Friday, 18 November 2011

Spectres of George Brown: Rep by Pop Redux

George Brown was Canada's most ardent advocate for representation by population, the basic principle by which political representation is inextricably tied to population. His clarion call was simple and to the point: "Representation by population. Justice for Upper Canada!" (quoted in Lewis, 75). It was a simple matter of justice and fairness. For the rest of his political career and through the rest of his life - until his untimely death - Brown was consistent in his pleas for fair representation for Upper Canada.

That demand remained a central feature of Brown's reformist movement and its most prominent demand. In the Legislative Assembly Brown frequently gave voice to the under-represented people of Upper Canada. Rising in that Chamber, Brown articulated the problem:

"The people of Upper Canada have bitterly complained that though they numbered four hundred thousand souls more than the population of Lower Canada, and though they have contributed three or four pounds to the general revenue for every pound contribute by the sister province, yet the Lower Canadians send to parliament as many representatives as they do" (in Ajzenstat, 115)

As John Lewis, Brown's biographer, notes of the objections at the time, opponents argued that Lower Canadians had "submitted to injustice while they had a larger population, and that the Upper Canadians ought to follow their example" (Lewis, 84). A second objection, more formidable Lewis notes, argued that that very nature of the compact between French and English was premised upon equal representation and thus this would be shattered by representation by population.

Christopher Moore, while wrong in claiming Brown to be "the Preston Manning of his day" (a claim as inaccurate as it is insulting to Brown), correctly reflects the prevailing negative opinion against him. He notes that opponents labelled the scheme as "fanatical and bigoted. They would sow dissension among the founding peoples and divide the regions one from another. Pushed to their logical consequences, they would destroy the union" (Moore, 1). Rep-by-Pop would drive an irremovable wedge between peoples and undermine the foundations of Canada's fragile union.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Bill C-309 Unmasked: Privacy and the Criminalization of Protest

♪ I Always Feel Like / Somebody's Watching Me 

There are ample reasons for covering one's face at an assembly, most of which do not have anything to do with criminal activity. The first is privacy. Let's preempt the chorus of voices claiming there is no expectation of privacy in the public sphere. This is, of course, preposterous. There are limits to this privacy certainly, but there are also limits to what others may do to you. Traversing a public square does not give anyone the right to photograph you or use your likeness. Individuals are not forced to identify themselves to use public parks. In short, there are reasonable expectations of privacy, even in public.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Charter Confusion II: Clarifying Simple Constitutional Facts

Let's clarify some confusion that seems to have arisen regarding my previous post, shall we? First, however, I will once again state that something may be entirely undemocratic yet entirely constitutional. They are not antithetical. As long as a power - say, to decide the composition and selection of members of the House of Commons - is entrenched as a constitutional provision, no amount of Charter challenges can supplant it.

Charter Confusion: Occupation and Distortion

It's thoroughly alarming and entirely problematic that two of the most powerful and influential groups in this country - its politicians and its media - have such a shaky grasp of basic constitutional principals, particularly as they pertain to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That 1982 constitutional addition is perhaps the most misunderstood document in the country, with some espousing it as unlimited, while others underestimate its force and effect. With battles over the Occupy movement heating up with evictions notices printed and overzealous 'law' enforcement officers at the ready, recourse to the Charter by both sides is growing.

A basic grasp of constitutional principles - both the codified portions and the unwritten norms - is fundamental to understanding politics in this country, yet so few of our political and media elite demonstrate much depth here. One need only look at election coverage as an illustration. The basic principles of government formation are entirely lost on our media, something that has only been exacerbated by politicians themselves. The concept of responsible government - a notion that underpins the foundations of governance - and intrinsic components such as confidence and ministerial responsibility are poorly understood.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Semantics of Canadian Bailouts

Economists - perhaps more than any other discipline - maintain a unique capacity to operate in a hermetic bubble, safe from the outside world. They exercise an uncanny ability to thrive in jargon, abstract concepts and mathematical formulas, most of which collapse when they intersect with reality. At the same time they remain cocksure and arrogant, convinced of their own intellectual superiority while deriding 'lay persons' as uninformed and wholly unqualified to speak. Economics is a science, they say, an area which requires a particular expertise and skill.  They - the knowledgeable few chosen from among the many - retain a monopoly on truth and only they may make pronouncements on such matters. The economy is their domain. It should be isolated from politics to allow it to fully function and reach equilibrium. The point that economics and politics can never be separated, or that their formulas have human externalities, is beside the point. The bottom line is that, consistently and without fail, economists are dead wrong. They lack both predictive and analytic certainly.