Archive for March, 2009

Publishing Blues

Or should I say “yellows?” The plan was to put out a new edition of Documents on the Confederation of British North America (Carleton Library No. 40), a fine collection of original material on the making of the British North America Act (1867). But the pages of the original edition (1969) are too yellow. They can’t be scanned.

Will they have to be – for goodness sakes – retyped? Three hundred and seventy-seven pages of small print, with cramped margins. Three hundred and seventy-seven yellow-brown pages, fraying at the edges, foxed, speckled.

The old Carleton Library failed Canada. They published books of great interest. You probably own some. Sure, but remember the nasty, orange, eye-blistering covers! The spines that cracked if you so much as looked at them! Everything was cheap and mean.

The new Carleton Library publications from McGill-Queen’s University Press are in another category: well bound, handsomely designed, with superlatively attractive, prize-winning covers.

The proposal is to bring Carleton Library No. 40 in under the MQUP tent. A “second life” for No. 40.

So here’s the pitch. If you have a copy of the original cloth-bound edition of Documents on the Confederation of British North America, Carleton Library No. 40 – not a yellowing paper edition between library boards, thanks just the same, I’d like to hear from you.


New Book on the Canadian Senate

There’s a new book on the Senate. In my opinion there can never be too many! The Democratic Dilemma, Reforming the Canadian Senate is edited by Jennifer Smith for the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, School of Policy Studies, Queen’s University (McGill-Queen’s University Press). A number of readers of this blog are among the distinguished  contributors.

Here’s my final section:

The Senate was intended to be an arena of national deliberation on the matters that affect everyone in the country equally, and was expected to use its status as arena of national deliberation to resist attempts by the House of Commons to trespass on the rights of the political opposition and the rights of the provinces. But Canadians no longer understand the Fathers’ prescription. The time has come for reform.

There are good reasons today for increasing the numbers in the Senate. There are reasons to consider the election of senators and limits on the term of office. These are measures that are appropriate in the twenty-first century. They are also measures that will not impair the Senate’s traditional roles and may indeed enhance them.

We cannot return to the original plan in all its details. But we can do much to avoid measures that would further erode the Senate’s powers as an inclusive and equalitarian deliberative body. If we take our cue from the Fathers of Confederation we will not set aside seats in the upper house for particular interests and groups. The role of the Senate is not to drag into national politics matters that would be better left in the private sphere, or better looked after by provincial and local governments. The role of the Senate – let me repeat – is to deliberate on the issues that affect equally every last person in the nation without exception, because such deliberation is our best security that government will not resolve itself into a gang of bullies that protects the politicians of the majority and the government’s favourites against the ordinary citizen.

Canada’s Lasting Political Democracy

Reg Whitaker posts on the Inroads chat line an excerpt from Stephen Harper’s speech at the recent Manning Centre Conference in Ottawa, with this comment:

“Our political leaders in Ottawa, at least since Pierre Trudeau, rarely venture into expositions of the philosophical basis of their action. Thus the following excerpt from a speech … by Prime Minister Stephen Harper … is of some interest. Over to you, Mr. Ignatieff?”

I read the excerpt. Yes, it’s both informal and philosophical – to a suitable degree. I’ve heard Mr. Harper give this kind of speech before. And he’s good at it. Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

“We, as conservatives, inherit an incredible legacy. Never forget – you would forget this sometimes listening to the CBC – that it was Conservatives that created our federation, one of the most lasting political democratic arrangements in history. In my grandparents’ era under Winston Churchill, conservatives rallied the world against fascism. And (during) my parents’ (generation), under leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, conservatives brought down the Iron Curtain. And in our generation we have united Canadian conservatives under one roof and brought down an entrenched Liberal party that was deemed an unstoppable juggernaut just five years ago.”

Good stuff, eh? as Bill Gairdner likes to say. The Canadian federation one of the most lasting political democratic arrangements in history? True. True. And it can’t be said too often.

But I choked at the idea that it was Conservatives with a capital “C” who did the brave deed in 1867. I know it’s said – endlessly – that the Tory party under John A made Canada. I know that’s probably what Mr. Harper was taught in high school or university. But it’s wrong. There were distinguished and influential Liberals and Independents as well as Conservatives at the Quebec Conference (1864).

It’s necessary to see the wrongness of the standard textbook teaching because it is the essence of political democracy that all political parties compete on a footing of equality. In a political democracy there are no constitutionally preferred parties. There are no constitutionally preferred ideologies or political arguments. And this fact the Fathers knew.

