The Professors and Prorogation - Macleans.ca
 

The Professors and Prorogation


 

Philosophy professor Daniel Weinstock* was on Power and Politics this evening, talking with Evan Solomon about Harper’s decision to prorogue Parliament. For the past couple of weeks Daniel has been working on a short article that he’s been circulating amongst Canadian political philosophers, constitutional lawyers, and poli sci profs, and which sort of went academically viral. It now has almost 200 signatures and more are coming in all the time.

The piece will appear in La Presse and the Ottawa Citizen tomorrow, along with a few other papers, but both the French and English versions of the piece, along with a list of signatories, can be found here. The list is pretty much a Who’s Who of the field, and it includes Ron Beiner, Sam Brennan, Joe Carens, Avigail Eisenberg, Simone Chambers, Mark Kingwell, Guy Laforest, Charles Taylor, Peter Russell, Reg Whitaker, Christine Tappolet, and (of course) dozens of others. Tom Flanagan is not on the list, but that’s no real surprise.

Daniel’s piece offers what I think is the subtlest, but in many ways most important, critique of Harper’s decision to prorogue, and it focuses on the question of executive self-restraint. There’s an old line about the American constitution being constructed on the principle that even if the elected officials are knaves, the system will function more or less normally. In contrast, the Canadian constitution leaves a great deal of leeway for official judgement and discretion. As UBC law prof Wes Pue once put it, you could summarize much of Canada’s constitution in two words: “Trust us”.

I think this element of trust, and the way it actually helps create a culture of self-restraint, is one of the least-understood aspects (at least by me) of the workings of our constitution. With great power comes great responsibility, and for the most part Canadian prime ministers have exercised that responsibility with a respectable amount of restraint. One example that comes to mind is the appointment of Supreme Court judges: It would be very easy for a prime minister to simply appoint highly ideological  judges, to stack the court in a way that would turn it into another partisan branch. But that would simply lead to a tit-for-tat scenario, where the next prime minister would stack it with *his* preferred partisans, until the court was completely politicized. (Pause here to listen to Andrew Coyne yell, “IT IS!!”) That is of course what has happened in the US, precisely because the system is built on the assumption that this is how presidents will behave.

But when one prime minister exercises restraint, it builds trust that the next leader can rely on for his own decision-making. At its best, the system runs well because complete discretion has a way of inculcating a sense of humility and respect for the institution. Sure, the rules are slack enough that you *could* run roughshod over the common good in the name of partisan advantage, but can doesn’t imply ought. Indeed, sometimes can implies ought not.

Here’s the core of Weinstock’s argument:

Think of the idea of a “loyal opposition” so central to our practice of responsible government. The role of the opposition parties is to hold the government to a high standard of justification. The opposition parties can neglect their responsibilities by being servile and pliant. They can also misuse their powers for narrowly partisan purposes.

We expect them to avoid both these pitfalls. We expect them to be vigorous. And, while an element of partisanship is inevitable in democratic systems of government, we expect that it will be moderated by public-spiritedness and a shared concern for the country’s common good. If it isn’t, then the opposition has failed to do its job.

What is true of opposition parties is true in spades of the office of the Prime Minister, given the very great powers that are concentrated there in our system of responsible government. We expect that the Prime Minister will do his part to ensure that this system works, and that MPs can fulfill the role we elect them to do. Part of what that means is to exercise self-restraint, and not use the powers that he possesses to shut down the mechanisms of accountability to Parliament and the Canadian people.

Harper has clearly not exercised such restraint. His best defense on this is that Jean Chretien did it first. But that is the logic of the schoolyard, not of Parliament, though that is increasingly a distinction without a difference.

_________

* Disclosure: Weinstock is a friend, and was my postdoctoral supervisor at the University of Montreal.


 

The Professors and Prorogation

  1. I don't recall; how did the righteous indignation of several dozen con law and poli-sci professors work out during the Coalition quandary, pray tell? Did it have any measurable effect whatsoever?

    • "I don't recall"

      I'm not surprised.

    • What is your opinion of the content of the message, AVR? or has politics truly been reduced to "messenger" status everywhere and at all times?

      • Pretty much. Denunciation by smug, elitist, probably-NDP-voting academics? That's the base-riling jackpot.

        • How many of us have you met, to be so sure that we're either smug or elitist? Just curious.

          I'd prefer to hear replies to the *substance* of the letter, if indeed you've read it.

          • If he'd met Current Fellows of Centre for Ethics, he might or might not find them smug and elitist (or he might them endearing and earthy), but, either way, he wouldn't find them to be non-partisan, which is the substance of the letter.

          • Because they are wrong and therefore clearly pushing an agenda.

            Or because they are right but only choosing now to address the issue?

          • Was this written in response to some other comment? Because If it's written in response to mine, it reads like a non sequitur.

          • another comment

          • Chris, the big problem with the left/lib university crowd of which you are part, is that you guys only come out with your signed letters when the Conservatives are in power. When Chretien was doing the same thing, proroguing Parliament, your concern for Parliamentary democracy apparently wasn't so alarmed that you had to band together to write letters.

            In other words, your selective outrage comes out loud and clear. It's duly noted.

            We may not have as many letters behind our names as you do, but we don't like to be taken for fools.

          • Uh-oh….looks like somebody's got a case of the Working Class Heroes…

          • It is almost comical, every time Harper does something or other, the left/lib university set do their telephone tree, or e-mail tree thing and place their names on the obligatory petition.

            The left/lib mindset that pervades Canadian universities is an unfortunate reality we have to put up with.

            Their own self-importance aside, the rest of us don't take it all too seriously. The blatant patisanship on display simply brings bad memories of university days past.

          • University days past? You elitist, you!

            I get to be proud to say I've never attended a University class in my life.

            (No, I don't feel all warm and fuzzy like I thought I was supposed to, nor am I suddenly feeling proud of not attending university, which is not to say I'm ashamed, either)

          • "We may not have as many letters behind our names as you do, but we don't like to be taken for fools."

            Care to establish who are "we"? I'm sensing some academic envy disguised as bigotry.

          • Hey look at that! Just like the Prime Minister, the going got a little rough for avr, and he quit and ran away!

        • Oh my god, AVR is a pseudonym for Sarah Palin! Who else would throw around words like "smug" and "elitist" every time they're confronted with someone full of book-learnin' and big city smarts?!?

          I had no idea you were so interested in Canadian politics, Sarah. Share your down-home wisdom with us!

        • "probably-NDP-voting"
          ————————-

          Ah they can be safely ignored than, just like the elitists and the Facebookers.

        • Because they are wrong and therefore clearly pushing an agenda.

          Or because they are right but only choosing now to address the issue?

    • Whether it did or didn't, does that have any bearing on whether it is right or not?

  2. One thing about our political culture: breaches of trust are not so easily forgotten nor forgiven. Once one of our public figures is tainted with even a minor breach of trust, for which a mystifying body of jurisprudence and complex legalistic processes don't exist to argue it out of existence or at least to the point where no one remembers who did what when, to whom and whether it was really wrong not, that public figure's current career is effectively over. It's a huge gamble.

    • the actions of Riverboat Steve sure make it hard to rationalize the talking point that it's the Liberals that are lusting after power

      • Aaaaah! but the CPC's motive's are Noble(tm)

  3. [cont]

    But until we have a real stalemate or crisis, nothing in our system or institutions will change. And clearly our current PM prefers to take advantage of its many anachronisms than to reform them.

    • Agreed. One thing it has done for me is give me a greater understanding of just how insidiously we can lose our culture (our own traditions). I have a better appreciation for the Quebec language laws now, for example.

  4. I would expect that this may be the one and only policy for the liberal party, as they have made so much stink about prorouqation that they should include it as policy.
    But other than the great wailing, knashing of teeth accompanied by the crocodile tears no mention is made of wether they would continue the tradition or outlaw it.
    As per usual for the lib outrage dujour, they only think they are handling this turd by the clean end.

    • Actually, Iggy came out today and said he would continue to use it, but would do a better job at doing it then Harper.

      In other words, prorogue if necessary, but not necessarily prorogue. One thing I'll say about Iggy: he holds few surprises.

      • In other words he would show restraint…missed the point of the article again J?

  5. "So if you want to fix partisanship, as Weinstock places such great emphasis on, please, please, please don't listen to these people (at least when it comes to politics)."

    That's right. You should instead listen to anonymous commentors (with unknown qualifications) making absurdly broad generalizations about the political affiliations of thousands of people he's never met.

    If I didn't know better, I'd think that Egg Head had been lapping up right-wing spin about "elites" and totally missed the point of the letter Potter discusses.

    • If you'd read what I wrote, you'd see that I repeatedly emphasized that I can personally vouch for the decency of a number of the signatories – of which there are far from thousands and, while I don't know them all, in fact I've probably met more than half. You're reading a bunch of things into my comment that aren't there: there's no "spin about 'elites'" for instance, just observations based on personal experience. And despite that, as I said several times over, many of these people are upstanding professionals and individuals. Nonetheless, for the reasons that I stated, I'm confident that your average parliamentarian, including Harper himself, has a much greater chance of bringing the country non-partisanship, or at least less partisanship, than the professoriate.

