Republicanism: More like a root canal than a crown -

Republicanism: More like a root canal than a crown


Earlier this week I interviewed Michael Behiels, a political historian at the University of Ottawa. We had a nice long chat, about Prince Charles and his mum, the monarchy, those annoying Australians, and Stephen Harper. Here’s a partial transcript of the interview — this is my favourite part:

I think Harper’s education in Calgary warped his understanding of the parliamentary system in Canada. He was taken down the wrong path by Tom Flanagan and others, who think ours is an easy system to change. I thought Harper had a better understanding of the constitution than that, since his views on the Meech Lake and Charlotteown accords, and on the Supreme Court reference on Quebec secession, were quite astute.


Republicanism: More like a root canal than a crown

  1. I will need to read the whole thing, since I have not noticed that piece of the Constitution that Harper is foolishly attempting to "easily" change based on some poisoned flanacalgarian mindset. Has he chaired a constitutional conference? Submitted an amendment?

    • OK, reading assignment completed. Perfesser didn't like the prorogue thing. PM went to GG, and GG took PM's advice, and therefore PM somehow doesn't understand how hard our system is to change? Streeeeeeeeetch…

    • I am wondering what Behiels is talking about as well. I assume Behiels is referring to last December's prorogue but the constitution was followed, no laws were broken, but who knows.

      I think academics have a more warped understanding of parliament than pols do because pols actually experience it while academics sit in their offices discussing how many angels fit on the head of a pin.

  2. Behiels makes it seem Queen is wide-eyed ingenue who is shocked, shocked I tell ya, that pols always try to gain political advantage. But Queen has participated in a world war and has been meeting with her Prime Ministers weekly for fifty years so I am far from convinced that Queen was shocked by Harper's behaviour last December.

    The Queen's relationship with Chretien was an exception, not the norm.

  3. From another part of the interview:

    "Trudeau walked away from it very quickly in 1968. He was informed by various experts that if you go down that road, there'll be no end, you'll tear the country apart, and you won't accomplish your objectives."

    The problem is that Trudeau didn't really walk away from it. He behaved more like a man whose lawyer advised him against taking certain formal steps but decided it would be just fine to go down the road by other means.

  4. I really don't know why anyone bothers with Behiels. I've seen him interviewed a few times and read some columns he's written. He's about as dispassionate an observer of Canadian politics as Michael Byers (or MIchael Ignatieff for that matter).

    I don't mind someone who holds a contrary opinion, but he seems to think that those who view the world differently are evil or malignant in their thinking. Here's a thought for Mr. Behiels. Eugene Forsey used to argue, with great passion, that Mackenzie King was wrong in his contretemps with Viscount Byng in 1926. But King was re-elected, Byng was replaced, and the powers of the G-G were modified at the Imperial Conference a few month afterwards. So King won, and things changed. Forsey would argue that King was wrong (and Byng, therefore, was right), but that point was moot. The same is true of Dr. Behiels.

  5. Just out of interest, I searched Behiels. He isn't exactly a neutral commentator on these issues. He has a long track record and by some strange coincidence, he always sides with the Liberal Party of Canada no matter what happens. Why just this September he was calling for an election to unseat Harper. During the coalition battle (before prorogation) he was commented in favour of the Liberals. Following the Mulcair victory in Outremont, said Behiels said, "For Stéphane Dion, it's really another step in rebuilding the party, rebuilding the caucus, in a sense shoring up the unity of that caucus."

    And it goes on, and on, and on.

    It's an interesting interview Mr. Potter but if you were interviewing Tom Flanagan you wouldn't just say he was a political scientist, you'd also tell us he was committed ideologue on one side of the debate, you owe us the same level of transparency when you interview Michael Behiels.

    • Actually JulesAime, if you've been following my own writing on this, you'll know that I've gone on record in numerous places – here, in the Ottawa Citizen, and in the LRC — calling out the egregious pro-Liberal bias amongst the Canadian professoriate with regard to the coalition debate. So don't start accusing me of treating Conservative academics harsher than I treat Liberal ones, that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

      • It's not your bias or lack thereof that concerns me. My point is that Michael Behiels' track record indicates that he is an advocate for the Liberal Party. He should be identified as such at the top of any interview.