Listen to Thomas d’Arcy McGee: “[This] is a miraculous and wonderful circumstance, that men at the heads of governments in five separate provinces, and men at the head of the parties opposing them, all agreed at the same time to sink party differences for the good of all, at the risk of having their motives misunderstood, from associating together for the purpose of bringing about this result” (Canadian Legislative Assembly, 9 Feb.,1865).

Check out the story of the decision to include the opposition leaders in Christopher Moore’s 1867, How the Fathers Made a Deal (1997, ix).

Are the Jews Wrecking the University?

At the University of Ottawa, Denis Rancourt, a well-regarded physicist, is refusing to assign grades. He’s been banned from the campus and the university is looking for a way to fire him. But sentiment may be swinging his way.

Years ago Paul Fox, eminence in Canadian politics at the University of Toronto, gave everyone in his graduate class an A grade. (The A+ had not then been invented). His radical stance made headlines in the Globe and Mail and he backed down. (Standing on the buzzer, marking on the curve; universities were disciplined in those days.) Fox was before his time.

Today quite a few professors in Canada and the United States are tossing out their grade sheets. A student passes the course or doesn’t. That’s it. Educational psychologists are cheering. Says Carl Leggo, an education professor from the University of British Columbia, there is compelling research “proving that students are more creative and more productive when grades are removed.” [My source is Karen Pinchin, “In This Class, Everyone gets A+”  Maclean’s, March 23, 2009.]

The Canadian Association of University Teachers has struck a committee to investigate the case. Naturally! Stanley Fish (Save the World on Your Own Time) is keeping his eye on the matter. One wouldn’t expect less.

So all’s well? I’m not sure. According to Maclean’s, Rancourt has a “history of causing trouble.” He denies the existence of climate change. That’s O.K. Some do; some don’t.

He also contends that the President of the University of Ottawa “is part of a continental Zionist conspiracy.” Oh, for goodness sakes. That’s another matter!  How did the Jews get into the story?

People We’re Not Supposed To Read In Canada

Philip Resnick thinks we shouldn’t read American neo-conservatives. He’s writing on the Inroads magazine chat line (March 10) in response to a post by an excited Ricardo Duchene, who has just discovered David Horowitz:

“I for one have had enough of Ricardo Duchesne and his endless rants in defence of western civilization against the barbarians. David Horowitz, an ex-Ramparts editor and new leftie of the 1960s turned hardcore neo-conservative, has been flaying away at the supposed takeover of the American classroom by mindless enemies of the American way for several decades now. He has been a vigorous participant in and proponent of the culture wars in American universities and his organization involves the endless “outing” of supposed exemplars of the enemy creed. Quite frankly, this is one American cultural import we can do without in Canada.”

Michele Pisa, who teaches on the science side at my university, thinks we shouldn’t read American neo-liberals. Writing on the faculty chat line to colleagues who are enjoying Stanley Fish’s  Save the World on Your Own Time and its suggestion that academics should refrain from political advocacy in the classroom, Pisa says (I’m paraphrasing):

Stanley Fish more or less explicitly admits to being a neo-liberal or libertarian a la Friedman and Hayek, neo-liberalism being a philosophy of life in which market considerations rule over all aspects of life including ethics, politics, science and art … He attempts to deflect criticism by saying that he is not against academics’ political advocacy and debate, if it is done outside the University, i.e., not paid for on university time. Apparently this grand Fish’s philosophy boils down to nickels and dimes: academics should only engage in work that has monetary value for both themselves and their students.

So there you have it friends. You know who (whom, sorry) not to read. The neo-cons and the neo-libs. Even if you are someone who can tell them apart, or perhaps especially if you can tell them apart, you should not read them.

I’ll just add that Resnick and Pisa represent themselves as strong advocates of freedom of speech. Of course they do.

Parliamentary Speech/Academic Speech

While we’re thinking about the idea that members of parliament sometimes put aside party affiliation to speak and act collectively (see the post of March 1, More on Adam Tomkins), let’s consider a new organization, the International Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. The founders are Irwin Cotler (Canada’s former justice minister), and British MP John Mann. Parliamentarians from 42 countries attended the inaugural meeting in England on February 17.

Jason Kenney introduced the Canadians: MPs Carolyn Bennet, Raymonde Falco, Hedy Fry, Randy Hoback, James Lunney, Joyce Murray, Anita Neville, Bob Rae, Scott Reid, and Senator Jerry Grafstein. Canada’s was the largest delegation, by the way. (I am taking my information from an e-mail of February 17, circulated by Minister Kenney’s office. A version of Mr. Kenney’s speech appeared in the National Post on February 20, page A12.)