      • I didn't complain about you lambasting the academics as individuals, I complained that you were making absurd generalizations about the political affiliations of a huge, diverse group of people.

        Completely without evidence, I might add.

        "their whole life's work depends on ignoring the existence of any sort of opposition to their liberal orthodoxies."

        "professors live in one of the most ideologically cloistered, and therefore "nakedly partisan", environments imaginable"

        "it [the letter] is simply not coming from people who could (at least collectively) be trusted to ever put aside their own partisanship"

        "having a Conservative government in power for this many years can turn that nagging awareness into a sort of paranoia."

        These people you are describing (you've met HALF of the liberal arts/poli-sci academics in Canada?!?) exist mainly in your mind. And, like AVR above, you haven't addressed a word of the substance of the letter. Ad hominem attacks are particularly easy when one speaks of a class of people, rather than a single person.

  6. You are implying that the professors are part of the "chattering classes" and therefore are not with it and should be ignored. You are wrong and I suspect you have had very little discussion with the "chattering classes.". You also failed to address the rightness of the statement concerning Her Majesty's loyal opposition and what it's role should be.

    • "You are implying that the professors are part of the 'chattering classes…'"
      No, I'm not. Most of these people are never on TV or in newspapers, actually. (Some professors are more often, but few if any of them are signatories to the letter.)

      "…and therefore are not with it…"
      I don't know even know what that "it" would be"

      "…and should be ignored…."
      Depends on how you mean. Many of them are very smart, produce excellent academic work, etc (others, not so much, but that's inevitable with such a large group). But, as far as getting beyond partisanship goes, yes, I think that the professors will be singularly unhelpful.

      "You are wrong and I suspect you have had very little discussion with the 'chattering classes'".
      You're right, I don't have a lot of discussion with the chattering classes, i.e., journalists and pundits (some discussion, but not a lot). But as I said, these professors aren't part of that class.

      "You also failed to address the rightness of the statement concerning Her Majesty's loyal opposition and what it's role should be."
      I didn't address a lot of specific points from the letter which, as I said, is well written (i.e., reasonable) over-all. My main focus was on the issue of partisanship, since its given such great emphasis in the letter. And, on that point, I will continue to insist that politicians are more likely to get us beyond it than professors.

  7. Quoting Potter: "Harper has clearly not exercised such restraint. His best defense on this is that Jean Chretien did it first. But that is the logic of the schoolyard, not of Parliament…"

    Funny, jolyon, every time the topic of this prorogation comes up, you're the first one yelling "Liberals did it first!" I have yet to see you condemn Harper's abuse of prorogation.

  8. There used to be a time – so I have heard – when members from opposite sides of the aisle fraternized after all of the histrionics in the chamber – and paired off naturally – trusting one another – for votes.
    Even that isn't working any more. Heck – what Liberal – even an open minded one like Glen Pearson – would trust a John Baird or Pierre Poilievre to actually no-show if they had had a handshake agreement.
    that's the state of play in the hosue right now…

  9. Wow. That flies in the face of several conservative professors that taught me including one grumpy old Latin professor. If you are applying this logic then we should exclude business owners, oil executives, or any other groups of people stereotyped as being right wing. Are all oil executives conservative? Are all truckers blatantly right wing? Guess what professors do? Study information to derive knowledge. Some of these professors study humanities. Some humanities professors study politics (either present or in history). It is their job to be repositories of these fields. Yes, some have OH MY GAWD!, [fearful whisper] liberal viewpoints and others have Marxist, Fascist, socialist, or conservative viewpoints.

    In addition to your first glaringly obtuse statement there is the second problem with your academic bigotry. The idea that "THE IVORY TOWER" is a literal reality. Have you considered the fact that the majority of professors spend more time doing research than on lectures? Why? They are out in their respective fields of research which may TAKE THEM AWAY FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME into THE REAL WORLD [if you believe that universities are in some alternate dimension]. In my years of university, I studied in the various schools of anthropology [the study of MAN]. My professors were actively studying the world of MAN around them OUTSIDE of their academic walls. THAT MEANS THAT THEY INTERACTED WITH A BROAD RANGE OF PEOPLE. To exclude profs for the sake of their knowledge is a disturbing idea. Eerily familiar to many countries that I have been to that have put down academics via imprisonment or death.

    "The fact is: professors live in one of the most ideologically cloistered, and therefore "nakedly partisan", environments imaginable…"

    That is not a fact. That is your opinion.

  10. Was it not ever thus? did not our very first prime minister say "Not every Liberal is a horse thief, but all horse thieves are Liberals?" Did both sides not say vastly different things in different parts of the country, knowing that the Vancouver papers would not be read in Montreal for days on end, if ever?

  11. "These people you are describing (you've met HALF of the liberal arts/poli-sci academics in Canada?!?'"
    I was referring to the signatories of the letter; and the number is stated as just a rough estimate (could be more, could be less, I'd have to take some time to figure it out if matters that much).

    "I didn't complain about you lambasting the academics as individuals, I complained that you were making absurd generalizations about the political affiliations of a huge, diverse group of people"
    Ideologically speaking, academic are not a diverse group of people. That may be good, it may be bad, it may be indifferent, but it is a relevant fact in this context. Anyway, the connection between that point and academics as individuals is relevant, because my point was that while many of these people might be personally capable of non-partisanship (in fact, many of them certainly are), collectively, because of the way that the institutional culture and group dynamics of academia work, they are not.

    "And, like AVR above, you haven't addressed a word of the substance of the letter"
    To the contrary, I quoted extensively from the letter to highlight the essential importance to its argument of a single theme, which is also central to Potter's post, namely, partisanship. And I maintain that the culture of academia is peculiarly ill-suited to bringing Canada past partisanship in any measurable respect.

    • "Ideologically speaking, academic are not a diverse group of people"

      Another sweeping generalization. So aside from your credibility here as an anonymous poster, can you back that up at all? You're just saying the same thing over and over: 'academics are in the tank for the Liberal Party and should be ignored.'

      You quoted every sentence that contained the word "partisan" or "partisanship." That's not an analysis of the substance of the letter, it's constructing a hobby horse you can ride around. Any word on the actual substance of the letter? Do you really think these people have nothing of merit to say because they're academics?

      • "'Ideologically speaking, academic are not a diverse group of people'
        "Another sweeping generalization. So aside from your credibility here as an anonymous poster, can you back that up at all?"
        As a general matter, all you would need to confirm is this is having spent some time in academia. There are numerous academic studies that have been done on the subject (if you need me to tell you how to find them, you probably don't have access to them), as well as the simple documentation of campaign contributions, but beyond that, its just a pretty obvious fact.

        "You're just saying the same thing over and over: 'academics are in the tank for the Liberal Party and should be ignored.'"
        Not really. I think they should be ignored on just a couple of subjects.

        "You quoted every sentence that contained the word "partisan" or "partisanship."
        Yes, because that is the over-riding theme of the letter.

        " That's not an analysis of the substance of the letter"
        Yes it is, because it is the main theme of their argument. I didn't elaborate on this point, because its the same point that Potter makes in his post. So why repeat it any further? If you read his post, you should have got the point.

        "Any word on the actual substance of the letter?"
        Again, that is the substance of the letter. If you're confused about why, read Potter's post.

        "Do you really think these people have nothing of merit to say because they're academics?"
        No, not at all. I have great respect for the work that many of them have done (again, not all of them – but that's inevitable with such a large group). I have learned from several of them in the past, and continue to look forward to what some of them have to say on a great many subjects. More generally speaking, I think that academia is a noble profession, and I certainly wouldn't never dismiss someone altogether simply because they were an academic.

        • " I certainly wouldn't never dismiss someone altogether simply because they were an academic."

          And yet, that's *exactly* what you're doing. These are largely academics devoting their lives to history, poli-sci and law. You claim they should be ignored altogether *on this topic*, specifically because this is their specialization and field of study.

          Look, I'll make it easy for you. Here's the nut grafs from the letter. Tell me what's wrong with this:

          "The normal way in which a government secures a break in a parliamentary session is through adjournment. That permits the institutions of government to continue. Committees can do their work. Legislation that is in the system can be picked up and advanced once the adjournment is over. In prorogation, all the business of Parliament ceases. Any laws that are in process, with the exception of private members' bills, have to be introduced again, at the very first step of the process.

          The government's post-election legislative agenda is nowhere near having been fulfilled. The Prime Minister cannot, therefore, credibly invoke the purpose that the power to prorogue properly serves, which is to provide the government with space outside the cut and thrust of Parliamentary sessions in which to submit a new legislative agenda to Parliament."

          • "I certainly wouldn't never dismiss someone altogether simply because they were an academic.'
            And yet, that's *exactly* what you're doing. These are largely academics devoting their lives to history, poli-sci and law. You claim they should be ignored altogether *on this topic*, specifically because this is their specialization and field of study."

