December 28, 2006
Paving the Way to Confederation in 1865
When Americans invaded Quebec after the Declaration of Independence in 1775, the clergy and seigneurs appealed almost in vain for people to rally to Carleton's aid.- Desmond Morton, A Short History of Canada 27 (6th ed. 2006)
How do you get the date of the Declaration wrong? And how do you get it wrong over six editions?
December 16, 2006
A Propos of Nothing
I have no reason to doubt the findings of the Arar Inquiry, though I hope to spend some of my Christmas holiday perusing my copy of the findings - but I'm somehow unsurprised to learn that "Maher Arar is still considered a threat to the United States." It's easy to suggest that the Americans are simply covering their tracks. It's much harder to figure out just what Mr. Arar is all about.
So Much for Equality Before the Law
We've really given up on that concept, haven't we?
Don't get me wrong; the OPP are well within their rights - and duties - to arrest those who breach the peace.
Only now I expect them to arrest those who have been occupying land not their own, denying the sovereignty of the crown and flagrantly interfering with the basic property and mobility rights of their fellow Canadians for months. And for every day - nay, every minute - that the OPP fails to act, having arrested this one non-native protester, they demonstrate the inequity of the law in Ontario.
December 13, 2006
Headline of the Day
CTV: Arar Says Report Should Help Future Abuses
Next time they'll know how to do it right, I suppose...
December 12, 2006
Here It Is
Ottawa – Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement:
On behalf of the Government of Canada, I want to condemn, in the strongest terms, this latest example of anti-Israeli and racist statements from the President of Iran. In addition, the conference hosted by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with the sole purpose of denying the Holocaust is an offence to all Canadians.
Rumor Has It
. . . that Harper came out with a strongly-worded denunciation of Ahmadinejad today. Can't find it online yet though. Any pointers / e-mails are appreciated.
Y'all know how it is. Back soon with substance.
December 06, 2006
Not a moment too soon. I still don't know quite what to think about the Arar affair - I have the inquiry's report, but haven't read it - but Zaccardelli was problematic for more than that reason alone. Consider simply the fact that in the middle of the 05/06 general election campaign, the RCMP sent an unexpected letter to an NDP MP announcing - contrary to a general policy not to comment on ongoing investigations - that an investigation into the
sponsorship scandal income trust scandal was ongoing. [EDIT: My bad. Got my scandals mixed up. Thanks to Kelly for the correction.] I have an extremely hard time believing that the letter was entirely bureaucratic - that someone in the commissioner's office didn't have something to do with it. And if someone did have something to do with it, then Zaccardelli could be thought responsible for the Tory victory in January. The fact that I'm a Tory supporter doesn't blind me to the fact that such political interference by the commissioner of the national police force - a police force already compromised by allegations of politicization under the Chretien Grits - would be deeply illiberal.
Zaccardelli had his finger in too many pies; if he wasn't actually politically powerful, he had the image of being politically powerful, which in his position was enough. It was long past time for him to go. It's a good thing that he's gone.
He's bang on:
There is nothing wrong with members of parliament voting on gay marriage, and nothing amiss if one party or another is thereby revealed to be “divided” on it. We’ve got to get over this idea that any time MPs exercise their brain cells unchaperoned it is some sort of constitutional crisis. It would be unnatural if they weren’t divided, given the real divisions that exist in the country, and nothing is served by pretending the contrary. . . .Read the whole thing.
Mr. Dion says it is a matter of the Charter of Rights, and I agree. But the Supreme Court, whose views on that score count rather more than either of ours, has yet to decide the issue -- in fact, it pointedly refused to do so when asked -- and while it is highly likely the Court would rule any attempt to restore the traditional definition of marriage was a violation of the Charter, until they do so no one can say with certainty. Parliament should not vote, in my view, to take away gays’ right to marry. But I cannot say it does not have the right to do so. . . .
Putting the matter to a truly free vote would send an important signal: that the 40% or so of my fellow Canadians who do not feel the same way as I and my liberal friends do about gay marriage are not pariahs or bigots, but on the whole are decent people with legitimate concerns that are entitled to be represented in Parliament.
December 04, 2006
In Other News
Has Lloyd Robertson always worn glasses?
Tattoos in Jail
- The very existence of this program would confirm every stereotype that foreigners have about Canada.
- Those who oppose the cancellation of this program on the grounds that it (the cancellation) will boost HIV and hepatitis rates seem to assume that unregulated tattooing will continue. But if that's the case, isn't federal funding a second-best solution to the problem? Wouldn't the first-best solution to the problem be to ban tattooing in prisons altogether? The existence of unregulated tattooing in prisons does concededly point to a demand for the service that will continue to exist even if not federally subsidized. But doesn't the jail context provide both the justification and the means comprehensively to interfere with that market? The justification seems manifold: tattoos not only spread disease but are often used, in the prison context (as I understand it), to denote gang membership and the like. Aren't those both things the state should not simply discourage but eradicate in the jail context? And doesn't the broad discretion enjoyed by the state in the context of prison administration, combined with the fact that the market actors are all subject to considerable restrictions on their rights and liberties (particularly their economic rights and liberties), create an ideal scenario for the complete eradication of the jailhouse market in tattooing?
