Learning to School: An Interview with Author Jennifer Wallner


Dr. Jennifer Wallner is assistant professor in the School of Political Studies at the University of Ottawa. She has published articles in many of the discipline’s leading journals, such as Publius: The Journal of Federalism, Comparative Political Studies, the Peabody Journal of Education, and Canadian Journal of Political Science. Her new book, Learning to School: Federalism and Public Schooling in Canada, was recently published by University of Toronto Press and explains how and why the Canadian provinces have achieved a remarkably coherent system of elementary and secondary education, without the intervention of the federal government.

Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. Wallner about her new book via email in 2014.
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Alcantara: Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Wallner: Well, as you know, one big practical motivator for writing a book is the fact that we need to publish to get tenure! But, more substantively, this book evolved from my PhD dissertation. A student of federalism and public policy, I wanted to understand the ways in which the constituent members of a federation manage to craft coherent yet differentiated policy systems despite institutional fragmentation and societal diversity. I picked the education sector because it is critical to the success of any state and one of the most important services it delivers. What is more, in federations, the responsibility for schooling falls to the substate governments – or provinces in the Canadian context. This institutional design creates, on the one hand, unique opportunities for policy experimentation but, on the other hand, also ushers in the potential for incoherent and unequal schooling systems to emerge as the provinces pursue different practices. As I PhD student, I wanted to understand the evolution and management of the provincial elementary and secondary schooling systems.

Alcantara: So how different or similar are educational policy systems across provinces and territories?

Wallner: Before answering that question, I have to clarify something. Because of major differences in the respective institutional and economic capacities of the provinces and territories – let alone their historical independence and autonomy from the federal government – I decided to focus on explaining and understanding the evolution of the provincial systems alone. So – if we look at the provinces, in the main, the core components of their respective education systems demonstrate far more similarity than difference. I show this in three ways. I track the relative investments that are made, the achievements realized, and the substantive content of the policies themselves. To unpack the content, I break the schooling sector into five dimensions (administration, finance, curriculum, assessment, and the teaching profession) and detail what each province is doing. This is not to suggest that the are exact replicas or copies of one another – obvious differences include separate Catholic school boards in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario and the unique transition years between secondary and post-secondary schooling in Quebec, known as CEGEP. But – taking a broad view, the schooling systems are remarkably similar across the federation.

Alcantara: That is really surprising! As you know, the old school federalism literature talks about how federal systems are advantageous because they permit policy experimentation and so it’s somewhat surprising to hear how similar the provincial education systems are. So is this a case where the systems have always been similar right from the beginning? Or did the systems evolve and converge through policy experimentation and learning?

 Wallner: I was definitely surprised by the results! Once it was clear that there was convergence, I wanted to see if provincial similarity was a more recent phenomenon driven by such things as globalization or US influence. So, I decided to take a long view and adopt an historical approach and went all the way back to the 1840s when then-colonial governments of British North America began to enact policies for public schooling. It turns out that at first some interesting differences appeared among the colonies – and what would later become the provinces – as officials in the different areas pursued different options. However, following Confederation, provincial officials were keenly aware of the fact that they needed to meet and exchange information on their different education arrangements and so formed the Dominion Education Association. Teachers and school board officials also got into the mix by the 1920s and created their own associations that brought together representatives from coast to coast. This activity set down a tradition of dedicated information exchanges that helped facilitate what public policy people like to call ‘policy oriented learning’. And so – by 1945, many of the differences that had originally marked the provinces were already disappearing thanks to experts and officials learning from one another and adapting practices to fit within their respective jurisdictions.

Alcantara: How did these policy learning processes and networking exchanges become so permanent and robust and resistant to differentiation and the forces of change (e.g. economic shocks, international and local/regional labour trends, and the like)? Were they institutionalized in some manner?

 Wallner: I should clarify something – it is not as if in 1945 all policy experimentation stopped and all the provinces looked alike with the education systems as we know them today. In some ways I wish it had been that simple. Instead, some provinces always continued to experiment often in response to many of those factors you mentioned above like economic shocks and labour trends. When new practices popped up in one province, the others could watch to see if they worked – like university-led teacher education programs, that started in Alberta and then spread across the rest of the country. So, what contributed to the permanence and robustness of the learning network? One of the major things that contributed to this was the creation of the Council for Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) in 1967. This is an organization for education ministers and their senior deputies alone. They have regularly scheduled meetings and a permanent secretariat based in Toronto that helps keep things going – even as governments change hands across the provinces after elections. I am not saying that everything is channeled through CMEC – but the Council helped to institutionalize the learning network and offers a focal point for information exchanges thus facilitating the necessary communication from coast to coast.

Alcantara: So what are the implications of your research findings in terms of a) what we should expect to see from provincial education policy in the future; and b) what policymakers might learn from your work?

 Wallner: Great questions! For many people, one issue that is already getting considerable coverage is the declining math scores in all provinces, except Quebec. I hope that officials are going to capitalize on Canada’s comparative advantage and draw lessons from Quebec to help improve things in the rest of the jurisdictions. Moving beyond what I covered in my book – another issue that receives considerably less attention but is one that needs to be addressed is the quality of schooling for Aboriginal children, and the new autonomy that the territories have over schooling in their respective regions and what that will mean for provincial and territorial cooperation in education.

On the lessons learned – I hope that three things come out from the book. First, and this is something we did not have a chance to get into here but schooling systems are in fact a collection of policies and practices that are often developed in isolation from one another. For example, some area of the bureaucracy will specialize in curriculum while another focuses on administration. Decisions in administration, however, can influence things in curriculum and so it is important to recognize the interconnections among the different dimensions of education policy. Second, interprovincial communication is critical and must happen regularly. It is only through actively exchanging ideas that we learn from one other and make overall improvements to our schooling systems. Third and most importantly is that provincial policy makers can build remarkably effective policy systems – like education – without the direct intervention of the federal government and without expecting each province to do exactly the same thing.

Alcantara: Now that this book is done, what are you hoping to write about next?

Wallner: I am turning my attention to other Anglo-American federations – Australia and the US – to unpack the different trajectories of the schooling systems in those two other countries. Both cases are fascinating in and of themselves and in comparison with Canada. Did you know, for example, that more than 30 percent of Australians attend private schools that are supported by public funds? Or that many US governors have little authority over schooling policy in their states? Both countries are also in the throws of considering some major changes to the way that schooling is managed, specifically with respect to the role that should be played by the Commonwealth and Washington respectively. Bottom line: this makes great fodder for political science and public policy research!

Gendered News: An Interview with author Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant


Dr. Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant (Ph.D. McGill) is an associate professor of political studies at Queen’s University. Concentrating on gender and politics, her current research is comprised of several ongoing projects that deal with gendered aspects of political behaviour, representation, and news media and elections, respectively. Goodyear-Grant has also published work on attitudes toward democracy and political representation, attitudes toward the use of referenda, and so on, all part of a larger research agenda that concentrates on representation and political behaviour.

Recently, she published a book entitled Gendered News: Media Coverage and Electoral Politics in Canada. (Vancouver: UBC Press), which was shortlisted for this year’s Donald Smiley Prize. According to the jury report:

“Goodyear-Grant’s book offers a rare but important look at the relationship between media coverage and women’s representation in Canada.  In particular it “…asks whether the new media contribute to the supply- and demand-size barriers to women’s political representation.”  The answer is: yes, it does. Drawing on a considerable body of content-analytic data, alongside opinion data from the Canadian Election Studies, Goodyear-Grant offers an impressively detailed analysis of the nature and magnitude of gendered media coverage in Canada.  Goodyear-Grant makes a strong case for the importance of mass media in citizens’ ideas about politics and politicians.  She then outlines important differences in the visibility and treatment of female politicians. The book exposes the heavily biased climate in which female politicians much operate; and offers one possible explanation for ongoing gender gaps in political interest and participation.”

Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. Goodyear-Grant about her new book via email during the early summer months of 2014.
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Alcantara: Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Goodyear-Grant: Two reasons are particularly important. First, while becoming more common, analyses of media’s effects on the electoral success and political representation of the full diversity of Canadians is under-analyzed. I wrote this book, in part, to fill a gap. Unlike parties, the campaign finance regime, and other important institutions structuring candidacy and office-holding, I didn’t think we had an adequate understanding of how media affects electoral outcomes, as well as the supply of female candidates. Second, this book is also very much an evaluation of news media’s performance. News media serve multiple roles in a political system, and one of these is to act as the information provider. When news coverage is unbalanced or biased, that creates ripples in the system. Some of these may be positive, and some may be negative. I present evidence in the book that certain patterns of coverage can harm female candidates’ electoral prospects, contributing then to under-representation. In this sense, the book is an accounting of how well media live up to their primary task in a democracy. Generally, news media are doing a good job, but there is also systematic evidence of gender imbalance in coverage.

Alcantara: So what kinds of patterns of coverage did you find? And how pervasive were these patterns across media types (e.g. radio, tv, internet, etc.) and media outlets (e.g. “left-wing” vs. “right-wing” outlets)?

Goodyear-Grant: In terms of the patterns of coverage, I’ll give you the broad strokes. We tend to think about news coverage in terms of two broad categories: visibility and quality. Visibility refers to how much a person is shown or discussed, as well as how prominent in a newspaper or news broadcast their coverage is placed. On this measure, there is little systematic evidence that women are perennially disadvantaged. On certain indicators of visibility, women lag behind men, but on others, women and men are equal, or women actually outpace men. This last point is important. Some women are very prominent in news, such as former MP and cabinet minister, Belinda Stronach, as well as former NDP MP (and now mayoral candidate for the city of Toronto) Olivia Chow. Yet, this focus on women, or fixation in some cases, is often gendered. Women candidates sometimes receive a lot of news attention because of their novelty value, because they do not fit the bill of the traditional politician, or because of their connection to some powerful man, as in the case of Chow, whose marriage to the former NDP leader Jack Layton is mentioned in every one of her print news stories in my analyses of coverage of the 2006 Canadian federal election. While such coverage sets women apart as “different” because of their gender, likely contributing to enduring stereotypes that view men as the norm in political office, it is not clear that it would be an immediate electoral disadvantage for women. In fact, greater coverage can be beneficial for candidates, depending on the quality of the coverage.

On the more important issue of how men and women are covered in political news, the story is different. Systematic evidence is provided in Gendered News that women tend to be covered differently than their male counterparts because of their gender. Coverage of female candidates often fits into one of roles or stereotypes, sex object, mother, pet, and iron maiden, each of which poses dangers for women’s equal representation in politics, as well as societal gender equality more generally. Indeed, to the extent that news coverage perpetuates well-entrenched, but tired stereotypes about men’s and women’s roles, abilities, and aspirations, media contribute to broader dysfunctions in how the genders see themselves and each other.

The sex object was how Belinda Stronach was consistently portrayed, with news coverage that emphasized her appearance, personal life, and glamour over all else, but also her relationship to her powerful father, the automotive parts magnate, Frank Stronach, suggesting she was not to be taken seriously as a political figure. The iron maiden is another popular frame, and it fits with my discovery in the book that women candidates’ aggressive behaviour is exaggerated in news, while at the same time female “toughness” is implicitly criticized as “unfeminine”. This may be part of the reason for the book’s finding that news depictions of female politicians’ aggressive behaviour are actually detrimental to voters’ evaluations. When a woman goes on the offensive, voters rate her news stories more negatively, a result that was not produced for the male comparators in this portion of the study. This direct link between news coverage and public attitudes puts news media directly in the cross-hairs in assessing why women are politically under-represented.

Alcantara: And what did you find in terms of differences across media types and outlets?

Goodyear-Grant: In terms of patterns across media types and outlets, there are clear differences. The contrasts in print and broadcast coverage are due largely to the format differences. Broadcast news has very lean content. A 60-minute television newscast, leaving out time for commercials, has much less actual news than a newspaper. As such, lengthy descriptions are often absent from television news. This seems to benefit female candidates sometimes, because it is in all the descriptive material where commentary on appearances, personal lives, and the like creeps in. My analyses demonstrate that mentions of candidates’ appearances, clothes, and personal lives are much rarer in television news than in print news. Another major difference is the huge emphasis on party leaders in televised news compared to print news. Non-leader candidates are largely absent from national televised news programs. This means that without female party leaders, women are marginal in depictions of campaigns in national televised news. National papers have much more coverage of non-leader candidates, because they have more space. There are other differences, but these are some of the big ones.

In terms of outlets and whether those thought to be “left” or “right” in ideological orientation provide different coverage, not really. There aren’t actually systematic differences along these lines in hard news content (as opposed to editorial content, which I have not analyzed extensively in the book). One might expect more gender-balanced or gender-neutral coverage from outlets thought to lean “left”, but this is not borne out in the data in any systematic way. This finding is consistent with the literature on stereotypes, which says that their activation and use is largely implicit, not the result of explicit bias or prejudice.

Alcantara: Does the party to which a women politician belongs matter for your findings? Or any other individual characteristics, like ethnicity, age, or the like?

Goodyear-Grant: These are complicated questions. Separating the effects of gender on news coverage, on the one hand, from those of party, ethnicity, age, and other characteristics is tough. Starting with the question of party – the most critical consideration guiding the vote, and a powerful influence on news coverage as well – my book proposes that party does matter a great deal. One of the important points here is that gender and party stereotypes interact in important ways. To give an example, women in left-wing parties may be portrayed as more “soft”, compassionate, and liberal than they really are, in part because stereotypes about women and left-leaning parties encourage this. In contrast, where stereotypes collide, such as women in right-leaning parties, the outcome may be different. News stories may depict right-wing women as tougher, more aggressive – as possessing more masculine traits, essentially – because of party. Simply put, party moderates the impact of gender on news coverage.

Other individual characteristics can matter too for how gender influences media coverage. Ethnicity and age are obvious factors. Part of the difficulty in sorting out how they matter is that there have been comparatively few visible minority women and young women office holders to study. I cannot offer systematic evidence, but the analyses in the book suggest that minority and young women may get more coverage on account of their relative novelty, but their coverage may be problematic in what it says or implies about them. For example, my analyses suggest that visible minority women are often presented as exotic.

Alcantara: What kinds of advice might you offer female politicians as they navigate the news media? How about journalists?

Goodyear-Grant: These questions find me on shakier ground! I cannot claim to have much advice for female politicians about how to avoid gendered news, and I say this for several reasons. First, much of the gendering is beyond candidates’ control. There isn’t a whole lot many of them can do about their coverage. Even if they could, it would require hiding or de-emphasizing aspects of their personal lives or who they are – such as de-emphasizing the fact that they have children – and I’m not sure this is a good thing. I interviewed former Prime Minister Kim Campbell for this research, and one of the things she said about going into politics is that you cannot any longer be your authentic self, a fact she found unfortunate. I suppose this is true for both men and women, but to then take it one step further for women and strip them of all the things that make them different from men or that remind the electorate that they’re mothers or wives or daughters is ridiculous. The sacrifice is too great. It also does nothing to push newsmakers, and all of us, away from the idea that politics is a male preserve. Finally, the idea that gendered news is best avoided is not universally true, and especially not in the eyes of candidates on the campaign trail. While I make the case in the book that gendered news, broadly, ultimately harms women’s political representation, at the individual level it is not difficult to identify instances where gendered news has created opportunities for female candidates, either as a result of the practices that produce it or the way it’s received by audiences. Some of the female MPs I interviewed for the book felt, for example, that their gender garnered attention, and they welcomed the “leg up”, so to speak. Gendered news can present both opportunities and obstacles, is what I’m saying.

Journalists generally do a decent job of providing gender-balanced coverage, an important finding in the book. My advice to newsmakers would be to exercise caution and vigilance. Simple. Much of the gendered news coverage that is produced is the result of gender-based stereotypes, which get cued implicitly, without motive or conscious action. In other words, we are susceptible to gendered thinking about candidates because that is the schema with which we look at men and women in the world, all of us, and in many situations. Newsmakers need to be more cautious in the words they choose to describe female candidates and the topics in their stories about female candidates.

Alcantara: Now that this book is done, what’s your next major project?

