This is how it is supposed to work in a parliamentary democracy, isn’t it?
Party leaders and their confederates present competing visions (or, more prosaically, platforms) for the electorate to consider. But once the election is over, smart winners don’t simply impose their visions.
They remember that elections are not decided by partisans (Tim Hudak take note). Core supporters are important, but elections are won or lost on the votes of “loose fish” — uncommitted or lightly affiliated voters — who swim around at election time. More important, smart winners understand that they have not been elected solely to cater to their core; they understand that people who did not (and might never) vote for them are entitled to the same consideration from the government as its partisans.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is a smart leader. She understands this. (The same cannot be said of the ideologues in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, or in the Republican party in the United States, but let us not go there today.)
Because she is a smart leader, Wynne is suppressing the frustration she surely feels as NDP Leader Andrea Horwath keeps coming back for more, ratcheting up the price of her party’s support for the minority Liberal government’s budget. The latest demand: creation of a financial accountability office, patterned after the parliamentary budget office in Ottawa. Continue reading →
Horwath has already snagged some notable concessions, including reduced car insurance rates, more money for home-care and a youth jobs strategy. Now she wants an independent accountability officer, who would report to the speaker of the legislature, not to the government, to provide oversight of government spending.
Although Conservatives (and undoubtedly some Liberals, too) think Horwath has moved beyond poker to a different game — to wit, blackmail — what’s so wrong with that? If there had been a system of independent oversight earlier, some of the more egregious spending scandals of the Dalton McGuinty era might never have happened or been nipped in the bud: eHealth, Ornge ambulance, gas-plant relocations, to mention just three. As long as the government itself oversees government spending, bad stuff tends to slip through. A parliamentary or legislative budget officer is not a panacea, but the position does introduce an element of transparency and, one hopes, caution and restraint.
It’s worth noting that in Ottawa the parliamentary budget office was created in the wake of the Liberals’ sponsorship scandal by the first Harper minority government, then in its pro-accountability days. The Conservatives got much more than they bargained for as the budget officer, Kevin Page, shone a searchlight on government spending — on the war in Afghanistan, prisons and fighter jets, among other things. His term expired in March. He was denied an extension and the office remains vacant while the Tories conduct a leisurely search for a less vigilant watchdog.
At Queen’s Park, Wynne is trying to distance herself from McGuinty’s legacy. Her government still looks and acts too much like his. She needs new faces and new ideas. The spending watchdog is one idea whose time has come. Its projected cost, $2.5 million a year, is almost nothing next to the hundreds of millions wasted in the gas-plant fiasco alone.
So why does Wynne hesitate? Why doesn’t she thank Horwath effusively and grab this shiny new idea? For one thing, she knows that watchdogs have a habit of biting the hand that appoints them. For another, she knows that the more ideas she accepts from the NDP the more she enhances the credibility of a party that is fishing in the same pool of progressive voters.
But to flip that coin over, the risk is just as real for Horwath. The more ideas she insists the Liberals steal, the greater the attraction Wynne’s Liberals will have for her own NDP voters. Why stay true to Andrea Howarth when New Democrats can enjoy the same policies, and have a government to boot, by voting for Kathleen Wynne?
Abstract: This article argues for the participation of community psychology in issues of global climate change. The knowledge accumulated and experience gained in the discipline of community psychology have great relevance to many topics related to the environment. Practitioners of community psychology could therefore make significant contributions to climate change mitigation. To illustrate this assertion, we describe an education project conducted with youth engaged in a community-based environmental organization. This initiative was motivated by the idea that engaged and critically aware youth often become change agents for social movements. Towards this purpose, rather than using mass marketing strategies to motivate small behavior changes, this project focused intensively on a few youth with the vision that these youth would also influence those around them to rethink their environmental habits. This project was influenced by five community psychology concepts: stakeholder participation, ecological and systems thinking, social justice, praxis, and empirical grounding. In this article we discuss the influence of these concepts on the project’s outcomes, as measured through an evaluative study conducted to assess the impacts of the project on the participating youth in terms of their thinking and action. The contributions of community psychology were found to have greatly impacted the quality of the project and the outcomes experienced by the youth.
