Mentors and Giants: An Interview with Christopher Achen

Christopher Achen is Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences and Professor of Politics at Princeton University. According to his bio, he “was the first president of the Political Methodology Section of the American Political Science Association, and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has received fellowships from the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, the National Science Foundation, and Princeton’s Center for the Study of Democratic Politics. He received the first career achievement award from The Political Methodology Section of The American Political Science Association in 2007. He is also the recipient of an award from the University of Michigan for lifetime achievement in training graduate students. Recent academic placements of graduate students for whom he was the principal dissertation advisor include Stanford, Duke, and the London School of Economics.”

During my first year at Laurier, I was appointed colloquium officer. We had a tiny budget, but I, being fresh out of grad school, was feeling ambitious and was determined to try and bring to Laurier a big name in American political science to spend the day with us. My hope was that this individual would give a public lecture and host a smaller workshop with political science graduate students and faculty members. There was also, at the time, a strong push to help develop LISPOP, and so I thought I would attempt to bring in someone who was a giant in public opinion and/or methodology.

Continue reading

One of the first names that came immediately to mind was Chris Achen. I remember reading his monograph, Intermediate Regression Analysis (Sage: 1982), at UofT, which, although dated, really helped me get a handle on the logic and math underpinning regression analysis. As well, although I’m sure there were others, at the time I thought he was one of the few “big names” in political science who was rallying against a certain methodological trend of “dumping” as many variables as one could into regression models and magically finding statistical significant relationships. And so I really wanted to meet him!

Happily, Chris accepted my invitation and his public talk and workshop were amazing. As my colleague Loren King mentioned the other day, he was a pioneer in getting to know your data and figuring out how to do matching to establish causality long before matching became a trend in recent days. An added bonus was that Chris was such a nice, humble, and encouraging guy. I made a lot of rookie mistakes during my first year at Laurier, including taking Chris to a bit of a “dumpy” bar instead of a fancy restaurant (darn budget!). But rather than complain, he happily had a beer and burger with the rest of us and told me he preferred the bar to the fancy restaurant (even though I’m sure that’s not true)!

Even though I haven’t spent very much time with Chris in person, I count him both as a giant and a mentor to me. His work and his visit to Laurier had a profound effect on how I have pursued my academic career so far.

Enjoy!

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

How much time faculty spend on committees and administration, and how important it is to learn to manage those obligations while making sure that teaching and research get the time they need.

The individual I admire the most academically

I have a long list of predecessors I greatly admire, but Harold Gosnell, founder of political methodology, is a personal favorite. He did the first field experiments in the 1920s, he used statistical techniques in the 1930s that didn’t come into common use for another 30 years, and he pioneered among students of African-American politics. I had one memorable lunch with him when he was already in his nineties. Alas, he is no longer with us.

My best research project during my career

I always feel that my current one will be the best.

My worst research project during my career

I spent a summer before Bayesian software was invented, laboriously programming and analyzing a Bayesian model of the representativeness of Austrian mayors.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

I wrote a paper about rational party identification in 1989 and published it in 1992. The original draft included a footnote saying that if the argument of the paper was correct, the Republicans would become the majority party in the House of Representatives in the not-too-distant future. At that point, the Democrats had controlled the House for nearly all of the last 60 years. The footnote seemed crazy, and I lacked courage. I took it out before publication. Of course, in the 1994 elections, the GOP took over the House, and they have controlled it all but four years since then. The moral: stick to your guns.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

One year my APSA paper with Duncan Snidal collapsed completely on August 15, two weeks before the convention. We had to work hard and quickly on a new paper, worrying that the argument was all wrong, and hoping that no one would attend the panel. Instead, it struck a nerve and, after considerable revision, became the lead article in World Politics. We were lucky. But there is a moral here, too: sometimes not worrying about crossing t’s and dotting i’s can free the mind.

A research project I wish I had done

Using political science tools to understand the Weimar elections that led to Hitler. The electoral patterns are quite complex and varied across German subdivisions, as Weimar historiography makes clear. Just mushing the electoral units together statistically at the national level was a very helpful starting point twenty-five or thirty years ago, but it has long been clear that something more locally informed is needed in the twenty first century. A serious command of German and of regional history and politics, a good deal of time in archives, and many years of patient investigation would all be needed, but the result would be a tremendous contribution. I hope someone will do it.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

retired from playing middle linebacker for the Oakland Raiders in their glory years. Alas, I am small, slow, and talentless, so I had to go into poli sci.

The biggest challenge in American politics in the next 10 years will be

managing the growing specialization into subfields—political behavior, institutions, American political development, public law, race and politics, public policy, and much else. The important problems and the most interesting intellectual challenges cut across those divisions.

The biggest challenge in political science in the next 10 years will be

making experimentation and other forms of causal inference become as fruitful on the big, longstanding theoretical issues in the study of politics as they have been in political psychology and public policy.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

listen to wise advice, but follow your heart.

Mentors and Giants: An interview with Rhoda Howard-Hassmann

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann is Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights (Tier 1) and a Professor in the Department of Global Studies and the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University.  According to her bio, “she holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from McGill University (1976), and as of 1993 is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. In 2006 she was named the first Distinguished Scholar of Human Rights by the Human Rights Section, American Political Science Association.”

Dr. Howard-Hassmann has written many books, including “Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana (1978), Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa (1986), Human Rights and the Search for Community (1995), Compassionate Canadians: Civic Leaders Discuss Human Rights (2003), Reparations to Africa (2008), and Can Globalization Promote Human Rights? (2010). She is also co-editor of an International Handbook of Human Rights (1987); Economic Rights in Canada and the United States (2006); and The Age of Apology: Facing up to the Past (2008).” Several of her books have won major awards: “Compassionate Canadians was named 2004 Outstanding Book in Human Rights by the Human Rights Section, American Political Science Association; Economic Rights in Canada and the United States was named a notable book for 2008 by the United States Human Rights Network, a coalition of 200 non-governmental organizations.”

“From 1987 to 1992 Professor Howard-Hassmann was Editor or Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of African Studies, and she remains on its Editorial Board. She is also a member of the Editorial Boards of Citizenship Studies, Human Rights and the Global Economy, Human Rights and Human Welfare, Human Rights Quarterly, Human Rights Review, Journal of Human Rights, and Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights. She established and remains editor of a website on political apologies, which can be visited at http://www.political-apologies.wlu.ca. She maintains a blog, Rights&Rightlessness, which can be accessed at http://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com.”

Dr. Howard-Hassmann is one of the world’s leading experts on international human rights and has been an important mentor for me since I arrived at WLU in 2008.  She is what every junior faculty member needs when they start their career: a senior scholar who is willing to not only give you advice about how to establish an international research trajectory and profile, but also someone who is willing to advocate and work on your behalf.  I have nothing but good things to say about Dr. Howard-Hassmann and I am very happy to have had the chance to interview her for this blog.