            This is a complete mischaracterization. It simply has nothing to do with what I wrote, in which I in fact said, among other things, that I've learned a great deal from the work of several of the signatories, and look forward to reading more of it in the future. The topic under discussion, however, is not their life's work, but the specific issue of partisanship in Ottawa, which virtually none of them work on professionally. So its certainly possible, and positively necessary, to distinguish between their professional work and their foray into quasi-punditry.

            As for the quotation which you've produced them the letter, its misleading as to the general argument of the letter, which focuses almost entirely on an alleged link between prorogation and partisanship – as can be seen from the numerous quotations that I produced earlier on, or by looking at Potter's post to which my comment was attached, and which explains in more detail why the charge of partisanship is the essential element of the argument of the letter. Thus, the quotation which you've produced is not reflective of the argument of the letter as a whole, and so to address it would be to avoid the main substance of its argument.

          • Me: "You claim they should be ignored altogether *on this topic*, specifically because this is their specialization and field of study."

            You: "This is a complete mischaracterization"

            You (earlier): "please, please, please don't listen to these people (at least when it comes to politics)."

            Keep dancing. You said what you said and no backpedalling is going to change it.

            Anything to say about the paragraphs I quoted? I know they're not about your little hobby horse, but they state the historical purpose of prorogation and why Harper's offside in this case. Setting aside your dismissal of this whole class of people, do you have anything to say about their key point?

            I'll wait right here. I'm sure you can see the point that this *abuse* of prorogation for partisan purposes is offside, and that your attacking the messengers is a sad attempt to change the topic (in your case, for partisan purposes).

          • "…that I've learned a great deal from the work of several of the signatories…"
            To which signatories are you referring to?

            Explain to us then who, as a collective whole, would be legit in your opinion as to make a collective comment on the prorogation issue? Anyone?

          • "Explain to us then who, as a collective whole, would be legit in your opinion as to make a collective comment on the prorogation issue? Anyone?"
            Anyone can give their opinion. I'm just saying that professors are uniquely unqualified to take on the role of criticizing anyone for their excessive "partisanship" – almost anyone would be more qualified for that purpose, including most people in Ottawa.

          • Shorter Egg Head: "Get a brain, Morans!"

          • Your arguement is one long attempt to defend the indefensible, essentialy attacking the person, not the idea, and certainly not the issue. Even if it were a universal fact that all of the signatories were biased to liberal ideas that wouldn't change the fact that they are in the main the authorities on the subject…who else are we to listen too? Can you produce a corresponding list of consrvative academics? Skepticism is healthy…but the kind of dismissive generaizations you espouse leads inevitably to the kind of cynical political calculus that led people like Harper's first COS to calculate that since academics are held in even lower regard than pols their views can safely be discounted… a pathetic concession to cynicism.

          • "Your arguement is one long attempt to defend the indefensible, essentialy attacking the person, not the idea, and certainly not the issue"
            This is patently false. What person have I attacked? I haven't named a single one, and I've repeatedly emphasized that I respect a great many of them as individuals. In other words, I've constantly stressed that I'm not criticizing the individuals.

            "Even if it were a universal fact that all of the signatories were biased to liberal ideas that wouldn't change the fact that they are in the main the authorities on the subject"
            Actually, they are not authorities on the subject in the main. They work in various areas of law and politics, but only a couple of them work specifically on parliamentary institutions. Some of them do work that is about as far from that subject area as you can get within the field as a whole. If you knew they're work, you'd be aware of this.

            By the way, I don't think that academics are held in lower regard than politicians, and I certainly don't discount their views on a great many things.

          • "What person have I attacked?"

            You've attacked every academic who dares to express an opinion on Canadian politics.

            That's a lot of people.

          • TJCook, loses another blog debate.

            No shame there TJ, Egg Head wears his name well. You gave it the old college try but this guy does short work of B.S.

          • Hush up, sweetie. Adults talking.

          • Nonsense. I've said that they're unable to contribute positively to a dampening of partisanship in Canadian politics. As for their more general opinions on Canadian politics, as I've stated probably a dozen times by now, they have much valuable to say.

        • As a general matter, all you would need to confirm is this is having spent some time in academia.

          If you're claim is that academics are progressive and therefore more likely to dislike the Conservatives than other parties, that would be true. Your claim, instead, seems to be that they are partisan. In my experience (undergrad, law school, grad school, various assistant positions), that is false. Many academics I've known would find party membership to be beneath them, probably in part because all of the parties are so routinely intellectually dishonest. Even the academics who I've known to be party members tend to be much less partisan than the average party member.

          I'm surprised that this hasn't been your experience as well.

          • I wasn't exactly claiming that they are partisan on a day-to-day basis. In that sense, many of them are not, although certainly many others still are – this will vary a bit from the culture of one department to another; more generally speaking, however, when a group of people are in such total agreement as to a given set of political positions, certain kinds of partisanship can't be avoided – not advocating for this or that party all of the time, but simply being quick to dismiss anything which falls outside the norm, which, in this case, would often include anything outside of the Liberal Party. That's why, in a case like this, the academics are entering into the public debate against a Conservative government; if it was a Liberal government, a few would be defending the government, but many more just simply wouldn't pay attention, and see it all as beneath them, as you suggest. But in a case like this they're more bothered because it involves something deeply out of the ordinary for them: conservatives, people whom they rarely meet, and don't want to have to, either. So I would say that on a day-to-day basis they may not be political; but their political 'activism' has to be explained at least partly in partisan terms.

          • I might have a bit more epistomological humility if I were basing such broad sweeping generalizations upon unsubstantiated assumptions. Perhaps my experience has been different than yours, but I did not experience a particularly high level of support or silence towards the previous Liberal government among academics with whom I've been acquainted. I don't recall academics refraining from criticizing the Liberals when these academics perceived them as not living up to our democratic ideals, such as during the apec affair.

            This all is a bit of a side show anyway. Although you're making use of the rhetorical power of ad hominem arguments, I'm sure you're aware of their inherent limitations.

          • "I don't recall academics refraining from criticizing the Liberals when these academics perceived them as not living up to our democratic ideals…"

            Do you have any instance of an academic criticize the Liberals' prorogation from the 1990s?

            As for "particularly high levels of support or silence towards the previous Liberal governments", certainly in one of the departments in which I've worked, there were at least four members who had worked for the Liberal, and advocated specifically Liberal policies in the media.

          • Do you have any instance of an academic criticize the Liberals' prorogation from the 1990s?

            Of course not. They aren't equivalent.

            As for "particularly high levels of support or silence towards the previous Liberal governments", certainly in one of the departments in which I've worked, there were at least four members who had worked for the Liberal, and advocated specifically Liberal policies in the media.

            You should know better than to extrapolate from that personal experience to claim that we therefore shouldn't listen to academics on issues of partisanship. As I said, my experience has been different, so I don't find your report of your experience to be compelling.

            Listen, if you're being truthful, it sounds like you're a conservative academic who is tired of being in the political minority at your university and is kind of bitter about it. If that is the case, it is understandable. You're in an industry where the coin of the realm, at least in theory, is intellectual rigour, and you probably feel as if your political beliefs are seen by your colleagues as lacking this (correct me if this is not the case). Even if this is the case, you shouldn't let this cause you to make elementary logical mistakes, like ad hominem attacks and extrapolating sweeping conclusions based upon small amounts of personal experience.

  12. "Wow. That flies in the face of several conservative professors that taught me including one grumpy old Latin professor."
    I certainly didn't deny that conservative professors exist.

    "If you are applying this logic then we should exclude business owners, oil executives, or any other groups of people stereotyped as being right wing."
    But its not simply a stereotype, its an institutional culture. In any case, oil executives are not writing self-important letters which focus around the theme of criticizing the government for its "partisanship".

    "The idea that "THE IVORY TOWER" is a literal reality."
    This sentence doesn't quite make sense, but anyway, I never used the phrase "ivory tower".

    "Have you considered the fact that the majority of professors spend more time doing research than on lectures?"
    Of course. I'm very familiar with that.

    " Why? They are out in their respective fields of research which may TAKE THEM AWAY FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME into THE REAL WORLD…"
    Well, actually, that's true of very few of the signatories to this letter, since they don't do that sort of research. Most of them just read books and articles, and so don't have to leave their offices. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    "…[if you believe that universities are in some alternate dimension]"
    I don't believe that.

    • Egg head, that was a very well argued post.

  13. Where was this crew when Chrétien was proroguing Parliament whilst in office? Asleep on campus I gather. Chrétien and the Liberals represents the forces of good for these guys.

    The left/lib university crowd lacks credibility when they only complain about one side. It seriously detracts from their message. They just become one more left/lib interest group. We take their selective outrage for what it is.

    (Yawn….)

    • I'd like to know who your "we" is. If you are referring to sanctimonious keyboard jockeys, then do all a favour and keep your pants off and hands in Cheetos bag beside the screen.