- Is there any limit to the argument that, under a system of nationalized health insurance, a certain government policy will increase net costs by increasing the likelihood of health service utilization in the future? In other words, couldn't you always argue that the state must provide a particular prophylactic health-related service, since non-provision will theoretically lead to even a marginal increase in health care costs down the road? Why shouldn't the government be required to buy us all bicycle helmets? Why shouldn't the government be compelled to ban cars? Can anyone point to a prophylactic health-related service that would not be compelled under the increased-future-cost theory?
Turn Off the Music
Maybe we fans can use this study to finally get the teams to stop blasting music and announcements during every second of non-play time during games. My dad hated the constant barrage of noise during the game, correctly lambasting it as crowd control. But NHL crowds are, I think, above the need for crowd control; this isn't the NFL after all. And if you've ever been to a game where the sound system breaks down, you'll know what a joy it is - the crowd actually gets into the action, cheering, sighing, booing - and coming up with wonderful and inventive cheers when the play stops. That's real hockey. Bring it back.
Colour Me Unimpressed
Yesterday I joined the ranks of those praising the selection of Stephane Dion as the new Liberal leader. Let me today join the ranks of those who found his first House appearance in the role underwhelming:
New Liberal Leader Stephane Dion used phrases like "far right" and "neo-conservative ideology" while attacking the Conservatives in his first question period appearance as opposition leader. . . .I understand that Question Period is understood to be about 'political theater,' and I understand that unworthy politicians, and the demands of the television age (including ridiculously short time limits) have degraded that theater to the status of farce. But a large part of the reason I celebrated Dion's selection was because of his reputation as a man of substance.
Dion asked about cuts to offices in the Status of Women agency, cutting the court challenges program and changing how judges are appointed.
"It is because of the far-right attidude of this party?" he asked. In another question, Dion referred to the government's "neo-conservative ideology."
So where's the substance in basing his criticisms of the government on labels? My problem is not with the labeling itself. I do think Dion's use of 'neoconservative' is wrong, but the word has developed a particularly Canadian definition (telling that the particularly Canadian definition is based on a misapplication of the word); similarly, I think his labeling of this government as 'far right' is silly in a western democratic context - been a while since you've been on the continent, Stephane? - but I suppose the Harper Conservatives are fairly labeled as more right wing than any Canadian government in recent memory. (Andrew Coyne might disagree.) My real problem, though, is with Dion's apparent disinterest in moving beyond labels. Let's posit that the Harper government's actions are based on a 'neoconservative' and 'far right' ideology.
Dion seems to have made no attempt to explain why that set of policies, constituting that sort of ideology, is wrong for Canada - no attempt beyond a simple invocation of the terms 'neoconservative' and 'far right.' In other words, the problem is not that Dion is 'demonizing' the government, since I don't think that the terms 'neoconservative' and (in the Canadian context) 'far right' are necessarily pejorative. The problem is that Dion either assumes that they are pejorative, or more likely relies on a sentiment that they ought to be pejorative.
Again, this may well be fine politics; some of you will no doubt say that Dion is simply highlighting an ideological agenda with which most Canadians aren't comfortable. My point is simply that I expect more from Dion than reliance on knee-jerk perceptions. Maybe 'neoconservatism' is wrong for Canada. But Dion hasn't explained why. In his one-dimensional denunciation of the government for its 'neoconservative' agenda, Dion is essentially refusing to disagree. He can do better than that.
What He Said
Mr. Dion’s chances of success in the short term are much greater than is commonly assumed. For his arrival as leader signals a tonal shift in our politics that the Tories would do well to be wary of.Precisely.
They should know. Part of the decline of Paul Martin, I am convinced, is explained simply by the arrival of Stephen Harper as a comparator. Next to Mr. Harper’s calm and measured tones, Mr. Martin’s old-fashioned rah-rah, which had seemed so impressive in the past, suddenly sounded blustery, out-of-key, false. By refusing to play the old political tunes, Mr. Harper single-handedly changed the metric by which political leaders are assessed.
If he is not careful, he may find Mr. Dion does the same to him. His is a singular political persona; we have not seen anything quite like it before. In intellect, courage, and conviction he is a match for Mr. Harper, as he is also in diligence, perseverance and integrity.
That Being Said...
Can I be the first to call BS on the new Liberal leader? Indicating that he'll whip his caucus on the upcoming same sex marriage vote, Dion said:
I think it's a very bad idea for the prime minister to reopen this debate, there's no need to revisit the decision of the courts.There are many reasons to oppose the overturning of the Civil Marriage Act, and there may even be good reasons to oppose the reopening of the issue in the House - but "the decision of the courts" isn't one of them.