Author: Christopher Alcantara
Published April 2013 in the Polar Record
Abstract: Since the early part of the 20th century, the federal government has engaged in a long and slow process of devolution in the Canadian Arctic. Although the range of powers devolved to the territorial governments has been substantial over the years, the federal government still maintains control over the single most important jurisdiction in the region, territorial lands and resources, which it controls in two of the three territories, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. This fact is significant for territorial governments because gaining jurisdiction over their lands and resources is seen as necessary for dramatically improving the lives of residents and governments in the Canadian north. Relying on archival materials, secondary sources, and 33 elite interviews, this paper uses a rational choice framework to explain why the Yukon territorial government was able to complete a final devolution agreement relating to lands and resources in 2001 and why the governments of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut have not. It finds that the nature and distance of federal-territorial preferences, combined with government perceptions of aboriginal consent and federal perceptions of territorial capacity and maturity, explain the divergent outcomes experienced by the three territorial governments in the Canadian arctic.
Geoffrey Stevens talks about what the future holds for Premier Kathleen Wynne and an Ontario election. Stevens believes that Wynne will be in good shape through the summer but notes that it will be interesting to see what happens in the Fall. There is a 50/50 chance that we will have an election in the Fall and a 100 percent chance that we will have an election at this time, next year.
In this neck of the woods, we are witnessing three fascinating political battles. At Queen’s Park, Premier Kathleen Wynne is fighting for survival. Last week’s budget bought her Liberals some time, enough to get through the summer, I think, and probably the fall. My guess is she won’t make it – or want to make it – past next spring’s budget.
In Ottawa, the Liberal party, perceived to be moribund following three general election defeats, is struggling to return to life under Justin Trudeau, its fifth leader (including interim Bob Rae) in seven years. It’s beginning to look as though the Liberals will manage to self-resuscitate. A Harris-Decima poll for Canadian Press last week put them a surprising seven percentage points ahead of the Conservatives and 13 points ahead of the sagging New Democrats. These are early, honeymoon days, but those numbers aren’t at all shabby for a Liberal party that is running on charisma alone. Hope has returned to Liberal-land.
Meanwhile, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, master of all he surveyed for the past seven years, is struggling to reassert control. His caucus is restive. Some MPs resent the discipline he imposes on them in Parliament; others refuse to distribute the ugly anti-Liberal propaganda produced by Tory party central. Among the public, there appears to be a growing sense that the Tories are going too far with their television attack ads.
Toughness is a quality that Canadian accept, even admire, in their politicians; meanness is not. The Conservative attack ads on Justin Trudeau cross that line. The Harper people don’t seem to care that some of their “facts” are distorted while some are simply untrue. Stephen Harper is becoming seen as Stephen McNasty, who plays politics hard and dirty. Continue reading →
He also needs to regain control over his legislative agenda. Whatever else they may be, the Harper Conservatives use to pride themselves on being competent managers. But no longer. Not with the F-35 debacle, the cabinet’s inability to organize the purchase of new search and rescue aircraft, and now there’s a report that the fleet of Arctic patrol ships the government plans to buy are not suitable for use in Arctic waters.
Not least, there is the “missing” $3.1 billion that Parliament approved for anti-terrorism security. The money is not technically lost; it’s just that the government’s financial wizards can’t find it. (Perhaps Treasury Board President Tony Clement hid it in one of his gazebos.)
But back to Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath and the soap opera at Queen’s Park. The facts are simple. Premier Wynne and her finance minister had to bring in a budget. Being a minority government, they didn’t have enough votes to get it through the Legislature. The Conservatives had their feet planted in cement, but NDP leader Horwath was willing to deal. She presented a number of demands. Wynne accepted all the important ones.
“Thank you, Kathleen,” Horwath might have said. “Bless you. You are saint.” And she could have told her party, “Hey, we won! We won! Break out the soda water” (or whatever New Democrats uncork to toast a triumph).
But no. Hearing whispers of dissent, Horwath declared the deal was not yet a done deal. She decided she wanted to consult the people, so she opened a phone line and a website. She plans to meet the premier, probably this week, to seek assurances that the Liberals will change their spots and become more accountable in the future than they have been in the past. Good luck to her!