    • I for one and many others I know who are angered by this end-run round Parliament were pretty p.o.'d back in the day when Chretien shut down the Somalia inquiry, when he foolishly/wastefully cancelled the helicopter contract and when the RCMP pepper sprayed anti-APEC protesters, to name a few issues that quickly come to mind. The outrage toward Harper over torture-gate and proroguing is not "selective," it is not because the Prime Minister leads the big-C "Conservative" party, and I'm frankly finding Iggy and Layton to be lacklustre in their response to this. Most of us are pissed with the government because we are small-d democrats, and not members of your bogey-man "interest groups."

      • Exactly!

    • Yawn!

    • Ah yes, another keyboard hack who thinks that he is the representative of "we".

      Who is your "we"?

      [Yawn…]

    • So that's your best defense? "Moooommm.. he did it first!"

      Yeah.. pretty much proving the point. Harper needs someone to give him a good spanking.

  14. Very well said. These guys bit their tongue as you say, when the Libs were doing the same thing while in power.

    Do they think people don't notice these things. You'd think they live in ivory towers or something. Wait, they actually do live in ivory towers come to think of it.

    • Awww, innit cute! You actually think that professors live in fairy tale towers! Do you think people don't notice your bigotry?

  15. Thank you – please, everyone, let's not sanctify the Reformers just because they had (and certainly talked loudly about) some ideals. At the end of the day, a politician is a politician.

  16. A rational reply describing why the reforms were rejected could be enlightening- but I see we'll have to settle for another tantrum.

    • My friend: I was mocking you.

      That's not a tantrum. Just like all the way through high school – those weren't tantrums, they were making fun of you.

      • Thanks for clearing that up. I see now that mocking is tactically much more effective than stomping your feet or holding your breath. I haven't had the benefit of the Liberal boot camp training you see.

        • Are you any relation to ol' Senator Joseph R. McCarthy? Oh no, there are socialist boot camps everywhere!

        • Ah yes, the Senator Joseph McCarthy boot camp was clearly more effective.

      • Oh man. Touche.

      • "I was mocking you."
        and doing a damn fine job (with easy material mind)

    • Which reforms were rejected?

      Didn't Harper refuse to appoint an "appointments commissioner" when the guy he wanted was rejected?

      Isn't Harper the one who is trying to curtail Kevin Page?

      Didn't the Accountability Act pass?

      What has been rejected? Please be specific.

      • When creating the appointments commissioner position, the opposition could have accepted the government's nominee- they were looking for people they knew and could trust at the time- instead they fought the nomination and expected to be rewarded with some other nominee. To the Tories this was a rejection of the reform because the opposition was willing to politicize it from the outset.

        Harper wanted a budget officer that reported to and supported MP's to make them more relevant and independent in financial matters. Instead he's had an officer who sees his obligation to report directly to the public making MPs observers- once again- to the process. It is unfathomable why opposition MPs would reject this empowerment- save for the political point scoring they seem to prefer. (The Library committee seems to be the only group that understands what this is all about)

        The Accountability Act passed because the Liberals needed it more than the Tories. It was part of their rehabilitation.
        Senate reform has been rejected from the moment it was introduced. Instead of working with all the parties the Liberals have used their provincial cousins to storm the process as well as manning the barricades in the Senate.
        This parliament in its current form is not prepared for reform so it will have to be introduced when the circumstances have changed.

        • Your characterization of Senate reform leads one to doubt the veracity of your online persona.

          • I'm for reform no matter where it comes from. I liked the Liberal campaign financing reforms (except for government payments to political parties). Senate reform provides an opportunity for bipartisan co-operation. The public broadly wants reform but the opposition Liberals – the only other party that has credibility on the issue of reform- works actively against it rather than offering alternatives or even support for reform principles. Their party interest seems to trump reform of any kind.

          • The public may broadly want reform, but that doesn't change the fact that you cannot reform the Senate without opening up the Constitution – and that would require negotiations with the provinces. Harper's feeble attempts at Senate reform lead me to believe that he isn't actually all that interested in finding a solution to an issue that riles his base so.

          • Mandatory retirement was implemented in the Canadian senate without Constitutional change. Why can't term limits. A Supreme court challenge from one of the provinces will resolve the issue- just like the proposed National Securities Commission. The first steps to an elected senate in the US were made by having the states elect senators. This predated their Constitutional change. Whether one agrees with the specific reforms or not there could be a bi-partisan spirit of reform with competing ideas- instead we have political battle lines.

          • Well I would suggest to you that first there has to be a desire for Senate Reform–at all–before you could have a bi-partisan spirit of reform. Intead, you hold up the U.S.example like its the road to be emulated, when I use it as a reminder of a slippery slope.

            The very beauty of our method of government is that things can evolve without messing about with the framework. Such as mandatory retirement in the Senate–voted in by the Senators. I'm not in favour of term limits for Senators since I think there is a sweet spot for a Senator–when he's been there long enough to have both experience and knowledge from research which helps guide him in the next thing, and before the fatigue of age (if I can put it that way–that sort of objection to bothering to learn new things, the set in your ways and no intention of budging kind of thing). Both lengths of time are most likely different per individual.and I'm not at all sure eight years even gets us in to that sweet spot usually, nevermind get the full advantage of it.

          • I hold up the US as a strategy for reform not on its substance.

          • This, it must be remembered, from a guy who takes *someone's* word that Stephen Harper is just waiting for a majority before fulfilling all the promises he's broken over the years. I say someone, because I don't think even Stephen Harper has come out and said such drivel, at least to anyone but his base. But how could nonpartisan know about it then, since he/she's "nonpartisan"?

            I'm for reform when it tweaks our system of parliamentary democracy so that it works as it ought to. Not reform that makes us a hybrid republican parliament because it seems to me we are looking at combining the worst of the two systems rather than the best. I would prefer we Canadians are educated on the system we've got, rather than drastically change it without such knowledge. Or to put it into a soundbyte, "you don't know what you've got till its gone"

          • That's a very conservative view of our government institutions Jenn. It sounds a lot like the newspaper publishers who believe that by tweaking their product electronic media won't continue to erode their subscriber bases. If only Canadians were educated to understand how important paper and ink are to the health of our democracy.
            I wouldn't argue for radical change but a vigorous ongoing pro-reform debate about our institutions is what will maintain our democracy into the future.

          • Yeah well, I come by it honestly. I have had reason to research very specific things in our history and every time I do, I am more impressed by our Constitution and the brilliance of its framers. It is a far better system than the republican one we know so much about IMO, and all it takes to run perfectly as it is is some honest parliamentarians. Sadly, that is our problem and I do understand that instead of rising to the challenge, we have failed to find and elect such statesmen. Yes, that aspect needs to be tweaked.

            But don't throw out the whole thing! Don't behave as if the specific Senate reform touted by Albertans is something desired by every Canadian. (Actually, this is kind of hilarious–what is Alberta's big complaint about Ontario? How long did it take for the Centre of the Universe to shift?)

          • Status quo versus reform sounds like an excellent place to start the discussion- no preconditions. Are the current institutional designs meeting the changing demographics, regional interests and Canada's role globally? Even Quebec would be a willing participant in the debate. If we wait for the magic elixer of "some honest parliamentarians" we may be watching better governance disappear in the rear view mirror.
            We need the sound and fury of the debate before we'll see even the tiny evolutionary changes you expect.

        • I beg to differ.

          This government established the process by which an appointment's commissioner was chosen. They should honour that process instead of ignoring it.

          This government established the parameters of the Budget Officer as well. I think the real problem is Harper does not like what he is hearing from Page. I really do not see how Page's actions amount to a rejection by the opposition. Could you be more specific?

          The Accountability Act passed. It was not rejected.

          There was a reason Harper's Senate Reform measures have not passed the Senate. He has been asked by the Senate to refer the bill to the Supreme Court. That is what he should do. The Liberals have said they do not oppose Senate Reform. What they oppose is the process Harper has adopted. Perhaps if Harper were more open and honest with Canadians about what his ideal Senate would look like, things would be easier for him.

  17. Bingo

  18. My god – you're actually claiming purity and absolute freedom from partisanship. Pretty rich from a guy who lambastes academics for partisan groupthink – you must be the one living human who speaks from a perfectly, clinically non-partisan point of view.

    By the way – please spare us your sanctimonious "respect" for these individual people when you've repeatedly libeled them as a group.

    In short, you're the Pope of Canadian politics, with a direct line to the God of pure Canadianess. You're either completely consumed with your own bullsh*t, or completely ignorant of the implications of the things you say.

    Either way, you're just about the last person on earth that anyone should listen to for advice on actual politics in the actual world.

    So – setting aside your absurd opinion of Canadian citizens who specialize in the study of history, law and Canadian politics, what do you think of Harper's novel application of prorogation? Or would the expression of such an opinion spoil your holy purity of thought and motivation?

    • "My god – you're actually claiming purity and absolute freedom from partisanship."
      No I'm not. I'm just saying that my interest in the subject has nothing to do with whether its good or bad for Harper or Ignatieff. That's an issue apart from the question of academics in public affairs.

