Saturday, October 20, 2007

MODERN QUEBEC: LESS TOLERANT THAN THE BRITISH EMPIRE

The Parti Quebecois is proposing legislation that would require all holders of public office in Quebec to pass a government mandated French language test.

Under the proposed law, immigrants who can't speak proper French after an appropriate apprenticeship in provincially funded language courses would be forbidden from running for election in provincial and municipal elections as well as those for school boards.
Now consider this:

Lower Canada was the first colony in the British Empire in which Catholics were allowed to hold public office. It was the only colony in the Empire allowed to function under the Napoleonic Code and not the Common Law for civil procedures. It was the only colony in the Empire in which a language other than English was made an official language of government record.

Now the heirs of that colony are denying their province's linguistic minorities the very tolerance and accommodation they were once provided. Maitres chez nous indeed.

[Link via Calgary Grit]

Update, the next day
: Ben points out of course that the right to represent one's fellow citizens is guaranteed under section 3 of the Charter, which is one of the sections that cannot be overridden by the nothwithstanding clause. Also, a short but interesting discussion is there in the comments about whether the LG of Quebec would assent to the bill or if the federal government would revive the power to disallow legislation.

Posted by Matthew @ 11:37 PM :: (1) comments

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

THRONE SPEECH RESPONSE - LIVE (ISH)

4:25pm-Don Newman is back on Newsworld. Looks like we're in for more, continued, round-the-clock, election speculation.

4:18pm-Here it is. "Canadians don't want an election, we'll make parliament work." Dion will propose amendments, if they fail, they will abstain from voting against the speech. Dion has referenced several instances in which the Conservatives have abstained from votes. So it is a strategy to save as much face as possible while living to fight another day.

4:16pm-CBC reports Dion said earlier today that "Canadians don't want an election" and that "he wants to make parliament work. That seems to indicate, that seems to indicate some kind of abstention-absentee plan in order to allow the speech to pass - unless the NDP gambit sited below is in play.

4:03pm-Still can't tell which way Dion is leaning, but so far he has looked good in his speech.

3:59pm-Iggy doesn't like to stand. He's been last to stand, or has remained sitting, to applaud Dion on several occasions. I smell an insurrection.

3:56pm-Dion criticizes the government for abandoning Africa and particularly Darfur. One's response might be that the country can't do everything at once, though its easy to pretend it can when one is in opposition.

3:53pm-Dion says he wants clarity from the government on whether extension of the Afghan mission would be for combat or for training and development.

3:50pm-Speculation from Don Newman prior to Dion taking the floor was that the Liberals would move a motion that was middle-of the road enough to require both the Conservatives and NDP to vote against it, based on their ideological positions. Susan Bonner reported Layton was mad about this.

If this is what happens - I like it.

Posted by Matthew @ 3:45 PM :: (0) comments

FREE PARKING

This space will remain your one sanctuary in the Canadian political blogosphere from throne speech second guessing and election speculation, at least until this evening when we actually know what the Liberals will do.

Enjoy the quiet.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:50 AM

Monday, October 15, 2007

CASEY CONTINUES TO STAND AGAINST PM

I very much doubt that in a legislature elected on a list-based proportional representation system Bill Casey would have opposed his leader, nor would his riding association come to his defence (would he even have a riding association, if say, he was a list-member under Ontario's defeated PR-scheme?).

The first needed step in parliamentary reform is to take away the leader's power to appoint and confirm candidates in ridings. We can work from there on enhancing the independence of our elected representatives.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:46 AM :: (1) comments

HOMECOMING '07 - FROM AFAR

This year was the first time in three years that I was not in Kingston for the Queen's Homecoming.

Since the debacle of '05, Homecoming seems to have become a regional media event.

The Toronto Star's online edition leads with the headline: "Queen's Homecoming Turns Violent," however the article under the headline is barely able to report any incidents of actual violence. What it does manage to do is mostly re-report the news of 2005.

The Star reported 54 arrests were made on Saturday night (down slightly from last-year's 58) and quotes Sgt. Helene Corcoran as saying "I think 54 arrests is ridiculous, I hate to say they were better behaved" (than in past years).

Of course when you have conditions of 6,500 20-year olds drinking, being policed by over 200 officers (a roughly 30:1 ratio) in a three block radius, you're going to get people arrested, mostly for alcohol related violations, as the Guelph Mercury reported.