Enjoy!
Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

Well, someone did tell me but I didn’t listen. In 1966 Jane Jenson was in her third year at McGill and I was in my second. We both lived in the women’s residence, Royal Victoria College. Jane told me I should do both political science and economics, and I didn’t listen, only doing a degree in political science (international relations). I really regret not having a better background in economics.

The other thing I wish someone had told me was how utterly parochial Canadian sociology would become over the decades. I foolishly switched from political science to graduate work in sociology.  My supervisor (also at McGill) was Immanuel Wallerstein, who devised world systems theory, so I thought of sociology as a way to explain more deeply some of the processes of underdevelopment, my interest at the time. I worked in a sociology department from 1976 until I took up my Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights at Wilfrid Laurier in 2003.  Over the course of my 27 years in Sociology, I noticed the discipline becoming more and more parochial, focusing on matters such as health, gender, and education in Canada. There was very little interest in the wider world. I was really glad to join Global Studies and later the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Laurier, where all my colleagues share my interests in international politics.

The individual I admire the most academically

Hannah Arendt: I was really taken with her Origins of Totalitarianism when I was a graduate student. After her, the brilliant scholar of comparative genocide studies, Helen Fein. Also the scholar-activists who not only study genocide but try to prevent it, such as Eric Reeves and Sam Totten in the US, who have campaigned for years against genocide in Sudan, or Frank Chalk in the Department of History at Concordia, who works with Senator Roméo Dallaire on genocide prevention.

My best research project during my career

I can’t really say, but I am very glad I went into human rights. At the time I started, around 1980, this was not a field in political science; now there are hundreds of members of the human rights sections at the ISA and APSA. I am also very grateful for the principle of tenure, which protected me when I started in this new and interdisciplinary field.

My worst research project during my career

An attempt to compare human rights in Nigeria and Indonesia, thinking it would be useful two compare two oil-rich, predominantly Muslim countries in two different regions of the world.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

Probably the interviews I conducted for both my Compassionate Canadians (2003) and my Reparations to Africa (2008).  For both books, I had long, semi-structured conversations with Canadians/Africans.  It was interesting, moving, and humbling to hear how Canadian civic leaders in Hamilton thought about matters such as their obligations to Aboriginal people, or how their views on gay marriage were changing.  It was also interesting to learn what Africans thought about the West, about slavery and colonialism, etc.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

A fellow member of the Royal Society of Canada once asked us to contribute stories for a book he was compiling about the best teacher we had ever had, and I didn’t.  I wish I had. The best teacher I ever had was my mother, Mary Howard (née Byrne).  My mother was an artist who taught art at St. Thomas High School in Pointe Claire, Quebec, for 13 years after my sister and I grew up. She viewed the world through the lens of art history, and I spent many hours as a child browsing through her art books. She was Scottish (I was born in Scotland), the daughter of two members of the Left Book Club, so I got a good dose of leftish politics from her as well. Scotland had a long tradition of education for women, so my mother took it for granted that my sister and I would go to university, whereas many native-born Canadian women of my generation were discouraged from higher education.

A research project I wish I had done

In 1974 I was conducting research in the Ghana National Archives in Accra for my PhD (published in 1978 as Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana). I came across a file about a 1933 legal case. Some Ghanaian brothers were suing for their half-siblings’ share of their father’s estate, on the grounds that the half-siblings were the children of a slave mother and therefore had no inheritance rights. Of course, the British colonialists had abolished slavery in Ghana, but this didn’t mean that the locals didn’t know who had slave ancestry and who didn’t. I wish I’d known enough to write up this file as an article, even though it wasn’t part of my Ph.D. research. I heard a few years later that the Ghana National Archives had deteriorated and that there were snakes in the basement where many of the files were kept, so I don’t know if anyone else ever saw the file and wrote it up.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

Brushing up on my creative writing skills.  I have been a member of poetry workshops in Oakville and Hamilton since 1979, and have published about 70 poems, mostly locally, as I haven’t had time or energy to submit them to national or international journals (when I used to do this, my rejection rate was about 15:1). I would like to know more about formal poetry styles, and should also read more poets. I’d also like to take classes in how to write creative non-fiction, which would be useful for my blog, Rights&Rightlessness: Rhoda Hassmann on Human Rights, http://rhodahassmann.blogspot.com

I would also be working with immigrants. One of the most rewarding experiences of my life was the year (1999-2000) I spent teaching citizenship classes to immigrants preparing for their citizenship exam. Of course this was before the Harper government revised the citizenship manual to stress the monarchy (which I don’t support) and the military. During my time teaching, the most important phrase was “the fur trade” and the most important word was “multiculturalism” (a word that Spanish speakers from Central America had trouble pronouncing).  My most memorable experience was asking a Pakistani immigrant who had to have an oral exam as he could not read or write English, what he would say when the judge asked him why he wanted to be a Canadian.  His answer was “I like no fighting, I like everyone the same.”

And finally, I would like to work with small children and hope someday to be a “story lady” at a library or school.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

I am not an expert on Canadian politics but I think it will be uniting the centre and centre-left so that the Conservatives are defeated. If the Liberals and the New Democrats don’t face reality the Conservatives may stay in power for a long time.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

Sorry, I don’t know enough about Canadian political science to answer this, but I think a big challenge will be justifying having so many doctoral programs when so many young PhDs can’t get jobs and when the best advice you can give to a prospective doctoral student is to study at one of the top institutions in the US.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

Think very carefully about whether you really want to do a PhD.  If you haven’t had your nose in a book since the day you started to read, and if you are not extremely self-disciplined, it is probably not worth it.  Even if you are a reader and self-disciplined, what else could you do?  There are many jobs for which a Ph.D. is not required, an MA is enough, and you can get on with your life without wasting four to six years studying for a doctorate.

In the last 20 years I have seen too many younger Ph.D.s teaching on short-term contracts, or one course at a time, some living at or below the poverty level. This includes people with quite impressive publications lists. Even if you get an academic job, the pressure is tremendous, what with the demands of students, more and more committee work, and higher publishing standards. I don’t see how any younger person can do all this and still have a decent private life.

I did a PhD because I couldn’t think of any other way to earn a decent living after my BA. I didn’t want to be a nurse, teacher, librarian or secretary, pretty well the only jobs for women in those days. I did want to be a lawyer but lost my self-confidence; I’ve always loved the law and still regret that at the time, so few women went to law school. If I were starting out today, I’d go to law school.

Mentors and Giants: An Interview with Jill Vickers

Jill Vickers is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Emeritus Professor at Carleton University. According to her bio, “Dr. Vickers is a renowned authority in the politics of women’s rights, comparative approaches to women’s participation, and the relationship between gender and nationalism. She is the author of numerous books and articles, among them Politics as if Women Mattered: a Political Analysis of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, co-authored with L. Pauline Rankin and Christine Appelle (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1994); Re-inventing Political Science: A Feminist Approach (Halifax: Fernwood Press, 1997); and Gender, Race and Nation: A Global Approach, co-authored with Vanaja Druhvarajan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002).”

Not only was she an academic trailblazer, a giant in the field, and an extremely productive scholar during her career, she was and remains active in the practice of politics, advising parliamentary committees, government departments, international organizations, and civil society actors on a variety of topics.

