“Ottawa to cede new powers to Northwest Territories.” What happened?

This was the headline of a news article on the front page of today’s Globe and Mail.

According to John Ibbitson, “The Harper government is on the brink of making the Northwest Territories a province in all but name by ceding federal control over land, resources and water. The people and government of the territory stand to benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars in new resource revenues under the agreement, which will see the territorial and not the federal government primarily responsible for approving resource developments.”

There’s been quite a bit of scholarly and punditry ink spilled on the topic of devolution in the Canadian territorial north.  Much of the scholarly literature has focused on assessing devolution normatively, arguing over which model of devolution would be most effective and just for the varied peoples that live in Canada’s three territories.
Continue reading

My research, on the other hand, has tried to examine the issue of devolution from a social science perspective.  Rather than figuring out what would be a fair deal for all the parties involved, I published a paper earlier this year that tried to explain why the territories have achieved different outcomes in the negotiation process: Yukon (signing a final devolution transfer agreement in the early 2000s); NWT (No final deal yet, but an AIP last year), and Nunavut (no deal; no negotiations yet).  (I also published another article, co-authored with Kirk Cameron and Steven Kennedy, that empirically assesses the effect that devolution has had on Yukon.  You can download the ungated version of the article here).

Using a rational choice framework, I found three factors mattered.“This paper has argued that variation in devolution negotiation outcomes relating to lands and resources can be explained by examining three sets of factors. First, in light of the federal government’s dominant position in negotiations, territorial negotiators must negotiate an agreement that is compatible with federal preferences relating to resource revenues, equalisation, and the reduction of costs. Both the YTG and the Handley/Roland GNWT governments were willing to satisfy federal preferences in this manner. However, only the YTG has been able to complete a final agreement. The reason that YTG has been successful whereas the GNWT has not is because devolution negotiation outcomes also depend on the extent to which government officials perceive that sufficient aboriginal consent has been obtained. In Yukon, the fact that all of the Yukon first nations signed the UFA in 1993 and that a majority of aboriginal groups completed lands claims agreements at a fairly brisk rate were sufficient for federal and territorial negotiators to sign a DTA. In the NWT, in contrast, an AIP was negotiated only after the consent of four aboriginal groups was obtained in a 2007 resource revenue sharing agreement. However, the fact that two of the four groups have withdrawn their support means that the GNWT AIP is likely to be shelved or scrappedThe final factor that determines variation in devolution negotiation outcomes is federal perceptions of territorial capacity and maturity. The evidence suggests that the different timing of devolution in the NWT and Yukon was partly the result of the YTG being seen as more mature and politically developed than the GNWT. A more stark example is the status of Nunavut devolution negotiations, which have not proceeded beyond the negotiation of a protocol agreement. The evidence suggests that the lack of progress on the Nunavut file is mainly the result of federal reluctance to negotiate with a government that it believes does not have the capacity to undertake its current responsibilities and obligations, let alone those that would flow from a final devolution agreement.”

So what changed for the NWT? Originally, the Government of the NWT (GNWT) had achieved the support of 4 NWT Aboriginal groups, which was sufficient to move forward in the eyes of federal and territorial officials.  Two groups, however, backed out due to a change in leadership.  As a result, devolution negotiations stalled.

Recently, one of the group’s experienced yet another change in leadership and this leadership group was more willing to sign on.  A second group signed on, raising the total number of Aboriginal groups supporting the deal to four.  If the GNWT can keep this four groups on board, then it is highly likely that it will be able to complete a final devolution transfer agreement with Ottawa.

As I wrote in my Polar Record article:

“Anonymous territorial and aboriginal interviewees suggest that it is highly likely that future devolution negotiations in the NWT will only proceed if the GNWT can somehow convince at least two additional aboriginal groups to endorse the AIP.”

Prediction is a trickly business in the social sciences. It’s gratifying, though, when one’s predictions turn out to be right once in a while!


LISPOP Associate discusses the Liberal Party and the new Ontario Premier

Broadcasted Jan. 28, 2013, in 570 News.

LISPOP Associate Barry Kay discusses the provincial Liberal Party and the new Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on the the Jeff Allan Show. He discusses the challenges facing the Ontario Liberals including numerous past scandals, a minority government and a tough opposition party.