The NDP is playing with fire. If Howarth reneges, Wynne would not even have to wait to be defeated in the house. She would be within her rights to march down the hall to the lieutenant-governor, tell him the situation is untenable, ask for dissolution and call a snap election. She could win a Liberal majority on back of the faithless New Democrats.
Abstract: Over the past three decades, Inuit economic development corporations (IEDCs) have played an important role in preparing the Inuit regions of Nunavik in northern Québec and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the Northwest Territories for self-government. In addition to building vital capacity through the provision of services, programs and economic opportunities, IEDCs have also represented their respective regions in self-government negotiations with other levels of government. This corporate-led governance approach, which we call Inuit corporate governance, provides Aboriginal groups such as the Inuit with a de facto form of self-government and the opportunity to develop economic and political capacity in advance of adopting a more comprehensive and formal self-government arrangement. It also challenges existing assumptions about the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the liberal–capitalist order that underpins the Canadian state.
UPDATE: Apparently, our article has been shortlisted for the 2013 McMenemy Prize, given annually to the best paper published in English or French in the Canadian Journal of Political Science. The winner will be announced at the President’s Dinner at the annual meeting of the CPSA in Victoria, B.C.
Abstract: This article contests the concepts of “region” and “regionalism” in Canadian political science. There is widespread agreement among observers of politics in Canada that the country is divided in politically consequential ways along regional lines. There is little agreement, however, about what causes these regional divisions or, indeed, about where the lines of regional division should be drawn. As a result, rival explanations for regional differences in Canada are commonly tested against different evidence arising from different definitions of region. This article argues that “region” should be conceptualized in generalizable terms as the physical space that surrounds an individual, and that “regionalism” should be conceptualized as an affective attachment to the people, places and institutions within a geographic area. Regionalism, from this perspective, is a concept that plays an important role in driving regional differences in opinion differences rather than simply describing these differences. The article applies this argument to a study of regional differences in Canadian opinions about government involvement in the economy. The empirical analysis points to the need for the development of concepts that can be generalized across explanations and levels of analysis. Even on the single issue analyzed here, regional differences appeared to have different causes in different regions, and these different causes seemed to operate at different levels of analysis.
There’s been a lot of commentary on the consequences of the Rogoff-Reinhart error, which is seriously undermining the empirical basis for the austerity program that has swept the US, Canada and Europe. I think this episode highlights the limits of evidence-based policy-making.
One clue that there is deep limits to the concept is that I’ve never actually heard a policy-maker claim that they are making policy without evidence. It seems that everyone justifies their policy preferences with some sort of evidence; it’s just that there is always a debate about what constitutes evidence. I also think that many liberal (and here I mean, small-l liberals with a strong commitment to equating justice with procedure, rather than outcome) scholars and citizens adhere to an ideal of evidence-based policymaking. I think it’s because they feel that somehow the nastiness of politics can be minimized in public policy making if we can all just agree on the facts and procedures for adjudicating facts.
Here I’ll make two claims: evidence can only inform, it can never resolve, political debate. And evidence-based policy-making will always be influenced, if not, determined by pre-existing values, rather than the other way around.
If evidence really could influence policy to the degree that the adherents of evidence-based policy-making claim it can, then we would be seeing a much quicker reversal of economic policy given that one of the essential pieces of evidence for austerity has been shown to be, well, wrong. Aside from this in Italy, austerity remains the dominant economic policy. Continue reading →
It’s true it is early days and this development may ultimately shift global economic policy, but, the longer it takes, the more it proves my point. Evidence cannot be decisive for policy-making; instead, it interacts with deeper values which are of greater import. In terms of austerity, it wasn’t R-R that told policy-makers to adopt austerity; I assert that it fit with widespread, deeply-held values that a good life is one that is lived modestly with an emphasis on earning and saving money.
I write this post only partially motivated by the fall-out from R+R. But this episode reinforces some of the conclusions that I’ve drawn out of my ongoing research into the politics of the regulation of BPA in Canada and the US. Clearly, evidence mattered in that case. Both sides – those in favour of and those opposed to stricter regulations – marshalled as much scientific evidence as possible to support their claims. And both sides are guilty of calling the other “anti-scientific”. The problem is that there is no agreement on what constitutes evidence. Those who assert there is a great threat posed by exposure to BPA often rely on studies which often do show adverse effects from exposure to BPA, but base this conclusion on studies that only administered one or two different doses of BPA. When these small studies show a positive relationship between exposure and effect, environmental activists seize on them because they have already made value commitments that we are constantly being poisoned by toxins and that modern society is killing us.
