Archive for August, 2009

The Spending Power: Explain!

If the professor’s asking and you say, “Well, I mean, the federal government, like, ah, whatever,” you have a pretty fair understanding. You’ve grasped the essentials.

Barry Cooper’s It’s the Regime, Stupid (Key Porter, 2009) fills in particulars. I recommend it. There’s no index – pity! So let me tell you that the crucial pages are 186 and 187. The whole of Chapter Five is devoted to the spending power and would make a good addition to a course pack. Pages 186-7 are electrifying.

The spending power allows the federal government to fund programs in areas of provincial competence. It seems to have been the invention of one man, F.R. Scott, “a centralist, socialist, and formidable opponent of the government of Quebec” in the 1950s. He pulled it out of his hat, with a few distracting references to the common law of unitary states and principles of human generosity. Here’s Scott: “Because one type of government alone has jurisdiction over a class of subjects under the B.N.A. Act, does not mean that the other may not make gifts to persons whose activities fall into that class.” (“The Constitutional Background of Taxation Agreements.” McGill Law Journal, 2 (1955) 1-10.

As Barry says, the assertion has an air of unreality. Expenditures are related to taxation. “By long-established law, Parliament cannot raise taxes for provincial purposes and it therefore would be consistent that it not spend for provincial purposes.” He refers us to Andrew Petter, “Federalism and the Myth of the Federal Spending Power.” Canadian Bar Review, 68 (1989), 448-79.

I’m convinced. The spending power erodes the constitutional division of legislative powers enshrined in the Constitution Act (1867) and impairs principles of political accountability ensured by parliamentary responsible government. Its introduction in the 1950s launched Canadians on a decades-long bender of free spending and big spending that still has our heads spinning. And not least, it has, as Barry explains, encouraged a sense of dependence on the federal government, and – because dependence breeds disappointment – promoted disdain for Parliament.

Final word: don’t miss Barry’s summary of the Canadian adventure that was the Gomery Commission (Chapter Six). Another one for the course pack.


Self-Satisfied Whiggism

Jonathan Swainger of the University of Northern British Columbia knows me. I don’t believe he’s met me or read any of my books. But he knows my arguments and he thinks they are passé. They’re “old fashioned.”

He writes: “There once was a time when Canadian history undergraduates were expected to navigate through at least one course dedicated to Canada’s constitutional development. Admittedly, these surveys were often tinged with a self-satisfied and whiggish celebration of the nation’s attainment of responsible government and, in time, political, military, and judicial independence, all within the benevolent ambit of English constitutional governance. Thanks in large part to the waning of ‘old-fashioned’ political history, these surveys have all but disappeared and one suspects that few students are saddened by the retreat.”

I’ve been saying it for years! Candians used to study their constitutional history and now they don’t. They used to read about the struggle for responsible government and the overthrow of the colonial oligarchies: the Family Compact, the Chateau Clique, government by “official party” in the Maritimes. They used to study the growth of Canadian independence in the world of nations. No longer.

By Swainger’s lights, I’m a “self-satisfied” whig. I’m “old-fashioned.” I love it. Overturning oligarchy and establishing parliamentary democracy is cause for satisfaction, I’d say. Promoting and defending the independence of a free country is reason to celebrate.

And I’ll bet there are students today who would like to know how the these things were done. Is there a formula? Supposing there’s a formula, is it the kind of thing that works only for some peoples and some cultures? Can it be adapted for use in the twenty-first century?

Swainger’s sanguine about the “waning” of old-fashioned political history. I say that we should bring it back, and begin to ask some old fashioned questions.

