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If you're in the Ottawa area, here is an event to consider... I'm already overwhelmed at the riches being offered and I haven't even registered yet.

The Concept

The human library is a concept of borrowing people instead of books to learn about ideas, cultures, lifestyles, and other life experiences through conversation. It is the coming together of individuals from all walks of life in an open and safe environment.

How does it work?

Instead of taking a book off a shelf to learn something new, you, the ‘Reader,’ will have the opportunity to spend 30 minutes with a ‘Human Book’ who will share their stories, experiences, and knowledge with you.

The link, with a list of all of the ‘Human Books’ who will be present, is here: Indigenous Human Library
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There are so many things that are amazing about this. The original sometimes brings tears to my eyes... I didn't stand even a remote chance against this one. A beautiful and singular moment that I believe will endure for generations.

p.s. I did watch his touchdown in Kazakhstan just a few minutes ago. A textbook landing.
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I heard an excellent interview on CBC with a senior person in the Parti Québécois (the PQ) while I was driving this morning about whether they are still planning a sovereigntist agenda (for my non-Canadian friends, that means forming a country out of the province of Québec and destroying Canada). The answer is a resounding yes, whether a referendum is likely to be held or not, that remains their goal. In the interview, he confirmed many of the things I was thinking. Specifically that the PQ feels it came back from the grave specifically because the federal government (the "Harper government" in specific was mentioned several times) has run roughshod over the legitimate concerns and aspirations of Québecers. Most recently, Harper stated publically that the PQ, with their minority government, had no mandate from the people of Québec to pursue a seperatist agenda, that they should just shut up about it, and would not be "permitted" to rock the boat (the interview on the CBC with the PQ MLA [elected representative to the assembly in Québec] was partly a response to Harper's statements). But the PQ representative was very clear that not only was Harper incorrect, but that his statements continued the pattern of outright disrespect and disregard for the people of Québec that Harper's government has pursued. Harper's specific words: "that’s how the government in Quebec will be forced to interpret it one way or the other". Not the words of a statesman, more the words of a bully looking to pick a fight with someone finally standing up for themselves... and maybe not such a good plan because Québec has considerable economic and political resources (globally as well as in Canada), and a public that is much more activist than the rest of Canada.

The problem is that Québec has repeatedly come to the table asking for very reasonable things, but they have been deliberately ignored, often in the most humiliating of ways, every time (again, I'm convinced it's a big reason why the PQ got elected). For instance, Harper's government is scrapping the billion dollar Canadian Gun Registry; Québec asked to assume financial and administrative ownership of the portion of the gun registry in Québec (all parties in Québec agree on this, fyi, separatist or not, because it aligns with the values of the people of Québec). Harper has refused and has stated that all the data will be destroyed one way or the other. Québec expressed extreme distress at Harper pulling Canada out of the Kyoto Accord, and his effectively eviscerating environmental regulations in Canada (including giving his office the ability to approve any project without an environmental review at all), but were ignored. The environment is a critical area of concern for the people of Québec and their government was representing them. The federal government informed them that their opinion didn't count. And the other major issue raised was the Harper Conservatives' "Young Offender Act" (along with building a billion dollars worth of new penitentiaries) that moved Canada toward an incarceration style justice system (which even Texas lawmakers have publically indicated to Harper was a horrific failure there). Québec vehemently disagrees with that binary approach to the administration of justice. Again, they were utterly ignored. With Harper's latest comments, there is no reason to expect anything but further beligerence towards the government and people of Québec, and while the PQ don't really have a chance of introducing a referendum to separate during their term as a minority government, you can bet they are going to make sure the people of Québec know how badly their values and society fit within Harper's vision of Canada, and going back to the polls in a few years looking for a majority mandate to pursue separatism through a vote is looking pretty realistic at the moment.

If you're particularly interested in listening to one of the architects-in-waiting of the breakup of Canada (he makes a very convincing case, btw, rationally but with conviction and plausible evidence), the article begins at the 14:24 mark. The interviewee starts talking at 18:20 or so. And one last thing, on the subject of a referendum, a decision was handed down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998 that so long as Québec's government asked its population a clear question of secession, and the people voted with a "strong majority" in a referendum (it was unclear on what this means), that Québec could act unilaterality to remove itself from confederation. Specifically, should a referendum decide in favour of independence, the rest of Canada "would have no basis to deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession".