Listen Here

Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne: class, conviction and courage

Published Jan. 28, 2013, The Waterloo Region Record

There’s an old saying in politics that new leaders are never stronger than on the day they take over. If they are going to make changes, they should make them quickly, while the goodwill lasts and before their opponents get dug in.

Kathleen Wynne understands. Fresh from her victory at the Ontario Liberal leadership convention, she announced she will recall the Legislature, prorogued since last fall, on Feb. 19. Between now and then, she will appoint a cabinet, prepare a throne speech and meet with the opposition party leaders in the hope of winning their cooperation to avoid an election this spring.

That done, she will have to tackle some of the detritus left behind by Dalton McGuinty – the Ornge Ambulance and hydro-plant spending scandals; a provincial deficit now estimated at $12 billion this year; and a poisoned relationship between the provincial government and organized labour, especially the teachers and the other public sector unions. She has to do all this with a minority in the Legislature where at least some of her opponents hunger for an early opportunity to bring her down.

The next six weeks should give Ontarians a reasonably clear picture of what to expect from the Wynne government. They should also reveal where on the political spectrum she intends to position her party.
Continue reading

Ever since Mike Harris moved the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform right, the Liberals have straddled the middle. McGuinty was particularly adept at moving the Liberals to the right to pick off Red Tory voters when the Conservatives threatened, or to the left to recapture soft Liberals when the threat came from the other direction. The Liberals knew they could win elections so long as they held the NDP below 20 per cent of the popular vote.

Wynne’s dilemma can be seen in a poll published on the eve of the convention. It put the Liberals in third place, about eight percentage points behind the first-place New Democrats and five points behind the Tories.

She knows three things. First, election-weary Ontario voters do not want another trip to the polls. Second, they want politicians to tone down the rhetoric and get back to work. Third, the route to avoid an election and to get the Legislature back to work goes through the NDP.

Conservative leader Tim Hudak, it is assumed, would trade his grandmother for a ticket to the polls; he knows the next election may be his last chance at the brass ring. NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Wynne come from a similar direction. Neither, for her own reasons, wants an election any time soon. As long as she can extract enough goodies at strategic intervals, Horwath will prop up the Liberals, perhaps through the end of this year, if not longer. For her part, Wynne made it clear in her speeches at the convention and in her press conference afterward that she is prepared to deal.

To my mind, the speeches made by Wynne and her principal rival, Sandra Pupatello, before the voting on Saturday were most interesting parts of the convention. Pupatello, the perceived front-runner, made a fine, but traditional, political speech, impassioned and partisan; no one doubted that she meant it when she said she would bring the opposition parties to their knees.

Wynne seemed more conciliatory, more disposed than Pupatello to work with the opposition. Wynne’s was one of the best convention speeches I have heard in years. It had class, conviction and courage, especially when she took on the “elephant in the room” – the issue of her lesbianism. She was absolutely convincing. Her words may have alienated some skittish delegates, but I think her powerful candor made it virtually impossible for moderate delegates who had been supporting Charles Sousa and Gerard Kennedy not to move to Wynne on the final ballot.

Now, Wynne has a chance to turn her Liberals into a progressive presence on the provincial scene. If she succeeds, the NDP will be the loser.

Netanyahu must turn to domestic concerns

Published Jan. 26, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record

Those familiar with Israel’s electoral system will know that identification of the leading party and the prime minister-designate in a parliamentary election like the one held Tuesday is only the beginning of a long, arduous negotiating process to determine the shape of the new government, something that can take weeks.

While incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu is effectively the only plausible choice for prime minister after this week’s voting, his Likud party and its partner Israel Beteinu dropped from 42 seats in the previous Knesset (parliament) to just 31, barely halfway to forming even a bare majority in the 120-seat legislature, and it would require a substantially larger coalition to have any stability.

Most of Netanyahu’s decline was taken up by a new more conservative party, Bayit Yehudah. Of even greater consequence, however, is that the overall aggregation of right-wing and religious parties that sustained him in the past fell from 65 seats to 61, effectively insufficient to form a government on their own.

