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September 28, 2006

An Entirely Isolated Bleg

Can anyone point to an instance, at any time in Canadian history (but preferably in the past twenty years), in which a male member of Parliament was cited in a third party's divorce proceedings? Any form of citation will do, although, for reasons entirely unrelated to anything that may or may not be happening these days, an allegation of an extra-marital affair would be most interesting.

Just wondering.

Posted by David Mader at 10:04 AM | (6) | Back to Main

September 27, 2006

Quote of the Day

"The fact Mr. Martin is incapable of sticking by his decisions explains why he is no longer the prime minister of Canada."

- Prime Minister Stephen Harper

(Oh, snap!)

Posted by David Mader at 04:49 PM | (2) | Back to Main

September 20, 2006

The Thai Coup

Are we fer it or agin' it?

It's a serious question. I've heard disapproving comments based on a preference for stability, and there's something to that. But I don't know the first thing about Thai politics, and I'm hesitant to conclude based on western experiences that a military coup is necessarily an attack on the democratic order. Anyone have any insight? Anyone have any pointers to some comprehensive analysis?

Posted by David Mader at 03:38 PM | (4) | Back to Main

Half Right on Senate Reform

Ontario says the federal government should allocate senate seats according to provincial population - or should abolish the chamber entirely:

"It is the federal government and if they persist and want to do this, then our recourse would be to ensure Ontario is treated fairly," she said. "We have to insist on fair representation."

Since Ontario has 40 per cent of the country's population, Bountrogianni said the province should have more than its current 23 per cent of the Senate seats.

I agree that the seat apportionment is off, but I disagree with the province's solution. In fact, I'd argue that apportioning senate seats according to provincial population would make the upper chamber only more worthy of abolition.

See, we already have a legislative chamber that represents interests by population concentration. House seats are, I believe, apportioned according to the most recent census data, which is why the House has expanded in recent years and why Ontario's representation in the House has also grown. Apportioning senate seats according to the same scheme would result in two chambers reflecting interests in the same manner. And while bicameralism is, I believe, an important component of liberal government, it is hard to justify when both chambers serve the same function. If seats in the Senate really were apportioned according to population, legislation would most easily pass that served those interest best represented by population. As, for instance, cities.

No, the key to bicameralism is to have your chambers represent different interests, or at least to apportion seats according to different criteria such that interests better represented through one but not the other criterion would still find expression in the national legislature. What interests we want represented is, of course, a normative question, and our answers to that question will affect the method of apportionment we prefer. If we want mercantalist interests represented, we might prefer the Irish system, whereby seats in the upper house are assigned to industries (including academia). If we want the interests of the wealthy represented we might prefer an hereditary chamber along the lines of the old House of Lords.

Me, I think at least one of our two legislative chambers ought to be a house of confederation, representing the interests of the provinces. As a result, I prefer an equal apportionment of senate seats. My stated preference is almost invariably met with the objection that PEI shouldn't have the same number of seats as Ontario. But as I argue above, this makes sense only if we think that senate seats should be apportioned according to population, and we already have a chamber apportioned according to population. And yet the interests of PEI and its citizens will be, I should think, considerably different than the interests of Ontario and its citizens. Simply having more people is not, I think, a good enough reason to justify Ontario making Canadian federal policy; it would turn Canada into Greater Ontario.

Apportioning seats equally according to province would force the population-centers of the country to take into account the interests of other regions of the county when drafting legislation. PEI would not have a veto over Ontario-backed legislation, of course; but in order to pass its legislation, Ontario - or rather its representatives in the House and Senate - would have to make its policy preferences palatable to the interests of the smaller provinces. The resulting legislation would - by definition, I think - be more truly confederal than anything passed by a simple majority comprised overwhelmingly of Ontario MPs.

This model of bicameralism works, I think, however senators are selected; senators elected by the voters of each province would just as effectively represent a particular set of provincial interests as would senators selected by each province - although the latter would more precisely represent the interests of the provinces-qua-provinces. I tend to favor the latter method - and so favor, in the American context, the repeal of the Seventeenth Amendment - but I think that discussion is severable from this.

So half a cheer for Ontario: they're right that the seats in the upper house are misapportioned, but they're wrong as to how they ought to be apportioned, and they're wrong to suggest that their proposed change to the status quo would make abolition less sensible.