It has to be emphasized: there are powerful structural forces that govern the scientific endeavour that leads to the publication of these kinds of exciting findings based on small sample sizes and dose ranges. Put yourself in the shoes of a new, untenured, natural scientist. You need to get grant money and you need to get publications. In tough economic times and the competitive scientific job market these pressures can be excruciating. But null findings just won’t cut it. Journals that are owned by a small oligopoly of media companies want citations to papers that they publish and tend not to attract a lot of notice. Findings that show that a substance does have an effect is likely to get cited.
The vast majority of positive findings are published when they show effects that are “statistically significant at the .05 level”. This means that there is only a 5 per cent chance that that published finding will have occurred by chance alone. But what that means is that even if scientists are entirely objective, then 1 in 20 scientific studies will be a false positive. However, scientists are not entirely objective. Too often, null results from studies are shelved and only the statistically significant studies are published. But, if we are never told how many null findings the scientist received before getting a statistically significant finding, then we have no way of determining whether or not the finding could be random noise or a real finding. Ben Goldacre has pointed out that this badly plagues pharmaceutical research, but Ioannides has found similar problems in medical research.
There are two wonderful images from a presentation to an expert working group on BPA from June 2012 that prove this point better than I ever could. This is around 50 random values ranging from 80 to about 145 plotted on the y-axis.
Would you say that there is any pattern evident? Of course not.
Now, would you say the same about the following four values?
That looks to me like BPA/coffee/smoking/cosmetics causes cancer/obesity/heart attacks!
Except the values are drawn from the same randomly selected 20 values in the first figure. Look closely, I can see at least two sequences of 4 randomly generated values that increase monotonically creating the impression of a linear, cause-and-effect relationship.
This is what gets published, even if it’s the product of random noise.
There are ways to guard against this, but they essentially involve doing large-scale, multi-generation rodent studies with a wide range of doses. But this costs a lot of money and sadly,the only people who have this kind of money to do research (which often results in null findings) are corporations who obviously have a strong interest in the publication of such findings when substances they produce are under scrutiny.
Just because it is funded by corporations does not mean the “evidence” is invalid according to strict scientific standards, but we’re not dealing in science: we’re dealing in politics. And this fact certainly excites activist groups, politicians, journalists, rival scientists and voters who see these kinds of studies not as “evidence” of no findings, but of “evidence” of collusion and corruption.
Into this vortex of institutional, economic and value-based judgements, politicians and regulators are called on to make a decision. They have developed some tools to improve the role of “evidence” in policy making, primarily through the use of systematic literature reviews and tools to evaluate the merits of different type of evidence.
But as I stated before, this always interacts with pre-existing values. An excellent example of this in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. There, the Ministers of Health and the Environment are required to apply both the precautionary principle and the weight-of-evidence approach when publishing risk assessments of potentially toxic substances. The former, in one form, requires (some might say allows) regulatory action even based on inconclusive “evidence”. The latter requires regulators to rationally weight the merits of “evidence”, discounting weak “evidence” such as studies with small dose ranges, and according greater weight to large-scale, more credible, more reliable studies.
With the requirement to apply both principles entrenched in Canadian legislation, you can see how “evidence” can never answer the regulator’s question of what type of policy she should adopt. There is always a debate about what constitutes “evidence”. Those who are convinced that inconclusive “evidence” is actually sufficient “evidence” for action, will simply demand that the state act, those who disagree that the “evidence” is conclusive will simply state so. There actually is no “evidence” that can reconcile these two positions, because this is actually never about “evidence”; politics is about values and interests.
That’s why the R+R findings made such a splash in the first place, why their refutation won’t matter much, why BPA was deemed “toxic” even though the scrreening assessment explicitly states that it is safe at current levels of exposure and, frankly, why evidence-based policy-making is not so much impossible, just illusory. It can’t exist as the kind of decisive resolution to political challenges people want it to be.