Goodyear-Grant: I have a few projects active at the moment. I’m working on several papers assessing gender and race affinities in candidate preferences with Erin Tolley, my colleague at University of Toronto, using data collected from web-based survey experiments conducted over the past year. I’m also embarking on a new 5-year SSHRC-funded project with Amanda Bittner, my colleague at Memorial University, whereby we intend to identify better gender measures for use in survey research, with a focus on election and public opinion surveys. The challenge with this work is that we need to identify the politically-relevant aspects of gender identity, test various operationalizations of these, and then further test how these can be combined in an economical way for widespread use in standard public opinion and election surveys. This is an exciting project, to be sure, and one that is both methodologically and substantively innovative in its outcomes.

The Big Shift: An interview with author Darrell Bricker

Big Shift

Darrell Bricker, a Laurier alumnus who obtained a PhD at Carleton University, has emerged as an astute observer of Canadian politics. This is not a surprise as observing Canada is his main occupation. As CEO of Ipsos Reid, Bricker continuously tracks public opinion about a wide variety of topics, not least of which is politics. He has published some of his insight in various books and articles, but nothing compares to the impact of his latest book, The Big Shift: The Seismic Change in Canadian Politics, Business, and Culture and what it Means for Our Future, co-authored with Globe & Mail columnist John Ibbitson, and published by Harper-Collins. The book is reflection of the authors’ views about some fundamental changes in Canada, supported in several occasions by data Ipsos-Reid gathered in an 2011 online election-day survey.

I interviewed Bricker recently about his book and he offers a wide array of answers touching on social values, immigration, Quebec, ideology and a possible NDP-Liberal merger, all, however, in attempt to provoke a greater conversation among Canadians. He even invokes John Porter, which guided some of Bricker’s thinking for this book. Equally thought provoking are answers to some of my questions.

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Perrella: Why did you decide to write the book?

Bricker: Well, it was really very much a joint project between John [Ibbitson] and I. The reason we decided to write a book is that we had been talking about doing something together for a long time, but we never really got to anything that we were really that committed to. It was an interesting conversation. And then the 2011 election came along and both of us had been talking at the time about how much people just weren’t understanding what was really happening.  If you listen to the narratives coming out of Ottawa you would think that Michael Ignatieff was in a very strong position of leadership and that Harper was done, that all of these issues about how the campaign was being run were going to be very determinative in the outcome of the election. None of that happened. Both of us were talking through the course of the election about how out of touch people seem to be, particularly in Ottawa, about what was going on in the rest of the country. So after the election, both of us were in a position and had an opportunity to explain what was going on. He did a speech for TVO on what he called the “Laurentian Consensus.” It was essentially about most of what we ended up writing about in the book. He sent me the link, or somebody sent me the link, and I watched it on Youtube and I remember I was sitting in the airport at Heathrow. I watched this thing and picked up the phone and called him and said, “I think you pretty much got it. Interesting argument but you don’t have any numbers – I have numbers and I am going to show you why you are more right than you think.” So what happened was we got together on that basis and the book is really meant, as we say in the conclusion, a provocation. It’s to say to people: “You think you understand the country, but the country that you think you understand no longer exists and it’s going to change even more through the future and you’re going to have to adjust just about everything about how you look at this place.”

Perrella: The term “Laurentian Consensus” is very much the major theme, if not the theme, of the book, and you write about its demise. Does this term appear defined only in your book? Do you now hear others referring to the “Laurentian Consensus?”

Bricker: No, I don’t necessarily hear the term “Laurentian Consensus.” Certainly the concept is interesting, when you take a look at Paul Wells’ book now on the Prime Minister. He’s basically saying the same thing, which is that Harper figured out that there is a new Canada and understands it better than the people that he faces. That’s essentially the argument. The “Laurentian Consensus” is this idea that we lay out in the first chapter, which is that we’re helpful fixers in the world, that the country is forever going to be defined by the poor regions being helped out by the strong regions, that bilingualism is an inherent feature of who we are, that power is determined by what happens in Ontario and Quebec and really not by anything else. It’s the major downtown cities, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal that decide everything and it’s the people who are the elites in those cities who run the country. That’s the way this place has been run for a very long time. And it’s funny, you still see this being played out in Ottawa right now, on the Duffy scandal. It completely dominates the news, everybody’s talking about it. I expect the impact on the rest of the country to be white noise. Why? No one cares. Ottawa as an institution that defines the country, pulling the country together, doesn’t nearly play the same role that it used to.

Perrella: So is the current political intrigue with the Senate and the PMO is just “inside baseball?”

Bricker: So much is these days. So for example, Michael Ignatieff’s bus tour that he did before the election, when he went around to get in touch with Canada. Everybody who was on the bus, basically came back and suffered from Stockholm Syndrome, in which they were all convinced that he was a wonderful campaigner and he was going to do a great job and that his numbers were going to move and that people were going to fall in love with him. But nobody paid any attention, at all. Nothing happened. I mean, go take a look at the last election, Michael Ignatieff walks out in front of the Peace Flame there in Ottawa and started talking about prorogation and undermining the house and that this is about credibility and responsibility of the government and all the rest of it. Look what happened to him. And this is what’s changed. So this idea that Ottawa and the people who are the elites of that group – who run the country –  is now in question. And that’s basically the theme of book. The real theme of the book is really about how the population is massively changing.

Perrella: That is my next question actually because in some ways the book ties political and social changes to demographic changes. Which trends should we consider the most? Which ones should we really pay attention to?

Bricker: Well, I think that the biggest single change that we’ve got to look at is the growth in population, mostly from immigration, of the suburbs of Toronto and Western Canada. And given that we have a representation-by-population system and given that we have a birth rate of 1.7, the only way that we can sustain and grow our population is through immigration. And that all these people are choosing to move to “the 905” and Western Canada is going to have major implications for everything.

Perrella: You note that immigrants are key to electoral success in Canada. But are immigrants as cohesive and unified as an electoral bloc? Are they are as cohesive as you suggest or were they just organized effectively by the Conservatives?

Bricker: I think it’s probably Number 2, but there are certain overtones to Number 1 that are worth talking about. So if you look at the immigrants that are coming to Canada now, they’re very different from the immigrants that came here when your family came here or when my family came here. Basically they were Western Europeans, they were very Atlantic in their orientation, they shared a similar religious background and they were usually leaving at a time in their life when they were the most desperate. The immigrants that are coming to Canada now are coming mainly from three countries: 1) The Philippines, 2) mainland China, and 2) Indo-Pakistani. While some of these people do still come in as refugees, and some of them still do come in through family reunification, by far the biggest block that’s coming in now is our economic immigrants. These are people who are coming with skills, ready to hit the ground running and are making an impact on the economy, today. They’re defining what is happening in places like Toronto, particularly the suburbs of Toronto. It’s very different from the way that immigrants were before, which was kind of poor huddled masses looking for an escape from something. These are people who are the new class of immigrants that are coming in, particularly the ones over the last 20 years, are people who are coming to take advantage of the stability and tolerance of Canada in order to make the biggest advantage of the skills that they have. Very, very different from people escaping war and famine.

A lot of the book is: “Where does this go? What’s the logical conclusion in this?” And I’m not saying we have come up with every conclusion. In fact, the best critiques I’ve heard of the book were actually questions like the question you raised, which were “why are you assuming there is this monolithic concept of immigrants?” Different parts of the Asian communities behave differently; they have different values and all of the rest of it. If there’s a weakness in the book, That’s probably it, because all of this is so new and there is so little research to actually prove out points about how immigrants are going to vote and there’s so little history on any of this so that part will have to be proven over time. A lot of what we say on that is based on speculation about what we saw in the exit poll that we did and what John [Ibbitson] heard from the Conservative campaign and heard from other people. But also what we’ve seen on things like the Canadian Election Studies. So, it’s all new. The question is: what happens in the next generation of immigrants? What happens with the kids of immigrants? What happens in the next wave? Maybe the next wave’s not coming from India, maybe it’s coming from Africa. What are they going to do? So that’s the part of it that, for me, is open to a lot of criticism, critique, evaluation and additional information. It’s like when you wrote your PhD thesis, you had to write the chapter on areas of further investigation. If I was to write that at the end of this book, it would be about getting a much better handle on the values of immigrant voters.