Read More

How Generous is Canada’s Refugee Asylum Process?

In a recent column in the Globe and Mail, Jeffrey Simpson commented on Canada’s refugee system. The following is an analysis of the history of the myth that this system is “generous” and provides some data to assess its veracity. It is written by Edward Koning, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Guelph

In discussing Minister Jason Kenney’s new plans for refugee reform, Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson opened with perhaps the most oft-heard cliché in Canadian discourse on immigration: “Canada has had one of the most generous – if not the most generous – refugee-determination systems in the world.” In that light, so Simpson reasons, we should not be too critical about Kenney’s sharpening of refugee regulations.

The line of reasoning sounds awfully familiar. At least since the 1990s, politicians and public commentators have justified restrictions in refugee policy by referring to Canada’s alleged unmatched generosity. In debating a refugee reform in early 1994, for example, the Reform Party’s immigration critic Art Hanger stated that Canada accepts “numbers of refugee class immigrants that are virtually unheard of in the industrialized world”. More recently, when presenting the ‘Balanced Refugee Reform Act’ in April 2010, Minister Kenney began by boasting that Canada’s generous approach to the protection of refugees is “perhaps unique in the democratic world”.
Continue reading

It is curious that the argument has not lost any power. The last two decades have seen several encompassing refugee reforms in Canada, which have, among other things, narrowed the definition of a refugee, increased identification controls, facilitated deportation, limited the possibilities for appealing a rejection, and given the Minister more individual leeway in deportation decisions. But it appears you can always make the case for yet another reform by arguing the extant system is overly generous by comparative standards.

The problem is, of course, that it is not true. According to 2010 data, Canada is number 7 among OECD countries in its acceptance rate: it approved roughly 38 percent of all asylum claims. This is indeed high by comparative standards, albeit still four places short of the podium. Acceptance rates are difficult to interpret, however, because they mask self-selection effects (the high score for Israel, for example, reflects that refugees do not apply for asylum in Israel unless they are sure their claim will be accepted) and supply-side differences (Turkey scores high on this measure, for example, because the share of applicants with a legitimate claim is larger). For that reason, it is more instructive to look at overall intake levels. On these indicators, Canada scores around the OECD average. Relative to the size of the population, Canada takes in five times as few asylum seekers as number 1, Sweden. And if we look at the number of asylum seekers as a share of the entire immigrant inflow, Canada’s relative standing is even worse.

Acceptance rate
(UNHCR, 2010)

Intake of asylum seekers per 10,000 citizens (OECD,

Intake of asylum seekers as % of total inflow (OECD,

1. Israel (100)

1. Sweden (33.9)

1. Greece (44.7)

2. Turkey (59.9)

2. Norway (20.6)

2. Sweden (40.3)

3. Netherlands

3. Belgium

3. France (35.4)

4. Australia

4. Switzerland

4. Turkey (30.9)

5. Portugal

5. Luxembourg

5. Finland

7. Canada (37.9)

13. Canada (6.6)

16. Canada (8.0)

None of this is to say that we should leave the refugee system as it is. There are few countries with a refugee backlog the size of Canada’s (according to UNHCR data, only Greece and Germany do worse in this respect). Simpson is right, therefore, in arguing that we should seriously consider proposals to expedite the determination process. It is difficult to have a serious debate, however, when its participants stubbornly perpetuate a patently false myth.

LISPOP Associate discusses moving beyond the Indian Act

Broadcasted Jan. 22, 2013, in TVO.

LISPOP Associate Christopher Alcantara examines the key concerns coming out of the Idle No More movement and how to go about amending or scrapping the Indian Act altogether in an effort to improve the lives of First Nations in Canada.

Watch Here

Cliffs, ceilings and sequestration

Published Jan. 23, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

The wrangling between Democrats and Republicans over deficits and the U.S. debt has just begun

The imagery of the fiscal cliff was an irresistible metaphor for media outlets covering the political confrontation in Washington in the closing weeks of 2012.

However, the wave of attention focused upon whether America’s economy would dive over the cliff on New Year’s Eve was merely a curtain raiser that has ushered in constant conflict in the new 113th Congress.

