The law nobody wanted

Published Feb. 27, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

It is ironic that in an American Congress where members are divided along party lines, and seem barely able to agree upon the time of day, one of the few laws they have passed authorizes a budget sequester which is being decried on all sides, and threatens to disrupt an already tepid economic recovery in the US. The explanation of course, is that the sequester was never supposed to happen. It was a miscalculation by both Republicans and Democrats that by adopting threatening tactics they could jointly frighten each other into compromising upon financial offsets, to permit the House of Representatives an extension of the debt ceiling, which was itself a threat to force the president into spending cuts without reciprocal revenue increases.

This all dates back eighteen months when the American economic outlook was even bleaker than it is today, and President Obama was apprehensive about the impact of a crisis precipitated by Congress to force an economic default, prior to the 2012 presidential election. He and congressional Democrats hoped that if they spared the mandatory entitlement programs, the fear of a mutual reduction in domestic discretionary spending as well as defense spending, might motivate Democratic and Republican legislators to break their ideological impasse on other expenditures.

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Social Conservatives and Party Politics in Canada and the United States: An interview with author Jim Farney

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Dr. Jim Farney, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Regina, has written a new book called Social Conservatives and Party Politics in Canada and the United States, which is available for purchase from University of Toronto Press here. This book “provides the first full-length comparison of social conservatism in Canada and the United States from the sexual revolution to the present day. Based on archival research and extensive interviews, it traces the historic relationship between social conservatives and other right-wing groups. Farney illuminates why the American Republican Party was quicker to accept social conservatives as legitimate and valuable allies than the Conservative Party of Canada.”

Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. Farney about his book via email in February 2013.

Alcantara: This seems like a very timely book, given the string of Conservative Party victories at the federal level.  Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Farney: I’ve long been interested in religion and politics; when I started my PhD I had plans to do something theoretical looking at the place of religion in multiculturalism theory. That project wasn’t panning out and, by chance, I started looking at the literature on the Reform Party. That body of work either set aside religious actors or, it seems to me, misunderstood them in profound ways – at the height of the debate over gay marriage investigating such misunderstandings seemed important. From there, the American comparison was natural. It turned into a reasonable dissertation, I think; and one that had a gripping enough story to make a good book.
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Alcantara: So what kind of story does the book tell about social conservatism in Canada?

Farney: It really starts in the late 1960s, when issues like no-faulty divorce, the legal status of homosexuality, and abortion access first came up for political consideration when Trudeau introduced an Omnibus Bill reforming the Criminal Code (his famous ‘state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation’ law). The Progressive Conservatives response largely sidelines social conservatives at this moment, typecasting them as unconservative, both at that moment and throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The leadership of the party made a distinction between sins, which aren’t legitimate for partisan activism, and crimes, which can be legitimatedly characterized as political topics. I then trace how party elites (and many activists who were inclined to social conservatism) maintained this position on abortion more or less unchallenged until today. The story was more complicated on gay rights, as the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance was willing to position itself on that issue much more clearly than (or the PCs or the CPC) had been willing to do on abortion.  Today, I see social conservatives to have become legitimate players within the party, but they are minor parties that have not gained much policy input.

Alcantara: What do you mean by social conservatives? Are they a cohesive and unified group in Canada?

Farney: I think social conservatives have become rather more unified over time. There are still a surprising number of groups, but they have largely agreed to at least formally overcome divisions based on religion when it comes to their political engagement. There is still a substantial division between groups that take socially conservative positions on abortion or gay rights as part of a range of positions which can be quite progressive on other issues–the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example–and those which focus solely on social issues. The later tend to be quite a bit more stringent in their appeals, though both sets have professionalized.

While I examined both groups, my major focus in the book was those who combined pro-life position on abortion with opposition to gay rights with conservative positions on economics or federalism and who made their social activism a focus of their political activity.  An important secondary part of my definition was arguing that social conservatives are comfortable using legal changes–rather that societal persuasion, for example–to pursue their ends.

Alcantara: So what impact have social conservatives had on the political and social life of Canada?

Farney: On social life I think they’ve been, on the whole, unsuccessful. They’ve have important influences within some religious groups and in various ‘Bible belts’, but their influence on our broader society has been quite limited. Were it not for immigration, Canada would be a substantially more secular country than it presently is.

Politically, they have had enough influence to force real debate over abortion and gay rights and, I think, will likely continue to play an important role in debates over freedom of religion in areas like education. Within the conservative party, I think they’ve played an important role in providing linkages between the traditional conservative base and their ‘new Canadian’ supporters. Jason Kenney personifies this linkage, even as the CPC has minimized the social conservatism of its religious appeal to minority communities since the 2006 election.

Alcantara: I wonder if you can talk a little more about how social conservatives influence the political life of Canada.  Is it mainly through the actions of individual members (e.g. cabinet ministers and political staff) that belong to the Conservative Party of Canada? Or is it through political organizations or some other mechanisms?

Farney: Its both. While its hard to say whether or not they’ve been terribly influential at the Cabinet table–though they have had some representation through ministers like Jason Kenney–they have formed a reasonably significant part of the parliamentary party for a long time and have met as an informal caucus within both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Its worth noting, in passing, that institutions like the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast bring together religious MPs from across parties and ideology, so care should be taken not to conflate religious and socially conservative activity on Parliament Hill.

Social Conservatism is also a significant social movement. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Conference of Canadian Catholic Bishops have represented social conservative concerns (amongst other issues) for quite some time; REAL Women and Campaign Life both have dedicated cadres of activists focusing solely on social issues. There are also a plethora of smaller social movements or individual activists, some of which focus on provincial politics.

Alcantara: How do you think social conservatives in Canada will evolve in terms of their composition, ideology, and influence on politics over the next 50 years?

Farney: I think that the issues that characterize the movement will change: it is hard to see opposition to gay rights maintaining its motivating power but that religious freedom and questions around religious education will become more important. It will also become more diverse as the Canadian religious landscape becomes more diverse. Its popular base of support will also, in all likelihood, become smaller as Canada continues to secularize. What I’m going to be watching closely over the next ten years is whether the existing organizations and leadership of the movement are flexible enough to adapt to this change or whether it will cause some sort of significant internal rupture.

Alcantara: Now that this book is finished, what are you working on next?

Farney: The project that’s most closely linked to this book is looking at religious schools in Canada–especially the variation in what different provinces fund and allow. I’m also doing some work with Royce Koop at Manitoba looking at how MPs and party activists conceptualize Canadian democracy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The individual I admire the most academically

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

My best research project during my career

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

My worst research project during my career

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

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

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

A research project I wish I had done

A biography of Louis J. Robichaud.

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple minded purpose works, stay focussed.

Scandal shows rules for irrelevant senate outdated

Published Feb. 25, 2013 in The Waterloo Region Record.

The Senate of Canada, that venerable and mostly irrelevant appendage, is much in the news of late.