Perrella: This demographic change probably challenges how Canadians view themselves. What does the book say about how Canadians actually see themselves?

Bricker: Well it’s very coincidental with how the rest of the world sees Canada. They see us as basically very tolerant, they see us as accepting, they see us having wonderful natural beauty, they see us as doing some things in terms of public policy absolutely correctly. So, for example, like health care. And they see us as a country that’s actually kind of poised and have a very good century. So it’s interesting what Laurier said back in the early 1900’s, that the 20th century will belong to Canada. In fact, he was probably a century early. What he should have said at that time though, was that the 20th century belongs to Quebec.

Perrella: The book suggests that as the government steers right, there will be increased interest for progressive politics, such as those that concern the environment and pipelines. To what extent would such a progressive counter movement raise the salience of issues that have divided people along traditional ideological lines, such as progressive taxation or protecting public health care?

Bricker: It falls around the edges. There’s no real debate whether we should set up a private parallel system of health care and whether you can opt out of the system. There’s really no debate on that big issue, which is the problem the medical community always gets itself into because it wants to start at the end, rather then taking people through the various steps that you need to go through to set up something different. That’s why they always lose, because they want too much change, too fast. But on the last, in fact, that’s the argument we make in the book, and this is going back to my Wilfrid Laurier political science training I got that from reading John Porter. And what I picked out of Porter, because I read the part of it that only guys like you and I read in the Vertical Mosaic, which is the chapter on politics, is the idea that Canada has been stunted in terms of its democratic growth by an over-arching problem, which Porter claims is a false problem of regionality and national meaning, and that the Liberal party has been able to organize a coalition based on that question: The jeopardy of Canada, Canada as a fragile nation. And his view was that when regionality no longer becomes the driving force, and when national unity no longer becomes the driving force, then what happens is elections are driven by issues of economics. And our view in the book is that as national unity becomes less of a question – and by national unity specifically I’m talking about Quebec separation – Quebec has less of a place in national politics, and hasn’t voted for a government party since 1988. As they have a lesser place in Canadian politics, then that allows economics to emerge. That doesn’t mean that Quebec isn’t relevant. Our view in the book is that where we’re going to find that progressive option having a bigger space is actually in Quebec. It’s probably going to start there.  It will be Quebec, it will be the people in Atlantic Canada who feel left out by what the Harper government has been doing to regional dispersion and it will be people in the major cities who – you know, educated professionals – people who are in the helping professions, lawyers, public servants, those people who just can’t stomach the values of the conservatives. And you can see all of this coming together.

Perrella: What interest would Quebecers have to support such a progressive countermovement, while at the same time many might want to just simply abandon Canada, especially abandon an increasingly conservative Canada.

Bricker: That’s what Justin Trudeau said and it’s a very interesting comment in the context of 1995. The problem that Quebec has right now is that it’s basically becoming Canada’s grief. The argument that we make in the book, if you remember the chapter on Quebec (which I wrote by the way) is that the sovereignty movement of the 1990’s and the 1980’s is very different from the sovereignty movement today. And I go onto the example of the leadership of the sovereignty movement. And I was sitting there in my Lazyboy chair when I was writing this and just went on the Internet and looked up the age of Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau and Pauline Marois, Gilles Duceppe – they’re all old! There is no real new leadership that’s emerged that really connects with Quebecers today on the sovereignty movement. I was part of that 1995 battle and I remember the people who were having that fight and I remember going out and doing tons of focus groups and surveys at the time, and the mood in Quebec was actually very affirmative; it was very much, “we’re ready to be our own country in the world, we’re ready to see seize this opportunity.” That, to me doesn’t describe the sovereignty movement of today. The sovereignty movement today is like a small-world type of sovereignty movement, which is really focused on trying to hold on to what they have. As a result, I think that the sovereignty movement itself is going to face some fundamental challenges because that kind of aggressive need to be separated from the country to find your own place in the world only comes when you are in a position of strength, and they’re in a position of weakness right now relative to their economy and the status of their society. And we’re seeing it come out in their Values Charter. And as a result, in some ways, Quebec is going to be in a situation where it needs more Canada, and then it’s going to be “what is the kind of Canada that it needs?” What it needs is the kind Canada that is prepared to accommodate the needs of Quebec, which is more of a progressive type of an orientation. So the people who are left out on the snow bank on this, and we say in the book, are the Liberal party. The focus is not going to be on national unity in the old framework, but it’s going to be focused on the economics of distribution and redistribution in the country, what our economic division is going to be, whose is being left out that needs to be helped, and how taxpayers are going to react to that. That’s a very different type of politics and it doesn’t really know voters the same way.

Perrella: Not that your book is written to advise political parties’ strategists, you do advise opposition groups on how to beat Conservative would basically be to go to the suburbs and the West. But how receptive would such voters be to appeals by either the Liberals or the NDP?

Bricker: In my view, Canadians living in the 905 are people, in some instances, are relatively new to the electoral process, so they’ve either only recently become citizens or they’ve only voted in a couple elections or whatever, so it’s not like you’ve created a habit. And if you look at 300,000 immigrants coming every year, you can assume that every year there’s going to be a proportion of those who become voters and who become citizens from people from five or six years ago who came through for the first time in 2015. So I would say that if you can get the values right, if you can connect with those people, that’s how you win elections. And I’m not saying that they’re exclusively available to the Conservatives, just that the Conservatives got there first.

Perrella: You mention that the Liberals and the NDP will have to face one day the real prospect of merging. How would such a party position itself given the demographic and value changes you outline in the book.

Bricker: The other side of the Conservatives. In fact, what we say in this book is really clear on this. Just take everything the Conservatives are doing and do the opposite. There’s a whole coalition out there of people, hugely hungering for that and it’s actually bigger than the side that wants Conservatives. And so, to me, it’s pretty obvious, I mean it’s going to involve putting together the people who have been left out of whatever this economic program has been for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. So Atlantic Canada, people in more marginal communities, the province of Quebec and people who are living in the downtowns of the major university cities across the country. And you can string it like pearls right across the country. That’s a winning coalition.

Perrella: But that’s not the old “Laurentian Consensus,” is it?

Bricker: No, it’s not. In fact, that’s what the book is about, the “Laurentian Consensus.” It would be a party that combines essentially what the NDP has going for it, which is the party of the afflicted and the people who want to help the afflicted, and those among the Liberal party who feel common cause with that and don’t like what the Conservatives are presenting for their vision for the country. To be very clear, that’s not the “Laurentian Consensus” view of the country. And then the other side of the equation is that of Stephen Harper, you know “economic strivers,” “less government is better,” focus on law and order, cutting taxes, reducing the role of government in the country, Canada as being not necessarily a helpful fixer in the world. All of those things that you see coming out of the Conservative party, and Stephen Harper specifically. He’s get a very good sense of what that other coalition wants.

Perrella: So then, what does this foretell for Canadian politics?

Bricker: Well, in my view, it’s a fool’s errand to try and predict what the future’s going to be. Who really knows? We put it out there more as a hypothesis about what the future looks like as one view of how the future might unfold. And there are probably other compelling ones that will be put together by others. But what I think what we’re seeing is probably the decline of the Liberal party, because it’s a coalition based on an agenda and a consensus that no longer really has as much purchase in the country anymore, and the growth of more of an ideological type of politics and what you have is a more clearly defined left and a more clearly defined right. And that the middle just gets filled in by those two sides of the coin.

Perrella: You seem to be describing a polarized Canada.

Bricker: Well, certainly polarized in the sense that it doesn’t have the centre that is used to. But if you take a look at most democracies around the world, that is basically what they are. And the reason they focus on that is because those are the fundamental questions that drive and animate a national politics, which is really related to economics. Canada, and I agree with John Porter on this, has been distracted by a debate over national unity that’s worked for the advantage of this Laurentian elite – they are the experts on it, they know how to build that coalition. But if that coalition is no longer dominant in Canada because of population change – and that’s what happened, the population changed – then you get what we’re getting now. And so the purpose of the book, as we say in the conclusion, is to politely grab people by the lapels and shake them and wake them up to that. You know, the great thing that the Laurentian elites gave us was an open immigration policy and a multiculturalism that tolerated that level of change. But, it’s also been the root of their own demise.

