Archive for July, 2009

Who’s Calling Frances (2)

Who’s calling Frances Widdowson? Not the Canadian Political Science Association Women’s Caucus.

Her e-mails to Caucus go unread.  Replies are inadequate and excuses are lame. “We’ve been out of the office.” “Our e-mail broke down.”

“Our e-mail broke down”???

I think it’s the old story. They want Widdowson to go away. Call it a day. Bury her head in the sand.

Widdowson’s arguing that someone in the Women’s Caucus has been calling her a racist. Someone’s  saying that her work on aboriginals is unprofessional and that the paper she presented to the Political Science meetings at the Congress of 2008 is “offensive. ” She wants names. She believes that her professional reputation is at stake and she wants a chance to confront her detractors. I don’t think she’s going to give up.

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Who’s Calling Frances?

Who’s calling Frances Widdowson? She and co-author Albert Howard are being courted by the political right. In conservative and libertarian circles, they’re everyone’s favourite Marxists.

Peter Foster of the Financial Post finds their argument compelling (July 2, 09): “The authors note that criticism of lousy policies that support dysfunctional lifestyles [on aboriginal reserves] is inevitably screamed down — as this book has been — as ‘racism’ or ‘cultural genocide,’ but suggest that this is primarily because their end would mean a stop to legal and consulting fees, and the huge network of sinecures run for, and by, a nepotistic system of chiefs and councils who have been thoroughly co-opted.”

Last February the National Post ran full-page excerpts from Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry on four successive days. Jonathan Kay’s column (February 3) lauded the authors for exposing the “enormous ideological gulf between classic leftism and the Aboriginal Industry it supports.” Here’s a sample: “From the civil rights movement onwards, progressive forces in our society have weaned us off the toxic notion that a person’s race dictates the content of his or her character. But this enlightened attitude is willfully discarded in the case of natives, who are imagined to be inveterately enlightened environmentalists, pacifists and … socialists. This racist conceit is in turn used to justify segregation – since any other policy would expose natives to the pollution of white values.”

Who’s Using The Courts Now?

Before the Supreme Court of Canada hearings on the gay-marriage reference in the fall of 2004, a spokesperson for the gay rights movement was already boasting of victory. It had taken twenty years of hard work to get the issue before Canada’s highest court, he said. “What we’re talking about is the culmination of decades of work by many, many people …  bit by bit, law by law.” There were few successes at first, but as cases mounted the breakthrough occurred, initiating “a steady winning streak” (Janice Tibbetts, “Gay Activists Predict Victory,”  National Post 6 October, 2004).

Should the courts be used in this fashion? Should they be a venue for making public policy? What’s happened to the idea that crucial issues of policy should be determined by our representatives in Parliament and provincial legislatures?

Forget this question for the moment.

Let’s consider the fact that until recently the deliberate attempt to use the courts as policy venue appealed primarily to groups on the political left.

Now the political right is interested. It’s an effective way to get things done. Why should conservatives hang back?

In the Chaoulli Decision (2007), John Carpay of the Canadian Constitution Foundation effectively challenged Canada’s health care monopoly. According to Wikipedia, the ruling has brought much of the current Canadian public health system into question.

Why should libertarians hang back? MP Scott Reid and MPP Randy Hillier, both from Lanark County, have founded an organization, appropriately called the Lanark Society for the Advancement of Democracy, Property and the Common Law, to help elected officials of a libertarian or classical liberal bent to take “projects to expand the cause of freedom” beyond the conceptual stage. The goal is to identify policy ideas and to put them into action, “whether in the form of draft legislation, a regulatory change, or a court action.”

The Lanark Society. Sounds interesting! A society devoted to expanding liberty is welcome. Needed!

There’s one worry. What’s intended by “court action”?

I understand from the prospectus that as an immediate project the Society is thinking of “constitutionalizing” property rights. But what does that entail? Are they proposing to amend the Charter? Are they proposing to give our greedy judges a juicy new “right” to interpret?

Traditionally, courts protected citizens from government; they carved out an area of rights, which defined the citizens’ freedom. No longer. Activist courts interpret Charter rights to extend government’s reach, shrinking freedom. To my mind conservatives and libertarians should be wary of policy-making via the courts. But I’m sure the Lanarkists will think things through.

Save Our Senate

The premiers are dragging their feet.

Prime Minister Harper promises to appoint to the Senate women and men chosen by the provinces. It’s now up to the premiers to introduce the appropriate election measures  in the provincial legislatures.

It’s sometimes said that the premiers do a better job than Senators at representing provincial and regional interests to the Canadian nation.  (Think of the elaborate calendar of meetings that political scientists refer to as “executive federalism.”)

Phooey. The premiers represent regions and provinces, yes. And yes, they’re not shy about voicing particular interests at First Ministers’ Meetings. But they can’t claim to speak for the nation as a whole. They are not constitutionally required to keep Canada’s interests in mind. Federal-Provincial executive meetings are useful, no doubt, but inadequate as a forum for national deliberation.  

The Senate of Canada is supremely the arena of political deliberation that brings together regional concerns and the national interest. (I say more on this subject in a chapter on the Fathers of Confederation in The Democratic Dilemma; Reforming the Canadian Senate, ed. Jennifer Smith, published earlier this year by McGill-Queen’s University Press for the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, and the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University.)

Yes, we need the Senate. And in this day and age it must be an elective Senate.

I support Link Byfield’s current initiative, Canadians for an Elected Senate. As chairman of The Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, Mr. Byfield has a dozen ideas for prodding and persuading reluctant premiers.  

I’ve sent a contribution, and I’m adding my name to the national petition. See the web site: wwwccfd.ca.

The Women’s Caucus

The CPSA Women’s Caucus is talking about “the need for more avenues of discussion of difference in the Canadian Political Science Association.” I take this statement from a recent Women’s Caucus e-mail to Frances Widdowson.

(“More avenues of discussion.” Sounds fine to me. I’m up for a discussion of “difference” with anyone.)

The next step, it’s suggested, will be to figure out how “this will work vis-à-vis the CPSA Board and hopefully also as a dialogue between PSCI Depts and the Board.”

Got that?

There’s more. “Unfortunately, it is true that the Women’s Caucus appears to be the only one that has historically represented the views and lives of marginalized people within political science and CPSA. This would seem to be a structural flaw within the CPSA.” In other words the Caucus is overworked. It “is unfair to expect one caucus to carry all the ‘diversity’ work within an organization.” Touch of self-pity there?

And then, the punch line. The message concludes: “A far better resolution could be brought about by your talking directly with the people that can impact the issue,” that is, the CPSA Board. What the Women’s Caucus really wants is to avoid opening “a discussion of difference” with Frances Widdowson.

Uh huh. Talk to someone else, Frances. Anyone but us. I guess Widdowson represents the wrong kind of “difference.”