Teapot tempests over residency rules and senators’ travel and living expenses are impeding a more important debate: do we need a senate and, if so, what do we want it to do?

I frankly don’t care where Senator Mike Duffy, a broadcast journalist before he went over to the dark side, calls home. He may be a resident of Prince Edward Island where he was born and where he keeps a summer cottage (at Cavendish). Or it may be Ontario where he has lived for 40-odd years, where he has a home (on the outskirts of Ottawa), where he pay taxes and has his driver’s licence, health card and his cardiologist (he has had serious heart problems).

Duffy regards himself as an Islander. Prime Minister Stephen Harper accepted him as such when he appointed him to represent P.E.I. (The Constitution requires senators to own $4,000 in “real property” in the province they represent. Duffy had that in P.E.I. as well as is in Ontario.)
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He came a cropper when it was revealed it had claimed his P.E.I. cottage as his principal residence and had collected $42,000-odd in an allowance for a secondary residence in Ottawa. It is clear Ottawa was, and is, his principal residence. Although it is also clear he should not have claimed the allowance — he says he will repay the money — I do have some sympathy.

What would have happened if he had declared his principal residence to be in Ontario? He could have avoided the living-allowance controversy — but he would have had to resign from the Senate because the Constitution, adopted 146 years ago, requires senators to “be resident in the province” for which they are appointed.

The residency rules make no sense the days. They are vestiges of an era when senators came to Ottawa once or twice a year by train, stayed in the capital until the session ended, then got on the train to go home again. Principal residence wasn’t an issue.

These days, a senator like Duffy can get on a plane in Charlottetown or Ottawa in morning, fly to the other place (working his smartphone as he goes), spend the day tending to public business, then fly back at the end of the day. It doesn’t matter where he calls his principal residence.

The Constitution is an impediment to modernization of many procedures, in the Senate and elsewhere. Senate reform is not going to happen any time soon, though. In the interval, a more flexible approach by the government and the Senate would let senators like Duffy and others choose the place they want to call home.

The case of Saskatchewan Senator Pamela Wallin is different. I have known Pam for years, and I have no idea where she lives. I don’t even know how to figure that out. She owns a condo in Toronto, which is rented out. She owns another condo in New York, which may or may not be rented. Her hometown is Wadena, Sask., where she is co-owner (with her sister) of a house in town; she also has a cottage at Fishing Lake outside town.

Among her several residential options, Wallin chooses the house in Wadena as her principal residence. That seems fair enough. Instead of maintaining a second home in Ottawa, she stays in a hotel there. Her hotel expenses are covered by the Senate.

Her travel costs between Ottawa and Wadena are not excessive. But she claimed a whopping $321,027 for “other” travel in Canada and beyond in a two-year period. Some of that would be travel on behalf of the Conservative party because Wallin is in demand as a speaker at fundraisers.

The issue to my mind is not how much Wallin spends on party-related travel. It is why the Tory party is not picking up those bills instead of sticking the taxpayer with them.

Canadian Liberalism and the Politics of Border Control: An interview with author Chris Anderson

live your dash

The following is the second interview in LISPOP’s “Author Interview” series.  Here, I interview my colleague, Chris Anderson, on his new book from UBC press. Enjoy!

Dr. Christopher Anderson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University, has written a new book called Canadian Liberalism and the Politics of Border Control, 1867-1967, which is available for purchase from UBC Press here (hardcopy) and online here. This book “sheds light on the complex history of Canada’s response to immigrants and refugees during its first century” and offers “valuable lessons for understanding the nature of contemporary liberal-democratic control policies.”

Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. Anderson about his book via email in January and February 2013.

Alcantara: Chris, why did you decide to write this book on this topic?

Anderson: The book has its origins in a term paper that I wrote while a PhD student at McGill. I was taking a course taught by Jerome Black on “Immigrants, Refugees and Minorities,” and I was writing on “Neo-Liberalism and its Effects on [Canadian] Immigration and Refugees Policy.” In the process, I found that a perhaps more interesting question revolved around the relationship between the rights of non-citizens (immigrants and refugees) and how liberal-democratic states sought to control their borders. This subsequently became the focus of my dissertation work.

In the comparative politics literature at that time (e.g., in the work of Gary Freeman, Christian Joppke, James Hollifield) there was a fairly strong emphasis on how the recognition of such rights – often framed as rights-based politics – limited or diminished the ability of liberal-democratic states to undertake restrictive control measures. As the study of Canadian immigration and refugee policy was (and continues to be) on the margins of Canadian political science, there was a more limited Canadian literature to canvass, but it often drew on criticisms along the same lines in the Charter Politics literature (e.g., see the work of Ted Morton and Rainer Knopff, Christopher Manfredi). This negative view of the effect of the rights of non-citizens on control also appeared regularly in testimony put forward by immigration ministers and officials in various parliamentary committee hearings and in the press that I reviewed when I wrote that paper. It struck me that this argument contained conceptual and empirical gaps that could usefully be addressed. In particular, there was the possibility that not rights-based politics but the restriction of rights itself might help to explain certain control difficulties. To get at this, however, it would be necessary to move past a definition of control that was equated with restriction and that focused near exclusively on rights-based politics.
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Alcantara: So how did you decide to approach the topic, theoretically and methodologically, in your book?

Anderson: I think that it would be more accurate to say that I approached the topic conceptually, as an overdue exercise in conceptual clarification. A core claim in the book is that the Canadian and comparative literatures have conceptualized the intersection of control and rights in liberal democracies in an overly constrained manner, and that the end result has been to overlook or undervalue important dynamics that could help in explaining control policy outcomes. The focus has rested on how rights-based politics (often reduced to the courts) decrease liberal-democratic control. This calls attention to some important dynamics but excludes much that is possible within what I call the control-rights nexus. The question addressed in the book is therefore broader: “how does the liberalness of a liberal-democratic state affect the intersection of control and rights?” One benefit of this latter question is that it encompasses the former (and allows for it to be assessed critically) but does not preclude other logical/empirical possibilities. By addressing this broader question, then, a better understanding of the complex relationships that can arise between control and rights in liberal-democratic states can be achieved. This, in turn, could have concrete policy implications.

If rights-based politics producing a decrease in control is but one potential outcome, then it is important to explore other possible causal chains, and this involves moving both backwards and forwards from the literature’s focus on rights-based politics. Moving backwards, I consider what leads to rights-based politics, which I take to be rights-restrictive policies. Generally speaking, in the absence of restrictions, people do not mobilize to defend or promote their rights: you do not get rights-based politics until you have an explicit or perceived rights restriction. From this starting point, other possible reactions aside from rights-based politics emerge and I call attention to two of them: people attempting to avoid such restrictions by acting outside their scope, and the state implementing administrative procedures – sometimes to ameliorate the negative effects of the original rights restrictions – that produce significant caseload backlogs. Each of these paths can lead to a decrease in control. Moving forwards from rights-based politics, another possibility is that it can produce an increase (rather than a decrease) in control, as when – for example – the courts confirm the legality of a rights-restrictive approach. I also propose a feedback loop, which could see control loss prompting further rights-restrictive measures (based on the assumption that rights-based politics is the problem), setting the whole chain in motion again. In these ways, then, the book situates rights-based politics within a broader political and policy context.