Perrella: Will you update the book after the next election?

Bricker: Oh, well it’s funny, it was kind of like a one-off project. It was like we were both in kind of the same mood. You can tell in the tone of the book, it’s kind of an aggressive tone and we were both in the same mood about the same topic. I don’t know if that will necessarily be the case after the next election, but knowing John and I, there’s a very good chance that it will be. I don’t know if it’s an article, if it constitutes a whole book, or maybe an update and a revision, maybe we”ll do that. I mean, there is some possibility to do that. I mean, I was somewhat shocked by the success of the book, to be honest. I’ve written four other books and all of them have done reasonably well, but none of them have got the type of attention that this one has. John was of the view that it would; I was of the view that it wouldn’t. So I was pleasantly surprised, met his expectations. So, I don’t know where it goes from here. It’s obviously in terms of what our goal was. Our goal was to try to change the political conversation and have people try to understand that politics is different from what they thought that they understood, and I think to a certain effect we certainly achieved that among the people who read the book. So the question is: is there something we can do to augment or adjust or improve that perspective. And that would be our reason to do a second book.

An Ethic of Mutual Respect: An Interview with Author Bruce Morito

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Dr. Bruce Morito, Professor of Philosophy in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Athabasca University, has written a new book called An Ethic of Mutual Respect: The Covenant Chain and Aboriginal-Crown Relations, which is available for purchase from UBC Press here. This book “offers a philosophical interrogation of the predominant current reading of the historical record regarding the Covenant Chain. Through this fresh perspective, he overturns assumptions about early First Nations–Crown relationships and demonstrates the relevance of the Covenant Chain to the current relationship. By examining the forms of expression contained in colonial documents, the Record of Indian Affairs, and related materials, Morito locates the values and moral commitments that underpinned the parties’ strategies for negotiation and reconciliation …. Real change is possible if the focus can be shifted from piecemeal legal and political disputes to the development of an intercultural ethic based on trust, respect, and solidarity. .”

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

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Alcantara: Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Morito: Thank you for this question. I had to delete the explanation from my preface to keep within word limits, although a few indications of why the book was researched and written remain on it.

My work with First Nations began with an invitation to co-write (with Stephen Crawford) a response to an article on conservation ethics, written by representatives of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The article length draft was received with considerable suspicion by reviewers, since it appeared to them to be too politically charged for a science journal to publish. The editor, however, wanted some version of the response to be published and requested that we shorten it, so that it could be presented more as a letter to the editor. This was my first lesson in the politics of framing issues outside academia, which was, at the same time, a lesson about applying my philosophical training to real-world issues.

As my work with First Nations proceeded, I began to find and admit that my philosophical training, however valuable it had been in helping me articulate the underlying issues pertaining to the Crown/First Nation relationship, was insufficient. My training somehow failed to provide me with a complete picture of the issues, especially as they were understood by Aboriginal people. The first indicator of the inadequacy of my way of framing issues came from my Aboriginal colleagues and certain elders who would tell me that my way of speaking may be useful for talking to the government, but it distorted their way of understanding the issues. My focus on rights, for instance, attracted the response, “Our language has no word for ‘rights’.” Others told me, “When I speak in Ojibway, I see and think differently, than when I speak in English. But I can’t make you see and think the way I do.” Over time, I began to identify the problem as belonging to a set of problems I connect under the term ‘worldview.’ As fuzzy as this term is, it helped me understand that I would have to shift how I thought as much as what I thought.

Further, interactions with Aboriginal colleagues, such as Darlene Johnston and elders, informed me that I needed to understand the history of the Crown/First Nation relationship from contact, if I was to understand their way of thinking about treaties and the relationship with non-Aboriginal people. This led me to recognize that simply doing the analysis of these relationships from a contemporary moral and legal perspective would be as insufficient as relying on my philosophical training for capturing what was at issue for Aboriginal people in asserting their treaty and Aboriginal rights. Moreover, Eric Johnston told me, on more than one occasion, that “we” needed to go back to the wampum. I was familiar with the Six Nations wampum reclamation project and so was vaguely familiar with the idea. All I understood, however, was that ‘wampum’ and ‘treaty’ were closely related ideas from the Aboriginal perspective.

For these reasons, I decided to begin the historical research and applied to the Social Sciences and Humanities Council and the Alberta Law Foundation for funding to do the archival research. I did so with some trepidation, both because I had never done historical research (and would not like sitting in archives) and because it would require a major shift in my research focus. After successfully applying, I committed to immerse myself in the records, because I realized that the records were of a very different sort than I expected (as I explain in the book). After beginning my research, I realized that I would have to examine more records than I initially anticipated. Once exposed to the Canadian and American records I further realized that the body of evidence I was researching both told me a very different story of the Crown/First Nation relationship than I had learned about in school and the media, and perturbed me, because I could not give a proper account of the relationship by mining the records for evidence of my hypothesis.

It was for this reason that I decided to write a very different book from what I had initially envisioned. I initially planned to apply a moral theory to analyze the relationship and to use the historical record to support my claims. This plan changed radically after about a year of archival research, because of what the peculiarity of the records. I decided then to take a chance and re-work the topic. I would shift the emphasis from prescribing what the relationship ought to be to one of understanding what the relationship actually is.

This has been a rather long answer, but I feel it necessary to give a proper explanation of why this particular boom was written.

Alcantara: So what did you find? Was the relationship that you examined substantively different from what is portrayed in the media or by policymakers?

Morito:  Indeed. The difference between media portrayals, especially, and the way the record portrays Aboriginal people was astounding. In the book, I try to capture the difference by employing the Western European conception of the Indian as the noble/ignoble savage, who was uncivilized and incapable of higher-order thought. But more fundamentally, I attempt to capture the relationship as a problem for Canada and the United States, not just in the crude sense of standing in the way of expansion and colonization, but in the sense of understanding how to bring Indians into the modern economic and technological world. Everything I examined, while moving backward to the early records (to about the early 1800s), presented the relationship in terms of the Indian problem, which in Canada we know resulted in the variety of assimilation programs. From this point in history onward, governments and settlers for the most part conceived of the Aboriginal person as savage and in need of aid from Christian Canada to become fully civilized. Treaties had become surrenders (of territory and autonomy), which in turn reinforced the fiduciary model of the relationship, which persists today.

In stark contrast, the early records presented the relationship as a partnership where sometimes it was the case that the British and even French were seen as the dependants. But even where the British Crown was recognized by First Nations as father, the fundamental problem was not the Indian, but the enemy European nation. The main problem with respect to Aboriginal people was to keep them on side against (for the Haudenosaunee, or Iroquois), or to win them over from the French (the Anishnaabe). This is to say that Indian Affairs policy was focused on maintaining the treaty alliance (the peace and friendship treaty relationship).

This economic and military relationship developed into one that depended on a very different kind of what I call a moral economy than the current one. Accordingly, the exchange of trust, loyalty, honour among other values, formed a relationship of mutual respect, in which the various modes of interaction and communication were focused on maintaining the relationship, over and above the relationship’s legal terms of reference. That is, it focused on keeping the relationship robust, even when principles and agreements were broken by one or the other side. This is the deeper significance of the Covenant Chain. Both sides seemed to recognize that even though the terms of the treaty had been broken (the above ground chain was broken), the underground chain could not be broken.

Alcantara: So why did this relationship change over time? Was it an inevitable product of radically different worldviews? Or was it something else?

Morito: I’ve thought much about this question and have no certain or clear answers, because the history of the relationship is quite complex. There are obvious contributing factors, such as the shift in military and economic power, the decline in Aboriginal people’s population and increase in European populations, superior European military and production technology, among other factors. As material changes took place, so too did European conceptual frameworks develop to support the growing assumptions of superiority and the right to colonization. Not only did the Enlightenment serve to buttress the idea of the superiority of rational beings – where rationality was increasingly being denied as belonging to Aboriginal people – the idea of evolution helped characterize Aboriginal people as yet-to-evolve savages. Coupled with Europe’s voracious appetite for resources, it seems all too easy to describe the change in relationship as inevitable and brought on by irresistible economic, religious, philosophical, cultural and military forces.