        • When he said it was the most interesting part, he didn’t say in a good way or in a oh the humanity way.

    • I agree he has a point of view, politically speaking and it colours some of his comments. Thats not a slight at Potter, the interview is the interview.

      I found the ventriloquizing of the Queen to be quite funny. Happens all the time, on all sides. Have we ever had any indication that the Queen "was horrified"? Isnt the professor, at the end of the day making it up? Ahh the magic of the crown is its mystery. I would speculate the Queen was equally horrified that the "coalition" was putting her representative in that position, but thats just as much speculation.

      At the end of the day the GG made the right decision, only because the country didnt fall apart, there isnt revolution in the street and her majesty's government carried on with the general legitimacy of the population, the opposition having numerous opportunities to defeat the government since have declined. Hard to say she made the wrong decision in hindsight.

      One day we may find out if the GG and the Queen spoke. I have my doubts. But if there is a message that was going to be sent from the Queen it surely would be delivered by Charles sometime this week.

  6. I expect that, given time, Harper will implement some long overdue changes to the federtaion (starting with the Senate) including changes to the spending power and the common market. And along the way, Dr. Behiels will criticize him at every step because, well, Harper's evil and malignant of thought. His opinions are not analysis, they're propaganda. Young Potter should treat them as such.

  7. Behiels: "…Since the 1970s, social historians took over, and the few political historians like myself have to live with that. But it's basically become impossible for us to attract students. They are starting to come back, I think, but the students we do get come so poorly prepared, they have to start from scratch…"

    Is he right about the ignorance? Reading the comments above, I would say he is dead on.

    • “Reading the comments above, I would say he is dead on”

      Took you how many seconds to try to prove what you read?

      “I don’t mind someone who holds a contrary opinion, but he seems to think that those who view the world differently are evil or malignant in their thinking”

      Our political history/culture has placed great value on “minority mandates”.Behiels is free to disparage that widespread value that backed the Liberals away from the “coalition gov’t” value. But that’s a lousy way to make the case and blaming the UofC is even stupider.

      • Our political history/culture has placed great value on "minority mandates".

        I'm not sure what this means. Apart from Pearson's, no "minority mandate" has been even minimally productive in the whole history of our parliamentary democracy.

        • Not true, the 72 to 74 minority with Pet and Broadbent produced a lot….maybe not what I or you would like, but it was prodctive.

          The Petersen/Rae minority/coalition was also productive.

          Quality is always a judement call.

          I think the it is better said that productive minorities happen but more often than not they are unproductive results.

  8. Right, Flanagan thinks this is "an easy system to change". Flanagan has proven himself as the thinking behind the resurgence of conservatism in Canada — one of the greatest political feats in Canadian history. But, this ankle-biting academic thinks Flanagan doesn't understand how the system works in Canada. Please.

    • No. Flanagan has not been one of the "thinkers" behind a "resurgence" of any kind. Rather, he has helped create a viable Canadian political mechanism for American continentalist neo-liberalism, which has no philosophical connection whatsoever with Canadian, or British, Toryism.

      To do what Flanagan did, one needs to know how to game the system, but one need not have any respect at all for the system's constitutional underpinnings. In fact, Flanagan has expressed contempt for those very underpinnings a number of times.

      • @Sir_Francis: Care to cite his "contempt"?

        @Holly Stick: Um, he does, actually. Shall we continue?

        • How about the time Flanagan allied himself ideologically with people who are "fundamentally dissatisfied with the terms of Confederation" and who espouse a "rejection of Canada's federal parliamentary system"? Is that sufficiently contemptuous of Canada's constitutional essence, or do I require a Polaroid of Flanagan tossing a Molotov cocktail at the Peace Tower?

          • Yeah, Sir Francis, I urge any one reading this thread to read your link. They can draw their own conclusions about his so-called "contempt". Wanting to change the parliamentary system for better equality between regions does not equal contempt.

            But, in the end, we agree. My point was that Flanagan need take no lessons from Behiels given his track record. You seem to agree that Flanagan has been able to accomplish much but doubt his motives.

          • Wanting to change the parliamentary system for better equality between regions does not equal contempt.

            You are begging the question. I cannot conceive of any reason to believe that bettering "equality between regions" has anything to do with Flanagan's motivations. Nor has regional "equality" been part of Stephen Harper's agenda. In fact, his Parliamentary motion recognising Quebecois nationhood exemplified the precise opposite of that.