Posted by David Mader at 02:50 PM | (5) | Back to Main

It's the Consistency I Love

"Here's an interesting remark on Hugh Hewitt's blog:

As a Jew, I found Fox's question [to George Allen] profoundly offensive. Trust me, the wounded minority card is not one that I play with much frequency. But the attempt to "tar" Allen as a Jew in a southern state was at the very least disturbing, and I actually consider it sickening.

The premise of this argument is that many Southern voters are anti-Semitic." -- Andrew Sullivan, September 19, 2006.

"[W]hichever party the South controls will have a hard time reflecting the kind of skeptical, libertarian, tolerant principles Goldwater believed in." -- Andrew Sulivan, September 20, 2006.

Meanwhile, Sullivan now seeks evidence for his expansive approach to torture from TV shows.

But hey, at least it's an "award winning show."

(Incidentally, according to this report, CIA 'waterboarding' involves cellophane, not a porous rag as in the TV clip, which makes a significant difference, I should think: the use of a rag perpetuates the traditional physical aspect of waterboarding, whereby the victim was either submerged in water or had water poured into his or her mouth, and whereby, therefore, death by asphyxiation was a very real possibility. The use of cellophane, it seems to me, drastically reduces, if it does not entirely eliminate, the physical element of waterboarding, and turns it into an almost entirely psychological procedure. Now it still might be torture, of course, but it becomes a much closer question.

Oh, and by the by, the use of cellophane, rather than cloth, has been acknowledged by Sullivan on his blog - and in his new book as well, apparently. But hey, he saw it on YouTube, so it must be true.

To Be Clear: I don't think we - however 'we' are defined - should engage in this practice. But I seek a stronger argument against such a practice than the fact that it gives Andrew Sullivan the jibblies.)

To Be Even Clearer: Re-reading this post I realize what it is I've come to dislike about Sullivan's writing. Sullivan continues to claim that he remains a true conservative while the American conservative establishment has progressed or evolved into something else. To a certain degree Sullivan is right about his own positions - and, notwithstanding my repeated criticisms of his analyses, I tend to agree with Sullivan's conclusions on a host of issues, including torture. But what I've come to dislike about Sullivan - and the aspect in which I think he has moved away from traditional conservatism - is his propensity to stand on moral authority or 'obvious' first principles to justify his conclusions. The torture debate is a perfect example. From the beginning Sullivan has been entirely unwilling to engage in a discussion over the definition of torture and its possible uses in wartime. To be sure, he often points to what might be called empirical evidence supporting his claim - such as the creation of faulty intelligene through coercive techniques in Pakistan prior to the London 8/10 arrests. But Sullivan points to these data points as confirmation of what simply appear to be deeply held moral convictions.

I don't begrudge Sullivan his deeply held moral convictions, of course. I just don't think that deeply held moral convictions are enough to justify policy, and I certainly don't think they're enough to carry an argument. My problem with Sullivan, then, is that he's become a Romantic - he's come to value moral conviction (and specifically his own moral conviction) over rational determination of appropriate policy. That's not to say that Sullivan is hostile to rational discussion; certainly he continues to make strong rational arguments in favor of his preferred policies. But when push comes to shove - as in the torture debate - he appears entirely unwilling to engage in rational debate. Attempts to rationalize the use of coercive interrogation techniques are met with moralistic scorn on his part. Well, fine. He's largely correct. But he's correct for reasons he has not yet properly and clearly expressed, and the reasons he has expressed to justify his conclusions, while admirable in the abstract, have at best a very limited place in the creation of public policy.

Posted by David Mader at 09:56 AM | (0) | Back to Main

September 19, 2006

Just One Thing

The chief electoral officer is an administrator, not a judge, and he made his comments in the capacity of a witness. To say that this amounts to a 'complete vindication' of the Liberal Party's interpretation of electoral law is to appeal to a pretty corrupt notion of lawmaking. Of course if the Liberals want to invite a debate on the administrative state, I say bring it on.

Let's keep in mind, too, that this whole imbroglio stems from the fact that the Liberal Party gives tax receipts to its convention attendees.

Let me say that again: when people pay the Liberal Party to attend their political convention, the Liberal Party gives those people some of your money.

Vindicated indeed.