      "By the way – please spare us your sanctimonious "respect" for these individual people when you've repeatedly libeled them as a group."
      I would suggest that if you think its sanctimony then you don't take the work very seriously.

      "what do you think of Harper's novel application of prorogation?"
      Well, its hardly a novel application, as others have pointed out, it was presaged by the Liberals in the 1990s, so in the way the question as you've phrased it is meaningless. However, if you'd asked "what do you think of Harper's application of prorogation?", I would have answered: I thought it was unwise, but I also think its less interesting than the question of the role of academics in public life, which is why I've only commented on the latter, and not the former.

      • "I'm just saying that my interest in the subject has nothing to do with whether its good or bad for Harper or Ignatieff"

        Actually, what you're saying is that Canadians who devote their lives to the study of history, law and politics should be ignored on the topics of history, law and politics because you know they're hopeless Liberal partisans.

        With no supporting evidence.

        Keep moving the goalposts. You have *nothing* but your own assertions.

        • "Actually, what you're saying is that Canadians who devote their lives to the study of history, law and politics should be ignored on the topics of history, law and politics because you know they're hopeless Liberal partisans."

          There is simply no evidence of me saying anything like this whatsoever, and many examples of me specifically denying it. On the specific subjects addressed in the letter they certainly should be ignored, yes; but you've shown yourself to be incapable of understanding the simple argument put forward in the letter, and elaborated on in Potter's post, so its understandable that this distinction is impossible for you to grasp.

  19. Well, today's BNN comments by the PM make it clear that he does not actually believe Parliament serves a useful function whether it's prorogued or not, so there's no longer any need to be polite.

  20. No one was "pissed" as you say, when the Liberals were proroguing under Chretien, at least not the university set, or if they were, they were mum about it.

    • That is a very generalized comment. Are you sure that every single prof was "mum"? Have any proof? Just look up any comments from political science professors.

      • They were mum indeed. You've not been to a Canadian university I take it. They're invariably bastions of left/lib poltiically correct thought. The clever see through it. The dolts become brainwashed.

        • "You've not been to a Canadian university I take it."

          Neither have you. You haven't even finished grade 8 yet.

  21. This is meaningless.

  22. I don't have to ask them if they "actually leave their offices"; having worked down the hall from several, I'm quite familiar with how they conduct research. So, its not "a blatant opinion"; its an empirical observation.

    I don't take the fact that professors live in what I described as "one of the most ideologically cloistered, and therefore "nakedly partisan", environments imaginable" to be the same as saying they are "in some alternate dimension": the latter implies a degree of unreality, but the former does not.

    • "I don't take the fact that professors live in what I described as "one of the most ideologically cloistered, and therefore "nakedly partisan", environments imaginable" to be the same as saying they are "in some alternate dimension"…:

      Also: you did not say that they were *actually* naked, only figuratively, therefore I'm free to dismiss everything you said. Take that, Liberal Academic Shill!

  23. I took a look at the prof letter and the words "Faculty of Law" and "Faculty of Philosophy" keep popping up. Oh right, we should ignore those who actually study something within the realm of politics and put our faith in lobbyists. They definitely know what's right and are the voice of Canadians.

    • This is a non sequitur. And with that, I bid you all good night.

      • " I bid you all good night."

        Also: "Leave me alone, you guys!"

        Sleep well.

        • I admire your doggedness, clear headedness, unwillingness to be BS-ed and sense of fair play. Don't reply to this comment as it would undoubtedly prolong your previous discussion, but I am glad that someone, namely you, took the time to demonstrate how silly EH's position was/is. Most, including me, wouldn't have had the energy, since they (& I) would have suspected from the beginning that their correspondent was either extremely obtuse or of bad faith (or both, as in this case, I suspect), and that the discussion would prove a disheartening dead end, and thus, a waste of time. I suppose it's a small example of a recurring anti-democratic tactic, drowning honest discussion with repetitive nonsense, engendering a sense of hopelessness about public discourse, discrediting politics, hence suppressing public involvement in politics, which can only profit the most dogmatic zealots, whose influence grows as others disengage. It is therefore all the more important to do what you did, don't let them get away with BS, and follow your quarry to the ground. But ye gods, it's exhausting, as they mean it to be. Good on you, mate.

          • Seconded.

        • For someone who's repeatedly accused me of using ad hominem arguments, you clearly lack the sense of self-consciousness or simple consistency to be able to avoid constantly addressing me in an ad hominem manner. This isn't evident to you no doubt because you're blinded by your partisanship, and don't have the academic training to be able to recognize logical consistency, but it remains sufficient to largely discredit any claim you have to be arguing in good faith.

  24. Nice piece, my own cameo aside. It boils down to this: to keep government accountable, you either need the checks and balances of the American system, or you need the "decent chaps" conventions of the British system. For some time we have had neither. As Peter Russell (I think) has put it, we have a presidential system, without the Congress.

    Much of the commentary defending the Prime Minister's choice amounts to: what did you expect him to do? Like the scorpion in the folk tale, it's "in his hature." He could, so he did. As Weinstock et al remind us, there once was an expectation that politicians would not do absolutely everything that was in their power to win, just because they could; that they would be constrained by such quaint, old-fashioned notions as "fair play." I realize how embarrassingly naive this sounds today. But the system can't function properly without it.

    This prime minister is hardly the first to cross the line. Indeed we've been on the wrong side of the line for some time. But perhaps this misstep, and the peculiar outrage it has aroused, can help us begin to scramble back onside.

    • "As Peter Russell (I think) has put it, we have a presidential system, without the Congress."

      That gels together I loose thought I've been having over the last several years. Our politicians and we as voters act as though we had an American style political system – not just checks and balances, but acting as though direct election of the PM/government, the power of the PMO over elected reps, etc. – but our institutions were designed differently – majority of elected MPs forming government, confidence of the House, cabinet formed from directly accountable elected MPs (Harper broke down that rule/tradition as well), the role of the senate (even if it was elected) even the very notion of responsible government.

      Maybe it is the heavy influence and proximity of American news, entertainment, mythmaking, history. Maybe it is a weakness in our own education system – my mom sure knew how Parliament actually worked and how it was meant to work. Maybe it's just the TV culture and not enough Canada on TV. Likely all of that.

    • Hi Andrew,

      I wonder, could one see the recent actions of the Conservatives in Parliament as the logical conclusion to the anti-institutional rhetoric that defined the Reform/Canadian Alliance? They never seemed to care very much for the trappings of Parliament anyways, would you agree? In your opinion was that perception warranted and if so, do you think it's still prevalent?

      Thanks

      • Quite the contrary. Preston Manning was one of the finest parliamentarians of our age, and deeply respectful of its traditions. His speeches in Parliament were events. Reform existed to bring Parliament back to life — to give more power to MPs, to make committees less subservient to the PM, and so on. They weren't against the institution: they were against what the institution had become.

        • Thanks, I knew you'd be able to clear this up for me. Maybe the Reform Party get conflated with the Progressives in this regard.

          cheers

        • Which leads to the fascinating question of where all the reformers have gone?

          • Tucked away in a corner of Mr. Coyne's imagination … from which Mr. Manning is
            permitted to bleat from time to time.

          • Someone cue our resident poet, he hasn't given us anything in a long time…

            Where have all the Reformers gone
            Long time passing
            Where have all the Reformers gone
            Long time ago…

          • Where have all the Reformers gone
            Gone to Harper, everyone
            When will we ever learn?
            When will we ever learn?

            Just filling in till Jack gets here.

          • He has been feeling profoundly dispirited by this whole business, and indeed by most everything political for some time now. Hippocrene runs low in consequence, but —

            "Where have all the flowers gone" is actually harder to parody than it looks, because the whole thing turns on cleverly using the last image in the new stanza and frankly I don't know what happened to the Reformers! Ah well (tune below) —

            Where have all the Reformers gone?
            Long time passing
            Where have all the Reformers gone?
            Long time ago
            Where have all the Reformers gone?
            Steve seduced them every one
            When will we ever learn?
            When will we ever learn?

            Where has Stephen Harper gone?
            Long time passing
            Where has Stephen Harper gone?
            Long time ago
            Where has Stephen Harper gone?
            Turfed our MP's every one
            When will we ever learn?
            When will we ever learn?

            Where have all the MP's gone?
            Long time passing
            Where have all the MP's gone?
            Long time ago
            Where have all the MP's gone?
            Clutching pensions every one
            When will we ever learn?
            When will we ever learn?

            Where have all the pensions gone?
            Long time passing
            Where have all the pensions gone?
            Long time ago
            Where have all the pensions gone?
            Lost on Bay Street every one
            When will we ever learn?
            When will we ever learn?

            Where have Bay Street brokers gone?
            Long time passing
            Where have Bay Street brokers gone?
            Long time ago
            Where have Bay Street brokers gone?
            Joined the Reform Party every one
            When will we ever learn?
            When will we ever learn?

            [youtube 1y2SIIeqy34 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y2SIIeqy34 youtube]

          • Bravo Jack :^)

          • second.

          • *doffs cap* well done, as always sir.

        • So what has happened to those Reform ideals?