I should mention that there was another major thing that toppled the previous government in Québec and allowed the PQ to be elected: the student uprising during the spring. Basically, the students there were furious that their tuition was going to be hugely increased. They weren't specifically concerned about the increase itself, but rather the reasons behind the increase: that the previous generations had plundered the considerable financial wealth of the province and pocketed the money for themselves, leaving nothing to the next generation in Québec who were then being forced (by the previous generation that controlled the government and much of the wealth) to pick up the tab for them. On top of it, the same sort of belt-tightening wasn't being imposed on those that had done the plundering (and were therefore continuing to plunder). It resulted in months of riots and protests. When the previous government implemented "Bill 78" to essentially prohibit organized protests, and effectively impose a curfew (not officially, but effectively), huge swaths of the the non-student population in Québec began a civil protest movement where they would go out and night, against the law, and bang pots and pans (there were even protests in other parts on Canada in support of the movement in Québec). So it was between the terrible relationship that Québec has had with the current neo-con federal government and the previous Québec government's attempt to clamp down on civil liberties, that revitalized the separatist movement and placed the current government tentatively (with a minority) in power.

The first act of the PQ (literally announced the day after the elections) will be to repeal both the tuition hikes and the law based on "Bill 78". They know what side of the bread their butter is on...
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Well, I just wrote my final exam in my Canadian Political Institutions summer course (yikes that was compressed)! I also got my mark for the final essay I turned in on Monday so I can post it here now (that prof is seriously into his chosen field of study and his calling as a teacher... he's actually one of the best profs I've ever had in any subject: Jonathan Malloy if you ever get the chance at Carleton University or run into him somewhere in the world). I got 87% for my grade, which needless to say I'm very happy with (not so happy with the 75% I got on that last essay, but he explained [!!! an amazing prof !!!] why I got that mark and I was able to avoid many of the mistakes I made the first time around, and the mark was fair given the flaws in my work). I'm a bit sad that I didn't have time to write the optional essay on election reform, but from a marks perspective, this probably worked out better for me (I was even done this one with a little time to spare, if I'd even tried the optional one it would have been rushed and something of a hack job).

But on to the essay, the topic given was: "In his essay The Rise of Court Government in Canada, Donald Savoie argues that court government has taken root in Canada… effective power rests with the prime minister and a small group of carefully selected courtiers. This assignment asks you to address this issue and answer the following: Are Canadian prime ministers too powerful? Your essay must take a clear position on the above question and must have a clear thesis statement. It should also address, in some way, the following: Even if “court government” is real, are prime ministers sufficiently accountable for their actions? and Has Stephen Harper significantly increased the powers of the prime minister, and/or made greater use of them, more than his predecessors? It is important that you focus on the office of the prime minister as an institution, rather than your views on particular prime ministers and their policies." And here it is:

Are Canadian Prime Ministers Too Powerful?

Questions around the effectiveness and accountability of state governments is a matter of an ongoing debate that is as dynamic and constant as the nature of power itself. Controversy over the authority used or misused by the seemingly inevitable central figure(s) of state is often the focus of these ubiquitous political discussions. In Canada’s case, it is the individual in the role of prime minister that bears the brunt of this running commentary by the public, the press, the pundits, and academics alike. It is understandable in the Canadian context because, as Savoie states, “[i]t is hardly possible to overemphasize the fact that the Canadian prime ministers have few limits defining their political authority within the government” (Savoie 1999). The ambiguity of any limits on prime ministerial power is further enhanced by the largely Burkean constitution of Canada, where those “powers rest on custom and convention” (Dyck 2011). But the answer to the often central question in discussions of governance in Canada: “does the prime minister wield too much power?”, tends to depend strongly on whether they are acting in a manner consistent with one’s own expectations or desires, or whether the decisions they are making run counter to one’s perceived interests. If the former, the argument is often that the prime minister needs strong executive power to enact innovative solutions to “the issues” (whatever they may be at any given time); if the latter, the opinion is usually that they have obviously overstepped the bounds of the office and action must be taken to prevent a repeat of such behaviour in the future. Having lived through the reign of ten prime ministers, and thus having been witness to the dramatic centralization of power into the Prime Minister’s Office over that time, it seems that at least some of Canada’s electoral and governance woes can be blamed on this trend. Regardless of whether a government has generally moved in directions of the common good or not, versus special or regional interests, the inescapable conclusion must be that Canadian prime ministers are, in fact, too powerful.