To get at this, I pursue a form of historical discourse analysis that traces the prevalence of two approaches to the control-rights nexus, which I call Liberal Nationalism and Liberal Internationalism. In brief, the former generally privileges the state’s ability to institute restrictive control policies over the rights of non-citizens, while the latter does the reverse. Drawing on both primary (in particular, public government documents) and secondary literatures, I trace the evolution of the respective prominence of Liberal Nationalist and Internationalist views in terms of control policy debates and outcomes over the course of Canada’s first century. In doing so, I explore the merits of the conceptual clarification proposed and uncover aspects of Canadian border control history that have either been overlooked or ignored.

Alcantara: So what did you find? What were the results of the 100 years of debate between Liberal Nationalists and Internationalists in Canada?

Anderson: At a general level, the book confirms that a narrow focus on rights-based politics and diminishing (restrictive) control is insufficient. While there are bound to be other possible causal chains, the reframing of the control-rights nexus proposed in the book provides a more complete and nuanced understanding of control politics and policy outcomes. As a result, it generates a number of new perspectives on both Canadian control history and contemporary control politics.

One finding is that debates over control and rights are not especially new. There is a tendency to see rights-based politics as a particularly modern phenomenon that has complicated liberal governance/border control in the post Second World War – and in the Canadian case certainly the Charter – period. The book instead shows that there has been a rich and persistent debate surrounding the rights of non-citizens in Canada ever since the first significant rights restriction was implemented with the 1885 Chinese Immigration Act (bringing in the “Chinese Head Tax,” for which the Canadian government issued an official policy and compensation a few years back). Indeed, at that time the Canadian Senate attempted to turn back this legislation and likely would have succeeded had it not been for some deft procedural maneuvering on the government’s part. A major argument against the legislation was that it was illiberal, that – as Senator Alexander Vidal put it – it was “So utterly inconsistent with the well understood rights which every human being has when he steps on British soil.” This significant debate has essentially been ignored in the Canadian literature and is just one such case during Canada’s first century that is recovered in the book. So rights-based politics certainly has evolved over time, and the arrival of the Charter is obviously important in this respect, but the debate has been with Canada since the time of Confederation and reflects a much deeper tension stemming from the liberalness of the political system itself.

This relates to a second finding, that Canada began with an expansionist Liberal Internationalist approach to the border. Often, it is assumed that a restrictive Liberal Nationalist approach is a natural default position as it stems from efforts to maintain or bolster state sovereignty. In fact, Liberal Nationalism had to be constructed, both politically and as a practice, and this never – no matter how dominant Liberal Nationalism became – remained uncontested by Liberal Internationalists.

A third finding is that Canada has been the most successful at controlling its border (at least in terms of restriction) when it has acted in the most illiberal manner. Thus, as successive Canadian governments constructed a restrictive Liberal Nationalist approach between 1885 and the early post-Second World War period, control was predicated on instituting an almost completely unfettered authority to limit or deny the rights of non-citizens (and even citizens) in terms of such classically liberal ideas as equality and fairness. The illiberalism of successful control policies is a really important yet underappreciated (at least at a broad political level) aspect of contemporary control debates.

Finally, one last finding concerns the courts. The Canadian and comparative literatures often claim that the courts play a dominant role in a purported decline in control, and in the Canadian context the Charter has been of central concern in this respect. By examining the pre-Charter era, however, it is clear that the marginalisation of a rights-restrictive, Liberal-Nationalist approach that took place during the post-Second World War period up to 1967 was not courts-driven – indeed, the courts were all but barred by law from reviewing border control policies between 1910 and 1967. Instead, this was a political debate that took place within Parliament concerning the meaning of being a liberal political community. The shift towards greater equality and fairness for immigrants and refugees in Canada reflected, therefore, a century of debate over what it meant to be Canadian in the context of first British liberalism and later human rights. As with the focus on rights-based politics, then, too singular a focus on the courts obscures the richness and import of the politics of control in Canada and, I would suggest, other liberal democracies.

Each of these findings is significant in terms of understanding that first century of Canadian border control, but they also speak to subsequent debates over the rights of non-citizens and state control through to the present.

Alcantara: Wow! There’s quite a bit to chew on here! Let me begin by asking you about your first point, which is that a rights-based discourse has been around since Confederation. How different is the discourse in 1885 compared to the discourse about non-citizens and immigration today?

Anderson: At one level, the discourse has remained relatively unchanged – you can look, for example, at the debates surrounding the 1885 Chinese Immigration Act and then look at debates over asylum seekers in the mid-1980s and find that the central question in each period revolves around the relationship between the rights of non-citizens and state control in a liberal political system. The same basic question underpins more recent restrictive legislation (such as the 2012 Protecting Canada’s Immigration System Act) and policies (such as the government’s decision to restrict the access of asylum seekers to basic health care services in Canada).

At the same time, the discourse today is much less obviously racist than it was in the past. Indeed, one of the great successes of the Liberal Nationalist perspective has been to shed its explicitly racist framework and shift to a potent discourse of abuse. In the past, Galicians, Doukhobors, Jews, Black Americans, East Indians, the Japanese, and almost any other non-British, non-northern European peoples were simply understood by Liberal Nationalists to be inferior to those of British/northern European “stock”. Hence, a major justification for restricting their rights was that they lowered the “quality” of the British/Canadian nation. This view was often shared by Liberal Internationalists but their commitment to liberal rights such as equality and fairness anchored their support for much less restrictive policy options, and therefore explicit racism was much less prevalent in their discourse. By the end of the Second World War, however, as the reality of the Holocaust was being recognised and the concept of human rights was taking hold through the new United Nations system, it became harder to make such bold, racist generalisations unchallenged, and – almost overnight – they disappeared from parliamentary debate.

During the immediate postwar period, therefore, Liberal Nationalism was on the defensive because although Canada was still quite restrictionist, there was no obvious, non-discriminatory justification for such an approach. Meanwhile, the idea of anchoring Canadian border control to liberal rights was much more prominent in public discourse and came to play a much larger role in defining policy. From the late 1960s onwards, however, Liberal Nationalists began to focus on a new concern – that of immigrants and refugees “abusing our generosity” – and this became a new framework for a more restrictive approach. You can see this widely reflected in the media, in the work of prominent immigration critics such as Daniel Stoffman, Diane Francis, Martin Collacott, and Joe Bissett, and it has been used to justify most every restrictive measure introduced by Liberal and Conservative governments since the 1980s. For their part, Liberal Internationalists have not really shifted much in terms of their justifications for a more less restrictionist approach, except insofar as they draw on a richer language of human rights as opposed to the older discourse of British liberalism.