IMMEDIATE UPDATE: Without getting too deep into a debate about tax theory, I acknowledge that it might be more accurate to say that the Liberal Party bribes its convention attendees with their own money, rather than yours, to the extent that a tax receipt represents a promise on the part of the government not to take so much. If if federal revenues are seen as 'federal funds' from the beginning of the fiscal year, then a receipt might be seen as the reallocation of the tax burden from the receipt-recipient (so to speak) to the non-receipt-receiving taxpayer. But that's not a theory of taxation I'm particularly fond of, as I see tax moneys as the property of the taxpayer until the moment of settlement of accounts between the taxpayer and the government. The basic point remains, though, I think: the grits provide a financial incentive to party attendees, financed through the public purse. The Tories don't. It's entirely possible that the investigator (why isn't this a suit at law, incidentally?) will conclude that the Tories did indeed misinterpret the governing law - though, pace today's media reports, that's up to the investigator, not Kingsley. But a) that hasn't happened yet, and b) the Tories' proposed interpretation is neither outrageous nor impolitic.

Posted by David Mader at 07:56 PM | (0) | Back to Main

September 18, 2006

Good Call

Someone at Warner Music has his or her eye on the ball:

Video-sharing site YouTube has signed a deal with media giant Warner Music to allow its material to be used legally.

It means interviews and videos by Warner's artists can be used in return for a slice of advertising revenue.

The agreement also covers the use of material in homemade videos, which form a large part of YouTube's content.

Very smart. Remember the "Lazy Sunday" sketch from SNL? It was a wonderful little Digital Short, and it took the internets by storm at the beginning of the year. And then it disappeared - NBC had stood on its rights and forced YouTube and similar sites to pull the video. And the critical renaissance SNL had experienced thanks to the Lonely Island crew promptly ended, as the show faded back into obscurity. If you want to see SNL's digital shorts now, you have to trek on over to NBC's awful website and navigate through a series of annoying and ill-placed menus to find tiny versions of old spots.

Warner Music is showing a savvy that NBC obviously lacks. NBC is to be credited, of course, for making a number of their shows available for purchase on iTunes - but iTunes is only one medium of internet distribution, and it serves a certain function with regard to a certain market. iTunes is great if you want to own a whole show - or a whole season. iTunes is programming. YouTube is great if you want to broadly disseminate a particular message or segment. YouTube is advertising.

Warner has figured that out - it's managed to strike a deal whereby it gets paid for, basically, free advertising. Making music videos freely available will not only feed the market for the featured music - for a music video is, after all, simply an ad for the featured single or album - but stands to feed the market for the video itself. It's one thing to watch a video on YouTube; it's another to have it in your iTunes. And just as important, I think, is the provision relating to the use of copyrighted material in home videos. This might as well be called the "Two Chinese Guys" provision. This sort of video is a huge trend on YouTube - largely thanks to these kids (who are geniuses, incidentally) - and Warner has figured out a way to make a buck out of kids lip-syncing to their music.

This is good news - for Warner, for YouTube, and for internet users. Hooray.

Posted by David Mader at 11:53 AM | (0) | Back to Main

September 13, 2006

Dawson College Shooting

CBC / CTV / The Star / Globe & Mail / BBC

Developing . . .

UPDATE (15:42 CDT): Here's Radio-Canada. A number of organs appear to be backing off the initial report that four are dead. It appears that two shooters are dead - one suicide, one shot dead by the police - and that six students are in critical condition, but reports of victim deaths are inconsistent.

UPDATE (16:07 CDT): CTV's latest reports one shooter and one death - the shooter - rather than the multiple (up to four) shooters reporter earlier in the day. The Globe agrees:

Contrary to earlier reports, Montreal Chief of Police Ivan Delorme said there was only one suspect in the shootings at this time. "We're getting a lot of information from various sources, and we're trying to figure it out. I will only talk about one suspect for the time being who died following the intervention of the first police officers on the scene."
Developing . . .

UPDATE (16:41 CDT): The Toronto Star is now reporting that one injured victim has died; they report two deaths including the shooter.

Posted by David Mader at 03:21 PM | (0) | Back to Main

He's Going to Love This

Awwwwwwwwwwww. Very cute.

Although my favorite line was this:

Tall, athletic, young, blond and recently dumped by his girlfriend, a fellow member of Parliament, Belinda Stronach, who parted with him when she switched parties, Mr. MacKay does not look like your usual foreign minister. He has a tan and the build of someone who spends his time on the rugby field, not holed up reading G-8 communiqués.