As it happened, that issue was addressed a few hours later, but only by kicking the can down the road for a few weeks. Some symbolic matters were dealt with in the New Year’s Day deal, including many Republicans being obliged to restore a higher tax rate for a tiny fraction of the wealthiest U.S. citizens, but in terms of alleviating the budget deficit it amounted to peanuts. The annual savings were approximately equivalent to the amount of revenue allocated to the victims of hurricane Sandy.

Continue Reading

Try talking sense to the gun lobby

Published Jan. 21, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

When Barack Obama took the oath of office formally Sunday, he may have reflected on the reality that the job of being president is a good deal more complicated than it seemed in the euphoria of his first swearing-in four years ago.

Back then, he was a junior senator from Illinois who had propelled himself to the highest office in the land. He soon had to deal with the war in Iraq, the meltdown on Wall Street and a global recession. He made climate change a priority, but wasn’t able to do anything significant about it. He tried to inject a measure of fairness into the tax code, but had to settle for a minuscule increase in taxes on the super-wealthy.

He made health care reform his signature priority and he succeeded to a greater degree than his predecessors. Using every ounce of his political capital, he managed to persuade Congress to give him a half-loaf — an insurance plan that subsidizes poor and middle-class families but stops far short of a single-payer system, on the Canadian model. He had to fight to get Republicans in Congress to agree to prevent the United States from falling off the “fiscal cliff.”

Looking ahead, Obama knows he faces more of the same in his second term. There may not be another hurricane Sandy or another massacre like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School to test the nation’s will. But the Republicans will still be there in Congress, more determined than ever to thwart the president’s will. Ideology and partisanship will continue to dictate their politics.
Continue reading

The test of Obama’s will — and perhaps a measure of his presidency — will come on gun control. By all accounts he was genuinely devastated by the slaughter of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn, in December. He promised action, and last week he announced it: a ban on new assault weapons (but not on existing ones), limits on high-capacity magazines, more thorough background checks for purchasers of firearms, and tougher laws on trafficking of weapons across the country.

The Obama proposals, to be entrusted to Vice-President Joe Biden, amount to something less than a declaration of war on guns and gun violence — a good deal less. The new laws, if enacted, will do nothing to reduce the number of firearms in private ownership in the United States (currently 270 million, or 88.8 guns for every 100 Americans, women and children included). And they will do precious little to deter people who should never be trusted with a deadly weapon from acquiring one, legally or illegally.

“If enacted,” are key words. The attack ad aired by the National Rifle Association featuring Obama’s daughters was unconscionable, but it is a harbinger of the abuse the president can expect as the gun control debate moves into Congress.

Although polls show a modest increase since Sandy Hook in public support for some form of gun control, the opponents are digging in against what they interpret as a socialist, even communist, crusade to confiscate their weapons. The rhetoric of the gun lobbyists, both in and outside Congress, reflects the growing intensity of their opposition.

On Saturday, a series of rallies was held in 49 states (all except Alaska) to mark an event called, if you can believe it, “Gun Appreciation Day.” Summoned by social media, crowds ranged from a few dozen to a few thousand people, some wearing holstered pistols.

In St. Paul, Minn., 500 people cheered a local Republican legislator when he called for laws to allow teachers to carry guns in school and university students to pack guns on college campuses.

In Phoenix, Ariz., activist Eric Cashman, dressed as a 1776 Revolutionary War Minuteman, invoked the memory of the founding fathers: “Had they not had their firearms … to stand up against the British, we’d still be a British colony.”

Get real! How does a 21st century president talk sense to idiots living in the 18th century?


LISPOP Associate discusses biggest challenge facing the federal Liberals?

Published Jan. 20, 2013, on CTV News.

LISPOP Associate Chris Cochrane discusses the first of five Liberal leadership debates. He discusses the challenges for the Liberal candidates and the party. One of the biggest questions to ask is how the less dominant Liberal party will position themselves against the Conservatives in the future.

