All Posts Tagged With: "parliament"
Elizabeth May, Black Friday, possible hate crime in The Soo
1. Tomorrow is Black Friday, the annual sporting event during which Americans violently trample and pepper spray each other at Best Buy and Target, all for the thrill of scoring a cheap flatscreen TV. As a Canadian, I thought this was a day to look down on those south of the border with smug indignation, but, as Edward Keenan points out, 650,000 people from Ontario alone—more than the total number who watched Hockey Night in Canada during the 2010 playoffs—will head south looking for deals. And it turns out our own lust for bargains may be hurting our economy.
3. Someone poured water on an international student from Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. and shouted “Go back to your own country,” reports the Sault Star. Police are investigating it as a hate crime. It happened, ironically, near a sign boasting of The Soo’s friendliness.
Bev Oda’s seat is vacant. Who will fill it?
We at Maclean’s get excited about democracy. I mean, who else would make a video eagerly anticipating the fall session of parliament and publish a post on five political stories we’re watching this week, just as our cover declares “Stephen Harper has finally met his match”?
Joking aside, not everyone is as enthused about their civic rights as we are, and some folks are trying to change that by pumping up the volume during Canada’s Democracy Week. In case you can’t make it to an event, we thought we’d share some of the wisdom smart people shared with us.
Max Cameron, director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions, asked audiences at the University of British Columbia to consider this: Why don’t (more) good people enter politics?
His words are below. Join the conversation on Twitter: #demcda and #cdnpoli, @maconcampus.
It takes more than good laws and institutions for democracy to flourish. It also takes good people—good citizens and leaders.
And yet a lot of good people would never go into politics. They don’t like the toxic levels of partisanship. The don’t like the intrusive media scrutiny. And they won’t pay the high personal costs of the political life.
Politics has become a despised profession, not a noble calling. How can this be changed?
Occupy, a campus caffeine ban, campus radio and the NHL
1. Ryerson lost its radio station CKLN for good last week after the CRTC denied an application to bring it back. “There were feminist programs, LGBT shows, even a series on prisoners’ rights. There was a lot of lefty politics and a lot of loopy politics. Not all of it was good, but you would struggle to hear it anywhere else,” recalls The Ryersonian. The station was shut down after years of fighting between the students’ union and non-students on the board, partly over the question how much airtime students got.
2. It’s officially one year since the Occupy Wall Street movement began. See Twitter for the latest action under #OWS, #OCCUPY and #S17.
3. One of the enduring scenes from Occupy was when University of California Davis students and alumni were violently pepper-sprayed by campus police at a peaceful protest following an eviction in November. The university just announced a settlement with 21 victims. UC spokesperson Jonathan Stein told the L.A. Times, “we did an injustice to our students that day at Davis.” Yes they did.
Profs pick a uni president to replace Michaëlle Jean
Last autumn Stephen Harper decided he had a rare luxury, a few free months to plan ahead without worrying the opposition would try to defeat his government. He visited China and India and then, throwing caution to the wind, invited hundreds of journalists to 24 Sussex Drive for a pre-Christmas cocktail.
During the obligatory small-talk portion of the evening, Harper confessed amazement over his visit to the Great Wall of China. Not because the wall is big or beautiful, but because its construction extended over centuries, so that almost everyone who worked on it was committing to a project that could not be completed while he lived.
Other people are moved by a sonnet or a perfect game. Stephen Harper mists up at the thought of long-term planning. This makes him an odd mix for Ottawa, where Monday’s scandal or cause is generally forgotten by Friday. But the long view helps guide his action when he selects the only public official with the power to simply decide, one day, whether Harper gets to remain prime minister. That’s the governor general.
The question is not abstract. In 2008 the Liberals brokered that coalition with the NDP that depended on Bloc Québécois support. Every Liberal MP, including Michael Ignatieff, signed a letter to the Governor General endorsing that pact. Harper’s own cabinet told him that if he lost power he should not expect to hold on to the Conservative leadership. He had to go to Rideau Hall and plead with Michaëlle Jean to prorogue Parliament. It’s the sort of thing that sticks in a prime minister’s memory.
Michaëlle Jean’s replacement will almost certainly be waiting at Rideau Hall if Harper ever again faces another coalition challenge. It’s fantasy to think Harper left the choice of a new governor general to chance.
So it was entertaining to watch his staff multiply their descriptions of the ornate, arm’s-length process by which David Johnston, president of the University of Waterloo, was selected. It was all so exquisitely non-partisan, they said and repeated. Political staffers were barred. “This is not about politics,” Harper’s spokesman told the newspapers.