But none of these factors alone or even collectively fully explains the shift in the relationship. That’s part of what makes it possible for me to argue that the ethic of the Covenant Chain is relevant today. The difference between worldviews was certainly radical and seemingly impossible to overcome at times. But, as I argue, the central feature that enabled the relationship to flourish on the basis of mutual understanding in the early years of the relationship was the presence of proper people, or proper persons. These were the go-betweens who could communicate effectively and had developed reputations for trustworthiness and honour. But they had also developed relationships where these aspects of what I call the moral economy were central features. Through the exchange of trust and respect, for instance, they developed community identities with Aboriginal partners. I think the crucial point here is that the relationship turned on maintaining the moral economy, such that the relationship came first, over and above the terms of the agreement or any codified laws.

The more obvious factors mentioned above made it more and more difficult to enable the moral economy to work, so that external forces came to form the terms of the relationship. Was this inevitable? Certainly many a historian has described the fate of Aboriginal people as inevitable and efforts to resist futile. My reading of history and observations of massive shifts in economic and military relationships suggests to me that these historians were right. However much we might want to appeal to human moral agency as a determinative factor, the inability of moral agents to effect significant change in fossil fuel consumption, in the redistribution of wealth and in the cruelty toward vulnerable populations supports the inevitability thesis.  Having said this, however, I do not think the current situation is incontrovertibly entrenched or that a return to a mutually recognized respectful relationship is impossible.

Moral agents have had an impact on the course of history. Without the constant intervention and actions of supporters of equality for women and ethnic minorities, the world would look very different today. Insofar as people are struggling to maintain or to regain the elements of the moral economy in the face of impersonal economic and political forces, hoping for a re-constituting of the moral economy of the Covenant Chain is not futile. Critics of my position have argued that the only reason the European powers showed any respect toward First Nations was owing to necessity. They needed First Nation military power and access to resources to survive and then to dominate on the continent. While this is correct, that necessity also exposed the potential for developing a robust moral economy. Today, I believe that the many problems we are facing today, from ecological to economic, are exposing the same potential for refocusing on the moral economy as a basis for ordering social relations.

Alcantara: So what is the way forward for establishing, or re-establishing, a more just and equitable relationship?  What kinds of “proper persons” do we need to see emerge today? Do you mean someone akin to the “word warriors” as put forward by Dale Turner?

Morito: I actually criticize Dale Turner’s appeal to (not the idea of) word warriors, because it does not take certain conditions into account.  In the epilogue, while sympathizing with Turner’s purpose, I mention a number of problems with word warriors bringing traditions into the discursive arenas of scholarship and possibly negotiation. He wants their contributions to be intelligible within the existing legal and political practices of the dominant society. I would call his a direct approach. Historically what has happened after the period of the Covenant Chain – and certainly attempts were made to do the same during the tenure of the Covenant Chain – Aboriginal traditions were conceived and treated in accordance with categories that were cognizant to the dominant society, but in that process of categorization, the meaning of those traditions became quite different for those belonging to Aboriginal communities from those belonging to non-aboriginal communities. The dominant society could and did misrepresent the presentation of wampum and other traditions as curiosities and eventually as anthropologically interesting artifacts. This can be viewed as a misappropriation of their work, especially when they are physically appropriated for display in museums. What I have in mind can be related to my own appropriations of Aboriginal people’s concerns. When starting out to address these concerns, I used the language of rights in conference papers talks and publications, only to have Aboriginal people tell me that they have no word for ‘right’ in their language. The message was that I was distorting their concerns. My approach, in their eyes, could be viewed as a form of appropriation of their concerns, because I could be seen as distorting their concerns for my own purposes.

Similarly, the notion of treaty is formulated in the legal and political contexts, which define treaties as documents that codify certain obligations on the part of the signatory parties. If the laws and expectations agreed to in those documents are violated certain legal consequences ought to follow. Again, Aboriginal people have consistently told me – and their message has been affirmed by the record itself – that this is not the primary meaning of ‘treaty’ from their perspective. ‘Treaty’ refers more to the relationship of solidarity, than to a set of codified rules and agreements. It has far more to do with maintaining a healthy relationship based on mutual understanding, trust and respect. So, to continue treating the idea of treaty as a codification is to distort not only the meaning of treaty, from an Aboriginal perspective, but to distort the historical nature of the treaty relationship. To articulate traditional concerns in terms that are intelligible to the dominant society, then, runs a high risk of having the concern distorted. I would argue that even if the dominant society was well-intentioned, similar distortions would occur.

There are other indicators that the time is not ripe for word warriors, especially if word warriors commit to bringing the traditions forward to the negotiation arenas. One indicator in particular comes from some of my interviews with bilingual Aboriginal people who have told me that they think and perceive differently when speaking in the native tongue than when speaking and communicating in English. They relate differently to people as well. These people are expressing the problem of integrating differing worldviews — the background set of beliefs, concepts, sensibilities and the like that determine what words mean and how they represent their understanding and experience of the world – in their communications with others. As has been the case for some time, bringing Aboriginal traditions to negotiation contexts for debate will continue to result in warriors having to use unsuitable language, which will distort their meanings, until, that is, we find a framework by which a genuine mutual understanding is possible and can be expected.

A better way forward has, I think, already begun in the work of revisionist historians. But I think the general principle for guiding this way forward is perhaps paradoxical. We certainly must start with the expectations of the dominant sectors in terms of the ideas to be used and the criteria of legitimacy to employ. In a way, this is how the book starts out. The approach I propose begins with the assumption that both sides need to agree to evidentiary rules. For instance, a principle of rigorous interpretation, where each side is to pay close attention to the details of the historical record as it is presented and not simply mine it for evidence in support of some pre-established thesis. Another rule to which I believe both sides agree is that explanations of the Crown/First Nation relationship must proceed on the assumption that the relationship is a historical one. Hence, a study of the historical relationship is necessary for understanding the current relationship.

In the book, I go as far as to accede to the dominant side recognition of its own official historical documents as the evidentiary base. But from this accession, problems arise when one applies the evidentiary rules. We find that not only the once dominant historical narrative fails to find support in the evidence, but that even revisionist accounts remain incomplete and some continue to distort the nature of the relationship. Among others, what a careful reading of the documents discloses is this: if we are to understand the nature of the historical relationship, we need to acknowledge its complexity and such factors as the operation of a moral economy. Over time, we see this factor changing and many of its components disappearing and/or transforming. Largely what we see is the transformation of the underlying moral sensibilities on the side of the dominant societies (British and American), which in turn distorts the original meaning that Aboriginal traditions had in the relationship. The first step in moving forward in re-establishing a more just relationship, then, is to establish an understanding of what the nature of that relationship has been and then how it has changed over time.

If we proceed this way, we begin to realize how current and standard explanatory frameworks (economic, political, military, and even evolutionary) are insufficient and perpetuate the distorting of Aboriginal traditions. It is to problematize the current explanatory and justificatory frameworks. I think that until we can recognize that our frameworks are themselves problems for a just society, we cannot expect a genuinely just solution to our legal and political issues as they pertain to Aboriginal people.

Alcantara: Thanks very much for sharing your ideas from you book with us.  What’s your next project?

Morito: My hope is to take the theoretical problems I have encountered in this book and my first (Thinking Ecologically) as an impetus to develop a theory of ethics. In writing both books, I came across a number of issues pertaining to the inadequacy of contemporary ethical theory in describing some of the ethical concerns that these books raised. Certain theories addressed some of the concerns I had, but remained silent on others. Either that, or applying these theories would distort the nature of the problem as presented. In An Ethic of Mutual Respect, the closest I could come to finding a suitable theory to describe the issues was Habermas’s discourse ethics. No ethical theory, however, was adequate to solve the issues raised in either book.

My hope now is to develop a theory or perhaps just an approach that begins with an understanding of what moral life is, how it is initiated, and how such things as moral principles arise. My work at present seems scattered, but all of it has to do with making certain connections, e.g., between ethics and economics, ethics and music, ethics and wilderness experience.