Watch Here

Research on Left/Right in Canadian Politics

LISPOP associate and professor at University of Toronto, Dr. Christopher Cochrane, is pursuing an important research agenda examining the nature of left and right in Canadian Politics.  His latest work, found here, challenges the fundamental assumptions that scholars, journalists, politicians, and citizens have about left/right ideologies in Canada, both from theoretical and empirical perspectives.  Here are some of his latest research and you can download his papers here:

Left-Right Politics Print E-mail

2012. “Left and Right: Empty Vessels, Essential Core, or Family Resemblance?” Working Paper.

The language of left and right is a metaphor that links the concept of political disagreement to the relative positions of points along a single straight line through space. Most scholars trace the political origins of the words left/right to the seating arrangement of the Estates General in the years leading up the French Revolution. Radical democrats and their sympathizers sat to the left of the king; supporters of the clergy and the aristocracy sat to his right. This provided a shorthand way of writing and talking about the main line of political disagreement in French society. It was purely an accident of history that the revolutionaries sat to the left and the supporters of the establishment sat to the right. If the groups sat on different sides, or the king sat at the other end, then what was left would be right, and what was right would be left. In this respect, the left/right seating arrangement was arbitrary. What was not arbitrary, however, was that the people on each side chose to sit with certain people, and against certain other people. Indeed, the seating arrangement reflected a line of political disagreement that pre-dated by many years, and perhaps by many thousands of years, the seating arrangement itself.  This paper examines the nature of that line of political disagreement.

Continue reading


2012. “The Asymmetrical Structure of Left/Right Disagreement: Left-Wing Coherence and Right-Wing Fragmentation in Comparative Party Policy.” Forthcoming. Party Politics.

The left/right semantic is used widely to describe the patterns of party competition in democratic countries. This paper examines the patterns of party policy in Anglo-American and Western European countries on three dimensions of left-right disagreement: wealth redistribution, social morality, and immigration. The central questions are whether, and why, parties with left-wing or right-wing positions on the economy systematically adopt left-wing or right-wing positions on immigration and social morality. The central argument is that left/right disagreement is asymmetrical: leftists and rightists derive from different sources, and thus structure in different ways, their opinions about policy. Drawing on evidence from Benoit & Laver’s (2006) survey of experts about the policy positions of political parties, the results of the empirical analysis indicate that party policy on the economic, social and immigration dimensions are bound together by parties on the left, but not by parties on the right. The paper concludes by outlining implications of left/right asymmetry for unified theories of party competition.


 Christopher Cochrane (2010). Left/Right Ideology and Canadian Politics. Canadian Journal of Political Science, 43, pp 583-605. doi:10.1017/S0008423910000624.

Abstract. This article examines the influence of ideology in Canadian politics. The core theory is that political opinions are bound together into ideological clusters by underlying influences that affect simultaneously the opinions of individuals about more than one issue. The central hypothesis is that ideological disagreement between the left and the right is asymmetrical, that is, that leftists and rightists bundle in different ways their opinions about issues. The analysis draws on evidence from Benoit and Laver’s survey of experts (2006) about the policy positions of political parties, the Comparative Manifesto Research Project (Budge et al., 2001; Klingemann et al., 2006), and Cross and Young’s survey of Canadian political party members (2002). The results of the analysis indicate, first, that Canada’s left/right ideological divide is wide by cross-national standards, and, second, that leftists and rightists organize their opinions about the world in different ways.

Résumé. Cet article examine l’influence des idéologies dans l’environnement politique canadien. La théorie centrale stipule que les opinions politiques sur diverses questions sont structurées en groupes idéologiques consolidés par des influences sous-jacentes qui affectent simultanément les opinions des individus. L’hypothèse principale découlant de cette théorie est que la structure du désaccord idéologique entre la gauche et la droite est asymétrique; plus précisément, que les individus situés à la gauche et à la droite du spectre politique canadien organisent de manière différente leurs opinions politiques. L’analyse s’appuie tout d’abord sur les données d’un sondage auprès d’experts politiques réalisé par Benoit et Laver (2006) et portant sur les positions politiques des partis. Elle utilise également les données du Comparative Manifesto Research Project (Budge et al. 2001; Klingemann et al., 2006) et celles d’un sondage d’opinion de Cross et Young (2002) effectué auprès des membres de partis politiques canadiens. Les résultats de cette étude démontrent, en premier lieu, qu’il existe un clivage important entre la droite et la gauche au Canada même lorsqu’il est observé dans une perspective comparative, et en second lieu, que les individus se situant à la gauche et à la droite du spectre politique ont tendance à organiser de manière différente leurs opinions sur le monde.