I’ve never met Dr. Vickers, but I’ve long admired her work and have heard many scholars speak highly of her as a mentor and human being.  On a personal level, her work constantly reminds me of the need to take all of my research seriously, if only because it can have an important impact on the real world of politics.

Below is the interview with Dr. Vickers.  I’ve edited it lightly so all remaining errors are my own.

Enjoy!

Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

that developing feminist political science would take decades to achieve.  Even getting to first base required: building structures to foster communication and cooperation, producing enough research to mount ‘women and politics’ courses, recruiting students to take them, persuading enough colleagues that the project had value and winning tenure at a time when most colleagues considered the research to be ‘not really political science’.  Had I known all of this at the beginning of my career, I would have paced myself better.

The individual I most admire academically

is Professor Teresa Rakowska Harmstone.  When I began teaching at Carleton, she was the only other woman in political science and was one of the discipline’s few senior women in the 1970s with an international reputation for her work on Soviet nationalities policy and on the military in the USSR.  She and I were poles apart in rank and status, ideologically and academically.  I was a very junior scholar, a feminist, union activist and a nationalist; she was an internationalist and more conservative, although she has become a committed feminist since she retired to Warsaw.  From her I learned that academics could disagree ideologically while still respecting one another; and that asserting the justice of my claims wasn’t enough, I also had to test and verify them empirically.  To gain and maintain her support, my research had to meet her very high standards of excellence.  My mentor for 35 years, she was the kind of academic I aspired to be.

My best research project during my career

is my current project about the interaction of gender and nationalism in different waves of nation-state formation.  It is also my most long-lasting project since I published my first article on the theme nearly three decades ago.  It was in trying to understand the relationship between francophone feminists and Quebec nationalism which first grabbed by interest. This led to a (still on-going) dialogue with Professor Micheline De Sève, the distinguished feminist political scientist at UQAM, in which we compared differences in how feminists interact with Quebec and English-Canadian nationalism.  The project later expanded beyond Canada/Quebec, becoming global in scope. It still excites me because of what it reveals about how gender, power and legitimacy interact in the making of modern nation-states.  I am writing the ‘big book’ on the theme currently.

My worst research project during my career

was when I tried to compare women’s movements with other social movements.  The participant observation I undertook with Pauline Rankin and Christine Appelle, which resulted in Politics As If Women Mattered, showed that social movement theory didn’t explain feminist activism and women’s movements.  The project tried to map different kinds of movements as they interacted with the three levels of governments in ten Ontario communities.  But the internet emerged in the middle of the project, becoming the key tool used by many movements and I was ill equipped to incorporate this technological change into the project.  So although the project produced some good articles and theses, it failed to achieve my theoretical objectives.

The most memorable experience when I was doing research

was writing texts to help teach women in the Yemen to understand federalism and its effects on organized women.  International agencies and ‘great powers’ often consider power-sharing as the way to solve intractable security problems such as the one posed by the conflict in the Yemen.  But when they impose such ‘solutions’, they pay little attention to the problems that power-sharing create for women.  For example, in Iraq a serious result is the fragmentation of family law that religious elites in each confessional community now control. Anticipating that a federal, power-sharing deal may well be imposed on the parties in the Yemen, UN Women recruited me to explain how different federal arrangements have affected women in different countries.  Putting my knowledge at the service of women in circumstances so different from my own was especially memorable … as was my first publication in Arabic! 

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

Four years ago, I was registered for the CPSA banquet by a young student who politely asked for my name.  When I said ‘Jill Vickers’, she said very briskly, “You can’t be Jill Vickers. She’s dead.”  I showed her my credit card and persuaded her that I wasn’t playing a joke on her and so she sold me a ticket.  But as I turned to go, she said, “If you’re not dead, how come they are giving someone a prize named after you at the banquet?”

A research project I wish I had done

is to map ‘state feminism’ in Canada’s provinces and territories to show how organized women accessed government through women’s policy agencies (WPAs) over time and jurisdictions, and especially to explain why the WPA model succeeded in Quebec regardless of the party in power;  in most other provinces, organized women only succeeded when there was a leftist party in power.  When we realize that the six women premiers currently govern 85 percent of Canadians, all the attention paid to the federal level seems out of proportion, especially since the federal WPAs have been dismantled, while some of the provincial/territorial agencies continue to play powerful roles in producing ‘women friendly’ policies. This story is still to be uncovered and told.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

an arbitrator. I became a political scientist because in the 1960s, quotas strictly limited how many women law schools would admit, no matter how good their academic records.  (Quotas also excluded people of minority religions and races.)  So I went to graduate school instead and in the 1970’s became active in the movement to unionize academic staff and served as the national president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).  I later did grievance work and developed a small, part-time arbitration practice representing unionized Public Service professionals and doing sexual harassment cases.  So the path was open for me to become a professional union arbitrator. But also in the 1970s, I worked with a small group of feminist scholars to create the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, which became the intellectual home within which we could develop the first stage of feminist political science.  I assumed that once the project was finished, that I would return to arbitration work. But since the project remains unfinished, I remain at its service, when I am not gardening or playing chess with my oldest grandson.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

the transition from a federation to a system of multi-level governance in which municipal and international levels form part of the framework for decision-making.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

incorporating studies of ‘sex’, ‘gender’, ‘race’, ‘faith’, and other aspects of diversity into comparative politics frameworks instead of ghettoizing them as separate issues or chapters. This involves conceptualizing spatial and non-spatial types of diversity.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

to find subjects that really excite you and that you can envision will capture your enthusiasm for years, even decades.  Choose subjects that will make you feel good about being a political scientist and that contribute to our society’s collective self-understanding regarding politics and/or to the self-understanding of marginalized groups.  See your role as that of a professional and hold yourself to the highest possible standards of excellence.  Work with others, either in research networks or with people in the community.

Mentors and Giants: An Interview with Sylvia Bashevkin

Dr. Sylvia Bashevkin is Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto.  From 2005-2011 she was Principal of University College at the University of Toronto. “Best known for her research contributions in the field of women and politics, Bashevkin served in 1993-4 as President of the Canadian Political Science Association and in 2003-4 as President of the Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association. She is a senior fellow of Massey College in the University of Toronto, and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Bashevkin has twice held Connaught Research Fellowships in the Social Sciences at the University of Toronto, in 1996 to write Women on the Defensive and in 2004 to prepare Tales of Two Cities.”

Dr. Bashevkin has written many excellent books. Among my favourite are Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009), Women on the Defensive: Living Through Conservative Times (University of Chicago Press and University of Toronto Press, 1998); and True Patriot Love: The Politics of Canadian Nationalism (Oxford University Press, 1991).
Continue reading

Dr. Bashevkin co-taught the core Canadian politics PhD seminar when I attended UofT in 2003 (a class, by the way, that included myself, Chris Cochrane, Glen Coulthard, and very briefly, Jeff Webber, all of whom today are in tenure-stream jobs. It was a very interesting class to say the least!). She was an early mentor for me at UofT in that she was THE career to emulate in terms of what it meant to be a top-notch researcher in Canada.  Her research taught me that you should always try to ask policy relevant questions.  You should answer those questions as rigorously as possible. Finally, disseminate your results to the public so that it has an impact on the real world.