Then the PMO released the names of the committee who helped select Johnston. Some of its members are indeed not about politics. Sheila-Marie Cook has been secretary to the Governor General since 2006. She’s like Michaëlle Jean’s senior bureaucrat.
But at least three others have strong opinions about the role of the GG, and those opinions can best be summed up as, “Know your limits.” Christopher McCreery, a historian who is private secretary to the lieutenant-governor of Nova Scotia, wrote an op-ed in 2006 detailing all the ways Adrienne Clarkson had overstepped her role. “Sadly few senior officials in the PMO/PCO or at Rideau Hall have been willing to stand up to a governor general,” he wrote, “and tell them what is appropriate and what is not.”
The two most interesting committee members were two political scientists. Christopher Manfredi is dean of arts at McGill. He studied at the University of Calgary, where Rainer Knopff is a professor. The PMO release on the committee says Manfredi “is an authority on the role of the judiciary in democratic societies,” whereas Knopff “is well-known for his views about the influence of judicial decisions on Canadian public policy.”
What are their views on the role of the judiciary? Broadly, that judges are political actors the same way legislators are. And, broadly, that that’s been a problem. In 2004, Manfredi told a Commons committee that closer scrutiny by MPs of Supreme Court nominees wouldn’t politicize the court because that cat was already out of the bag. “I would argue that the character of the 21st century Supreme Court is that it is already a political rather than a legal institution.”
These aren’t heretical notions. They are solidly in the mainstream of debate about the role of courts. They’re also really popular with Stephen Harper, whose first chief of staff Ian Brodie has said he “found Manfredi’s lessons on the power of the courts and judicial appointments were constantly helpful” in his own studies. Knopff’s signature appears with Harper’s at the bottom of the 2001 “firewall letter” to Ralph Klein advocating limits on federal influence in Alberta’s jurisdictions.
So these guys go back a ways. That’s not unusual either. If a Liberal prime minister had concocted an arm’s-length advisory board before naming a governor general, he might reach out to liberal academics like Errol Mendes or Sujit Choudhry. They would pick somebody fine and upstanding with an expansive view of the governor general’s role. Somebody like Adrienne Clarkson.
This crew has picked somebody fine and upstanding who is a good deal likelier to take a more modest view of his role. That will come in handy if Harper goes to Rideau Hall as an incumbent PM against another 2008-style coalition of other parties.
The irony is that in 2008, when Michaëlle Jean was the referee, she did precisely as he asked. But she made him nervous. He has done what he can to ensure that next time, he won’t have to be nervous.
Dangerously scaling buildings costs lives
Twenty Greenpeace members were arrested yesterday after staging a protest at Parliament Hill. At 7:30 a.m., 19 individuals–in hard hats and jumpsuits–scaled two buildings and unfurled banners from the rooftops.
“Harper, Ignatieff, climate inaction costs lives,” read the banners, in both English and French.
Emergency vehicles were called to the scene, and protesters were helped down one by one. They were then arrested, along with an organizer from the ground.
I could deconstruct the merits of such a demonstration, but (as Obama would say) why not look at the situation as a “teachable moment?” We all have something to say, right? Why not tell it the Greenpeace way? Here are the points I’ve extracted:
- Make sure your method upstages your message. That’s right; loud, brash and unapologetic. That way, everyone will be talking about what you did, not what you said.
- It’s always best to break the law. You can later use your being-led-to-police-cruiser photo as your new Facebook profile picture. I predict 10 new friend requests. At least.
- Nothing says, “take me seriously” like matching uniforms.
- Make sure you identify to whom your message is directed. Spell it out in 7212 point font. Just to make sure they don’t miss it.
- Take a holistic approach. For example, incorporate physical activity in delivering your point. That way, you subtly lament the physical decline of our nation, while broadcasting your primary message. Talk about killing two birds. <Insert inoffensive idiom>
On a more serious note, Greenpeace did effectively reveal the gross security inadequacies at Parliament Hill. Pretty good for a protest that was supposed to be about.. um.. ya, pretty good!
The real question is: why would anyone want to be a backbencher?
The latest issue of Academic Matters is online. Included in this month’s issue is an article by political scientist and former Conservative campaign manager Tom Flanagan discussing why “true” academics rarely run for political office.
In the past, Flanagan says Canada has had plenty of political leaders who have taught at the university level. However, with the exception of a few, none spent a substantial amount of time as full-time academics engaged in the research of the academy.
He notes that university professors make more than the most Members of Parliament and that leaving the Ivory Tower for Parliament Hill results in another sacrifice: the lost of the guaranteed job-security of tenure.
