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

Open letter on proposed reforms to Canadian elections

Here is a copy of the open letter in opposition to Bill C-23, signed by 160 Canadian university professors who study democracy and constitutional law. It was published today in the National Post and Le Devoir.

Open Letter on C-23

Lettre ouverte C-23

The number of people who signed it (160 by my quick count), is another way of saying “practically everybody.”

 … Continue reading

Can we talk about Cheryl Gallant and lightbulbs?

If you don’t know who Cheryl Gallant is, it’s probably because A) you don’t live in the riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke, and B) you missed one of the more revealing political stories of the year.

I’d like to dwell on this story for moment, because as far as I’m concerned it came and went a bit too fast. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind, because for me it exemplifies the thing that disturbs me most about a range of extremely sneaky fundraising tactics that the Conservative Party has been using of late. (I think of it, for example, when reading the more recent story of the Conservative party using the Prime Minister’s meeting with the Aga Khan to harvest email addresses, then sending out party fundraising appeals, thereby co-opting official government business for partisan purposes.)

The story that I’m thinking about was broken by Glen McGregor at the Ottawa Citizen (here).… Continue reading

Québec at a crossroads

So Quebeckers will be going to the polls on April 7th.  At issue is whether my fellow citizens will follow the Parti Québécois’ hard right turn on identity issues. The centerpiece of that turn is the so-called “charter of values” which would, among other things, alter the province’s own Charter of Rights and Freedoms so as to allow the government to prohibit anyone drawing a salary from the public coffers from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols.

What’s going on here? To begin to answer that question, one has to realize that many strategists within the governing Parti Québécois have come to the conclusion that unless a winning referendum can be held during the PQ’s present turn in power, the dream of an independent Quebec can pretty much be kissed goodbye forever. Were they to leave power without getting a “yes” on a sovereignty referendum, they would next be coming to power after 7 or 8 more years of Liberal rule.… Continue reading

More thoughts on Kymlicka

As Jocelyn points out, most intellectuals in Quebec have had their say about the PQ’s proposed Charter of Values, and are now forced to observe things from the sidelines, with a growing sense of frustration and impotence. Things have now moved decisively into the realm of politics, in the pejorative sense of the term; it seems pretty clear that whether or not the policy is adopted will have nothing to do with its merits as a strategy for managing pluralism.

Nevertheless, as an intellectual, I can’t stop myself from intellectualizing. And so without any illusions about the political significance of these debates, I just want to draw attention to a really interesting exchange that occurred between Will Kymlicka and David Miller in September, 2011 in the journal Ethnicities (unfortunately gated), which lays out all of the issues that we’ve been debating for the past year with exemplary clarity.

I missed this when it came out – I must admit that I find it increasingly difficult to follow Will’s work, because all of his titles seem to involve different variations on the same six or seven words (like the names of James Bond films), so I can no longer remember which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t, or what he said in any specific paper.… Continue reading

L’endurance civique : le débat sur la Charte et l’envie de se barrer

Le débat sur la Charte de la laïcité est psychologiquement éprouvant pour ceux qui, comme moi, s’opposent à l’interdiction des signes religieux pour tous les employés des secteurs public et parapublic. Après six mois de débat, les opposants sont toujours minoritaires. Des amis ont vu leur réputation attaquée, et il fait moins bon aujourd’hui d’être un Québécois de confession musulmane qu’avant le début du débat. Le Parti québécois, les Janette et les autres ne l’ont pas eu facile jusqu’ici, loin s’en faut, mais la Charte reçoit l’assentiment de la moitié de la population. Les partisans d’une laïcité apaisée et équilibrée gagnent les débats d’idées, mais perdent pour l’instant la joute politique. Certains diront que mes biais cognitifs embrouillent mon jugement, mais on ne peut nier que les universités et la majorité des chercheurs spécialistes des questions soulevées par la Charte, le Barreau du Québec, la Commission des droits et libertés du Québec, la Fédération des femmes du Québec et d’autres acteurs majeurs se sont tous prononcés contre la Charte.… Continue reading

A backgrounder on Canadian multiculturalism

One of the most baffling features of the debate about the Charter of Values in Quebec is the number of politicians and commentators who have lined up to defend the Charter by denouncing multiculturalism in Europe, but without showing even the faintest notion of how multiculturalism functions in Canada. Consider, for example, the bizarre lede of Jean-François Lisée’s op-ed in the New York Times:

Angela Merkel deemed multiculturalism — the idea that social harmony is best achieved through celebrating our differences — a complete failure in Germany. David Cameron claimed it facilitated the rise of radical Islam in Britain and called for “stronger societies and identities at home,” along with a “much more active, muscular liberalism” that “believes in certain values and actively promotes them.” Last fall, the European backlash against multiculturalism crossed the Atlantic and landed in Quebec…

A reasonable person might wonder why a European backlash against multiculturalism might land on the shores of Quebec.… Continue reading