Enjoy.

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

How fulfilling it could be to stake out one’s own research path. The road less travelled most definitely has its challenges, but holds clear advantages as well.

The individual I admire the most academically

Role models are too numerous to mention. It’s always helpful to bear in mind positive as well as negative models, meaning those individuals whose contributions and personal behaviour we’d most like to emulate, as well as those who set the bar high on what to avoid.

My best research project during my career

Probably the opportunity to undertake the study that produced Women on the Defensive. I’d wondered what the impact of Thatcher/Reagan/Mulroney and their successors would be on feminist activism, and was fortunate to receive funding to conduct the project in three countries.

My worst research project during my career

May rest in my future. Thus far, the projects have been richly satisfying on many levels.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

Occurred while attending (as an observer) a federal Liberal women’s conference in Ottawa, when the Right Honourable Paul Martin delivered a rousing speech on his efforts to recruit more female candidates. He quoted line and verse from various publications by the shocked professor seated in the audience.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

See above.

A research project I wish I had done

Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep rolling out new ones until I run out of ideas, energy or both.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

Spending more time on gardening, music and fiction.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

Ensuring parliamentary government retains meaning for new generations of older as well as newer Canadians.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

Regenerating faculty ranks so that students at all levels, and the public at large, understand what we do and value our contributions.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

Follow your heart. Study what you find intriguing and important, and use your head to communicate the results in ways that make a difference beyond the academy.

Mentors and Giants: An Interview with David E. Smith

David E. Smith is professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Saskatchewan, a senior policy fellow at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, and is currently Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. He is one of Canada’s leading scholars on Canadian political institutions, writing a number of award winning books on the Crown, the Senate, the House of Commons, Canadian Federalism, and other topics. His latest book, Across the Aisle: Opposition in Canadian Politics, interrogates the following question: “How do parties with official opposition status influence Canadian politics? Across the Aisle is an innovative examination of the theory and practice of opposition in Canada, both in Parliament and in provincial legislatures. Extending from the pre-Confederation era to the present day, it focuses on whether Canada has developed a coherent tradition of parliamentary opposition.”  I look forward to reading his latest book as soon as I can get my hands on it.

I’ve never actually met Prof. Smith but I’ve certainly read many of his books over the years.  I’ve always admired his analytical skills, his command of the Canadian political tradition, and his breadth.  You could almost teach an entire course on Canada’s political institutions using only his books and articles!  The following is a transcript of a phone interview I conducted with Dr. Smith in June 2013.  As with Peter Russell’s interview, I’ve lightly edited the transcript, which was transcribed by LISPOP research assistant Miki Culum, and so any remaining mistakes are my own!

Enjoy!

Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

that I would live so long! When you’re young, time has a very different perspective.  I never thought that I would be doing this job 50 years later! I started teaching in 1964 but at the time I didn’t know much about university teaching. Gradually I became much more involved with graduate students, which I found extremely satisfying. I have maintained close ties with a number of graduate students; you follow their careers like an extended family. Then there was the research aspect; writing and researching turned out to be extremely satisfying. When I was a student, I didn’t feel that satisfaction but over time I really learned to enjoy it. If someone told me anything at the beginning of my career, I probably would not have listened.
The individual I admire the most academically

I could think of a number of academics but if I were forced to name one person, it would be Norman Ward. Norman was at the University of Saskatchewan. I went there and to some degree it was because of him. When I was a graduate student, I never took a course in Canadian politics and as an undergraduate, I studied economics. Then I went to the commonwealth study centre to teach comparative politics and did that for about 5 or 6 years. I taught courses in European and British comparative politics. I ended up teaching courses in Canadian politics not because of a deliberate plan on my part but because of Norman Ward and the enrollment increases in the late 1960s. His health had declined during those years and they needed someone to pick up his courses. So I entered in part to take over for Ward; I would have never otherwise been considered for the graduate program in Canadian politics because I never took any Canadian politics courses as an undergrad. Norman didn’t really involve himself in his younger colleague’s careers. He was very interested but he never interfered in any direct way. There are two things I learned from Norman. Firstly, Canadian politics matters; it wasn’t just a subject but rather it actually affected people’s lives. It had always been an academic exercise for me but Norman communicated the practical importance of it. Secondly, he knew the importance of checking and re-checking one’s work. I can remember him pulling up a page and saying to me, “this is what footnotes should look like,” and they were one line each and nothing dramatic about them.

My best research project during my career

I believe my work on the Crown because it led me to do further work on Parliament. When I wrote the book on the Crown, I never had an idea of writing a book on the senate or anything like that. So for that reason, it was very fruitful for me.  Secondly, it turned out to be a much deeper subject than I had initially understood, probably deeper today than at the time I wrote the book. People talk about this subject today and they didn’t in 1995. When we had a conference in Regina last October, there were people there from the prime minister’s office, several Lieutenant Governors’ offices, a territorial commissioner and the Governor General. So they were all very interested and thought it was a serious matter, and the last word has definitely not been said on the subject. It is not just the question of how Canada’s constitutional arrangement will be in the future but actually, how is the Crown going to work in this country today.

My worst research project during my career

I tried at one point to do a project on provincial perspectives on federalism, but it never got off the ground. I wanted to know how the different provinces viewed the federation, with Quebec being the special case. One of the difficulties in Canada, with regard to national politics, has always been questions like these because our country is so huge. It gets even more difficult if you try to start at the bottom of the system rather than the top. Eventually, I was able to use some of that research for other projects but the initial plan didn’t come together the way I had hoped and I think that is too bad. In the United States, there used to be something called the Blue Book, and I always thought there needed to be something similar in Canada. This is obviously before the internet, but I always thought we should have a bibliographic list of documents. That was sort of what was in my mind when I started the project, but it didn’t really work out.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

I started teaching in 1964 and a man named David Hoffman was hired to do a study with Norman Ward about bilingualism in the House of Commons. As a new academic, through Norman, I was asked to work on the Senate. So I went down to Ottawa and started the interviews with the Senators. Then, the whole project got cancelled after about the second week. The reason it got cancelled was because Norman and David, with the agreement of the research directors, had farmed out the interviews to several graduate students because there were so many members of parliament. One of the interview questions asked MPs, on a scale of 1-5, to rank how accurate was the phrase, politics is a dirty game. Some MPs were quite offended by the question and this got into the media. So the research directors stopped this part of the project because they thought it was really contaminating the whole thing. Unfortunately, the result was nothing was ever done on bilingualism in the Senate. This happened during one of my first summers as an academic.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

I’m not really sure. I’ve always thought that much of the federalism literature is too remote or too unconnected to the life of the citizen. For most people, the provinces have more of an effect on them, in terms of property laws and other laws. These are the things that affect people’s lives forever and they are in the hands of the provincial governments, not the federal government. Political scientists have never really captured this reality very well. But I think it is also partly the result of political scientists generally not being very well educated in law. Historically, Canadian political science grew out of economics and not law. Canadians do not have a very sophisticated sense of law yet.