Posted by David Mader at 11:46 AM | (1) | Back to Main

Poll Questions - SES Edition

Everybody's favorite polling firm - well, my favorite polling firm anyway - has a new poll out, commissioned by the National Council on Canadian-Arab Relations. The poll investigates Canadians' perceptions of the Harper government's foreign policy with specific reference to the Israeli-Arab conflict. The results are available in PDF form here. There's nothing too remarkable about the findings (with the possible exception that more Canadians see the Harper government's policy as neutral than as pro-Israel), but one question seems rather poorly worded. Here it is:

Thinking about the next federal election and Canada's foreign policy in the Middle East, would you consider changing your preference if you disagreed with the Conservative government?
Now I applaud targetted questioning - this question is better, I think, than one that simply asked whether Canadians would change their voting preference based on Tory foreign policy in the mideast. Such a question would group potential shifts away from the Tories based on mideast policy with potential shifts to the Tories based on mideast policy. But the question as asked, without other option, seems to me to emphasize the first group of potential shifts. Why not ask something like
... would you consider changing your voting preference based on the Conservative government's policy in the mid-east? [Follow-up] If yes, does the Conservative government's policy in the mid-east make you [rotating] more likely or less likely to vote Conservative?
That would simply get you a more complete picture, I think.

Posted by David Mader at 09:58 AM | (0) | Back to Main

September 11, 2006

It's Our War

I don't have anything particularly insightful to say right now, nor anything particularly inspiring. It was war when it happened, and the war goes on, and the great challenge we face is to recognize the war, and to fight it. Five years on - five years after the war was made plain to all who would see - the very reality of the war is a matter of political contention and debate. Since I began this blog in the summer of 2002 I have tried to advance the argument that we are at war - that we who love democracy and freedom are at war with those who fear freedom and democracy, and who would replace them with theocratic tyranny. I will continue to make that argument, and I will continue to interpret the world's news through that lens.

But not today. Today I'll just quote Lileks:

It’s not the pessimists who will save the West. It’ll be those who believe the West is worth saving, and not because it is the least horrible option whose defense must be prefaced with endless apologies, but because it really is the best hope we have.
The West - democracy - liberty - call it what you will, and we can debate endlessly what the ideas mean. But there's something to those ideas, however narrowly we define them. It's something about freedom; something about opportunity; something about living. It's something worth fighting for.

Because it really is the best hope we have.

Posted by David Mader at 12:00 AM | (3) | Back to Main

September 06, 2006

Prayers on a Plane


Some fellow passengers are questioning why an Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal last week for praying.

The man was a passenger on a Sept. 1 flight from Montreal to New York City when the incident happened.

The airplane was heading toward the runway at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport when eyewitnesses said the Orthodox man began to pray.

"He was clearly a Hasidic Jew," said Yves Faguy, a passenger seated nearby. "He had some sort of cover over his head. He was reading from a book.

"He wasn't exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth," Faguy added.

The action didn't seem to bother anyone, Faguy said, but a flight attendant approached the man and told him his praying was making other passengers nervous.

"The attendant actually recognized out loud that he wasn't a Muslim and that she was sorry for the situation but they had to ask him to leave," Faguy said.

Although the decision to remove the gentleman from the flight - rather than simply ask him to stop praying - seems a bit overboard to me (though of course asking him to stop praying would have opened its own kettle of fish), I actually don't think Air Canada's actions are outrageous.

In fact I'm somewhat encouraged that passengers on an Air Canada flight (though admittedly a US-bound flight) had enough presence of mind to notice unusual behavior and to do something about it. Their sin was one of ignorance, apparently. And in today's security environment, I believe air passengers have a duty to minimize suspicious behavior. Even saying to one's neighbors, "excuse me, I'm a religious Jew/Muslim/Christian and it's time for my daily prayer. Would it make you uncomfortable if I prayed silently here in my seat?" will probably be enough to mollify otherwise-suspicious co-passengers. And if the response is "yes, that would make me uncomfortable," then don't pray. I'm not an authority on any religion, but I guarantee you: God will forgive you.

I feel like I may be wrong about this one. Any thoughts?

Posted by David Mader at 12:01 AM | (5) | Back to Main

September 05, 2006

Quote of the Day

Paul Wells:

As always, a couple of people hurried to write in to tell me they don't care about the Parliamentary Press Gallery. As always, this type of letter is the most entertaining I get. I don't know about you, but when I don't care about something, I tend to... you know... ignore it. When I posted on jazz last week, nobody wrote to tell me they don't care about jazz (well, nobody except Scott Reid). When I wrote about Pluto, nobody wrote to say they didn't care about Pluto. They just didn't write.

The I-don't-care-about-journalists crowd, on the other hand, is vigorous and proactive in its apathy. They must be fun to drive around town with. "Hey, look at that house! God, I don't care about that house. Pull over."