Professor Swainger made his remarks in a review of John T. Saywell’s The Lawmakers (Canadian Historical Review, 85-1 2004)

Summertime Diversions

  • The book sale is over. We’ve packed up the unsold volumes. And we’re ready to begin buying again! Two members of the family are off to the local second-hand book room this very afternoon. There’s a nifty set of Susan Cooper’s fantasies for children, The Dark is Rising. Boxed. In good condition. There’s a set of stories about King Arthur by Rosemary Sutcliffe. Three volumes. Good condition. Every household should have them and I’m sure ours once did.
  • Two new books have arrived from Key Porter, via Amazon. One is by Barry Cooper. Brian Lee Crowley’s book about Canada is out. It’s called, Fearful Symmetry. The gall of the man! You need a lot of chutspah to use that title! And where I may ask is Janet’s copy! Promised, but not yet here.
  • We watch the television series Lost in Austen. It’s grand. It’s so clever. We had a video and could see all the episodes in an evening. We’ll watch it again. Elizabeth Bennett and Amanda Price swap places. Price is a young woman from 2009 who has been reading Pride and Prejudice since she was fourteen. (I’m not going to give the story away but wait till you see Mr. Darcy in twenty-first century London!
  • Political philosophy alert: The script is larded with references to Jean Jacques Rousseau. Did Austen read Rousseau? Yes. Google assures me that Rousseau’s Emile, and La Nouvelle Héloise were read, sometimes in French, often in translation, by all the young ladies of Austen’s period who had literary pretensions.
  • Now think of two aging professors watching this delicious show. What’s going through their minds? Course outlines, book lists, essay questions. Is it a one-term course? The central question is this: does reading fiction fit a person for the moral life? Or does it pervert you by inculcating impossibly utopian ideas about society and man? In the Emile, Sophie, the darling and carefully reared young woman intended for Emile, is forbidden to read novels. But she does. Ha! Ha! She reads Bishop Fénelon’s Télémaque and falls in love with the young hero; no modern man can compare. Her soul swells with longing. Who would have thought that a bishop could write a corrupting novel? (It’s about the adventures of Odyssey’s son, searching for his father in the company of his tutor, the goddess Athena in disguise).
  • We’re like elderly battle-trained horses that hear the war trumpets. We’ll teach the Emile, certainly. Book V, at any rate. Mary Wollstonecraft’s defence of Rousseau in The Rights of Women? Fénelon on women’s education? In alternate years, perhaps. Pride and Prejudice. Lost in Austen. The Télémaque, of course. But then I remember that I put my copy of Télémaque, en français, in the book sale. And it sold.

Researching First Nations

Canada’s major granting agencies, including the SSHRC, are overhauling their guidelines governing research on human subjects. Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights at Wilfrid Laurier, comments on the proposed guidelines for research on Canada’s First Nations. (My thanks to Rhoda for forwarding this critique.)

[The section on Aboriginal Peoples] is by far the most problematic of the draft document. It is suffused with assumptions about the nature of aboriginal society and aboriginal knowledge that may very well not be accurate. It is, moreover, the only section of the document that seems to directly deny researchers the right to academic freedom: article 9.5 (p. 99), for example, states that First Nations people have a right to control all aspects of research that affects them, directly undermining academic freedom.

“Aboriginal knowledge” is used throughout this chapter without explanation as to what it is. As far as I can determine, it refers not only to statements of fact that are empirically verifiable according to normal scientific standards, but also to aboriginal beliefs and myths. For example, at p. 105, lines 3673-76, we are told that aboriginals objected to a genetic research program that challenged their “knowledge” about their identity. There is no suggestion here that this knowledge might be inaccurate. Academic freedom implies that any researcher can investigate anything an individual or a group claims to be its “knowledge”; we do not, for example, protect non-aboriginal Christians who insist on the empirical accuracy of their Biblical origin myth from academic inquiry into it, even if falsification of such a myth might undermine their Christian identity.

Lines 3853-54 p. 110 in the chapter on qualitative research state that “Knowledge…is treated as socially constructed.”  Yet we are enjoined in the chapter on aboriginal peoples to assume that knowledge is immutable, non-malleable, and not socially constructed.

There are also questionable statements of fact in the chapter on aboriginal peoples. What is the source of the statement on p. 101, lines 3508 ff, that traditional leadership structures are legitimate while leadership established under the Indian Act is not? Is this always the case?  This statement appears to present as fact particular ideological or political beliefs about legitimacy in aboriginal communities.