Alcantara: Do these groups, Liberal Nationalist and Liberal Internationalist, continue to exist today? If so, what kinds of individuals and groups form them today?

Anderson: The short answer is yes, but it must be stressed that these two categories are neither simple nor mutually exclusive. It is perhaps less useful to think of them as groups in the concrete than as orientations that have concrete manifestations. You can, for example, have a Liberal Nationalist stance and yet promote certain expansionist policies, and you can work within a Liberal Internationalist perspective and advocate for restriction in certain contexts. Indeed, since both international migration and the border are complex and varied phenomena, you can be more expansionist or restrictionist towards some aspects and less so towards others. At the bedrock of each position, however, is a set of normative claims about the state and the (non-citizen) human being, and the more you privilege the rights of the former over the latter, the more likely you are to reflect a Liberal Nationalist view, and the more you privilege the rights of the latter over the former, the more likely you are to fall within the Liberal Internationalist camp.

When it comes right down to it, there is quite a bit of an “us and them” aspect to where people and groups fall. The more you frame your interpretation as one of needing to protect us (Canadians) from them (non-Canadians), the more Liberal Nationalist your orientation tends to be. For a clear example of this, you can look at the Centre for Immigration Policy Reform ( On the other side, look at the work of the Canadian Council for Refugees (, and you see a strong commitment to traditional liberal human rights commitments of equality and fairness for asylum seekers, very much a Liberal Internationalist orientation.

Alcantara: So what are the implications of your research for the debate about immigration and non-citizens today?

Anderson: I will focus on two here. One is to open up possibilities for seeing patterns of continuity and change over time, and thereby shed additional light on today’s politics of control. The shift towards a more Liberal Internationalist approach that occurred in the 1960s-1970s happened because there was significant support for the idea that a liberal political system ought to incorporate non-citizens within its understanding of how the state recognises and protects basic liberal/human rights in Canada. This was a vital part, it was argued, of what it meant to be Canadian. By framing policy choices in a narrower set of concerns over abuse (one that incorporates criminality and security issues), the contemporary Liberal Nationalist approach not only skirts this important debate over what it means to support liberal/human rights but it also diverts attention from that existential dimension of being Canadian. A broader historical context allows for a better understanding of how this reflects a very particular form of special interest politics that has perhaps not been so prominent in Canadian control politics and policy since before the Second World War.

A second implication is that if the core causal chain has merit – that rights restriction can produce reactions that produce a loss of control, and that this creates a feedback loop that encourages greater restriction, and so on – then many of the restrictive measures that have been implemented in the past 15 years or so are not only problematic on a rights-based level (that is, they have a real and profound impact on the rights of – and therefore the lives of – non-citizens), but as well may contain the seeds of their own failure, so to speak. Thus, from a good governance perspective (both in its rights-based and more pragmatic policy coherence dimensions), this is an important debate. It also raises questions about Canada’s engagement with these issues at a transnational or global level, but that has been left more implied than addressed in the book as it was a much less central feature of how borders were controlled during Canada’s first century.

Alcantara: Sounds like a great book and I look forward to reading it!  Now that this book is done, what are you going to be working on next?

Anderson: The book took me up to 1967, a pivotal moment in terms of control politics and policy, as the courts were once again allowed oversight over immigration and refugee matters and a formal policy of non-discrimination was instituted. This reflected long-held Liberal Internationalist commitments to fairness and equality. The next book will move forward from 1967 to the present, looking specifically at how Canada has responded to asylum seekers. While immigration is seen more as a question of privilege (albeit with rights-based aspects) for non-citizens, policies towards asylum seekers operate within a framework of the state’s obligations towards those who have a well-founded fear of persecution. This has produced some very sharp yet complex tensions between control and rights that are worth examining in detail.

Although I will still explore the operation of the control-rights nexus – especially in terms of the effects of Canadian policy decisions on refugees and asylum seekers – in this context, there are other dimensions that I want to centre on in the analysis. In particular, I want to develop a more sophisticated understanding of where the courts fit into the politics of control, how non-government actors import ideas from national and international sources into control debates, and the relative effects of bureaucrats and politicians in domestic, continental and global control politics arenas.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The individual I admire the most academically

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

My best research project during my career

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

My worst research project during my career

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

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

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

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

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

A research project I wish I had done

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

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be

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

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

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

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

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

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


Restrained Liberal leadership race reflects party’s hopes

Published Feb. 19, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

What to make of the federal Liberal leadership race?

To start with, it is not so much a race as a promenade, a restrained afternoon stroll in the park. There are nine – count them, nine – candidates (or strollers), six of whom have yet to acknowledge they are doomed to be embarrassed when the vote is announced in Ottawa on April 14. Common sense suggests the doomed six get out of the way to permit Liberal supporters to concentrate on the three who actually matter: Justin Trudeau, Martha Hall Findlay and Marc Garneau.

That’s not likely to happen. The nine will carry on, being polite to one another (and boring everyone else) for the next eight weeks.

It was mildly interesting, I thought, when the nine met in a genteel encounter (not a genuine debate) in Mississauga last Saturday – interesting because both Garneau and Hall Findlay tried to get into Trudeau’s face just a little bit. But civility was quickly restored. Minutes after attacking Trudeau, Garneau defended him, and the crowd applauded. The next day, Hall Findlay posted a public apology to Trudeau for suggesting he might be a wealthy elitist who is out of touch with the middle class – which, even if true, is scarcely the most devastating critique ever offered of a candidate for national leadership (remember last fall’s U.S. presidential election?)

There are reasons for all this politeness. There’s a desire among Liberals to protect the Liberal brand or what is left of it. The party is in third place, struggling to redeem itself and revive its electoral prospects. A divisive leadership campaign would not assist the cause.

Another reason. The other eight candidates are well aware that, barring the inconceivable, Justin Trudeau is going to be their leader on April 14. He’s already their best fund-raiser. Attacking him now will not advance their leadership campaigns; it will simply supply ammunition to the viciously efficient Conservative propaganda machine. Watch for the first Tory attack ads on April 15, if not sooner.
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A third thought. The Liberals think they see a glimmer of hope in recent polling numbers. Three national polls this month all put the Conservatives in the lead, but two made the Liberals a close second or in a virtual tie for second with the NDP. The Liberals are in flux, with numbers in the three polls ranging from a low of 21 per cent to a high of 30 per cent.

One thing seems clear. The Liberals’ numbers improve and their prospects brighten when Trudeau is factored in. In one poll, Liberal support jumped 11 points, to 41 per cent (and first place) when respondents were asked how they would vote if Trudeau became leader.