In fact, I agree with almost Wells says regarding the Parliamentary Press Gallery collective action, with the exception that I'm not sure whether the Gallery isn't acting as politically as the PMO. Here's how I see it:

Let's assume for the moment that the members of the PPG are not, in fact, egotistical babies. Let's assume that it's not about who gets to put the questions to the PM, but that the questions get asked. The Gallery's concern is that, by choosing which reporters get to ask questions, the PMO will effectively insulate the PM from uncomfortable questions. But if it's about what gets asked, and not who does the asking, then surely - as Wells suggests - those reporters who do get called on can relay some uncomfortable questions.

But let's assume that they don't. Why would the PMO favor some reporters over others? Presumably because some reporters either a) do not ask uncomfortable questions or b) do ask positive (as opposed to simply neutral) questions. And why wouldn't these favored reporters ask the uncomfortable questions that their disfavored colleagues are kept from asking? Either a) because they don't want to lose their favored status or b) because they don't want the PM to face uncomfortable questions.

Either way, I think the PPG ends up acting as a rather political institution. There are reporters who want to ask politically uncomfortable questions. The PM doesn't want to face such questions. There are (presumably) reporters who don't want to ask politically uncomfortable questions. The PM has no problem taking questions from them. Two questions:

1) How is the PPG's demand to control who gets to ask questions anything but the inverse of the PM's demand to control who gets to ask questions?

2) As between the elected PM and the unelected PPG, why should the unelected PPG's political demands be given greater deference than the PM's political demands?

Which is all a very wordy way of saying this: there are reporters who want to ask Harper tough questions. Even assuming that they want to do so out of some notion of a higher purpose in reporting, as opposed to base political beliefs, the asking of tough questions - like the asking of softballs - is necessarily a political activity. Stephen Harper is absolutely playing politics when he demands to set the question list for his press conferences. And the PPG is absolutely playing politics when they demand to do the same.

Why should we instinctively - or even deliberately - side with the PPG?

Posted by David Mader at 11:23 PM | (1) | Back to Main

Whopper of the Day

From today's Washington Post:

But opinion polls released this weekend, before the most recent deaths, showed a continuing slide in support for the war in Afghanistan and for the foreign policy of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The polling organization Ipsos-Reid said support for the Conservative-led government elected in January is at 38 percent. Harper's staunch support for Israel in the latest Lebanon war added to his growing unpopularity, the pollsters said.

I didn't, at first, appreciate the real import of this quote. Thirty-eight percent support is, of course, quite respectable for a minority government, and given recent polls it's actually fairly strong.

Thirty-eight percent would, of course, be quite a low result - in a two-party system. Such as they have in the United States.

Look, I'm the first to defend American ignorance of Canadian matters. I don't think the average American has any particular need to know the intricacies of Canadian politics, or geography, or what have you.

But the Toronto correspondent of the Washington Post should know better.

People might start to think he has a bias.

Posted by David Mader at 07:43 PM | (0) | Back to Main

Parental Funding of Education

Macleans† is running an interesting poll: "If the parents have the means, should they be obliged to fund their child's university education?" At current count, the poll's running 56/44 in favor.

I voted against, but I wonder how much the responses turn on what the counterfactual is understood to be. I voted against because I don't see why the state should have the power to compel anyone to use their funds in any particular way. My counterfactual, then, is that parents choose either to fund or not to fund their kids, and their kids then either get parental funding or don't, and either fund themselves or don't, and either get third party private funding or don't.

But I wonder whether there's another option implicit in the question - third party public funding. Are Macleans readers supporting mandatory parental education funding because they see the counterfactual as public funding of education? If that's the case, the positive response makes sense - Macleans readers would appear to be in favor of public funding of education only in those instances where parental funding would be impossible or inadequate, but where parental funding is a possibility, Macleans readers think that public funding should not be forthcoming.

But if that's the case - if that's what the poll really goes to - mightn't there be a better way of phrasing it? For instance, "Should the government support the university education of students whose parents could, but choose not to, fund their children?"

Okay, fine, it's a bit wordy. But it better captures the issues underlying the current question, I think.

(Yea, I'm a bit rusty at this blogging business. Give me time.)

† Is it Macleans or Maclean's?

UPDATE (15:37 CDT): On the Macleans v. Maclean's debate, Geoff suggests that it's Maclean's, and that the maple leaf is an apostrophe. I like it - but here's the logo that features on macleans.ca:

See, the maple leaf appears over the dot rather than where an apostrophe would be. It's a mystery!

Posted by David Mader at 11:35 AM | (6) | Back to Main