Premier Kathleen Wynne’s retreaded Liberal government will bring down its budget on Thursday – her first since taking over at Queen’s Park in February – and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen. We may not know until Wednesday or even Thursday. As of today, there’s probably a 35-40 per cent chance that Wynne’s negotiations with NDP leader Andrea Horwath will fail. If they do, the minority Liberal government will fall within days, and Ontarians will be sent to the polls in June.
Only one thing seems certain: having been painted into a corner by their leader, the Progressive Conservatives will oppose the budget, regardless of its contents. That leaves Horwath as Wynne’s only dance partner.
Tory leader Tim Hudak is a product of the John Diefenbaker school of political arts. Dief was resolute in his conviction that the role of the Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is to oppose. Period. As Dief saw it, it is not the responsibility of the opposition to help a minority government to serve the citizenry. The opposition’s job is to throw the scoundrels out, come hell or high water.
Having made his intention clear at the outset, Hudak lost any opportunity to nudge Wynne and her finance minister Charles Sousa a bit to right. Hudak’s stance may play well with Tory hard-liners, but it does not help his standing among the public at large; he trails the other two leaders in popularity. Continue reading →
Each of the three leaders has a problem. Wynne’s is that while Ontarians like her, they don’t like her government or her party. The stench of the Dalton McGuinty era spending scandals (hydro plants, Ornge ambulance, eHealth) still lingers. An Ipsos Reid poll last week reported that 66 per cent of Ontario voters believe it is time for another political party to take over. “Time for a change,” is a deadly warning for any government.
Horwath’s problem is the longer she props up the Liberals – she has been at it since the October 2011 election – the less she is able to present the NDP as an alternative to the government. If voters like the Liberal/NDP brand of policies, why not vote for the real thing, Wynne’s Liberals? But if Horwath turns her back on Wynne this week (as many New Democrats are urging), she will bear the blame for an election most Ontarians don’t want.
Tim Hudak’s problem is he knows he cannot trust the polls. They may show the Conservatives six to eight points ahead of the Liberals (and a couple more points ahead of the third-place New Democrats). But Hudak has been there before. He went into the 2011 election with a large lead, but he let it dribble away during the campaign. It seems the more voters see and hear of Hudak the less they like him. Perhaps the Tories should send their leader on a round-the-world cruise until the election is over.
The polls point to another minority government. A seat projection prepared by my colleague, Professor Barry Kay, for the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP), points to a fragile minority Conservative government with 45 seats, to 38 seats for the Liberals and 24 for the NDP. The Tories would fail to breach the Liberals’ Fortress Toronto. Kay projects no Conservative seats at all in Toronto itself and only four in the rest of the GTA.
But the Tories would tighten their hold on southwest Ontario, winning 18 of the 24 seats in the region. On the basis of the projection, the Liberals would be left with just two seats in southwest Ontario – one in Guelph and one in London. John Milloy, the government house leader, would lose the Kitchener Centre seat he narrowly retained in the 2011 election. The Kitchener-Waterloo seat, won by New Democrat Catherine Fife in a by-election upset last September, appears to be a toss-up.
A June election? There’s not much for any leader or party cheer about.
Cambridge resident Geoffrey Stevens, an author and former Ottawa columnist and managing editor of the Globe and Mail, teaches political science at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Guelph. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract: Over the past fifty years, Indigenous peoples in settler countries have mobilized to demand policy and institutional changes from their respective states. Although some scholars have employed multilevel governance (MLG) to make sense of these developments, none has examined systematically whether MLG accurately describes these phenomena. We address this lacuna by creating a more robust definition of MLG and applying it to a sample of Indigenous–settler interactions in Canada. Our findings suggest that MLG is an applicable concept for some, but not for all of the Indigenous–state interactions that are typically assumed to be instances of MLG. This conceptual clarification should help scholars from a variety of countries to use MLG more effectively to analyze the relationships between Indigenous peoples and their respective states.
Description: a core text intended for race and ethnic relations courses offered out of sociology departments at both the college and university level. Covering the major theoretical approaches that are central to the field, including socio-biology, political economy, and critical “race” theory, students are taught to thoughtfully assess-rather than blindly accept-widespread claims about “race” and ethnicity.