          Are they totally lost amongst the current crop of CPC MPs and party members, or are they hidden just below the surface?

          Ate those ideals waiting for a majority or is the CPC waiting to get more important legislation through before they move on to improving the way our government / Parliament operates?

          The evidence that I have seen suggests that those ideals were jettisoned somewhere along the path from pure Reform Party to CPC, and that's a shame.

          • In the first months of the Harper government he offered parliamentarians a parliamentary review of Supreme Court nominations, an appointments commissioner, limited senate reform, parliamentary review of troop deployments, a parliamentary budget officer and an accountability act – all Reform positions. In reply he was offered the Cadman tantrum and the Mulroney tantrum- with the assistance of our esteemed commenter. Harper won't trot out more reform policies until there are adults in the opposition.

          • That's right – Harper hasn't failed Parliament, Parliament has failed Harper!

            When, oh when, will we have a political system worthy of Stephen Harper?!?

          • Hopefully he won't give up that easily.

          • Harper's miscalculation was that early on the Liberals believed they were a month away from returning to power and that with a rat-pack, take no prisoners approach to opposition politics they would be back in the saddle. The Accountability Act was supported by Liberals only to get rid of the stink.
            The countermove for the Tories was not parliamentary reform but attack advertising.
            Harper won't propose parliamentary reforms until he has a majority- so we should learn to live with what we've got.

          • Very small point, but I think Harper and perhaps some of his Harris Gov associates managed to convince the Reformers to lay low until they got a majority, then they would rise up and demand all their principles be enacted.
            As for Chretien, no comparison. He did not have the ability or conviction to actually damage our Parliamentary system and everybody knows it (knew) it. Harper on the other hand is more 'just watch me' kind of guy. The evidence is already out there, he is capable of anything when it comes to destroying opponents, and with a majority would turn his attention to institutions.

          • Very small point, but I think Harper and perhaps some of his Harris Gov associates managed to convince the Reformers to lay low until they got a majority, then they would rise up and demand all their principles be enacted.
            As for Chretien, no comparison. He did not have the ability or conviction to actually damage our Parliamentary system and everybody knows it (knew) it. Harper on the other hand is more 'just watch me' kind of guy. The evidence is already out there, he is capable of anything when it comes to destroying opponents, and with a majority would turn his attention to institutions.

        • I'm fond of Preston Manning too, but it's worth recalling that after the 1995 referendum he wrote to the Governor General asking him to depose the Prime Minister because in Manning's opinion, Chrétien had shown poor judgment since the referendum. That letter could have been viewed as a frontal assault on just about every institution one cares to name, but instead it was simply dismissed (including, if I recall correctly, eventually by its author) as a commentary on Manning's judgment more than Chrétien's.

          • Manning strongly opposed Chretien when he prorogued Parliament in 1999 and the media, including Scott Feschuk, called him a whiner.

          • What were the contentious issues that surrounded Chretien's prorogation?

        • You mentioned above "the peculiar outrage [this prorogation] has aroused". The liberal eastern establishment and the various left/lib interest groups are indeed peculiarly and selectively outraged. That's what makes this so entertaining. When the Liberals do it, it's business as usual, what's the big deal, but when the Conservatives do the same thing, the liberal eastern Canadian establishment and left/lib set run around like it was armaggedon.

          Manning was, as you say, a fine Parliamentarian. When he convened the parliamentary press gallery at Parliament to protest Chrétien proroguing Parliament in 1999, the PPG, including our own Scott Feschuk, called him a whiner. It's all set down in one of Aaron's posts of a few days ago. Peculiar indeed. No wonder Harper continues to show such contempt for the PPG. Their blatant partisanship leaves him no choice.

          • "The liberal eastern establishment and left/lib interest groups…" You never cease to amuse with the sweeping assumptions and generalizations. So there's no one west of say, Sudbury, and no one who voted Conservative that's pissed off about this? Are your stats accurate to within 3 percentage points 19 times out of 20 Jarrid?

          • "liberal eastern establishment"

            Are east and west still in the same places or has someone been messing with the earth's polarity again?

    • We've been on the wrong side of the line since 1925…
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King-Byng_Affair
      "To avoid the inevitable vote on the Fansher amendment which would force his government's resignation or bring his administration into disrepute, King went to Byng on 26 June 1926 seeking a dissolution of Parliament."

      • Thus King wasn't seeking to govern in spite of (unofficially) not having the support of Parliament: he was going to an election.

  25. "One example that comes to mind is the appointment of Supreme Court judges: It would be very easy for a prime minister to simply appoint highly ideological judges, to stack the court in a way that would turn it into another partisan branch. But that would simply lead to a tit-for-tat scenario, where the next prime minister would stack it with *his* preferred partisans, until the court was completely politicized."

    Potter I agree with both you and Weinstock about pols needing to show more restraint so I am going to nitpick instead. I am convinced that pols forgot about the 'culture of self-restraint' once baby boomers started to rise in influence and power during the 1980s. Boomers wanted to remake human behaviour and this is one of the side effects.

    1) It might be logic of schoolyard but it is also much more than that. How about reward bad behaviour and you get more of it – Chretien and Martin abused Parliament for more than decade and did pretty well for themselves. Why would Harper not try the same? Why hold himself to higher standard than anyone else?

    2) The belief that Supreme Court is not highly partisan irritates me as much as it does Coyne. I remember Coyne, on his previous website, had some shocking numbers on how many judges were liberal donors. Supreme Court is highly partisan, just as much as the US court, but Canadian msm like to pretend our judges can leave their beliefs and experiences behind and be entirely neutral. Which is nonsense on stilts.

    • Most judges of all stripes tend to have deep political connections – more Liberal because they have been the more successful party over the last decades. But its extraordinary and impressive how much they've delivered non-partisan, even-handed judgments, esp. at the Supreme Court level.

      • Good point – perhaps, rather than hinting vaguely and ominously at bias, jolyon could point to specific examples of bias in the Supreme Court's history.

        I'll wait right here.

    • ' The belief that Supreme Court is not highly partisan irritates me as much as it does Coyne"

      And this line of reasonong irritates me…the only important question here is whether you, or Coyne, or anyone else can provide evidence of qualified conservative candidates being routinely overlooked. As for the liberal affiliations shocking…shocking i say. It's been noted before that our elites have very few real affiliations other than to self interest…if we had con govt's for long enough, and if donations were permitted i believe you'd see the very same people donating accordingly. It's exactly how the corps used to operate…play both sides of the field at once…place your bets on all the horses. Elites act in the best interests of elites.

      • How about this clear sign of bias: something like 96% of criminal law cases that come before the SCC are found in favour of the Crown. How do ya like them apples?

        • Yeah, but SSM! ;)

    • I believe that the Supreme Court system/structure and the rulings it makes are on the side of Big Business and Big Money morese than for the needs and desires of average Canadians. As both the Liberals and the Conservatives get whopping amounts of support from the monied class of people, they are but 2 heads of the same monster. The Monsanto ruling makes it abundantly clear that the rule of Law is stacked in favour of Big Money. The average schmuck ain't gotta chance though 95 % of the population is on his side.

      Citation:Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Schmeiser, 2004 SCC 34, [2004] 1 S.C.R. 902
      Date:May 21, 2004
      Docket: 29437

      http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2004/2004scc34/2

      • Good specific example.

        With the exception of labour law or taxes, corporations are (at least within the canadian context) apolitical. I doubt there is any real preference for any party outside these issues.

        In general an individual or corporation of sufficient means is going to access better legal argument to bolster thier position and has the resources to follow through. This is not bias on the part of the SCC.

        I personally believe that a corporations "rights" wrt political influence should be controlled.

    • Why hold himself to a higher standard than anyone else?"

      Uh.. because that was his major promise to us?

    • "Why would Harper not try the same? Why hold himself to higher standard than anyone else?"

      Uhh, because that is what he specifically campaigned on?

      • Jenn_ and Thwim I know what you are saying but 1) I don't believe Harper made any promises about proroguing Parliament 2) Con supporters are foolish if they believed Harper/Cons would be all that different from Libs.

        Harper did introduce some laws that improve accountability but I am still far from satisfied about how our system works.

        • I know you were nitpicking instead of blindly defending, so perhaps this isn't fair to you specifically Joylon, but you seem to be saying that, since Harper (supposedly) introduced some laws that improve accountability, it is okay to blatantly attack all the previous conventions designed to protect accountability. And when your new laws include the Fixed Election Date law which we've already seen how valuable that was, along with a new officer of Parliament that turns out not to be an independent officer and also is starved of fudning, and . . . uh, what, exactly?

      • I assume you are talking about the 'Demand Better' slogan…….which at least some of us translated to be "We Will Do Better'.

        Hopefully voters don't get fooled again.

  26. Indeed, and it's debatable whether King or Byng was right. I'm just saying that proroguing to avoid a vote of non-confidence (as in December 2008) or to avoid harsh criticism that might lead to a vote of non-confidence (as in December 2009) is a whole other level of irresponsibility compared to King.