Optimus Crime reports that nothing was too out of the ordinary on Aberdeen St., just your standard nudity (male and female), fireworks, and rooftop party-goers.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:13 AM :: (0) comments

Saturday, October 13, 2007

NEVER A SORE LOSER

James Bow continues to display a fantastic attitude towards democracy, even in the face of political defeat.

While some Ontarians are indicating that they will join the ranks of the apathetic and ignorant and protest the loss of the MMP referendum by ceasing to vote in future elections, James displays a much more positive attitude.

As disappointing as the results are, particularly for Mixed Member Proportional, it’s still a democratic result. Not enough people care enough about the proposal to express their support for it. We who supported it failed to change enough minds to get the result we wanted. And in ridings where we believe the wrong candidate won, we failed to convince enough voters why those candidates were wrong. The people had the power to make changes to the system and to the government, and they chose not to, either by voting in a particular way, or not voting at all.

So, we start again. We focus on what we want, and we talk to the people, and we try to convince them of the benefits of our vision. It’s frustrating. It frankly sucks to lose. But that’s the only way forward. The only way to guarantee failure is to give up.
This is the type of attitude that keeps our democracy strong and vibrant: an attitude of not giving up on one's beliefs, or giving in to the opinion of the majority but instead redoubling ones efforts to change that majority opinion.

Its easier to believe in the sensibility of the general will when one's beliefs conform with the majority opinion; it is another thing to advocate a position so passionately and reasonably as James has of MMP and to see 2/3 of one's fellow citizens oppose, or worse simply ignore, you.

But, I think James recognizes that the strength of our democracy lies with the expression of diverse and minority opinions, and that voting, first and foremost is not about winning, but reaffirming our legitimacy as citizens and consenting in our self-government.

Posted by Matthew @ 1:42 PM :: (3) comments

Thursday, October 11, 2007

MOST BORING ELECTION EVER?

Which, overall, isn't a bad thing. I think Ontarians decided that they would just carry on with decent, not particularly rigorous or visionary government. Perhaps we are still rebounding from the tumult of Rae-Harris.

In another victory for the status quo, MMP voting was defeated by a sizeable margin. So much for my prediction of a close 50-50. But I'm happy the result was clear - given the potential ambiguity the super-majority could have caused.

In fact it seems politics at the provincial level is so boring (despite is relevance to actual governance), that the need to frame the results within a federal context is unavoidable.

Did Harper win or lose with McGuinty's Liberals?

My guess is he doesn't care.

Posted by Matthew @ 8:45 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

THE MMP VOTE

Sometimes I have difficulty distinguishing when Alan is being serious or flippant, or flippant for serious reasons, or serious for flippant reasons.

At any rate, he's voting for MMP but thinks all his intelligent acquaintances are voting for the status quo.

From my discussions generally, supporters of MMP think they're system is going to lose, and supporters of FPTP think that they're system is going to lose. One of those groups is going to be wrong - but I think its going to be close. Close to 50-50 that is, which is to say a solid win for the status quo.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:26 AM :: (1) comments

IRRESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT

Liberals ought to be careful of this attitude.

If the unelected upper house continually and regularly defeats legislation that has gained the confidence of the Commons, that is not sober second thought, it is a threat to responsible government. We would be revisiting the days of the Family Compact outright.

This would be a much more stinging rebuke if Canadians cared at all about pre-confederation history.

(Link via Tiger in Somerville)

Posted by Matthew @ 8:50 AM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

LIKE A COMMA IN THE PLACE OF A VERB

As the Ontario PC campaign flails into the dying days of the election, the party has made itself appear even more desperate by sending out a last-minute plea to party supporters to oppose an MMP electoral system.

The thing is I agree with them.

In an email sent to "tens of thousands" of supporters, the Tories warn the proposed mixed-member proportional representation system (MMP) would further empower parties' backroom insiders.

[John] Tory said yesterday he's voting against MMP "because I don't think we need more politicians, because I don't think we need appointed politicians and because I think we should get on with parliamentary reform first.

"It's more important to get the place working properly than it is to at this stage worry about how we elect people," he said in Toronto.
That last bit is exactly the argument I have been trying to make, sporadically, for the last month.(here, here, and here.)

Our voting system is not broken, at least not very much. Beyond expanding the franchise and introducing the secret ballot, it hasn't really changed since electoral politics began in Upper Canada. What is broken, what has changed is the procedures and culture in our legislatures.