Grassroots Liberals: An Interview with Author Royce Koop

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Dr. Royce Koop, Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Studies at University of Manitoba, has written a new book called Grassroots Liberals: Organizing for Local and National Politics, which is available for purchase from UBC Press here. This book, which was selected as one of The Hill Times’ 100 Best Books of 2012, “reveals that Liberals are negotiating the limitations and possibilities of federalism and multi-level politics, on the one hand, and distinct, geographically defined constituencies for provincial and federal politics, on the other. Their efforts call into question the idea that Canada has two distinct political spheres — the provincial and the national ….  This insider’s view of Liberal party politics in Canada suggests that national parties can overcome the challenge of multi-level politics, strengthen their ties to provincial politics, and deepen their legitimacy by tapping the activism, energy, and support of constituency associations and local campaigns.”

On a personal note, Royce entered the M.A. program at Calgary just as I was finishing up my M.A. in 2002.  I always thought I was going to be the fastest ever to finish an M.A. thesis at UofC, only to hear later that Royce finished four months quicker than I did! So it’s no surprise he’s been so productive and successful so early in his career.

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

Alcantara: Congratulations on the publication of the book.  It’s received quite bit of attention since its publication in 2011.  Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Koop: Thanks Chris.
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The book is an adapted version of my doctoral dissertation. When I started, I knew that I wanted to write something about how federalism affects the organizations of political parties. There was a very interesting literature developing in Europe at the time about how parties were adapting to the development of multi-level politics. And of course we had a small, specialized literature in Canada that looked at linkages between national and provincial parties, and that forcefully made the argument that national and provincial parties had almost entirely separated from one another at the two levels, with some real consequences for the roles that parties play. The problem was: I knew from my own experiences (which were at the time confined to British Columbia) that this was an incomplete picture, that when you went into the constituencies and looked at how parties were organized there and how activists played out their roles, there was sometimes lots of integration and cooperation and overlap between people in the national and provincial parties. So this spurred me to focus on the question of how federalism affects the constituency-level organizations of Canadian parties, which had not been looked at all.

Alcantara: I recall many times reading and being told in my Canadian political science classes as a student that there was very little integration between the main parties, with the one exception being the NDP. Clearly your research found something else!  What did you find? What exactly are the sorts of things that link the federal and provincial Liberal parties in Canada?

Koop: That’s right, the NDP has always been more integrated than the other parties. I looked specifically at the federal Liberal Party and its constituency organizations, which have three components: activist bases, the constituency associations, and local campaigns. The descriptive part of the book builds a conceptual continuum that ranges between archetypal integrated constituency organizations, which are strongly linked between the two levels, and archetypal separated constituency organizations, which exist totally separate from one another at the two levels. The three components are treated as indicators. Activist bases are linked between the federal and provincial levels when Liberals identify with and participate in parties at both levels. Constituency associations are linked between the two levels by (1) shared members on national and provincial executives, (2) joint auxiliary units (like women’s and youth organizations), and (3) and joint inter-election maintenance events. And local campaigns are linked between the two levels by (1) identical or similar inner circles that surround the candidates, (2) the same groups of secondary workers staffing campaigns at the two levels, and (3) the use of common campaign resources. And when I looked holistically at all of the constituencies I’d visited, only two (out of sixteen) were really fully separated between the federal and provincial levels. These were ridings in which federal and provincial politics really did constitute “two political worlds” but they were very rare. In most ridings, activists had constructed some sort of linkage between federal and provincial politics. The book ends with four types of local political worlds.

Talking about “conceptual continuums” seems a little dry! The bulk of the book is about illustrating the different points on that continuum by telling the stories of the activists themselves, from their perspectives and in their own words. The research for the book consisted of 76 interviews with local party activists and hours and hours of observation in each of the ridings, so I had a lot of stories to tell. And it’s through these stories that the explanatory side of the account—the influence of provincial party systems, the ecology of the ridings, and the orientations of incumbent MPs and MPPs—really comes through.

AlcantaraConceptual development, in my view, is one of the most important, yet one of the most underrated contributions that scholars can make to the literature.  Indeed, you can’t really do any serious normative or empirical work until you have fully fleshed out your concepts!  So this book is most welcome, I think.

So what are the four “local political worlds”? And to what extent does integration actually matter for the organization and activities of political parties in Canada?

Koop: The idea behind talking about local political worlds is that, contrary to what others have suggested about how we can think about Canada as a whole consisting of “two political worlds” at the national and provincial levels, the nature of our decentralized parties and geography-based electoral system means that grassroots party activists essentially build their own local political worlds in the ridings, and are influenced in doing so by a number of systemic and other influences.

The first set of ridings are those where national and provincial politics make up “one political world.” These are ridings where both associations and campaigns are strongly integrated, and in which members and activists tend to participate at both levels. We tend to see these ridings where national and provincial party systems are similar (as in Ontario) and where MPs and MPPs are supportive of integration. Out of sixteen ridings I looked at, five fell into this group.

The second set of ridings consists of “interconnected political worlds.” In these cases, national and provincial are linked, but not as strongly as in the last group. In some of these ridings, something has happened to hamper relations between the national and provincial parties in these ridings. In others, the parties are simply weak and cannot provide the activist initiative to maintain good relationships. Overall, integration in these ridings is present but somewhat weak. Four ridings fell into this group.

The third set of ridings are those where national and provincial politics constitute “distinctive political worlds.” All of these ridings are in British Columbia and, I’m sure, in other provinces where there are important differences between the national and provincial party systems. It’s simply impossible to build fully integrated local worlds when national and provincial party systems don’t line up pretty closely, as is the case in BC. Activists respond to distinctive party systems by constructing local worlds in which there are subtle linkages between national and provincial politics, but in which the full-on enthusiastic integration found in many Ontario ridings is missing. The book has many illustrations of how federal Liberals cope with a provincial Liberal party that is oftentimes foreign to them, and how national Conservatives have built loose connections between their party and the provincial Liberal Party. Five ridings fell into this group.

Finally, there are the ridings that I’ve mentioned, those in which national and provincial politics really do exist in two separate worlds. Of all the ridings I visited, only two could really be classified in this way. And there seemed to be some idiocyncratic characteristic of these ridings that helped to account for national-provincial separation. So this is rare.

Integration matters a great deal to the activities and functions of political parties. How a party in a multi-level state like our federation grapples with the question of how to engage across levels is as fundamental to understanding that party’s organization as is whether it’s a mass or cadre party. That’s because almost everything the party does—maintains memberships, fundraises, organizes personnel selection contests, formulates policy, campaigns, accommodates the wishes of different actors in the party, etc. etc.—changes depending on whether the party is linked across the different levels of the state. And, as we’ve seen in some of the work by Anna Esselment recently, it also affects how parties govern once in office. In Canada, the thought has been that party leaders, especially following the rise of executive federalism, solved the problem of multi-level politics by simply backing out and building single-level parties. But it’s always been impossible to do so given the decentralized nature of Canadian politics; instead, the locus of integration has simply shifted downwards to the riding organizations.

Alcantara: What do you findings tell us about the role, broadly speaking, of political parties in Canada today?  Do your findings suggest that parties have changed in terms of what they provide to our political system? I guess I’m wondering what your book tells us about the various characterizations of Canadian political parties as irrelevant to Canadians and Canadian democracy?

Koop: Especially nowadays, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about party leaders and their roles in Canadian politics. The impression that we get is that Canadian parties consist of a leader and staff and everything else isn’t really that important. But we often forget about the other important actors in what Ken Carty calls Canadian parties’ franchise bargains, the local organizations in each of the ridings. I think that one role played by the book is it draws attention to those local organizations through the sort of thick descriptions that we haven’t seen in the study of Canadian parties since Anthony Sayers’ book on constituency campaigns in 1999. I don’t think you can really understand Canadian parties if you don’t realize that there is a great deal of organizational activity and vibrancy under the radar screens of journalists and scholars of national politics, and that these local organizations are the necessary building blocks of Canadian parties.