Among Liberal supporters, the issue is not whether Trudeau is the best candidate for leader (which he may or may not be) but whether he is the only candidate in this large but thin field who Grits think has a realistic chance of leading the party back to power. The answer to that appears to be Yes.

“Whether or not a Trudeau-led party would actually get 41 per cent is a little beside the point,” writes poll analyst Eric Grenier. “That such a large proportion of Canadians are willing to ditch their current party of choice easily is more significant.”

Canadians are looking for change in 2013. This is certainly not a new phenomenon. It was desire for change that filled Jack Layton’s sails and produced the “Orange Surge” that made the New Democrats the official opposition. It was desire for change that brought on the Ontario Liberal government’s near-death experience in October 2011. And federal Liberals with long memories have not forgotten another Ottawa April 45 years ago when desire for change propelled an earlier Trudeau into the Liberal leadership (and into 24 Sussex Drive with a majority government).

Like father like son? Hope springs eternal, even in the battered, besieged Liberal Party of Canada.

“It turns out the Big Brother thing that was predicted, it’s us.”

The title of this post is from a quote by Pat Metheny, the great jazz guitarist, composer, and musician, in which he was talking about the impact of youtube on a touring musician.  Here’s the rest of the quote:

“It’s an unexpected turn of events for me. When you play that crappy gig in Germany in 1983, it’s like, ‘OK, we got through that one, and it’s behind us.’ Then it gets regurgitated 20 years later. The main thing is the way it limits the possibilities now. I used to love going and playing jam sessions, doing things spontaneously. I can’t do that anymore. Everything you do is documented, nothing is casual anymore. You can’t even have a conversation with someone after the gig, because there’s somebody filming it. It turns out the Big Brother thing that was predicted, it’s us.”
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Who would have predicted the rise of youtube and the proliferation of smartphones and other devices with built-in video recorders and cameras? And who needs to coerce citizens to spy on each other when you have youtube?!

Metheny needs to go all Taylor Swift on youtube and smartphones!

Public Opinion, Precaution and Toxicology

There is news today that a coroner in New Zealand formally ruled that the excessive consumption of Coca Cola led to the untimely death of Natasha Harris three years ago. Harris, it seems, developed a nasty habit of drinking up to 10 litres a day. “I find that when all the available evidence is considered, were it not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when she died and how she died” is what the coroner determined.

So what does this have to do with a blog about Canadian, politics and public opinion? Because this tragic incident illustrates a bedrock principle of toxicology that citizens, journalists and politicians often forget when our attention turns to issues of concern with possibly toxic substances. That principle is “the dose makes the poison.” It was formulated in the 16th century by the Swiss-German chemist Paracelsus and it holds that all substances (Coca-Cola included) are toxic in some quantity. Even something as seemingly innocuous as water can be toxic when enough has been consumed. This poor soul died from the excessive consumption of water during a brutal hazing ritual in New York. From this observation, the traditional role of toxicology has developed which is to ascertain at what level of exposure any given substance causes adverse effects.

With the rise of concerns about toxic substances in the post-World War II era, scientists have discovered some substances that deviate from this principle (see tamoxifen, an important drug in chemotherapy). But these effects are rare, difficult to demonstrate and the scientific debates that surround them are heated and complex. But when issues shift into the public and media spheres, the complex science behind these assertions, sadly, usually gets lost in the shuffle.
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There are multiple reasons for why this is. One reason is our own inability to perceive risks rationally. There is so much literature on the psychology of human risk perception that it is difficult to know where to start, but I might recommend this thispaper or this book. The long and short of the field of risk perception is that humans get very frightful about lots of things that actually present very little danger. After September 11th, Americans turned away from planes for their long trips and hopped into their cars, leading to a sharp increase in traffic fatalities in the months following.

Chemicals are one of those things that people fear a great deal. Ask people if they think the colourless, odourless chemical dihydrogen monoxide (the ingestion of which is the cause of thousands of deaths each year) should be banned and you’d be surprised (and a little concerned) at the number of people who would agree.

So when the public and the mass media turn their attention to issues of possible harm from exposure to chemicals, fears can be stoked, perspective can be lost and can lead, ultimately, to over- and unnecessary regulation of products and activity. For example, I was able to show in this paper that within-state newspaper coverage of Bisphenol A was positively linked to the chance that a US state legislature would introduce or adopt legislation banning products made with BPA the following year. It showed (again) the important role that increased media salience can have on policy changes. This, even though, scientific information suggests that exposure to BPA is hundres, if not thousands of times lower than the level at which there is a consensus that it causes adverse effects in rats (see here).

This research area is rife for investigation and it’s become a long-term project I’m working on, so I’m going to have a lot more to say about this in the future. I thought the news about Ms. Harris’ tragic death due to the excessive consumption of Coca-Cola was a useful way to set the stage for more thoughts and research to come.

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

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

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

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


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

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

The individual I admire the most academically:

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

My best research project during my career:

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

My worst research project during my career

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

The most amazing or memorable experience when I was doing research

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

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

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

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

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

A research project I wish I had done

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

If I wasn’t doing this, I would be:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Senate remains Harper’s bugbear

Published Feb. 11, 2013, in The Waterloo Region Record.

A case can be made that the prime minister of Canada, when armed with a majority, is more powerful politically than the president of the United States.

As long as he keeps his caucus on side, he can do pretty much anything he wants. He can amend laws and suspend regulations. Unlike the president, he does not have to beg and wheedle for the support of legislators. He can force the adoption of unpopular measures, as Brian Mulroney did with free trade and the goods and services tax. If he feels like it, he can use his power of prorogation to send MPs home until he feels like calling them back.

Being prime minister is not a bad gig — until it comes to doing something about the Senate. Ah yes, the Senate.

The Senate is Stephen Harper’s personal bugbear. He has wanted to do something, something meaningful, about the Senate since his Reform party days. He has tried. My, how he’s tried! Since becoming prime minister in 2006, he has made four or, depending on how you count these things, five attempts to reform the upper house. All to no avail.

His frustration became apparent early in his tenure. “This party’s preference is to see a reformed and elected Senate, but the Senate must change,” he told the Commons in 2007. “If the Senate cannot be elected, then it should be abolished. Those are the choices.”

Six years on, the Senate has not been reformed. It is not elected. It has not changed. It has not been abolished. It still stands, an irksome reminder that even great power is not absolute.
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Early on, Harper refused to replace retiring senators. Perhaps he thought if he ignored the place and let the numbers run down, the Senate would come to embrace his passion for reform.

When that didn’t happen, he reversed course, stuffing the red chamber with every living, breathing Conservative he could find (58 at last count). He asked two things of his appointees. First, they agree to serve for a limit of eight years (keeping alive his hope of eventually overhauling the place). Second, they agree to pass anything the Tories put before them (so much for a chamber of sober second thought). Not surprisingly perhaps, some of the Harper 58 — comfy in their $132,300-a-year sinecures — are balking at retiring prematurely or doing whatever they are told with no questions asked.

