old riding as an independent, and the PQ has made it plain that they would not run a candidate against her). The PQ on the other hand seemed unable to take a wrong step. The “Charter of Values” provided them with an inroad into the key swing suburban ridings around Montreal and Quebec City.… Continue reading

The conservative bind

Excellent paragraph from Jack M. Balkin, “The Last Days of Disco: Why the American Political System is Dysfunctional” (SSRN), describing the dilemma that radical Republicans find themselves in:

They disdain the expertise- and elite-driven politics that the progressives championed. But they face the opposite problem. The acceptance of scientific policymaking as the proper mode of government action, and widespread popular expectations that the government is now responsible for social welfare, social insurance, full employment, environmental protection, and economic prosperity, means that libertarian radicals will find it almost impossible to dismantle the modern policy state wholesale. Instead, the best they can hope for is to undermine it and prevent its further expansion, leading to… a “permanent siege” against the policy state.

This strikes me as an excellent summary of the bind that Canadian Conservatives find themselves in right now. And while it does not manifest itself in the form of “dysfunction,” the way it does in the United States, it does explain the peculiar paralysis of the federal government (remarked upon by many disappointed conservative commentators), where they can’t seem to find anything better to do with their time than pick fights with the civil service.… Continue reading

Non-citizens and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Almost thirty years ago, when the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was brand new, the Supreme Court of Canada made two decisions that were vitally important for the rights of non-citizens in Canada.  Since that time, it has been all down hill.

What has gone wrong and why?  The beginning was promising.  In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled than anyone physically present in Canada was protected by the Charter.  This ruling was followed in 1989 with a decision that a lack of citizenship was analogous to the grounds of discrimination listed in the Charter and thus was a basis for equality protection.

My study published late in 2013 showed both that very few questions of non-citizens’ rights reach the Supreme Court of Canada, and that those that claims that do are frequently rejected by the Court.  The commitment of the Court to ensure that the Charter meets international human rights standards is not being met in this area.  … Continue reading

Lifestyles of the 1% (Vol. 1: Heated Driveways)

I’m not what you would call a “radical environmentalist”. Nevertheless, when it comes to pollution and waste, there are a few bright lines that I try not to cross. One of those is heating the outdoors. If you find yourself doing this, you should rethink the choices that you’ve made that have brought you to this point in life. For example, I’ve always been a bit scandalized by outdoor patio heaters. My neighbour has one on her back deck. Every time I look at it, I think to myself “Seriously? You can’t just put on a sweater?”

As if this weren’t bad enough, there’s a new lifestyle trend sweeping upper-class Toronto that’s irritating me to the point of distraction. It’s heated driveways. People are installing heating coils in their front driveways, so that they don’t have to clear the snow. It’s just like a radiant heat floor inside your house, except that it’s, you know, outside.… Continue reading

Crackdown Politics and Political Dishonesty

In the name of democracy Minister of State (Democratic Reform) Pierre Poilievre wants to put the “rule breakers out of business”. In particular, he wants to stop the scourge of voter fraud. Sounds like a good idea, right? But perhaps it is the Minister who is flouting norms of democracy.

Legitimate democratic processes involve more than fair electoral and parliamentary voting processes. They have a deliberative component. Legitimate legislation is not merely legislation that secures the support of majority of elected representatives in some procedurally fair process of vote counting. Rather democratic legitimacy depends on good faith efforts by political actors to provide credible justifications for the laws and policies they wish to see adopted.

 Of course, there are often heated disagreements as to what counts as good political justification. In democracies there is wide latitude in political debate and discourse about the features of sound political justification. But not everything is up for grabs.Continue reading

Reason vs. passion in politics

Here’s a video of talk I gave in Ottawa last month (in the parliamentary restaurant), on the subject of “reason in politics.” The presentation is basically an ultrashort version of the argument of a new book that I have coming out April 15 (called Enlightenment 2.0), in which I, quixotically, try to make the case for a return to reason in politics.

The talk is just 25 minutes long, it starts at 4:30 and after 35:00 it’s Q&A.

If I may permit myself a moment of “meta” commentary, I just want to acknowledge that the talk itself is what we in philosophy sometimes refer to as a “performative contradiction,” in that I am making the case for an increased role for system 2 thought processes, while using every trick in the book to make the case in a way that will be system 1 intuitive (even stooping so low as to use cute pictures drawn by children).… Continue reading

Independent Oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency

A week ago the BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association for Refugee Lawyers joined together to call for independent oversight of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The press conference was well attended, and the mainstream press ran a series of pretty good stories about it. But almost no one reported on the CBSA horror stories that those of us involved the conference thought would get the most attention.

I am still wondering about this. I just can’t bring myself to conclude that the mainstream press in Canada is not interested in salacious detail.

Here are some of the things that did not get noted in the dozen or so stories that followed the press conference:

  1. A CBSA officer handcuffed a man who had voluntarily attended a meeting and told him that during his deportation flight if he caused trouble he would be forcibly put into a diaper.
Continue reading