A research project I wish I had done

I would liked to have done a project on the Crown and its role in national defense issues, such as those that came out of the Omar Khadr case. There is a professor at the University of Ottawa, Philippe Lagassé, and he is a real up and comer. He works in a number of areas related to the Crown and one of them is about defense and the governor general as head of the military and nobody really knows what that means yet. At some point, this is going to be really important. Some others are tackling this question now, but when I read his work, I say to myself: “oh I wish I was doing that!”

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

Who knows! I suppose I would have liked to have been an architect, but I am not sure I would have been capable of doing it. I think the algebra would have defeated me.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

First Nations. Without a doubt in my mind. Canada has to deal with this question. It is too important and Canadians have not even come close to dealing with this issue. They have to do it.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

I think it is probably the same, First Nations. Turning the minds of most Canadians, and especially young Canadian students, to these issues. We need to better connect First Nations peoples with non-First Nations peoples. It may be that the many changes in the way we communicate with technology will result in a breakthrough.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

Don’t worry about what the other person is doing. You don’t need to pay too much attention to what your colleagues are doing. I think it is important to be confident in what you are doing and how you are doing it. If you don’t have that confidence then you really are limited. It is easy to be overly influenced by what others are doing and saying but ultimately what matters is what you are doing.

Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science: An Interview with Thomas Hueglin

Dr. Thomas Hueglin is Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University.  In 2009-2010, he was WLU University Research Professor, a significant honour that recognized his status as “one of the world’s top scholars on Johannes Althusius, a 16th/17th century philosopher who was concerned with alternative models of governance. Hueglin is also a well-published scholar in the related field of federalism; his research output incorporates four single-authored books, two co-authored books, three dozen book chapters, over two dozen journal articles and more than 80 conference papers or research talks delivered in 14 countries.”

Thomas was an early mentor for me at Laurier, providing me with advice about the university, the department, and publishing. As well, he has been a constant supporter of my crazy research and administrative/departmental ideas since I’ve been at Laurier. I am grateful to him for making me feel welcome at Laurier.

Enjoy!

Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

I had very good advice, actually, and no regrets. When I did not receive a postdoctoral scholarship, my PhD adviser Alois Riklin in St. Gallen, Switzerland, told me never to throw in the towel too quickly – I then got a different and much better scholarship that took me to the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, for three fabulous years. Once in Canada, I learned collegiality from Richard Simeon, Donald Smiley told me that I could not understand the country without traveling across the Prairies, and Ed Black gave me money to do so. I was in excellent hands.

The individual I admire the most academically

There are so many. One of them is the German political scientist Beate Kohler-Koch, who invited me to spend a sabbatical year at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research in 1997-98. Like no other academic I know personally, she combines profound theoretical understanding with hardcore empirical research. As one of the first and few senior female political science professors in Germany, she had to develop a very thick skin in a male-dominated environment. When I once dared to complain about her sometimes gruff attitude, she replied: I am sorry that my Prussian school teacher charm offended you.

My best research project during my career

Doubtlessly that was working for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. It was not only the unique environment, with “Indians” in senior positions and “white folks” making photocopies and fetching coffee. I also learned so much about a world I knew nothing about, and it has influenced all I do and think about ever since.

My worst research project during my career

I once wanted to do a comparative study on concepts of, and attitudes towards treaty federalism in the European Union based on a totally delusional plan of empirical investigation. With Alan Fenna, I wrote the Comparative Federalism book instead.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

Such experiences always happened when I discovered open-mindedness in personal conversations with people in the “mentor and giant” category into which I would hardly place myself. My PhD adviser Alois Riklin taught me how to think. A conservative and a Catholic, he accepted my eclectic leftish views as long as they were backed up by solid work. Similarly, Daniel Elazar took me under his wings even though his worldview was very different from mine.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

Every story has a chance to be told. When my father died, I decided to write down all the family anecdotes, which I feared would be lost otherwise. To my surprise, what began merely as a collection of stories for my children ended up as a book publication, We All Giggled: A Bourgeois Family Memoir, published in the Life Writing Series of Wilfrid Laurier University Press. A local reporter asked me what I thought the appeal of the book might be to readers other than my own family. I replied that my hope was that it would encourage others to think of and write down the kind of stories that exist in all families. I do not think that it is much different in the academic world. Interesting research will inspire other interesting research.

A research project I wish I had done

For many years I have wanted to come up with a theory of federalism that is general enough to encompass the infinite variety of federal practice yet sufficiently concise to provide students of federalism with a more common language. In fact I am on it as we speak. Hope it does not turn out to be one of my delusional projects (see above).

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

I never consciously decided to become a political scientist. I drifted from economics to political ideas and federalism because I could not handle numbers, and I mainly moved from degree to degree because I could never think of anything else. And since I hung around long enough, someone finally hired me for good. In a different life, I might have wanted to become a music manager, maybe in charge of cultural life in a large city. But that would have required organizational and schmoozing talents I do not possess.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

I say idle no more. The fact that apparently more children are now taken away from Aboriginal families and put into foster care than at the height of the residential school system speaks for itself but is moreover symptomatic for the way Canada has been drifting away from respectability on many fronts: environmental protection, social inequality, urban sprawl and congestion, international reputation as a mediator and peace keeper…

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

Political science qua science is always in danger of disconnecting from the real problems and issues of real people. At a time when universities are in grave danger of being downgraded to the status of corporate service providers, political science like other academic disciplines needs to find a voice that maintains and reaffirms academic freedom and autonomy yet convincingly demonstrates that it can make practical contributions.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

Looking for my first major postdoctoral research project, I almost accidentally stumbled across the early modern political theory of Althusius. I never really got away from Althusius. I tell my students with academic ambitions to choose their first major research topic carefully: it may haunt them for the rest of their careers.

Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science: An Interview with André Blais

Leave it to renown elections researcher Dr. André Blais to find value in the study of something like the papal election. As the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Studies, Dr. Blais is at the centre of a number of innovative projects that ask some very key questions about democratic governance, and the election of the next pope is not immune to such scrutiny, although the context of a papal election is used to determine the effect of different vote procedures (see voteforpope.net).  This is part of a greater – and far more international – project, Making Electoral Democracy Work, led by Dr. Blais, the latest in a long list of his accomplishment, noted by 25 books, way more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles, and a good number of prizes and awards.

But Dr. Blais is not just a successful and prolific academic. He also ranks among Canada’s top academic mentors, having supervised a sizable number of scholars and researchers who now occupy positions in academia, government and elsewhere. His Canada Research Chair, since its founding in 2001, has accommodated more than 30 graduate and post-doctoral students, with about 10 currently holding some active association. He was my supervisor at both the master’s and doctoral level. I could not have asked for a more patient and thoughtful mentor, who continues to provide me with useful advice. It is, therefore, with great interest that I received his emailed responses to the following interview questions.

Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

If you want your work to be read, you have to publish in English.

The individual I admire the most academically

There are MANY people I admire in the profession. I owe special debt to Vincent Lemieux, who inspired me early in my career, Richard Johnston, with whom I had extraordinary conversations about how the Canadian Election should be conducted, Elisabeth Gidengil, with whom I have collaborated on so many projects and whose advice has proven to be sound (almost!) all the time, and finally to my PhD students, who have energized me with their enthusiasm.

My best research project during my career

To Vote or not to Vote? Because this is a great question. Because I look at the question from all sides. A great project, in which another long term collaborator, Robert Young, played a crucial role.

My worst research project during my career

None! Thanks to my collaborators!

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

Designing the Canadian Election Study questionnaires. Intense conversations with a small group of bright scholars. You have to argue your points, listen carefully to counter-arguments, insist sometime, accept defeat at other times. On top of this, designing the English and French versions at the same time under intense time pressure. Listening to the pre-tests and realizing that your pet question does not work. I will never forget these moments.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

I can’t think of any. I talk a lot…

A research project I wish I had done

The politics of taxation. How citizens view and react to taxation. Always being fascinated by taxation. My dream was to keep on doing research on both elections and public policy, and on the policy side taxation is where the game is.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

If not a political scientist I would be a (quantitative) anthropologist or demographer, doing research on parents’ choice of names for their children. If not a researcher, I would teach maths.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

The environment (my former colleague and friend Stéphane Dion is right!).

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

Developing closer links with psychology.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is…

Keep in mind that doing research is fun! Enjoy it fully!

Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science: An Interview with Donald Savoie

Dr. Donald Savoie is the “Canada Research Chair in Public Administration and Governance at the Université de Moncton. His research achievements are prodigious and his influence on Canadian public policy, Canadian public administration and Canadian society has been evident for years.” Talk about an understatement! Dr. Savoie is really one of the giants of our discipline.  He has written numerous books and journal articles on Canadian politics and public administration and has been very active in public life, advising a variety of governmental and non-governmental organizations in Canada and abroad.  His work has had a powerful influence on government policy and on the work of countless political scientists and commentators across this country. I was very glad to hear him say yes to my interview request!

I’ve never met Dr. Savoie but I’ve always admired his scholarship.  His research always tackles big and important questions, which as Peter Russell noted in an earlier interview on this blog, is something younger scholars like me tend to shy away from for whatever reason. As well, I’ve always been impressed with how Savoie uses the literature, elite interviews, and his own expertise to answer his research questions. His book, Governing from the Centre, was an early model for me as I tried to figure out how to use elite interviews in a theoretically and empirically useful way.

If I could achieve half of what Dr. Savoie achieved over his career, I think I’d be very happy (and lucky!). The following is an email interview I conducted with Dr. Savoie in February 2013.

Enjoy!
Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

Balance in all things is key.  Striking a proper balance between family, friends, work and pleasure matters.

The individual I admire the most academically

Professor Ted Hodgetts, he had it all – a sharp mind, a sharp pen and great civility.  He made a substantial contribution to the literature and was an excellent mentor to many young academics.

My best research project during my career

My first book: Federal-Provincial Collaboration.  It grew out of my doctorate dissemination and it showed me that I could do it.  It gave me great satisfaction to see the process go from an idea to a finished product.

My worst research project during my career

I published extensively in the economic development field with one of the world’s leading economists – Ben Higgins.  We set out some twenty-five years ago to compare U.S.–Canada regional economic development efforts.  We wanted to explain why the Americans were better at it than Canadians.  We never got it done and I still have drafts laying around waiting for more work.  I doubt that I will ever be able to complete the work, though it would make an important contribution to the literature.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

Hearing how New Brunswick’s former Premier Louis J. Robichaud set out to implement his program of Equal Opportunity and establish l’Université de Moncton during a one-on-one interview.  Robichaud explained in detail how he established the strategy, how he sold it to a reluctant province and how he worked with senior public servants to design an implementation plan.  Quebec had a quiet revolution.  New Brunswick had a not so quiet revolution under Robichaud though it was not well reported in the national media.

A research project I wish I had done

A biography of Louis J. Robichaud.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

I would be sad, very sad.  I simply cannot imagine a better life.  If a career in academe would not have been possible, I would have likely followed in my father’s footsteps and become an entrepreneur.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be

Finally coming to terms that national political institutions designed for a unitary state can never be made to work in the interest of all Canadian regions.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be

Helping Canadians appreciate that Canada will never be fully at peace with itself unless we overhaul how our national political and administrative institutions work.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

Simple minded purpose works, stay focussed.

Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science: An Interview with Mike Munger

This is the third interview in LISPOP’s “Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science” series and the first with a non-Canadian political scientist.

Michael C. Munger is Professor of Political Science at Duke University.  He was chair of the department from 2000 to 2010, president of the Public Choice Society from 2006 to 2008, North American editor of the journal, Public Choice from 2000 to 2006, and the Libertarian candidate during the 2008 election for Governor of North Carolina.  He has authored/co-authored four books, over 100 papers in academic journals and edited books, dozens of podcasts and blog entries here and here, and starred in at least two rap videos on Keynes and Hayek!  Much of his academic work has focused on “the morality of exchange and the working of legislative institutions in producing policy,” while “much of his recent work has been in philosophy, examining the concept of truly voluntary exchange”, a concept he calls euvoluntary.

Mike was the faculty discussion leader during a weekend conference I attended on public choice theory, hosted by the Institute for Humane Studies.  During that conference, Mike led myself and a dozen or so other grad students from a variety of disciplines through the classic works on public choice.  That weekend really opened my eyes and helped to rebalance my views about the role of the state and the market in democratic societies.

Mike also taught me a lot about how to be an academic. I remember vividly a conversation we had about publishing in an airport bar and the really funny tour he took a couple of us on of Washington D.C. during the conference.  Since then, he’s fielded my emails about publishing, tenure, teaching, and blogging!

Enjoy!

Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beinning of my career

That life is really, really long and that you should try to learn new things all the time.

The individual I admire the most academically

James Buchanan.  His interests, depth, and body of work were remarkable.  And he maintained an impressive modesty throughout, even after his Nobel Prize.

My best research project during my career

The work on the meaning of “truly” voluntary, or euvoluntary, exchange.   It has really pushed me to understand counterarguments to the received “truths” of rational choice theory.

My worst research project during my career

A grant that I got to determine if residents of public housing had a latent demand for larger rent subsidies.  In our survey,  95% said, “Yes,” they would appreciate more money.  I don’t know what the other 5% were thinking.

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

I was working on a problem of candidate location under uncertainty, which later resulted in a paper in the Journal of Theoretical Politics (Berger, Munger, and Potthoff, 2000).  There was a strange result in the simulations, and it didn’t make any sense.  One day, driving home, I found myself parked, mostly but not entirely off the side of the interstate.  Cars were blowing their horns.  And I realized that the answer was that the simulation results were telling me something that seemed like it couldn’t be true, but was in fact very intuitive, once you saw the answer.  I have no memory of stopping, or pulling over.  My subconscious mind had figured out the answer, and I just pulled over, in a kind of trance.