Other observations made by Flanagan include the fact that politics is not about the pursuit of truth or knowledge; but the pursuit of power and popularity.
To my mind, the most important observation he makes is that many academics avoid politics because they are forced to put their field of study aside for the years they are in public office. An MP who is elected into a majority parliament will serve for five years. In many fields of study, an academic absent for five years will face great difficulty reintegrating into their field and will have damaged their academic career in their absence.
In the piece, Flanagan also addresses his own personal experience as a senior staffer for both the Reform and Conservative parties.
One observation Flanagan fails to make is the difference in freedoms afforded to backbench MPs compared to the lowliest tenured academic. A tenured academic can express pretty much any opinion they have on any matter of public interest. A backbench MP is much like a children’s pull-string doll: pre-programmed to say maybe three or four meaningless answers no matter what is being asked.
There is also the matter of how irrelevant Parliament has become with the centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office. (A centralization that Flanagan has helped contribute to.)
The real question is not why academics don’t run for Parliament, the real question is why any esteemed academics would want to banish themselves to the backbenches of Parliament and have less influence over the direction of Canadian public policy than a member of the rock band U2?
On the web:
Academic Matters – www.academicmatters.ca
Given current events, it would be a shame if Parliament continues to be under-studied
The possibility of the Governor General handing power to the opposition after the government loses a future confidence vote is obviously historic. In fact, no matter what happens, whether Michaëlle Jean agrees to dissolve parliament, sends Stephen Harper back to the House to try again, or if the opposition backs down, it will make Canadian political history.
Questions regarding the idea of responsible government (that the government is responsible to the House and not directly to the people), the discretionary power of the Governor General, and the ability for a coalition to hold the confidence of the House should give political scientists much to chew on in the coming years.
I say should, because there is evidence to suggest that Canadian political science might not be equipped to give such monumental events the attention and rigour they deserve.
Last year, the University of Saskatchewan`s David E. Smith published The People`s House of Commons. In his review of literature in the field, Smith noted that Parliament is not an area that holds all that much interest for scholars of Canadian politics:
[I]n the 1990s, the Canadian Journal of Political Science published nine articles that include in their title the word Parliament or the name of any one of its three parts; between 1991 and 2001, the program, of the annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association listed on average fewer than one session (similarly defined) per year in its ‘Canadian’ section. The categorization is disputable since some papers in the same section deal, for example with political parties and party discipline. Still Such professional incuriousity deserves notice, especially when placed alongside frequent presentations each year in the public policy and public law section of the program (on such subjects as the charter, the judiciary, the courts and policy making).
To add to Smith’s analysis, since 2000 the Canadian Journal of Political Science has, as in the 1990s, published only nine articles (by my count) that deal directly with Canadian Parliament. Seven of these have been book reviews. The journal is often dominated by the study of rights, identity politics, with a smattering of papers on public policy and electoral politics.
There is, as Smith notes, the Canadian Parliamentary Review, a publication with contributions from parliamentarians, non-academic researchers as well as political scientists, but it is not a properly academic publication. Its articles do not advance scholarship in the same way that traditional organs of scholarship do, and do not appear to be peer reviewed or to hold the same level of rigour. There is also the Canadian Study of Parliament Group, but again, this is not a strictly academic organization.
This is not to say that the study of the House, the Senate and the Crown, outside the Ivory Tower is not worthwhile, as it absolutely is, but rather, to highlight what Smith calls a “disciplinary unconcern” among Canadian political scientists. For Smith, the study of our of national legislative process has “migrated from academic departments.”
As it stands, the academic study of Parliament is dominated by a handful of scholars. In addition to Smith, only C.E.S Franks of Queen’s has published a comprehensive study of Parliament in (relatively) recent years with his 1987 The Parliament of Canada.
Franks shows us that hyper partisanship when it comes to, for example, the emasculation of backbench MPs, is not an invention of Jean Chrétien, as it is sometimes assumed in the media, but a convention that dates back to 1872. Nor does it make any historical sense to speak of the House returning to civility. It has never been civil.
Others with an ongoing interest in this particular subfield of Canadian politics include Donald J. Savoie of the Université de Moncton and David Docherty of Wilfrid Laurier University. There are others, but the paucity of publications dealing with Parliament in Canada’s main political science journal suggests that they are few and far between.
Perhaps current events will spark interest in Canada’s Parliamentary tradition, and our professors will rise to the challenge. It would be a shame if one of Canada’s most important political institutions (if not the most important institution) continues to be under-studied.