MPPs (and federal MPs) have less independence, influence, and power now than at almost any point since the establishment of responsible government. Changing the electoral system isn't going to help, at all. Especially, when the proposed change is going to further enhance the influence of party machinations over MPPs.

Let me indulge in an entirely geeky metaphor. Elections are the punctuation of democracy; they come at regular, and sometimes surprising, intervals, to provide emphasis, or a necessary pause, and to define form. But they are not the substance of democracy. What really matters is all the nouns and verbs that come in between, and that's what we're missing with this distraction of electoral reform. We're copy editing when we should be re-writing the paragraph.

Post Script: Of course, its one thing for me to argue that MMP will only enhance the influence of parties and to call for parliamentary reform; I've been making this argument for some time and my disdain for the corrupting influence of parties is, if not well known, well documented.

It is another thing for the leaders of a party, who have done little to devolve their concentrated power, to make the same argument in the dying days of a referendum campaign. If Tory actually believes in real reform is he promising looser discipline and more free votes for his members in the next session of the legislature?

Posted by Matthew @ 8:14 AM :: (0) comments

Thursday, September 20, 2007

SMARTER THAN A HARVARD STUDENT

I took this 60-question quiz on topics of American history, government, foreign policy and economics. Apparently the same test was given to students at fifty American universities and at no school did the average score crack 70%. Harvard students performed the best with an average of 69.56%. The group who administers the test claims the results are proof that American universities are failing to teach their students fundamental knowledge of American citizenship.

A few things:

1. Its good to see that the Dominion Institute isn't the only organization out there whose raison d'etre seems to be, not just proving, but manufacturing a decline in civic historical knowledge. I thought this self flagellation was strictly a Canadian phenomenon.

2. Though I am skeptical of tests of this nature, especially when they are obviously being used for a particular agenda, nevertheless the results are somewhat sobering. A 70% average would be perfectly reasonable as a result for society at large, but for university seniors at America's best academy? Did the engineers drag down the scores of Arts students?

3. The test overall and some of the question in particular are skewed toward a libertarian-conservative world view. Perhaps if there had been more Marxists questions the students would have done better - but perhaps that part of the point?

My personal results:

Here's were we get to the claim of the title of the post.

1. I scored 56/60 for 93.33%, not bad for a Canadian.

2. The questions tend to focus on the colonial period, American intellectual history, and foreign policy, all of which I have a pretty good education in, though having NEVER taken a course in economics I was impressed that I only got one of the economics oriented questions wrong.

3. Again, based on personal experience, the results of the test are somewhat surprising. Most of my American friends from undergrad would have scored well over 70%, and several I'm sure would have scored in the 95-100 range. But then again, we went to McGill and not Harvard for a reason.

[link to the test via The Tiger in Somerville]

Posted by Matthew @ 11:11 AM :: (7) comments

Thursday, September 06, 2007

MULRONEY vs. TRUDEAU

Two of my regular morning blogs have already made quick posts about this. Both Andrew Potter and Alan seem to be somewhat humoured but dismissive of Mulroney's comments about Trudeau. I imagine Mulroney's comments will create a fair amount of partisan back-and-forth, to put it politely, in the Canadian political blogosphere.

Setting aside the substance of Mulroney's criticism for the moment (a post on that topic will be forthcoming) I think these comments are poor form and ill-conceived on Mulroney's part. It is unbecoming of a former prime minister to criticize another though this standard is not as highly maintained in Canada or other parliamentary democracies as it is in the United States, likely as a result of the different constitutional status of presidents versus prime ministers.

Nevertheless, Mulroney's attack, though not entirely unfounded (again more on the substance later) implicitly lessens his stature in comparison to Trudeau. Mulroney and Trudeau were two of Canada' longest serving Prime Ministers; both their terms in office shaped the country significantly. Their impact and legacies as PMs are open to equal historical judgment in a way that those of Mulroney and Clark or Trudeau and Turner, for example, are not.

Mulroney should leave the reasonable historical judgment of past prime ministers to historians and others. But Mulroney's recent comments undermine his stature as a past prime minister and lower it closer to that of the undergrads in the Liberal and Conservative youth wings.

Posted by Matthew @ 10:21 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MMP's LACK OF INDEPENDECE

James Bow recently wrote a good post about impartiality and partisanship in contemporary government. The post focuses on former MP and Speaker of the House Lucien Lamoureux.

One of my favourite things about James's site is how unabashedly and conscientiously he promotes independence and non-partisanship in the blogosphere and politics generally. This is why I find it remarkable that James is also a supporter of altering Ontario's electoral system to a mixed-member-proportional model.