Also not surprisingly, in his haste to pack the place with compliant Tories, Harper made a few gaffes due to poor staff work or to misjudgment on his own part. Senators are required to legally reside in the province they represent. Mike Duffy hasn’t been a Prince Edward Island resident in decades; he keeps a summer place there, but to my knowledge he’s lived in Ottawa for roughly 40 years.

And anyone who pays attention to aboriginal politics could have warned Harper that Patrick Brazeau was trouble even before Harper hand-picked him in 2008. He was facing an allegation of sexual harassment at the time and now is charged with sexual assault and is being investigated for spending irregularities. Prime ministers can’t fire senators; all Harper could do was to suspend Brazeau from the Tory caucus. Some punishment!

The Brazeau and Duffy episodes are distractions to a prime minister who still wants to do something about the Senate. His Senate Reform Act is still technically before Parliament, but is going nowhere. There’s resistance in the Senate, opposition among the provinces, and impediments created by the Constitution.

Parliament, acting alone, may set term limits for senators, but more fundamental changes — such as the powers of senators and the number and distribution of seats — would require constitutional amendments. The government has asked the Supreme Court for its advice, referring six questions to it. One asks the court to tell it what hoops the government would have to jump through to abolish the Senate.

Don’t expect an early or easy answer.

Idle No More?

The Idle No More protests have dropped off the public and media agenda with almost as much speed as they burst onto it. Below is the trend for Canadian Google searches for Idle No More from December to February.

One of the fascinating things that I noticed about the Idle No More movement was its obsession with process, rather than outcome. It seemed to be that activists behind Idle No More spent at least as much time distinguishing themselves from their colleagues in the Assembly of First Nations in terms of mobilizing tactics as they did in terms of goals. Here’s Dr. Pamela Palmater, an Associate Professor of political science at Ryerson University and a former candidate for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations.

The Idle No More movement, initially started by women, is a peoples’ movement that empowers Indigenous peoples to stand up for their Nations, lands, treaties and sovereignty. This movement is unique because it is purposefully distanced from political and corporate influence. There is no elected leader, no paid Executive Director, and no bureaucracy or hierarchy which determines what any person or First Nation can and can’t do. There are no colonial-based lines imposed on who joins the movement and thus issues around on & off-reserve, status and non-status, treaty and non-treaty, man or woman, elder or youth, chief or citizen does not come into play. This movement is inclusive of all our peoples.

Further, Palmater claims that this organizing principle is rooted in actual, pre-contact cultural practices of First Nations.

To my mind, the true governing power of our Indigenous Nations has always been exercised through the voice of our peoples. The leaders were traditionally more like spokespeople which represented to views and decisions of the people. In this way, the Idle No More movement, led by grassroots peoples connects very closely to our Indigenous traditional values.


Yet, what makes this peoples’ movement so unique, is also what makes it so difficult for many Canadians and the media to understand. Generally speaking, people understand that each government, group or organization has a leader, a clearly defined hierarchy and rules about who can say and do what. This movement on the other hand, is very organic in nature and first and foremost respects the sovereignty of individual Indigenous peoples and their Nations to participate how and when they choose, if at all. This will mean that some First Nations leaders will choose not to participate, but some of their members will. It could mean one First Nation community organizes teach-ins whereas First Nations peoples living in urban areas will get together and organize flash mob round dances.

I’m neither an anthropologist nor am I of First Nations heritage, so I won’t comment on the social structure of pre-contact First nations. But, one thing that I do know from my research into the nature of environmental movements and the affiliated tensions with other elements of the older left (i.e. trade unions) is that this commitment to “new” forms of non-hierarchical and non-bureaucratic organization is neither new, nor unique. In fact, it’s become quite old hat. This rhetoric and organizing principle has motivated every “new” social movement in western democracies including, but not limited to, the Occupy movement, the anti-globalization movement, the environmental movement and the women’s movement.
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Occupy Wall Street describes itself as: “a people’s movement. It is party-less, leaderless, by the people and for the people. It is not a business, a political party, an advertising campaign or a brand. It is not for sale….We wish to clarify that Occupy Wall Street is not and never has been affiliated with any established political party, candidate or organization. Our only affiliation is with the people.”

Here’s a quote from the discussion paper that launched the New Politics Initiative, an attempt to remake the NDP in a new, “movement”-style form of organization.

Our system of governance fosters a stratum of professional politicians and technocrats on one hand, and an inactive citizenry on the other; it promotes hierarchical and bureaucratic forms of government administration; above all, it tolerates and even promotes the concentration of private wealth and power which undermines the ability of Canadians to control their own lives on a day-to-day basis.

The NPI’s opening manifesto called for not just new policies, but new politics: “Indeed, we see the crucial contribution of the NPI as sparking the creation of more democratic and active structures and processes, and developing entirely new ways of “doing” politics — rather than in trying to provide a top-down recipe book of preferred policy positions.”

In the first programm of the German Greens, a political party that was explicitly an “anti-party party” with deep roots in protest movements against nuclear weapons and industrialization, tried, in its first program to set up structures that would guarantee decentralized decision-making and the prevention of the establishment of a party hierarchy. “Grassroots democratic politics means a strengthened impmlementation of decentralized, direct democracy. We start from the assumption that a primary importance must be assigned to grassroots decisions. Easily accessible, decentralized grassroots units (at the town and county level) are given wide-ranging autonomy and rights to self-administration.”

And just yesterday, I came across this essay from 1972, called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” that bemoaned the obsession with unstructured discussion and activism groups within the women’s movements, pointing out that non-hierarchical groups often simply replace formal, with informal, structures of power “The idea of ‘structurelessness’, however, has moved from a healthy counter to those tendencies to becoming a goddess in its own right. The idea is as little examined as the term is much used, but it has become an intrinsic and unquestioned part of women’s liberation ideology.”

Contrary to what Palmater says, the obsession within Idle No More of doing politics in a new way is neither unique nor new. Rather, it is one episode in a long line of successive protest movements that are operating in a context where the activists are highly educated and competent. Such activists are, understandably, hesitant to just subsume themselves into a bureaucracy and do what bureaucracies require of them – carry out tasks in a routinized and standardized fashion. Moreover, there is a widespread sense that existing bureaucracies of the left (political parties and trade unions, in particular although similar complaints have been levied against the AFN) have somehow failed to deliver the goods. Public choice theorists successfully drove the point home that bureaucracies can tend to serve their own interests (see any episode of Yes, Minister). This is obviously something of which to be wary. And where people on the right drew the conclusion that increased market delivery of public services was the answer, people on the left seem to have drawn the conclusion in favour of more strict egalitarian forms of organization.