The rest of the essay is here... )

Are Canadian prime ministers too powerful? Without a doubt. What does this mean for governance in Canada? That is far less clear. Previous prime ministers have been described as “friendly dictators” (Thomas 2003), but if the people of Canada are no longer the constituency that the prime minister needs to be “friendly” toward, as seems to be the case, there will be grievous consequences — ultimately resulting in unrepresented constituencies turning to other forms of governance to achieve their legitimate interests. Regional separatist movements come immediately to mind as a means of pursuing such goals if the prime minister fails to provide adequate representation. Civil disobedience or even unrest is another possibility as can be seen by the protests in Quebec caused by the feeling of disenfranchisement of certain segments of society there. The scariest scenario is one where the prime minister and their supporters decide that being “big fish in a smaller pond” is preferable than fighting to maintain the Canadian federation. Savoie’s assertion that “[n]o Canadian prime minister wants the country to break up under his or her watch” may prove to be over-optimistic. A benevolent dictator could be elected that might take steps to limit prime ministerial power (using full prime ministerial power to achieve that end), but it’s more likely that subsequent holders of the office will further centralize power in their own hands. Short of a provincial or electorate revolt (which would take the form of showing up and actually voting), it could fall to the international community to condemn the direction that executive power in Canada is taking, and embarking on economic steps to bring pressure to bear on the situation. Regardless of the outcome, a counterbalance will ultimately have to be created against the incredible powers currently wielded by Canadian prime ministers.

And the bibliography is here... )
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It's been a while... but I'm taking two "social sciences" courses this summer: one political science (May and June, Mon/Wed mornings) and one feminist studies (July and August, Tue/Thu evenings). I'm also taking a math course (statistics and probability) for the whole summer (May through August, Mon/Wed evenings). I'm also working at least full time on the CRIPT and FOREWARN projects. But with any luck, that will only go for another couple of weeks in June (and maybe a week or two in August) because the university screwed up the project's funding and they don't have enough money to pay me for the whole summer (everybody else has been laid off, sigh... although most have been picked up in some manner by other projects or endeavours at the school).

This was a fun short essay to write, it's for a course called "Canadian Political Institutions", which is described as: "An examination of Canadian political institutions, including federalism, Parliament, the constitution, political parties and the electoral system." It's almost a guilty pleasure, but I'm fascinated with this stuff. It's also the brother to the "Canadian Political Environment" course that I took a couple of years back (that course's description is: "An examination of the cultural, social, and economic context of Canadian politics, including interest groups and social movements, regionalism, language, ethnicity, and gender."). The instructions for this essay were: Peter Russell distinguishes between Burkean and Lockean styles of constitution-making, saying that Canada has traditionally taken a Burkean approach but in the late 20th century tried a more Lockean style. In your view, is a Burkean or a Lockean style of constitution-making better suited for Canada? Your essay must take a clear position on the above question and argue for either the Burkean or Lockean style. It should be between 1000 to 1250 words long and must have a clear thesis statement. It should also address, in some way, the following additional questions: Does it matter that Quebec has never agreed to the 1982 constitutional reforms? Was the pursuit of the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords a terrible idea?.

My next essay is on electoral reform, I can't wait! But first, this one's a bit dry getting going because I have to explain the concepts, but I get frothy and opinionated later in the essay and it apparently picks up at that point ;).

Constitution-Making, Burkean Style:
A Kinder, Gentler, More Canadian Approach

Canada, in both it’s creation and evolution, has experienced a primarily Burkean, pragmatic and largely unwritten, approach to its constitutional development. This tactical, rather than strategic, approach is in profound contrast with countries such as the United States of America that took a deeply Lockean, deliberate and written, trajectory to realizing a constitution. In the late 20th century, largely motivated by the process of finalizing Canada’s independence from Britain and the separatist threat posed by Quebec, the Canadian political elite undertook a period of Lockean “mega-constitutional” projects (Dyck 2011). Of the many attempts at massive constitutional reform, only the Constitution Act of 1982 was adopted, and even it has never been ratified by the provincial legislature of Quebec. It is clear, looking back at the devastating impact of that period, that only a predominantly Burkean approach to constitutional reform will ever succeed in Canada — the Lockean style of constitution making virtually guarantees that some powerful constituency will be alienated at great cost to the federation. Thus, Canada needs to back away from further mega-constitutional attempts and adopt a deliberate and carefully thought-out Burkean strategy going forward.

The rest of the essay is here... )

A Burkean approach to the constitution in Canada has proven to be the only viable one possible given its pragmatic history, and complex federal structure in a multicultural and multi-regional environment. The mega-constitutional ventures in the late 20th century demonstrated that the Lockean approach is toxic to the organism that is Canada. The challenge going forward is to explicitly endorse the Burkean approach and implement a minimal set of guiding principles, limitations, and powers to ensure that at least the institutions that support the evolution of the constitution are up to the challenge. Ultimately, the success or failure of the approach will fall at the feet of the population — the electorate — who must hold their government responsible to them. With the dysfunctionally low voter turnout in recent elections and strong majorities explicitly representing less than a quarter of the electorate, Canada is in a state of constitutional crisis. If level heads prevail, perhaps along with the implementation of mandatory voting, we will see an end to this chapter in our evolution as a country and return to an extended period of peace, order, and good Burkean governance.

And the bibliography is here... )


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