            And, yes, rejecting Confederation and the Dominion system it established is indisputably to have contempt for them both. The real difference between us is that you, too, have contempt for them, and I do not.

            The Calgary School's overall "achievement" has been its successful importation of Goldwater/Reagan neo-conservatism into Canada; this did not regenerate Canadian conservatism–it killed it, both philosophically and politically.

          • We now have the worst of both worlds: philosophical neo-liberal continentalism, and practical kleptocratic, debt-burdened statism (think of it as a northern version of the fiscal debacle of the Bush era). Harper's administration–with its bloated public service, profligate spending, and total commitment to “pragmatism” (i.e. moral nihilism) is arguably the least conservative ministry since St. Laurent's.

            Ultimately, in the way it has used a foreign ideology to destroy an indigenous polity, the Calgary School is the perfect anti-type to the clique of socialist, Stalin-friendly intellectuals who staffed the brains-trust of FDR's New Deal administration, and who turned the Democrats from a party of rural states'-rights particularism into a quasi-authoritarian Politburo.

          • So according to your link, Flanagan was pro-coalition. Ha!

            "…In my opinion, the formula that is most likely to 'unite the right' in Canada for any length of time would be one that has not yet been tried, that is, an electoral coalition of two or more regionally based parties that would retain their separate identities, refrain from running candidates against each other, co-operate in parliament to advance shared positions, and form a coalition government if the voters ever saw fit to endow them with enough seats…"

          • Flanagan was pro-coalition…

            Yep. Coalitions are fine for good, clean, God-fearin', salt-o'-the-earth, faux-conservative populists. They're just bad for everybody else.

          • If this was the coalition that was proposed I must have missed it. Because all involved would say that was NOT what they were proposing, regional based coalitions with stand off agreements.

            That being said, I am no fan of Flanagan's proposal. It was written at a time when "the West" wanted to retreat to its own ideological purity, whatever that was. Harper sits within the traditional modl of national parties as brokers, but with a twist. He has defined his brokerage a little tighter than the Liberals of old. He is (or was) attempting to build it around ideological lines.

            If you look at there wooing of Quebec and ethinic communities they continue to try to appeal to "conservative values and beliefs." As much as Harper would take 60 seats in Quebec, I bet he doesnt want it. I beleive Harper woudl rather try to get the 15 to 20 seats in Quebec that are, absent of cultural nationalism, "conservative".

          • Ah, now, you're telling me that I have contempt for Confederation. You're simply not credible, Sir Francis.

            Perhaps I'm also a "Goldwater/Reagan neo-conservative" and hang with "philosophical neo-liberal continentalists" whilst (there's one from the old country, chappy) trying to work out how I can steal through the state. You know, like Flanagan.

            If contempt were money, you'd be a billionaire.

          • Do the above represent all of the issues you wish to evade, or is there something else to which you care to offer a set of feeble fallacies?

            Look, as a gesture of good faith, I shall let you have it your way–just for a few seconds. Here goes:

            It is an act of ardent patriotism to hate your nation's legal foundations. Thus, Tom Flanagan is a good, loyal Canadian. Just like Julius Rosenberg was a good, loyal American.

            Happy now?

          • So, let's review:

            1. You've failed to demonstrate that the Movement "conservatism" Flanagan espouses is an organic component of the Canadian Tory tradition, thus failing to lend intelligibility to your reference to a conservative "resurgence";

            2. You've failed to contest meaningfully the patently accurate assertion that rejecting a nation's constitutional foundations is fundamentally an act of disloyalty and of anti-national contempt;

            3. You've failed to offer a shred of persuasive evidence to support your eccentric notion that Flanagan is motivated by a quest to establish "regional equality";

            4. You've failed to explain why Stephen Harper's only significant federal-provincial initiative was a flagrant violation of the values you claim Flanagan is fighting for.

  9. He doesn't, actually.

  10. Tom Flanagan is under no illusion that it is difficult to change the Canadian constitution. Consider his chapter on abortion in Game Theory in Canadian politics. I find a lot of the significance given to Flanagan kind of funny – as PM Harper has hardly been a good student of the Calgary school. Flanagan likes the attention, though.