“When Idle No More protestors shut down the country’s main rail line and besieged the Prime Minister’s Office, Canadians were heard to mutter: why can’t we solve aboriginal issues? Author Christopher Alcantara finds one answer in Negotiating The Deal, a step-by-step recounting of the maddening process that passes for aboriginal land claim settlements. It is not really a process at all; it is a game to drive mice crazy.”
Last month, the federal government announced that it had signed an historic devolution deal with the Northwest Territories government.
Under this agreement, the federal government will transfer its jurisdiction and administrative responsibilities over territorial lands and onshore resources to the territorial government. Decisions over land use and mining will now be in the hands of territorial officials and the territorial government — as well as the five Aboriginal groups that signed the agreement — will now receive a significant share of the natural resource revenues generated in the region.
In short, this agreement, should it be ratified, will radically transform the political and economic landscape of the territory by providing northerners with the tools to pursue economic development more efficiently and effectively.
Yet this agreement isn’t simply about improving the economic and political life of northerners; lost in some of the initial analysis is the symbolic importance of this agreement for Canada.
Out in computerland, they talk a lot about “hitting the reset button.”
This implies getting rid of all the bad stuff that went before, correcting mistakes and starting over again. A new beginning, you might say.
The expression has crept into politics. The Harper government promised to “hit the reset button” on plans to spend — what? — $40 or $50 billion on F-35 fighter aircraft. The government has not said what, if anything, has happened in the months since it ostensibly hit the reset button. Perhaps the bright lights in the Department of National Defence are still labouring 24/7 to wrap their heads around the awkward concept that there are more suitable aircraft available at a (much) more reasonable cost.
Perhaps the government will tell us before the next election (in October 2015) what it is up to. It may be hung up on a dilemma: how to launch a new beginning without admitting past mistakes on the F-35 file. But let’s leave the Conservatives to rationalize their way out of that dilemma and move on.
With the election still 30 months away, there is time to plan new beginnings and present them to the electorate. With Thomas Mulcair of the NDP, Daniel Paillé of the Bloc Québécois and now Justin Trudeau of the Liberals, there are three party leaders in Ottawa who were not there in the 2011 election. Conditions exist for new approaches.
The first reset button to hit is whatever button controls the temperature in the capital. There is a meanness, even viciousness, that did not always characterize federal politics. Without wishing to wallow in nostalgia, things were different in the first Trudeau era. Pierre Trudeau was never lovable. He was tough and often aloof, but he commanded respect and loyalty. Robert Stanfield, the Tory leader, was intelligent, moderate and every inch a gentleman. NDP leader Tommy Douglas was the soul of integrity; he’s sometimes described as the “last honest politician in Canada.”
The past is gone, but the present can be changed and the future improved. Let’s start with an all-party commitment to eliminate attack ads. Just because American politicians wallow in them, it doesn’t mean we have to indulge in them in Canada. They may or may not work — and I have grave reservations about the efficacy of Conservatives’ current attacks on Justin Trudeau — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they lower the level of politics for all participants. They squeeze out reasoned argument. They turn politics into a form of mixed martial arts.
As the level of discourse sinks, electors conclude that none of the combatants is worthy of their support, and voting turnout declines. The elimination of attack ads would help restore respect to politics as an honourable profession.
Another reset button is the transparency button. All politicians preach the gospel of openness. In opposition, Stephen Harper was an ardent advocate of open government. A Conservative government, he promised, would be an open book. Its policies and procedures would be transparent to all. Its ministers and officials would be held accountable for everything they did.
It hasn’t turned out quite that way. Today’s government is the least open since the Second World War (when there were grounds for opacity). Transparency is becoming a fiction (witness the deterioration of the Access to Information Act). And accountability is a joke (ministerial responsibility these days means ministers not doing anything that would embarrass the prime minister or his government).
Would it do any good to hit that transparency reset button? Sure. Let’s start with the F-35. The government could take the people into its confidence. After all, it’s taxpayers’ money. Why do we need new fighters? What role(s) would they be expected to fill? What planes has the government considered? Why did it choose the one it did? Not least, how much, honestly, will the darned machine really, truly cost?