Furthermore, the injunction not to conduct research on aboriginal peoples which could result in stigmatization of whole communities could result in both denial of academic freedom and non-generation of research findings that might have a beneficial effects on aboriginal or non-aboriginal populations in the longer term. “Stigma” is a loose term; what one individual or group considers stigma another might consider necessary scientific information. If, for example, a particular indigenous population suffers from a disproportionately high rate of HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis, this could be considered by some people as stigmatizing and by others as information that a particular health, social or economic problem requires immediate remedy.

Along these lines, as well, why should researchers always avoid deepening divisions in a community? (p. 101, line 3523). Sometimes it is a good idea to deepen a division. Would we advise researchers on caste divisions in India, for example, to avoid conducting research that might make clear to Dalits their subordinate position in society? This injunction seems to deny to aboriginal individuals the autonomy that the draft claims is one of its key principles. Aboriginal individuals are not supposed to be allowed to think in ways that might deepen the divisions among them, although non-aboriginals are permitted to think that way.

This chapter is suffused with a very strong stress on aboriginal communities, as if they are consensually-based entities without divisions according to status, wealth, gender, or other such criteria—unlike any other community anywhere else in the world. While I agree that the interests of aboriginal groups must be protected, given their long suffering under colonial and assimilationist policies, there must be some statement that aboriginal leaders or elders do not have the right to veto research in which individual aboriginals might be interested in participating. With regard to Article 9.2, for example, the possibility of not engaging with the community in some situations must be allowed; for example, if all the community leaders are members of extended family x, and do not want extended family y’s circumstances to be investigated, the researcher must be permitted to circumvent the community leaders and go directly to family y. With regard to Article 9.4, the statement that in no case can community consent substitute for individual consent should be supplemented by a statement that in no case may community representatives block researchers’ access to individuals who wish to be research participants despite community disapproval.

As a minor matter, regarding Article 9: 13, p. 106, why do aboriginal communities have to share in the costs of research?  No other community of research participants is required to pay part of the cost of the research. What is the Panel getting at here?

In sum, if the principles of academic freedom are to apply to all other research except research about aboriginal communities, then this should be clearly stated so that researchers on aboriginal matters know they are operating under a different set of rules than they are used to. Moreover, if individual aboriginals are to be denied the autonomy that all other competent Canadian and other adults are assumed to enjoy, that should also be clearly stated.

This’ll Be The Day That I Die

Life’s flashing before my eyes. My heart’s pounding.

Don’t worry. It’s the day of our household Book Sale. We’re carrying cartons of books, and yes, it’s exhausting. But we have help.

In every carton, memories! I pull out a slim pamphlet dated September 1970. It’s the Hamilton People’s Monthly, “an alternate press growing in response to the failure of the commercial media to unearth and provide essential information.” Selling for 15 cents then. And 15 cents today, if we’re lucky. From the back cover: “Read an opposition paper … or better yet, start one.”

Well, that was our radical past. Women’s Liberation, Workingman’s Rock Music, Toronto’s Just Society Movement.

Digging deeper: H.A. R. Gibbs Mohammedanism; Philip K. Pitti, Islam and the West; Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Islam in Modern History; G.E. von Grunebaum, Modern Islam, The Search for Cultural Identity; and Hamilton A.R. Gibb, Studies on the Civilization of Islam. That’s what curious and responsible people were reading in the late 1950s and early sixties.

And deeper … Mrs. Carlyle. A play. A high school text! It was my introduction to John Stuart Mill. We’re given the episode in which Mill has to report the accidental destruction of Carlyle’s manuscript, The French Revolution. And I remember now, Jane Carlyle is the “Jenny” of Leigh Hunt’s poem, “Jenny kissed me when we met; Jumping from the chair she sat in.”

Time you thief who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in.
Say I’m weary, say I’m sad;
Say that health and wealth have missed me;
Say I’m growing old, but add – Jenny kissed me!

It’s a small sale. Probably no more than five or six hundred books  on the lawn. Children’s, Crime, Politics, Poetry, Philosophy, History.

The sun’s coming out and we are going to be a success.