Party affiliations were not to the fore. All present were thinking as parliamentarians about the role of parliamentary free speech in curbing offensive speech.

At my university we’re having a long and sometimes wearisome discussion via e-mail about up ways and means to uphold freedom of speech in academic discussions in the classroom and on the campus. We are not making progress. Should we strengthen the Student Codes of Conduct? The Codes are meant to prevent students from deriding or threatening each other in classroom discussions. I’ve seen them brought into play in situations where men boo women, and vice versa. Now they’re being invoked to moderate the passions of “Israel Apartheid Week,” and are proving decidedly inadequate.

Let’s hope the parliamentarians will do better.

And perhaps they will.  Parliament is supremely an institution meant to enable persons who hold passionately opposed beliefs to engage in fruitful political deliberation.  That’s been its role since 1688.  I’ll have more to say on this subject.

Deferring Frances Widdowson

On the matter of the Widdowson-Howard brouhaha the CPSA Board has reached a decision to defer its decision. You’ll remember the tears and tantrums at the Canadian Political Science Association meetings last year, when Frances Widdowson read a paper recapitulating the argument in the book she wrote with Albert Howard, Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: The Deception Behind the Aboriginal Cultural Industry (McGill-Queen’s University Press). Some of the people at Widdowson’s session contended that the argument had created a “hostile atmosphere. ” The CPSA Women’s Caucus asked the Board to issue a “protocol” about correct behaviour at academic panels.

Now we have the Board’s response. It does not mention Widdowson and Howard, or their book, or the tears at Widdowson’s session. It does not promise a protocol. It says merely that at their December 2008 meeting the CPSA Board established a committee to review professional ethics for political scientists. It is chaired by Avigail Eisenberg (Victoria) and its members are Caroline Dick (Western) and Jocelyn MacLure (Laval). They will report to the Board in December 2009. So all bets are off for a year.

Meanwhile Frances Widdowson is enjoying great success with her book. Television talk shows, think tanks (she got a big splash at The Frontier Centre for Public Policy), Maclean’s, the National Post: they all want her.

More on Adam Tomkins

In Our Republican Constitution (Hart Publishing, 2005), Adam Tomkins argues that parliamentary systems were originally designed to check the exercise of executive power by pitting representatives in the House of the Commons collectively against Ministers of the Crown. That’s Parliament’s original mechanism, so to speak, a seventeenth-century device supremely designed to protect life, liberty and property. See the blog of February 11, “Rights and a Loose-Fish Legislature.”

Tomkins goes further. He contends that today’s parliamentarians would do a better job of protecting rights if they were less hampered by party affiliation. The old device is still available, he suggests. It could still be put to use.

Well, Tomkins has got me thinking. It’s certainly true that parliamentarians revert to the older perspective on occasion. Individual members “cross the floor.” All party parliamentary committees sometimes hang together and collectively criticize Cabinet. Nothing wrong there.

But what I really think is that today’s contestation of parties in the electoral and parliamentary arenas offers adequate and perhaps superior security for rights. If we weren’t so pestered by interference from the courts, we’d do as well today with the contestation of parties as the Englishmen of former days did with the contestation of Executive and Commons. I’ll put together my thoughts in a future blog.

Meanwhile: pick up any issue of the Canadian Parliamentary Review. The journal is addressed primarily to parliamentarians and most of its contributors are members of the federal or provincial legislatures. But articles are not written from a party perspective. In the issue I’m holding (Autumn, 2008) the first piece is by the Hon. Bill Blaikie, MP. The identifying note under his name reads: “At the time this article was written Bill Blaikie was the Member of Parliament for Elmwood-Transcona (Manitoba), and Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. He was also the Dean of the House of Commons having been first elected in 1979. He was not a candidate in the October 14, 2008 election.” Of course one often knows a contributor’s affiliation. One knows Bill Blaikie’s. The fact remains that when he writes for the Review, Mr. Blaikie is thinking about Parliament’s institutions and Parliament’s collective effectiveness, and not about his party. His thoughts are running in the seventeenth-century mode.

Another organization that encourages members of Parliament to think of their role from a non-partisan perspective is the Canadian Study of Parliament Group. Academics and parliamentarians contribute. The CSPG holds seminars, and conferences and supports research competitions.