The Changing Newspaper Coverage Of Theresa Spence’s Hunger Strike

Canada-First Nations relationships are obviously the topic of the day. Besides the very serious substantive issues that are under discussion, I noticed one interesting trend in the public debate, that is, the struggle over whether Chief Spence’s diet constituted a genuine “hunger strike” or something else. In a lot of media coverage, journalists have been characterizing her protest as a “liquid only diet” or “liquid diet” or “forgoing solid foods”, rather than a hunger strike.

What’s at stake in this debate over how her protest is framed is fairly clear. According to media reports, Chief Spence has been subsisting on fish broth and herbal tea (one news story says she is taking vitamins as well), providing some of her opponents the opportunity to denigrate her commitment to her political and policy goals. I think the argument goes that a “genuine” hunger striker would take, at most, water. Questioning whether she is, in fact, engaged in a hunger strike, is not just a debate about semantics, but about the level of Spence’s sincerity and commitment to her policy goals.

I personally am inclined to see this as a genuine hunger strike, but that’s not the point here. I was more interested in whether any kind of patterns were detectable in how journalists framed her protests. Specifically, I wondered whether there was a change over time in the newspaper framing.

Below are the number of newspaper stories in the database Canadian Newsstand from December 13th, 2012 to January 14th, 2013 that responded to the search string “Theresa Spence”. This database includes both the Globe and Mail, the National Post, most of the metro urban dailies, a lot of local community newspapers, but, importantly, none of the Sun chain of newspapers.


Not surprisingly, coverage has been building gradually since Chief Spence began her protest, culminating in the last week or so with the publication of the audit of her band’s finances, more protests from the Idle No More network and the meeting between First Nations leaders and the Prime Minister.

Then, I combed through the articles looking for terms like “hunger” and “hunger strike” as well as terms like “liquid”, “liquids only” and “liquid diet”. I calculated the daily average frequencies of both sets of terms and plotted them against each other below.


So this plots the “average” number of occurrences of terms referring, more or less to a “hunger strike” versus terms referring to “liquid diets”, taking “liquid food” and forgoing “solid food” in Canadian newspaper stories that mention “Theresa Spence” over this time period. Clearly, references to Spence’s protest as a hunger strike have declined substantially, with frequencies after the publication of the audit much lower than prior to the audit.

The lines are smoothing lines; although the solid line suggests the decline started before the publication of the audit, I think that’s illusory. To me, there’s a clear break in the points before and after the publication of the audit. In terms of phrases that refer to a “liquid diet”, the smoothing line suggests a slow, monotonic increase in that sentiment.

It’s also important to remember: both of these trends occur in the context of a lot more coverage, period, post-audit (see the first figure). But while there was more newspaper stories that referenced “Theresa Spence” at least once after the audit, references to her going on a “hunger strike’ dropped off dramatically, while references to her only taking “liquid foods” continued a slight increase.

So, how to square all of this? I think two things are really important. First, it seems like the publication of the audit weakened Spence’s credibility, hence, the declining references to her on a “hunger strike” while references to her being on a “liquid diet” increased. But, perhaps more importantly, the sheer volume of newspaper coverage that appeared post-audit suggests that Spence was sidelined somewhat as events overtook her. Between January 7th and January 14th, Canadians witnessed protests by Idle No More, a meeting between First Nations leaders and the Prime Minister and some conflicts within the Assembly of First Nations. It seems like newspaper coverage during that time referenced Theresa Spence, began framing her protest equally as a “hunger strike” or as a “liquid diet”, and probably sidelined her, period.

Finally, it seems like this is an important lesson in how source credibility (as defined by journalists) is so crucial in structuring Canadian journalism.

**Methodological notes:
I searched Canadian Newsstand for all newspaper articles with full-text that referenced “Theresa Spence” at least once. Then, I used the tm package to analyze the texts within. I looked for terms that referenced hunger, hunger strike or hunger striking and, essentially, averaged them over the number of stories that appeared each day. Then I did the same with terms like “liquid”, “liquid foods”, and “liquid diet”.