But there are fundamental limitations here. Bureaucracies are far more capable of sustaining long-term coordinated action than any kind of strict egalitarian organization. The deeply bureaucratic Catholic Church has withstood two thousand years of turmoil, division and social change while more flatly-organized evangelical and store-front churches regularly rise and fall. Similarly, Mancur Olson, in his study, the Logic of Collective Action, pointed out that workers are generally supportive of measures that force them to pay dues to a union (Michigan’s new right-to-work legislation which abolished this precise policy is widely opposed), but tend to avoid doing the work necessary of keeping the local going. Go to any meeting of a union local and you will only ever find a fraction of the employees bothering to show up to take responsibility for running the organization. The reason for the discrepancy is that people are, on some level, aware that they themselves cannot be trusted to provide the commitment, resources and long-term organizational capacity to bolster an organization that they know acts in their interests.

Bureaucracies can be frustrating, annoying, self-interested and deeply conservative. They are also a hallmark of modernity. If Idle No More wishes to remain vibrant and capable of pursuing its goals into the future, rather than disentegrating into irrelevance, it might consider formalizing some of its structures to marshall resources for a sustained conflict.

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

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

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

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

Below is an interview I conducted with Tom via email in January 2013.
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I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my career

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

The individual I admire the most academically

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

My best research project during my career

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

Governing from the Bench: An Interview with Dr. Emmett Macfarlane

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This is the first a series of interviews I hope to do with authors of recent scholarly books on Canadian politics.  My colleague across the road, Dr. Emmett Macfarlane, has graciously agreed to be the first interviewee.  Enjoy!

Dr. Emmett Macfarlane, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Waterloo, has written a new book called Governing from the Bench: The Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Role, which is available for purchase from UBC Press here (hardcopy) and here (e-book). This book “explores the complex role of the Supreme Court as an institution; exposes the rules, conventions, and norms that shape and constrain its justices’ behaviour; and situates the court in its broader governmental and societal context, as it relates to the elected branches of government, the media, and the public.” His book is a “comprehensive exploration of an institution that touches the lives of all Canadians.”

Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. Macfarlane about his book via email in January 2013.

Alcantara: Emmett, why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Macfarlane: When I started research on the project way back in 2006/7, there had yet to be a book-length study of the internal environment of the Supreme Court of Canada. The political science and legal scholarship had focused a lot of energy on debates about the proper role of the Court and of judges since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enshrined in 1982. Basically, we were having big debates over “judicial activism” without much knowledge about how justices on the Canadian Court actually approach their work. So in large part the book is an attempt to help provide greater empirical context of how the Court works, not only to help inform normative debates about its role, but also because understanding the significance of the Court for Canadian governance is important for its own sake.

Alcantara: That’s interesting.  I remember during my grad studies at Calgary that all of the readings and discussions centred around judicial activism and the proper intersection of law and democracy in Canada.  There was very little on the internal dynamics of the Supreme Court.  So how did you approach this topic? What kinds of theories and methods informed your work?

Macfarlane: The primary research consisted of interviews with several current and retired Supreme Court justices, as well as over twenty former law clerks and other staff members at the Court. I wanted to tap into how the different justices operate at various stages of the Court’s decision-making process and in other aspects of the institution’s work, such as the different ways they involve their law clerks. I was also particularly interested in exploring “collegiality” on the Court — how do the justices interact with each other to render decisions, or compromise, negotiate or lobby each other? I ended up developing a role-based framework for analyzing their behaviour. The justices’ views about their role and the role of the Court ended up being a central fulcrum to analyze the various factors that play a role in judicial decision-making, such as legal rules, the ideology or values of the judges, and strategic behaviour. I also wanted to get a sense of how they understood the Court’s relationship with the elected branches of government, with broader society, and with the media.

The theoretical and methodological underpinnings of this role-centric framework are at the core of the book and the focus of the first chapter is a critique of the leading political science explanations of judicial behaviour: the behaviouralist “attitudinal model” and the rational choice model. These two approaches tend to focus on judicial votes and give us single-variable explanations of those votes, effectively boiling judging down to the “policy perspectives” (or ideologies) of the individual justices. I argue these approaches pay insufficient attention to a myriad of institutional norms and other variables, including the justices’ differing motivations, not to mention the institution’s collegial environment and the substantive content of the Court’s written decisions.
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Alcantara: It sounds like you are taking a sort of new institutionalist perspective, in which you try to incorporate some of the main theoretical underpinnings of the dominant explanations while leaving room for other neglected factors.  Is that right?

Macfarlane: Exactly. I describe it as an historical institutionalist approach, albeit focused on the work of a single institution. It allows for an analysis that considers the full complexity of the Court and the justices’ behaviour, and to track how changes over time and in personnel can lead to changes in outcomes.

Alcantara: One of the common criticisms of the historical institutionalist approach is that it struggles to account for institutional change and the Supreme Court has gone through some significant instances of change: gaining control over its docket, having access to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the like.  How does your book deal with these issues?

Macfarlane: I actually think the approach is better at accounting for these changes and their effects. The book traces a host of changes – control of the docket, the establishment of the Charter, the decision to allow liberal access for third-party interveners, the change in the extent to which the Court relies on social science evidence – by considering how the justices’ views of their appropriateness influenced the changes themselves and the justices’ behaviour following them. For example, the book explores how the manner in which the Court now treats “social facts” (social science evidence) was not preordained. There was intense debate between the judges on this point, and there remain differences in the degree to which each judge gives weight to social context.

Approaches that treat structural changes as exogenous and focus solely on those changes’ effects on individual behaviour end up missing half the picture. New institutionalism allows us to consider the reciprocal effects actors have on institutions and vice versa. The risk here, of course, is getting stuck in a structure versus agency quagmire, but I think careful, qualitative analysis mitigates against that risk. Hopefully my book provides a compelling account in this regard.

Alcantara: So what were some of your main findings? What kind of effects have these changes had on the court’s role in Canadian society?

Macfarlane: One of the main findings is how judicial role perceptions structure the way ideological or strategic decision-making enters into the equation. The book identifies “sites of activity” for judicial attitudes to become a dominant factor in decisions at various stages of the decision-making process. For example, when the justices’ agree on the broader institutional or legal norms we are more likely to see clear rules dominate (such as in the leave to appeal process). Yet when the justices can’t agree on these institutional norms – or when they fail to take them into consideration (such as in the Court’s jurisprudence of section 7 of the Charter) – attitudinal or strategic behaviour comes to dominate. This is intuitive, but it suggests more attention to these institutional norms might lead to more principled and more consensual (and arguably more authoritative) decision-making.

Another interesting finding was the variety of ways the individual justices approach their work. For example, the way they choose and utilize their law clerks appears to speak volumes about their approach to the law. Some justices appear to pick clerks who think like they do (one judge stated a desire to find clerks who have “a social conscience”) while others look for clerks who will challenge them. Some give their clerks enormous power – such as writing entire drafts of judgments – while others basically treat their clerks as research assistants and have very little contact with them. These approaches have some impact on collegiality on the Court – and the book explores other ways the tension between “the judge as an individual actor” versus “the Court as a collegium” plays a role in identifying strategic behaviour and in producing certain types of outcomes (such an unanimity).