To my mind the MMP model can only harm the advancement of reasonable independent and non-partisan ideas in government. The MMP system will further incentivize voting for a party and a slate of collectively defined policies, rather than an individual and a set of independent principles. It will also further shift power from the individual MPP to corporate party structures.

Both our provincial and federal systems of government need some reform, however the reform should be focused on giving more power to our individual representatives rather than the executive and party bodies.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:18 AM :: (1) comments

Friday, August 31, 2007

SEOUL SURRENDERS

This is a victory for the Taliban in so many ways.

1. They gain the legitimacy of having negotiated directly with a democratic government.

2. Tactics of kidnapping aid workers are incentivised. In case there was any doubt, the Taliban proclaim that "we will do the same thing with other allies in Afghanistan."

3. The South Korean government confirms that they will withdraw their Afghanistan troops by the end of the year; never mind that the kidnapping of aid workers is just about the strongest argument there could be for maintaining a military presence in order to secure development assistance.

4. The Taliban are rumoured to have received a $20 million ransom from the South Korean government. If true, that money will undoubtedly be used to fund future attacks against Canadians and NATO allies, but that's okay for Seoul because their people are getting out.

This is EXACTLY why we don't negotiate with terrorists.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:54 AM :: (0) comments

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"A MUSEUM ISN'T A WAR MEMORIAL"

So says Professor Margaret MacMillan in today's Globe, and yet that's precisely how how our Second World War veterans want the Canadian War Museum to be treated.

The battle's not over yet. But under pressure from Bomber Command veterans' groups and sympathetic politicians, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa will adjust the wording on a panel dealing with the 1945 firebombing of Dresden.
And yet...
With his back to the wall and no hope of matching German military strength, Winston Churchill was delighted to let Sir Arthur Harris win the war with bombers. Any scruples could be quelled by memories of the thirteen thousand British victims of the Luftwaffe.
...
The Bomber Offensive was pursued with a single-mindedness reminiscent of the frontal assults of the earlier war. Daylight raids over German cities and industrial targets led to intolerable casualties. Night bombing was a little less costly but hopelessly inaccurate. Allied propaganda insisted that bombers hit pin-point targets on military and industrial objectives. In fact, the incendiary and blockbuster bombs were aimed at civilian populations with much the same purpose of terror that had inspired the Luftwaffe. The Allied bomber attacks cost Germany 560,000 dead and 675,000 injured, most of them women and children, but German war production until the spring of 1945 was cut by as little as 1.2 per cent.
(Desmond Morton, A Military History of Canada, McClelland and Stewart, 4th ed., 1999 [1985], p.205).

I have been to the war museum and seen the exhibit in question. The veterans are acting as if this is the only exhibit in the entire building that people are going to read. It is impossible to view the Second World War exhibit and not immediately understand that defeating the Nazis was an imperative and that using all of the resources at the allies disposal was necessary. It is obviously difficult to confront the reality that thousands of Canadian and allied airmen lost their lives dropping bombs on civilians, but a museum should be a place where citizens can be informed of and assess their own history.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:30 AM :: (1) comments

Monday, July 02, 2007

NEWS FLASH

Even the CBC recognizes that it is "ironic" for leftist protesters to target president George Bush with claims of causing the "death of liberty" while Russian dictator Valdimir Putin is an available target.

While Bush and Putin were all smiles before the cameras, protesters clogged the streets around the Bush seaside home for what they called a "Death of Liberty" funeral.

The demonstrators unleashed a colourful parade of fluttering banners that read "Stop the gangsters" and "Democracy has ended" — all of it ironically aimed not at the increasingly autocratic Russian leader, but at his American host.

Link.
"Ironically"? "Ridiculously" would also work.

Posted by Matthew @ 5:20 PM :: (0) comments

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MODERN POLITICS...

... where the personal is political, where the private sphere intrudes on the public, and where "ordinary" is not simply a description, but a virtuous end in itself.

Immediate update
: It would be somewhat hypocritical to adopt an overly declinist tone on this issue, as I so often criticize others for the very same. Further, I am well aware that the conflation of private and public lives is nothing new, subsumed as I am in readings of the court and parliaments of George III.

However, I still don't see why the private lives of the prime minister and the leader of the opposition should have any bearing on mine, or anyone else's, political judgments.

Posted by Matthew @ 9:22 PM :: (0) comments