  27. Poisoning the well. Bad argument, and shows either a lack of honest thought, or a lack of thought completely.

    Whether what you assert about the professorship is true or not, it has absolutely no bearing on the merits of the argument. And suggesting that people should discard any arguments about politics from these people is not only stupid, but a dick move to boot.

  28. Canada, philosophically created by United Empire Loyalists, tug their forelocks and obey authority in return for favours from the mighty on high. Hence a nation created by promises of payoffs from a central authority by way of tariffs, railroads, subsidized industry and more recently welfare of all kinds. Canadians would give up any freedom for a guaranteed pension or other payoff. They prove it at every election. They are Americans with no balls.

  29. I do not remember a PM that has been so disliked and distrusted like Harper, especially one who could not get a majority. I figure, during all his travels recently, Harper admired the totalitarian Chinese system. In Copenhagen, he spent time with the Danish Royalty—must have envied their lives. Yet at the conference, Harper was treated like "little potatoes"—insignificant—must have gotten his nose out of joint. Harper has been afraid of presenting his "real agenda" to the voters of Canada—obviously afraid of defeat. Harper wants to rule like the Chinese Gov't and get the respect of beloved Royalty. He obviously despises any opposition and especially anything said in the media that makes him look like a fool—his manner is that of a despotic monarch—a shifty shyster. Harper should quit politics. Harper figures he owns Canada and wants everybody to play in the sandbox ONLY by his rules—however sinister.

  30. Act 1 – Mr. University Professor, can we get your reaction about the recent proroguing of Parliament by the Chrétien government?

    Mr. University Professor: Parliament has prorogued over 100 times since confederation, it's a normal and routine exercise of parliamentary procedure.

    Nothing to get too excited about, then?

    Mr. Univesity Professor: Not at all, the universerve is unfolding as it should.

    So you won't be joining Preston Manning protesting the proroguing of Parliament at a press conference later today?

    Mr. University Professor: I have more important things to do. He's making a bit of a mountain out of a molehill.

  31. Act II

    (… a few years later…)

    Mr. Univesity Professor, can we get your reaction on the recent proroguing of Parliament by the Harper government?

    Mr. University Professor: Did you say what I think you said.! Harper's prorogued Parliament until March 1st?!!? And the GG's agreed to this? I'm shocked and outraged! I'm cancelling my classes this morning and will immediately start working on a letter setting out why this is so wrong and why our democracy hangs in the balance. I'll get it signed by like-minded colleagues who will be similarly vexed, I'm sure.

    Moral of the story: the Canadian university set is as politicized an environment as they come. Look eleswhere if you are looking to find objective non-partisan commentary.

    • Some things haven't changed since your one year in school have they Jarrid, you still aren't completing your readings before spouting off…

      (read the damn letter)

    • This is ad hominem fallacy. Attack the argument, not the man.

      Flanagan is a professor and a sometimes stooge for Harper. I don’t think you can make assumptions about the political bent of professors, much less dismiss their well-considered arguments on that alone.

      • The overwhelming majority of university profs are left/lib.

        Get your head out of the sand Andrew, that's not in the least bit a controversial statement.

  32. As of now, Harper can ask the GG to dissolve whenever he pleases. Dissolution does not mean the avoidance of harsh criticism: prorogation means no QP and thus no media soundbites or headlines, but dissolution means an election campaign, i.e. tons of opportunity to criticise the Government.

  33. You clearly have a misunderstanding about what an ad hominem argument is. It is, roughly, as follows:

    Group X makes a Claim (Y)
    There is something objectionable about Group X
    Therefore, Y is false

    Your arguments against the claims of the professors takes this form.

    Professors claim that Harper needs to put democracy ahead of partisanship
    Professors are partisan
    Professors' claims are false

    My statement was not an ad hominem attack against you (see explanation above); it was just an attempt to understand and empathize with how someone claiming to be an academic could make such elementary mistakes in logic. Your argument isn't weak because there is something objectionable about you. Your argument is weak because it relies upon ad hominem attacks and sweeping generalizations extrapolated from your idiosyncratic alleged personal experience.

    If you are indeed a conservative academic as you're making yourself out to be, and you don't think that your more liberal academic colleagues would view conservative viewpoints as lacking in intellectual rigour, that's fine. I'll stop making excuses for your bad arguments.

    • Ad hominem arguments are, by definition, arguments against some individual characteristic; but, as you can see above, I've repeatedly stated that I like many of the signatories on an individual level, and, in particular, that I don't consider them (or at least not all of them) to be partisan as individuals. Moreover, your attempt to lay out the construct of both an ad hominem argument and my own is faulty. You claim that I am saying that:

      (A) Professors claim that Harper needs to put democracy ahead of partisanship
      (B) Professors are partisan
      (C) Professors' claims are false

      But nowhere do I conclude (C) from (A) on the basis of (B). Not only that: nowhere do I suggest that (A) is false in the first place. To the contrary, several of my statements at least imply that I think that (A ) is a reasonable claim; I simply suggest that, given that (A) is reasonable, professors are especially unsuited to accomplishing (A). Given that you've misunderstood both the nature of ad hominem arguments as well as the basis structure of my own argument, you're not in a position to writing about "elementary mistakes in logic". Given that the remainder of your criticism is based on this misrepresentation of my position, and needs no further comment.

      • Saying that you happen to like them personally, or saying that individually some of them may not be partisan, doesn't change your main argument that we shouldn't listen to what they have to say because they are, as a group, partisan. So for you, from this objectionable quality, we can ignore the argument.

        If you want to argue that this isn't an ad hominem argument because you weren't saying that they were wrong, but rather that they may or may not be right but that we shouldn't listen to them, I'm certainly fine with recognizing that distinction. I'd assumed that when you were telling us to ignore the argument, you were just being sloppy with your language and actually telling us that the argument was wrong. I drew this conclusion because it seemed less absurd than an argument which was imploring us to ignore correct arguments. Perhaps you can provide some clarity as to why we should ignore correct arguments.

        Of course, it is a distinction without difference in terms of the effect of their letter on our public discourse if your views were accepted. You are essentially attacking the source of the argument rather than the argument itself, and then using this attack on the source to implore us to ignore the argument. Your argument for doing so is based upon the same rationale as ad hominem attacks, if it is not exactly an ad hominem attack itself.

        • The source of an argument can matter a great deal. For instance, someone is arguing that what politics needs is less partisanship, then especially if one agrees with that argument, it is natural and necessary to ask whether the person or persons making the argument, or their manner of argument, is itself likely to contribute to alleviating or exacerbating partisanship. So I've never "implore[d] us to ignore the argument", because I've never disputed that there is an excess of partisanship, or that it needs to be alleviated. I've just said that letters like this will not contribute to resolving the problem. The idea that the source of an argument matters should come as no surprise: let's take a simple example. Most academics I know would agree that Middle Eastern countries would benefit from political liberalization – women's rights, for example; but many of those same academics would also argue that arguments for political liberalization made to Middle Easterners can be counter-productive, at best, when made by Western politicians, at least under certain conditions ('neo-colonialism', etc). Thus, many of these academics look to indigenous reformers to make the case for political liberalization to their fellow Middle Easterners in a more culturally specific way than Western politicians would be capable of. Of course one could debate whether or not its right to do so, but its hardly prima facie "absurd", as you claim, to suggest that the source of an argument ought to be taken into account when considering the practical effectiveness of that argument; one agree with the argument in the abstract but hold that its specific application needs to be carefully calibrated, and may have more credibility or more potential coming from one source rather than another.

          • "The source of an argument can matter a great deal."

            Since you are anonymous, since your qualifications, credentials and experience cannot be verified can we conclude that you and your initial argument can safely be dismissed on the basis of your own [argument] words?

            Not to mention that it has been comprehensively rebutted above.

          • If I were publishing a public article of some sort, my identity would indeed matter. However, the internet is largely anonymous, and especially on forums like this one, and so it would be futile to try and take into account the individual source of every argument in this sort of venue. That does make all of the arguments worth less, I would say, including my own here, but that's just an over-all reflection of the playing field.

            Beyond that, I would say that it is impossible for my argument to have been "comprehensively rebutted above" given that its only be countered by Rob, who has admitted that he did not understand, and consequently misrepresented, my argument all along (by baselessly assuming that I was defending a premise which I'd never even asserted), and TJ Cook, who has not understood the argument of the professor's letter on which I was commenting (by failing to understand the significance of partisanship to the argument of the letter, despite the fact that that point is explicated in detail in Potter's post on the letter).

            A further irony of your post is that while you claim that I've been "comprehensively rebutted above", you are claiming that about posts which repeatedly accuse me of ad hominem argument – despite (a) misunderstanding ad hominem argument and (b) admittedly mischaracterizing my own argument – and yet your claim that they've "comprehensively rebutted" my posts is itself ad hominem, and does nothing to address the substance of my claim as against Rob's (whether the source of argument's matters: Rob claims that its completely "absurd" to think so; but, as I pointed out, its actually quite common to think so, and several of the academics whom he is defending have made just such arguments persuasively).