In terms of the Court’s role in society, one of the chapters of the book explores how changes in the leave to appeal process, the admittance of third party interveners and the use of evidence evolved. A more liberal approach to third party interveners was the result of a fairly intense lobbying effort from various interest groups. It is just one example of how the Court’s increased prominence in the “Charter era” has made the judges sensitive to external scrutiny. In the same vein, another chapter of the book considers the Court’s relationship with the elected branches of government, the media, and public opinion. Although the book does not identify direct influence on particular decisions, I found a lot of qualitative evidence of diffuse effects on the Court’s overall approach, also through the lens of the justices’ role perceptions. They’re very cognizant of the attention certain decisions will bring, and of their policy influence vis-a-vis Parliament and the provincial legislatures.

Alcantara: The “sites of activity” argument is really fascinating. Do the sites vary according to the type of case that is before the case (e.g. a Charter case vs. a federalism case? Or even an environment vs. a criminal law case) or are these sites established for each set of justices, changing as a new justice is inserted into the mix?

Macfarlane: It’s more at the level of which stages of the decision-making process and which set of case facts present themselves. So one chapter of the book undertakes an examination of health policy cases under the Charter to examine a variety of factors, such as how judges incorporate scientific or social scientific evidence into their reasoning, how they approach issues of imposing significant costs on government, and how (or if) they set boundaries around the scope of judicial review when dealing with difficult moral or policy questions.  

While I think the book paints a picture of how the different approaches individual judges take can affect where and how these sites open up, it doesn’t engage in a comprehensive jurisprudential analysis to assess if different areas of law (or even different areas of the Charter) are more susceptible to certain factors.  I’m hopeful the “sites of activity” argument lends itself to future case study research, or even to incorporation into the attitudinal or strategic models, so that it can be refined along those lines. But given the book’s qualitative approach and a lack of certain types of data (even the interviews can only tell us so much) the “sites of activity” argument isn’t presented as a mechanistic explanation of outcomes so much as a description of how judicial discretion can, in certain contexts, come to be reflected along ideological lines.

Alcantara: It sounds like a very interesting book that will stir debate and future research for some time.  What are you working on next?

Macfarlane: I’m almost ready to start writing my next book, in collaboration with a couple of colleagues, on the interaction between legislatures and the Supreme Court over Charter of Rights issues. It will hopefully reframe our understanding of the institutional relationships away from the messy, nebulous idea of “dialogue” and towards one more rooted in examining policy change. Can we measure or identify how much policy influence the Supreme Court actually has? Can we measure “policy change” under the Charter? A lot of the data for this project is actually from the legislative side of things. We think we have a good research base but the planning of the actual book and analysis of the data is in its infancy.

Another project I’m just getting into is assessing the question of positive obligations under the Charter. The Charter is usually considered in a “negative rights” sense of preventing government from taking certain actions or intruding on rights (aside from certain sections like minority education rights, at least). By contrast, positive obligations require the government to take some action or provide specific programs. Courts are generally less willing to impose positive obligations (and especially budgetary expenditures) on government. But some cases and their policy outcomes pose problems for this negative versus positive distinction, both for the logic of the Court’s jurisprudence and for the specific policy landscapes. I’m hoping to explore those issues.

Alcantara: Dr. Macfarlane is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo. His research examines the relationships between rights, governance and public policy, with a particular focus on the Supreme Court of Canada’s impact on public policy and political discourse under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He earned his Ph.D (2009) and MA (2005) in political science at Queen’s University, and a BA (2003) at the University of Western Ontario.

Avocascience? Or Objective Neutrality?

From a recent post by Jay Ulfelder,

“When you hear the term “conflict of interest,” you probably think of corporations paying for studies that advance their commercial interests. I know I do. It’s easy to see why studies on the effectiveness of new drug therapies or the link between pollution and cancer, for example, warrant closer scrutiny when they’re funded by firms with profits riding on the results. You don’t have to be a misanthrope to believe that the profit motive might have shaped the analysis, and there are enough examples of outright fraud to make skepticism the prudent default setting.

That’s not the only conflict that can arise, though. What I think many scholars working in comparative politics don’t appreciate as much as we should is that it’s also possible for political values and advocacy to play a similar role, and to similar effect. When a researcher’s work deals with issues on which he or she has strong moral beliefs, that confluence can hinder his or her ability to identify and fairly weigh relevant evidence. Confirmation bias is hard to overcome, especially in studies that rely entirely on an author’s interpretation, as many qualitative studies do. The problem is even more intense if the researchers’ personal life is interwoven with her work. Certain conclusions may be more palatable or appealing to people with certain values, and it can be professionally and personally damaging for researchers to report findings that suggest the work their friends and colleagues are doing may not be all that useful, or may even be counterproductive.”

I think this is a larger problem than people realize.  We all have certain moral and conceptual beliefs that we carry to make sense of the world and it is very difficult to separate those beliefs from our research and from our assessments of other people’s research.  In that sense, I think we need to be more upfront about these realities and the beliefs that people carry with them.
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In my primary research field, Aboriginal-settler relations in Canada, this is a particularly tricky problem, given that Indigenous peoples have been so disempowered and impoverished by the Crown.  There’s a real temptation to use one’s scholarship and peer review role as advocacy.  I know I certainly struggle with this issue.

As an author, I think the solution is to be upfront about your beliefs.  Recently, I’ve been reading a bunch books on Indigenous methodology and one of the many things that they do right is to announce early on who they are, where they come from, and what kind of perspective they bring to the table.  Rather than pretending to be “objective”, which quite frankly, is an impossibility in my view, we as authors should be up front about our beliefs so the readers know where we are coming from. And reviewers should assess manuscripts by respecting those beliefs rather than rejecting ideas outright because they don’t gel with our own beliefs.

Some of my work, for instance, uses rational choice to analyze treaty and devolution negotiations. During the peer review process, I’ve encountered multiple reviewers who have rejected my research outright because they don’t like rational choice.  Rarely do they ever say why the use of rational choice is inappropriate to the case at hand or how the evidence does not support the argument.

As a peer reviewer, I try to approach new research by accepting the theoretical choices of the author as a given (at least at first). So if an author decides to use political culture, for instance, which is a concept I’m highly skeptical of, I initially accept that choice and ask: a) why is this concept better than others for explaining the phenomenon at hand? b) how well does the author sketch out, deploy, and defend the concept/argument with evidence?

So what are my beliefs? Quite frankly, I think I’m more confused and uncertain about the world than anything else! My scholarship has been characterized as right wing, left wing, moderate, and libertarian, all at the same time by different people. I hope that reflects my commitment to being open to the very real possibility that my past and present views about the world are wrong (or maybe I’m just engaging in Bayesian updating!).