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance

I was doing a class illustration of Condorcet’s paradox.  The class was in groups of three, and one group was two upperclass men and a freshwoman.  They were supposed to negotiate, and decide on an outcome, even though there is a cycle in majority rule results.  One of the men was funny and aggressive, and demanded that if the woman got what she wanted, she had to go out on a date with him.  The young woman protested, saying that if they outvoted her, she lost, and agreeing to go on a date meant she lost.  “Either way, I’m going to get screwed!”  Then, she realized that this might be interpreted as her announcing her expectations for the date!  She literally hid under the table, and refused to come out for the rest of the class.

A research project I wish I had done

I have about 2,000 pages of notes on the way that Southern tort courts conceived of the humanity of slaves.  But I have never written the book.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

Working as a landscaper and tree surgeon.  I love doing that, and did it for two summers.  You get quite a feeling of accomplishment, at the end of the day.  And you don’t feel bad at night about failing to write stuff you should be working on.  At the end of the day, you are DONE!

The biggest challenge in American politics in the next 10 years will be

To force our broken political system back toward working on problems, rather than claiming credit for partisan obstruction.  Our last two presidents have been disastrous, and the Congress is a toxic waste dump.  The “leaders” of both parties are brutal thugs, and everyone seems satisfied just to throw bombs.

The biggest challenge in political science in the next 10 years will be

To find relevance for students.  Why should students take political science as a major?  At this point, it’s not clear.  And we are not doing a good job explaining the answer.  I think there is an answer, but political science needs to adapt.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is

This:  http://www.libertyguide.com/resources/winning-tenure/

Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science: An Interview with Peter Russell

Peter Russell is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto.  He has written on a wide variety of subjects, including minority governments, parliamentary democracy, constitutional change and reform, and aboriginal and judicial politics. His classic book, Constitutional Odyssey: Can Canadians Become a Sovereign People? is a must read for students and scholars of Canadian politics as is his book,  Recognizing Aboriginal Title: The Mabo Case and Indigenous Resistance to English-Settler Colonialism, among others.  Not only has Peter had a strong influence on the academic world, but he has also been active in the real world of politics, advising governments and Royal Commissions on a wide range of issues and topics.

Much of my initial interactions with Peter were through his scholarship, which taught me the importance of taking into account history and agency for analyzing Canadian politics.  Later, he served as the final departmental reader on my dissertation, and has since then provided me with valuable advice about publishing, book writing, and how to make the most of my academic career.

The following is a transcription of a phone interview I did with Peter several weeks ago.  I’ve lightly edited and condensed it so any and all mistakes that may appear below are mine alone.

Enjoy!

Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career:

how much I would enjoy it and how much fun I would have. As well, nobody told me that you could participate in and pontificate about politics. I sort of stumbled into participating.  Some of my colleagues think you shouldn’t do that.  They believe that you should stay in the ivory tower and not dirty your feet in the real world of politics but I’ve never agreed with that.

The individual I admire the most academically:

was C.B. Macpherson.  He was a political philosopher, par excellence, and he was a Marxist (small-m).  He was a wonderful and interesting philosopher of politics.  I actually didn’t agree with his fundamental argument in his most important book but that’s beside the point.  I really admired him because he spent the first 25 years of his life just working on his basic critique of what you might call liberalism. He didn’t publish his main book until well until his 40s.  In those days, you could get away with that.  He didn’t bother with a lot of little articles in refereed journals.  There wasn’t the same “publish or perish” expectation.  At the same time he was doing political theory, he was very active in the community around him, mostly in the civil liberties area.  For me, he was a wonderful example of a superb scholar and a real participant in the part of politics that really mattered to him.

My best research project during my career:

was without a doubt, the Mabo case.  I stumbled into it and really learned so much by studying it.  I knew a little about Aboriginal peoples and politics but not nearly enough about western imperialism.  By doing that book, which took about 9 years, I learned so much about my own background as a person of British heritage and so much about the variety of experiences that Aboriginal peoples had; the comparative aspect really came out.  I also learned a lot about the limits of what can happen in courts because the Mabo decision really didn’t do much until it started to influence politics; and it still has a long way to go before fundamental improvements to the lives of Aborigines in Australia can occur.  So basically I learned about the limits of judicial power.

My worst research project during my career

was my work on trial courts, which I really worked hard on but which turned out to be mostly a dead end. I did a lot of writing about them and I ended up editing the only book we have in Canada on trial courts.  Part of my goal was to get political scientists interested in lower courts and to get their gaze off of the Supreme Court. I didn’t succeed. I also had a very strong view about reforming the structure of our trial courts and I had lots of support from the people who worked in those courts and experienced them.  I organized a conference, edited a book and did quite a bit of writing on the topic but it was the most inconsequential of any of my research. Nobody is interested in trial courts.  You mention trial courts to political scientists and, as they say, their “eyes glaze over.”

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

was when I was out at a place called Discovery Island.  It’s in the Torres Straits, just north of Cape York in Australia, and they call it Discovery Island because that’s where Captain Cook stopped and gazed southward at what we now call Cape York.  I was there with an Aboriginal friend who explained to me that this is where Captain Cook stopped and looked at everything across the strait before saying, “I claim all of this for my sovereign, King George III.”  Cook didn’t know much about the area.  He just sailed up the coast of what is now Queensland and claimed it. “Wow! That’s crazy!” I said.  “No, no, no, Peter. That’s not the word for it,” my Aboriginal friend responded. “That’s legal magic. It’s real magic.  Not only did Captain Cook claim ownership of lands he didn’t know, but then a whole bunch of lawyers over the centuries that followed, wearing wigs and looking like magicians with long black robes, would go into court and they took it seriously.  They believed it!  They put an army and navy and everything else behind it.  They made what was a really ridiculous statement come true!  That’s magic Peter! That’s legal magic.”  I use that phrase a lot.  People say “how did Britain get sovereignty over this?” and I say “Legal magic.” I thought it was such a perceptive moment in my life.  

The one story I always wanted to tell but never had a chance:

was when I was director of research for the Royal Commission on certain activities of the RCMP.  Those certain activities had been going on during the 1960s and the 1970s and they involved the security service, which was part of the RCMP at the time.  The security service had been collecting intelligence for the government about various things, including in those days, separatism, and they had done some terrible things that led to the creation of a Royal Commission.  There were public hearings and so on.  During the first six month’s of the Commission’s work, all we heard about was the many horrible things that the security service had done.  They had planted dynamite in the back of people’s cars to implicate them as terrorists.  They had burned a barn to implicate the PQ as terrorists.  They were trying to frame the PQ as a terrorist organization.  That was the main rotten thing they were doing.

One day, it dawned on me that the commissioners should find out if the security service had done anything good to help Canada.  The commissioner said to me, “That’s a very good idea. Ask them if they can put together 20 good examples of the good stuff that they had done for Canada.”  The security service took several months to assemble a binder with 20 such case studies but of course they were all at this point, and will remain, top secret because they dealt with serious espionage and terrorist attempts that they had thwarted.  So we had two or three days of in-camera meetings with the security service on those success stories.

