The Sham of Democratic Reform

Often, when politicians break their promises the voters politely look the other way. After all, they understand that such promises are not to be taken seriously. Occasionally, however, a commitment comes back to haunt the candidate that abandons it, and Justin Trudeau’s guarantee that last year’s vote “will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system” may be among them. While it was always going to be difficult to pivot away from such a clear pledge, the Liberals’ response to the report submitted by the all-party committee they themselves created was particularly inelegant, as the responsible minister insulted its authors, mocked their use of mathematics, and did little to dispel the notion that the entire exercise was a sham. Read more

Who’d a Thunk It?

Canada’s Auditor General used his fall report to Parliament to break 2016’s least surprising item: the federal government is a mess that stubbornly refuses to clean itself up. The litany of chronic problems that Michael Ferguson notes include the following:

  1. “Programs that are managed to accommodate the people running them rather than the people receiving the services.”
  2. “Programs in which the focus is on measuring what civil servants are doing rather than how well Canadians are being served.”
  3. “Regulatory bodies that cannot keep up with the industries they regulate.”
  4. “Public accountability reports that fail to provide a full and clear picture of what is going on for a myriad of reasons—such as systems that are outdated or just not working, or data that is unreliable or incomplete, not suited to the needs, or not being used.”

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Not to Praise Castro, but to Bury Him

The life of a revolutionary need not be a hard one: having survived so long one wondered if he was immortal, former Cuban President Fidel Castro died yesterday at age 90. Unsurprisingly, the news was greeted with intense reactions; if nothing else, the man left few people indifferent.

By any reasonable standard, Castro was a disaster for his country. He leaves behind an impoverished land virtually devoid of freedom, where the most banal opening constitutes a major reform. His party won praise for Cuba’s education system, even as it imposed strict censorship, banned private libraries and cut its people off from the world. It won accolades for a healthcare system in which infant mortality is reduced by aborting “substandard” fetuses and doctors are rented to foreign governments like chattel. Castro’s recklessness came close to triggering global nuclear war. His destruction of Cuba’s economy left people on the brink of starvation when Soviet aid collapsed. Many Cubans preferred to float through shark-infested waters on precarious rafts rather than endure his socialist paradise. And not once did Castro give Cubans an opportunity to choose a path different from the one he imposed on them. Read more

The right’s brittle support for trade

As the American right jettisons support for international trade, globalist conservatives despair – and rightly so. An insular world is less prosperous and less peaceful. Opposition to trade seems to fly in the face of the core beliefs of Republicans in the United States and worries Conservatives in Canada, where broadly conservative pundit Ezra Levant has renounced his support for trade and Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch romanticises Trump’s victory.

Is the shift really so surprising? Since the end of the Cold War, the left has accepted limited support for markets, but conservatives have backed off of their deeply rooted support for trade. Many are worried by things like the ‘elephant chart’, shared widely by conservatives and progressives alike on social media, and what it means for… well, what trade means. But trade long ago became more a talking point than a pillar of conservative policy beliefs.  Read more

Government Isn’t the Solution

If US presidents have accumulated genuinely terrifying powers, such as the authority to execute American citizens without trial, it’s in part because they built on lesser powers that have accumulated over time in the Oval Office and in Washington generally. To roll back the powers that everyone agrees are scary, we also need to roll back those that some believe are appropriate. And that means changing how we think about achieving our policy objectives.

There’s no shortage of policy goals we could use as an example, but let’s take increasing access to birth control among low-income women. If you can’t relate because you don’t think that this goal is desirable, don’t worry, this same reasoning could apply to almost any other objective.

Currently, the most commonly-advocated way to promote access to low-cost birth control seems to be enacting a law; for example, one to provide direct subsidies or to oblige health insurers to cover it. The goal is achieved by compelling third parties to assist women in obtaining their pills, IUDs, etc. An alternative approach, one that’s perhaps less-commonly touted, is to support groups, such as Planned Parenthood, that provide birth control to women in need.

Which alternative is better? Read more

It Wasn’t Misogyny

If you’re wondering why Trump won, there’s good news: the internet has the answer. From elite condescension, to uneducated voters, to outright racism, everyone has an explanation.

One of the more popular theories seems to be that Hilary Clinton lost the election due to misogyny: American voters preferred to elect a woefully under-qualified man rather than a supremely-qualified woman. Setting aside Trump for a moment, the implication is that Clinton was a near-perfect candidate, one who could be opposed only by retrogrades (or “deplorables“) obsessed by her sex. So for those of you who find this particular argument convincing, I submit the following for your consideration: Read more

In Search of Silver Linings

Where to begin?

America’s President-elect is a man whose flaws have been so well-documented as to make documenting them redundant. If you remain unconvinced that Donald J. Trump is anything other than wholly unfit in both temperament and ideology to hold the office of the President of the United States, nothing on Earth will convince you otherwise. But, as concerned as I am by the thought of the incoming president, at the moment I’m more preoccupied with the incumbent. Read more

Bridging gulfs

“Peace is not a result of agreement, but of toleration of disagreement.” – F.A. Hayek

A recent episode of This American Life, Will I Know Anyone at This Party?, is a compassionate piece on the struggle within the Republican Party as it moves toward more populist concerns, especially about immigration. It’s worth a listen for Canadians because the same battle is simmering here, and we need to find ways to engage with those who are fearful or feel left behind before it boils over.

The podcast points out that concerns about America’s changing demographics aren’t new, but they are reaching a boiling point among self-identified Republicans. Although these fears are made worse by bad information about immigrants that might be insulated by selective media consumption that rejects alternative viewpoints as part of a conspiracy (‘The Mainstream Media!’), it seems obvious that there is an element of an evolutionary holdover fear of the new and unknown at play. That, at least, is nothing new. Read more

Whose Life is it Anyway

What was supposed to be the happiest day of Éloïse Dupuis’ life – the day she became a mother – instead became the last. Dupuis hemorrhaged while giving birth and, while the doctors managed to save her child’s life, they were helpless to save hers since Dupuis, a Jehovah’s Witness, had specifically withheld consent to a blood transfusion.

For those of us who are not religious, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would rather die than accept a life-saving procedure that presents little risk. That said, a bedrock medical principle is that intervention requires consent (save in cases where consent must be presumed, such as when a patient is brought to the hospital unconscious). Unfortunately, some have decided that this cornerstone of medical ethics and law should be set aside when a person refuses consent for what they deem to be unsatisfactory reasons. Read more

What we mean by democracy

When election season is upon us, there’s a lot of talk about democracy, but more specifically, there’s a lot of talk about voting: Voting as the way that people direct the government’s actions. The elevation of a person or party to power as the way in which the goals and priorities of a society are set. Voting as the most basic and critical political participation.

But people who see voting as the most important way that society is directed, think of voting as the primary duty of a citizen, or think that it’s the best (maybe the only!) way to change the world are wrong. Voting is easy to understand and that makes it easy to prioritize and focus on. Voting is the shiny, round, red cherry on top of the democratic cupcake. But it’s not the cupcake.

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