First, what "decision" does Dion mean? It's true that nine of ten provincial courts had held the denial of marriage rights to same sex couples to be a violation of the Charter. But the constitutional interpretations of the provincial courts, while surely persuasive (in the legal sense), cannot be binding on the national legislature when it comes to a question of social policy (a question, incidentally, that remains divisive enough that the nine of ten provinces to 'legalize' same sex marriage had to do it through the counter-majoritarian institution of the courts rather than the democratic institution of the legislature).
And as to the one court whose decision on the matter should be most persuasive - though again, not necessarily binding, and certainly not binding given the availability of the Notwithstanding Clause - that one Court specifically declined to address the question whether an opposite-sex definition of marriage would violate the Charter. To say, therefore, that the upcoming same sex marriage vote is "revisiting" the "decision" of the courts is a) demonstrably untrue as to the Supreme Court of Canada and b) wholly unpersuasive (as a legal argument) as to the provincial courts.
Unless, of course, Dion intends to make no legal claim despite his invocation of the courts, instead suggesting that revisiting the issue in the wake of provincial court decisions and, more importantly, the decision of Parliament, is politically inappropriate, much the same way opponents of the deux nations resolution believe it to be politically inappropriate regardless of its legal ramifications (if any). If that's what Dion means, though, he should say so, and not hide behind invocations of "the courts."
All that being said, I have a feeling the PM doesn't mind one bit that Dion will be whipping his caucus on the issue, as it will help him to put the same sex marriage issue to bed once and for all.
UPDATE (12/4/06 11:34 CST): Maderblog's own internal BS detector - my readers - call me out in the comments. They're right. I'm splitting hairs.
December 03, 2006
Good for the Grits; Good for Canada?
Let me join the chorus of those who've applauded the selection of Stephane Dion as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. Whatever the true value of early polls, the received wisdom is that Dion brings considerable political acumen and policy expertise to Stornaway without the baggage of an Iggy or a Rae. There's no question that he's owned the environmental issue on the national stage for the past half-decade, and while I think it would be a mistake to "adopt environmentalism as [the party's] raison d'etre," there's no question that it will be a net winner unless the Tories can get the Kyoto albatross off of their collective neck. In fact I'm willing to wager that Stephane Dion will be Prime Minister one day - though not necessarily next year.
But that will be up to the Grits, and here's why: the Canadian federal political scene has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past three years. Much of this transformation is recognizable only in retrospect, but with the selection of Dion as Liberal leader such retrospective is finally becoming both possible and, I think, profitable. The election of Paul Martin's minority government in 2004 marked, I think, the beginning of a period of deep reconsideration by the Canadian public as to the ruling political class. The subsequent fall of Martin's government and the election of Harper's minority were seen as indicative of some sort of political chaos, an 'inability' of either party to capture the support of a clear majority of Canadians.
But the selection of Dion puts a different gloss on things - or will, if things play out as I expect that they might. We now have as leaders of the two prominent political parties men who are not just Paul Wells's preferred candidates but who are thoughtful, reserved, decent Parliamentarians. Consider this: the night before Harper introduced his historical deux nations resolution in the House, the Prime Minister sought counsel not from his caucus, not from his intergovernmental affairs minister, but from former intergovernmental affairs minister Stephane Dion.
It's not just that Dion is the Liberal version of Harper - wonky, academic, more intrinsically interested in policy that politics. It's that with his selection the second of our political parties has now moved definitively away from the crass power-politics of the Mulroney/Chretien era. There could have been no better introduction to the Dion era, I think, than the swan-song speech by Jean Chretien - a speech that perfectly evoked the snide egotism of his tenure at 24 Sussex.
It's not that the Chretien/Mulroney style wasn't successful, of course; on the contrary, both men commanded significant (even historical?) majorities, while neither Harper nor Dion, I'd bet, can count on a majority in the spring. But - and this is my fundamental point - the Harper/Dion tandem may indicate that we're passing through a period not of political chaos but of political maturation.
This may be a chicken-and-egg question; some might say that minorities necessarily create situations of political development and maturation insofar as they require compromise and dialogue in order to prevent a never-ending election cycle. But it might equally be that, with the parties in the hands of a particular type of leader, Canadians are simply comfortable with the relatively regular go-around, and the much-increased focus on policy, that a minority government brings.
In any case, this is my hope for the next few years: that both parties stick with their current leaders regardless of the outcome of the next federal election; that the leaders remain dedicated to policy disagreements and the political compromises necessary to government; that Canadians engage in these policy discussions, realizing that there are honest and valid arguments to be made on both sides; and that Canadian politics enter a period of free and vigorous back-and-forth, untainted - as much as possible - by graft, and focused on the betterment of the country.
Hey, I'm young and idealistic. But the prospect of Harper and Dion facing off across the dispatch box - whatever their respective seats - is enough to get any young Canadian idealist excited.