We at the commission could never tell those stories publicly because we would be giving away all sorts of secrets about their techniques and sources in other countries.  I’d love a chance to tell some of those stories one day because they convinced me that a country needs a security service to collect information and protect it against terrorism and espionage.  But of course I can’t tell any of those stories!  They are very revealing of what goes on in the world.  Canadians are very innocent and every once in while, we hear stories like someone selling secrets to the Russians but that’s fairly mild compared to the things I’m talking about.

A research project I wish I had done

is a study of native peoples in the United States.  I know the outline of the story, but I still don’t have a good handle on where things are with Aboriginal peoples in the United States.  I know they are not at the top of the political agenda, as they are here, and that’s a remarkable contrast.  I know there’s a lot more of them in the U.S., not as a percentage of the population, but in terms of raw numbers; there’s about three million and we just have over a million. And I know they’ve got some successes but they have also had a lot of problems.  I’ve never had a good handle on the situation in the U.S.  I have a very good understanding of the Maori, and what they’ve been through and where they are now. I also have a really in-depth understanding of Aboriginal people in Australia, including the Torres Strait islanders. But in terms of the U.S., I’ve always been interested in knowing more, and by knowing more I mean spending time with them because I feel comfortable talking about the Maori and the Aborigines in Australia and the Torres Strait islanders, and many of our own First Nations, and certainly the Inuit and the Métis, because I’ve spent time with them, hung out with them, and made friends with them.  But I’ve never had that experience in the United States.  It’s all second hand.  I don’t trust second hand.  I’d rather have first hand experience.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be:

a lawyer.  I got talked out of being a lawyer by Bora Laskin.  I had started in 1958 at the University of Toronto teaching Canadian politics and I got very quickly to the lecture on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. I wanted to talk about the implications of the JCPC handing things over to the Supreme Court. To prepare a lecture on that, I went and knocked on the doors of some of my colleagues because I couldn’t find anything to read.  What difference does it make if the Supreme Court of Canada is supreme? “Oh Peter,” they said, “that’s law.  We don’t really study those kinds of things but there’s a nice fellow down on Philosopher’s Walk at the law school and his name is Bora Laskin and he’ll help you.  He doesn’t mind political scientists.”  I was a little nervous.  I didn’t know him and I didn’t know anyone at the law school.  It was my first year at UofT.  I went down and knocked on his door, and this guy with a great big smile welcomed me in.  Right away we were on a first-name basis.  It was clear he knew a lot.  He had been reading all of the Supreme Court cases since 1949 when the Supreme Court became supreme.  I lapped it all up and he says, “why don’t you sit in my course?” And I say “I’d love to that” and so I sat in the back row and took notes and so on.  Next year, I took another course, not with him, but with another Professor, on the U.S. Constitution, and another course the year after that on administrative law.  I had taken three courses and I loved them all. So I went down to see Bora in 1961 and I said, “Bora, I want you to make an honest lawyer of me.  I’m going to get a law degree.” And he looked at me, and for the first time, this really nice and friendly fellow, waved his finger and said to me, “Oh you mustn’t do that, Peter.  You mustn’t do that.” I said, “Really? You’re a lawyer, Bora, and you’re ok! I’ve enjoyed our conversations immensely.” “Oh,” he said, “yeah, but if you become a lawyer, you’ll lose any kind of perspective outside of law.  You’ll be on the inside where all of us are.  Stay on the outside.  Stay in political science. You’ll have a very distinctive, interesting, and valuable perspective from the outside.”  I really didn’t understand what he was talking about, quite honestly, but I took his advice because it would save me a lot of money.  The wife wasn’t too keen, we had two little kids, and so I didn’t do it. So he talked me out of it! I told that story at Bora’s memorial service.  People may say, “well Peter, you should have taken his advice.  You’ve been messing with the law ever since and have made a big mess of it!” But I’m glad I kept on the political science path.

The biggest challenge in Canadian politics in the next 10 years will be:

to create a better, more just, and mutually beneficial relationship with our First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.  I think we need to improve that relationship and make it a source of pride rather than a source of shame. We have done some good stuff and are doing some good stuff, but I think a lot more has to be done and we don’t quite know how to do it yet.

The biggest challenge in Canadian political science in the next 10 years will be:

I have an odd reaction to contemporary political scientists of your generation.  I find they are being moulded too much by the discipline.  They are being too constrained in what they can do by the discipline and I guess it’s partly the constraints of the tenure system which says to them, “get out some publications real fast. And what we really love are articles in refereed journals!” Political science does put some value on books, but I see so many young political scientists concentrating on these small pieces of the puzzle.  That’s all you do in a journal article, which is unlike C.B. Macpherson. In a journal article, you are not taking on something that’s really big and challenging.  I hope political science will break out of the tight discipline mould a bit.  I’d like to see that happen.

My advice for young researchers at the start of their career is:

enjoy yourself and if you are not enjoying yourself, get out fast.  Take some chances. I know that’s easier said then done, particularly if you have a family to feed and you are a young, starting political scientist, but be bold! Take some chances. Have some confidence in your own creative juices.  Don’t be so damn set on pleasing your peers! There’s too much deference to the leading writers in the field and too much caution about breaking away and taking new approaches.

Mentors and Giants of (Canadian) Political Science: An Interview with Tom Flanagan

This is the first of an occasional series I plan to launch today interviewing a number of Professors that have had an impact on my scholarly career, either directly or indirectly through their mentorship and/or work.  It’s an idea I borrowed from indecisionblog (I also borrowed most of their questions!), which is doing something similar on influential  economists in the United States. Enjoy!

Tom Flanagan is Professor of Political Science at the University of Calgary.  A political theorist by training, he has written on a wide range of topics, including Aboriginal politics, elections, electoral systems, the Reform and Conservative parties of Canada, the Supreme Court, rational choice and game theory, and Louis Riel, among many others.  In addition to his scholarly work, he has been active in public life: as an organizer for the Reform Party, the Conservative Party of Canada and the Wildrose Alliance, and as a public commentator for the CBC, the Globe and Mail, and other media outlets.

Tom was my thesis supervisor during my M.A. studies in political science at the University of Calgary and has had a powerful influence on my scholarly career.  Among other things, he showed me how to publish, how to be an efficient academic, and what it meant to be an intellectual, which means always remaining open to the possibility that one’s views and research are wrong.

Below is an interview I conducted with Tom via email in January 2013.
Continue reading

I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

There’s a lot of advice that could have helped me, but I wouldn’t have listened!   I’m one of those people who only learn by making mistakes.

The individual I admire the most academically

The American economist Thomas Sowell.  He’s a great example of someone with solid accomplishments in his discipline who then broadened out to address public affairs in an illuminating way.

My best research project during my career

The Collected Writings of Louis Riel.  We had a great team, and we got the job done on time within budget.  It now provides a basis of information for scholars of all points of view.