          • Beyond that, I would say that it is impossible for my argument to have been "comprehensively rebutted above" given that its only be countered by Rob, who has admitted that he did not understand, and consequently misrepresented, my argument all along (by baselessly assuming that I was defending a premise which I'd never even asserted)

            To be fair, I said that I took a colloquial understanding of your argument to "please, please, please don't listen to these people" as meaning that you thought they were wrong. You claim to actually have been arguing something a even more absurd: that the profs were right but that we shouldn't listen to them anyway.

            You supported your argument that we shouldn't listen to the profs because they aren't credible due to their partisanship (which is effectively an ad hominem argument if not technically) with an argument that people won't listen to the profs because they aren't credible due to their partisanship. So essentially, you're trying to convince us that we shouldn't listen to the profs because people won't listen to the profs. Seems to beg the question, doesn't it?

            On a side note, if you are who you say you are, why do you toil in anonymity here? Why not put your name beside your comments as the profs in this letter have, or as have other academics in the comments?

          • You've said nothing to show why its "absurd" to claim that the source of an argument might matter under certain conditions, for instance if a given messenger is ill-equipped for realizing the practical achievement of an abstract ideal. Indeed, you claim that this is an "absurd" argument in defense of the signatories of the letter, despite the fact that some of the signatories have made just such arguments in some of their own work.

            You further write:

            "You supported your argument that we shouldn't listen to the profs because they aren't credible due to their partisanship (which is effectively an ad hominem argument if not technically) with an argument that people won't listen to the profs because they aren't credible due to their partisanship."

            The second half of that sentence does not characterize what I wrote. What you characterize would be begging the question, but I said nothing about whether or not people would be likely to listen to them. I just suggested that the partisanship reflected in public interventions of professors such as this venture makes it unlikely that heeding them will accomplish their stated goal, namely, a decline in partisanship. I further suggested that politicians themselves are already more qualified to accomplishing that goal, simply because they have more experience of dealing with people with diverse political opinions than professors, who are used to addressing ideologically homogeneous audiences. The popular appeal of either group never entered in any of my statements.

            As for why I "toil in anonymity": because the internet is a largely anonymous or semi-anonymous place, including on these forums, and so I'm just used to posting in this way. I wanted to make a public, professional statement, I'd write a newspaper editorial. But I have no interest in that.

          • I just suggested that the partisanship reflected in public interventions of professors such as this venture makes it unlikely that heeding them will accomplish their stated goal, namely, a decline in partisanship.

            Ok. So, you think that the professors are correct in their arguments, advice, and goals. Essentially, if we follow their advice, it will lead to their goals, which you agree with. However, because they are partisan, if we heed their advice, then it actually won't lead to their goals. So, essentially, their arguments are correct in the abstract, but they become incorrect once applied, because of their source.

            Is this your argument? If so, can you really not see the problems with it that I keep pointing out?

          • "So, you think that the professors are correct in their arguments, advice, and goals. Essentially, if we follow their advice, it will lead to their goals, which you agree with."
            I don't see that they have any advice for lowering political partisanship in general; they're against prorogation, which I agree with, although I don't think it has as many dire consequences as they do. I just think that if the issue is partisanship – which their letter suggests – then I'd trust the politicians to get past that, including Harper, before the professors, who will make things worse, not better.

            Anyway, I don't see how the problems which you claim to identify follow from that. In fact, since at least up until recently you've apparently been criticizing me based on first a fundamental misunderstanding of my claim, and then the odd assertion that it would be "absurd" to find the source of an argument relevant to gauging its practical effectiveness, I'm not sure what problems you are claiming to have consistently identified with my position.

          • As I said, your argument is circular; it begs the question. I can't think of another way to explain that to you other than how I have explained it already, so I think that I'll give up.

  34. Much ado about nothing, I think. The term "prorogue" evokes the old tussles between king and parliament and the rhetoric seems to be trying to frame the issue as such. But really this is a 6 week extension to the Christmas break, nothing more. Sure it serves the government's convenience, but that's no precedent. The real precedent is the Liberals' ahistoric crusade against an accepted tool of parliamentary democracy.

    This issue will lose its legs as soon as Parliament sits. Moment of truth for the opposition: vote the government down or shut up.

  35. Its a great distinction about the value of trust. There seems to be some research on how the act of putting your trust in someone actually makes them behave in a more trustworthy fashion (citation needed) – and this is certainly discussed in the context of raising children. Give them responsibility and they behave responsibly.

    In a simplistic way I think some people are just not capable of trusting others, and therefore don't expect to be trusted or trustworthy. Whether this is nature or nurture I don't know, but sadly it seems there's only the middle ground to sway in any election. Harper and his gang clearly use the tried and true playbook of fear, xenophobia and selfishness and it is shame on all of us that Canadian society has reached a point where that's effective.
    Trust me – we'll all be better off when we regain enough self-confidence and confidence in others to give him the boot.

  36. What blarney.

    If the apologists for our dysfunctioning democracy would stop pretending our democratic institution works better than they do, we might actually get somewhere. Did these folks howl about "executive restraint" when Chretien made a practice of dissolving Parliament and having elections every three years? … When Trudeau prorogued Parliament and started a new session every year?

    As long as critics pretend that the problem here is just Harper – rather than a PM-centric system which lacks effective checks and balances – then really this is just the usual empty excercise in partisanship.

    Of course the PM and GG should not decide when 308 MPs and 105 Senators are in session. Call for a genuine change of that – take that power from the two of them and let Parliamentarians set their own timetable and agenda – and we'll be talking democratic change.

    But no, will say Canada's sclerotoic political science community. That's not the Canadian way.

    Exactly.

  37. I think it's key that trust has been pointed out. Because our constitution affords so much latitude to the Government in advising the Sovereign's Vice-regal representative, along with that does come a nearly sacred duty not to overstep that boundary and start abusing the substantial Royal Prerogatives for short-term political advantage.

    The problem here, in part, is that the partisans on both side of the debate seem utterly incapable of putting down their swords for the briefest moment and ponder the direction we're going, and how it ultimately does harm our democracy. Yes, it's true that over the last three or four decades, Prime Ministers specifically, and party leaders in general, have accrued a very potent set of powers that have upset the balance of Parliament that has, to one degree, existed since Charles II was given the boot. The scenes of revolt and rebellion that we've seen in the two main British parties over the last two decades seem almost impossible here under the seemingly unbreakable force of caucus discipline.

    But a line was crossed in 2008, and an attempt has been to make it into a wall. No other PM, with the exception of ol' Sir John A, has attempted to use prorogation to survive a political crisis (and even Sir John A didn't attempt to evade a confidence motion per se, though that would have been inevitable). You can't find any reference to it anywhere else in the old Empire or in the Commonwealth where our system of government still prevails.

    The Governor General and Parliament were never intended as baubles that a Prime Minister could push around to his constant advantage. Parliament, since 1688, has supposed to be Supreme, and the unique privilege of a Prime Minister to advise the Crown is supposed to come with a sense of responsibility, caution and foresight. It defies the entire purpose and history of our constitution to have it treated like a game of brinkmanship, where dueling forces read the letter of the constitution, but ignore the spirit.

    I hope that the public anger at the latest prorogation does last long enough to at least convince the current and future Prime Ministers that this is a line that should not be crossed, that there are principles far more important than simple victory at stake.

  38. I think it's key that trust has been pointed out. Because our constitution affords so much latitude to the Government in advising the Sovereign's Vice-regal representative, along with that does come a nearly sacred duty not to overstep that boundary and start abusing the substantial Royal Prerogatives for short-term political advantage.

    The problem here, in part, is that the partisans on both side of the debate seem utterly incapable of putting down their swords for the briefest moment and ponder the direction we're going, and how it ultimately does harm our democracy. Yes, it's true that over the last three or four decades, Prime Ministers specifically, and party leaders in general, have accrued a very potent set of powers that have upset the balance of Parliament that has, to one degree, existed since Charles II was given the boot. The scenes of revolt and rebellion that we've seen in the two main British parties over the last two decades seem almost impossible here under the seemingly unbreakable force of caucus discipline.

    But a line was crossed in 2008, and an attempt has been to make it into a wall. No other PM, with the exception of ol' Sir John A, has attempted to use prorogation to survive a political crisis (and even Sir John A didn't attempt to evade a confidence motion per se, though that would have been inevitable). You can't find any reference to it anywhere else in the old Empire or in the Commonwealth where our system of government still prevails.

    The Governor General and Parliament were never intended as baubles that a Prime Minister could push around to his constant advantage. Parliament, since 1688, has supposed to be Supreme, and the unique privilege of a Prime Minister to advise the Crown is supposed to come with a sense of responsibility, caution and foresight. It defies the entire purpose and history of our constitution to have it treated like a game of brinkmanship, where dueling forces read the letter of the constitution, but ignore the spirit.

    I hope that the public anger at the latest prorogation does last long enough to at least convince the current and future Prime Ministers that this is a line that should not be crossed, that there are principles far more important than simple victory at stake.