LISPOP Associate discusses property rights for First Nations

Published Jan. 11, 2013, on CBC Radio.

LISPOP Associate Christopher Alcantara discusses proposed law that would extend individual property rights to first nations living on reserves. Supporters say it’s a tool for economic prosperity. Critics say it’s an attack on sovereignty.

– Listen Here –

James Buchanan: Public Choice and Political Science

Last week, Nobel Prize Winner and Public Choice economist James Buchanen, died.

You can read his NY Times obituary here.

Buchanan’s work, and public choice in general, hasn’t received a lot of attention in Canada (at least among Canadian political scientists, I think), as far as I can tell, yet the work is extremely important and relevant to understanding Canadian politics.

Tyler Cowan has made a list of some of Buchanan’s most important contributions here.


Leadership race or a sleepwalking contest?

Published Jan. 14, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

This Ontario Liberal leadership contest is a curious affair.

You would think it would be an exciting, even thrilling competition. After all, the winner will become premier of Ontario, making her or him the second most powerful leader in the land, next to Prime Minister Harper.

Six candidates covet the job (down from seven with the withdrawal of Glen Murray last week). You would think they would be scrapping furiously as each tries to gain an edge, to demonstrate that he or she is the most competent, has the brightest ideas or the most compelling personality, and is the best bet to lead the Liberals back to the promised land of majority government.

But where’s the excitement? Where’s the drama? The last time the Ontario Grits chose a leader, it was won by a candidate, Dalton McGuinty, who came from fourth place on the early ballots. Now that was exciting!

This time, with only two weeks to go, we have (at the risk of sounding uncharitable) six zombies sleepwalking to the finish line. The policy differences among them are so minuscule as be indiscernible. If they bring any passion to their candidacies, they do a fine job of hiding it. If they possess any charisma, they are careful not to display it. If they would lead Ontario in a direction different from McGuinty’s, it is not apparent from their public utterances.

You might think that after 17 years of McGuinty leadership, 10 of them in charge at Queen’s Park, the Liberals would be ready for something new, for someone who would appeal to all those Ontarians to have come of voting age since the Liberals last changed leaders in 1996 (when the youngest members of this year’s electorate were in diapers).

But no. Dalton McGuinty is 57 years old. The candidates to succeed him are all from his generation. They range in age from 50 (Sandra Pupatello) to 62 (Harinder Takhar). Where are the 30-year-olds who burn with idealism and could inspire students on campuses across Ontario? Where, for that matter, are the energetic 40-year-olds with an urge to change the government and shake up the province? Why are they all AWOL?

Out there, somewhere, is lost generation of Liberals. They may vote for the party, or they may not, but they not interested in the game of political leadership.

There are reasons, of course, for this limited interest. It’s not going to be a whole lot of fun being Liberal leader or premier in 2013.

Whoever wins is going to have to face the mess at Queen’s Park where the Legislature has been prorogued since October. Prorogation hasn’t made the provincial deficit go away; it’s $14 billion and counting. Nor has it made the opposition go away. The Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats still have voting control. No matter how accommodating the new leader may try to be, he or she will be a wounded deer in the opposition’s sights. They will bring the government down whenever it suits them.

The new leader will go into the election at the helm of a party that has lost its credibility to govern. That loss was evident in the 2011 election results, in the crucial Kitchener-Waterloo by-election last fall (when the NDP won and the Liberals ran third), and in the opinion polls that put the Tories first and the Liberals third or, at best, a weak second.

Insiders predict the new leader will be one of the two women candidates, either Kathleen Wynne, whose strength is in Toronto, or Sandra Pupatello, from Windsor, who is favoured by much of party establishment and by delegates from ROO (rest of Ontario).

It came down to that back in 1996 when the candidate from ROO (Ottawa’s McGuinty) won a fifth-ballot victory over Toronto’s Gerard Kennedy, who, yes, is running again, 17 years later.

Meanwhile, outsiders wonder how whoever wins this sleepwalking contest will be able to breathe new life into Ontario’s Liberals.