The book doesn’t suggest that things have changed; rather, it suggests that parties have stayed the same to an extent that we haven’t previously realized. In terms of federalism, there are real consequences of the findings of the book for how we regard Canadian parties as multi-level actors. Scholars like William Riker, Samuel Beer, and Ronald Watts previously drew attention to the role of parties in shaping the multi-level orientations of elites, activists, and even voters. Integrated parties, according to Beer, pushed all these actors to develop what he referred to as mixed loyalties between the national and sub-national levels, which is great if you want to maintain a healthy federation. In contrast, when party linkages between the two levels dissolve or single-level parties develop, this leads to the development of singular loyalties to one level over the other, which is unhealthy for the federation and can eventually lead to conflict between different groups or, more likely, between the national government and one or more sub-national units.

For a long time, scholars have thought that the breakdown of party organizational linkages between the national and provincial levels meant that Canadian parties were no longer playing an integrative role by encouraging citizens to engage with and develop connections to both national and provincial politics. But what I found is that in the majority of the ridings I visited, the parties do exactly that! In some Ontario ridings, for example, participation in both the national and provincial parties is encouraged and even assumed. Even in British Columbia, there is a real effort on the part of local activists to accommodate both national Liberals and Conservatives in the BC Liberal organizations. So in some ways this book rehabilitates Canadian parties (or at least the Liberal Party) as integrative actors that are good for both Canadian federalism and unity.

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

Koop:  I have a few projects on the go, including a big one concerning online citizenship with Frederic Bastien, Thierry Giasson, Harold Jansen, and Tamara Small. But three in particular derive from the research I conducted for this book, both in terms of my interest in grassroots politics in Canada as well as the use of qualitative research methods. First, Jim Farney and I are working on a project that seeks to assess Canadian party constituency associations from a democratic perspective. Second, I’m just starting a new project with Heather Bastedo and Kelly Blidook in which we’re observing MPs both in their ridings and in Ottawa to better understand the representational behaviours they engage in between elections. Finally, I’m interviewing councillors in Canadian cities to explore how they represent their constituents and how institutional differences between the cities affect this.

Constituency Influence in Parliament: An Interview with Author Kelly Blidook


Dr. Kelly Blidook, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Memorial University, has written a new book called Constituency Influence in Parliament: Countering the Centre, which is available for purchase from UBC Press here. This book “examines the rules and conduct of Private Members’ Business [PMB] to assess the complex relationship between constituency representation and policy proposals. In contrast with most literature on Canadian politics, Blidook resurrects the relevance of Canada’s Parliament by examining what MPs do, why they do it, and what effect it has.”

Below is an interview I conducted with Dr. Blidook about his book via email in March and April 2013.

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Alcantara: Why did you decide to write a book on this topic?

Blidook: Well, of course, it just began as a research project.  I guess I decided to pursue the research project because I was interested in both (1) understanding all the things that MPs do that we pay little attention to (PMB being only one such thing, but kind of a big thing) and (2) whether there is actually a meaningful link between constituent and MP.  I like Parliament, and I found a lot of the research on it simply didn’t tell me much about these things, so the end result – sort of by opportunity and by luck – came out of digging at it in my own way for awhile.

As far as turning it into a book goes … it seemed a shame after years of work to only have 5 people read about it, when it could be turned into a book with an academic press so that 20 people could read about it.  Plus my parents like it better as a book.

Alcantara: It’s so true!  Academics seem to prefer journal articles for some reason, but parents and friends (and the general public!) like books! I think our parents and friends, at least, like being able to search for our books on amazon.ca or in the bookstore.  So how did you decide to approach this topic, both in terms of theory and method? 

Blidook: I basically wanted to tell a comparative story about the Canadian case.  I started collecting the data early in the project because I assumed it would be valuable to dig deeply into, and I was given the time and money to do so.  It was both an inductive and deductive process – they usually are if they are presented as deductive.  I did assume early on that, other things being equal, all elected members have similar motivations and, given similar electoral systems, there should be a relatively consistent behaviour.

So it became an institutional rational choice framework, within which I used a large-n quantitative approach to determine what MPs were doing and how much effect it had.  But really, it was adding in the qualitative interviews that made the project both tolerable and readable.  Talking to people really does wonders.

Sorry, I get pretty caught up in the whole “method” thing.  I’m increasingly amazed by how the most important rules of methods are not “rules”, but are about communicating a convincing story to the most important audience.

Alcantara: So what did you find? Did MPs share similar motivations? If so, did they share similar motivations prior to coming to Parliament? Or did the institutional environment of Parliament force a convergence?

Blidook: Well, I can’t speak much to the pre-Parliament aspects.  The work really deals with the House of Commons, our electoral system, and how they shape behaviour.  But, yes, MPs tend to act in “predictable” ways, in that they pursue symbolic actions to represent localized interests when electoral factors are a primary concern, and they appear to pursue more policy-oriented actions when they are able to focus less on the next election (and as a side-note to the latter – those actions do appear to matter in terms of overall policy-making).  So to answer your question directly, the SMP electoral system leads to behavioural patterns that we see in other systems as well.  But when you say it like that in a single sentence it sounds boring — reading about that sentence as an entire book is … not … boring.

Alcantara: So it’s the electoral system rather than the other institutional forces relating to Parliament and parties that is determinative of MP behaviour?

Blidook: Oh, sure … I’m glad you got me to clarify because it’s obviously not so simple. My story is meant to offset the common narratives by pointing to things that have been missed about Parliament, which are either due to the size of our radar screen or the perspective we’ve been looking from.  But of course – political parties, executive dominance, the confidence principle, etc. – those things are all extremely important and they appear to account for the vast majority of MP behaviour.  But their importance has, I think, been overstated to the point where the common view of Parliament is one where individual MPs don’t matter.  My story is about how they do matter. Those big factors we are all aware of are not the only factors, and the ‘trained seal’ is not the only form of behaviour.

Alcantara: In what ways can MPs have a meaningful influence? And how are they able to exert that influence? The common assumption, as you say, is that MPs are “trained seals” that only exercise any real independence at the constituency level. Is that assumption wrong? If so, where does that power come from?

Blidook: Well, last week an opposition MP got the House to pass a bill instituting transgender rights, while the Prime Minister voted against transgender rights.  Think about that.

The power question is a great one that I’m starting to answer in a bit more detailed manner now than I did in the book. I honestly think a lot of researchers in Canada have not really tried to understand it.  I hear people say things like “MPs only have power if their party leader (or the Prime Minister) gives it to them.”  Political scientists will actually argue that MPs (1) lack power, and (2) exercise power.  I completely disagree that those two statements are compatible.  What I know of power suggests that people try to attain power, and exercise it only if they attain it. However, if someone wants to work “giving away power on whims” into a plausible theory of power, I’ll listen to what they come up with.  I’ll probably have questions.

So with that on the table, I’d say MPs exercise the amount of power that they actually have, and this amount is due primarily to the institutional structure, and their individual abilities to maximize that power.  When MPs are supressed on one issue, they speak out on another.  When an MP threatens to cross the floor, the leader often makes some concession to get them not to.  If a group of MPs show they are uncomfortable, the party leader needs to decide whether to do something to keep those MPs happy or risk them doing something that could hurt the party or leader.

Sure, the power of each individual is quite small, but we’ve been treating it as though it is negligible for a long time, and there is unmistakable evidence that it isn’t negligible. So I think we need to stop describing power in simplistic and vague ways, and start looking at it closely, theorizing about it carefully, and determining more effectively who has it and how much.

This has been a long answer, I’m sorry.  The last part I wanted to speak to was the specific form of power that the book talks about on policy impacts.  MPs used to have very little opportunity to pass Private Members’ Business due to limits on the number of votable items and committee vetting, but over the Mulroney and Chrétien years MPs pushed for changes to the rules, and by the end of Chrétien’s PMship, each MP had an equal opportunity to have his/her item debated via a lottery and every item was made votable by default.  This ultimately meant a lot of issues and policies could end up on the House floor and be voted upon, whereas in the past those items had to clear a lot of hurdles. That is a significant institutional change, and one that the executive had to take notice of because it would be charged with carrying out statutes that were passed.  It had, I argue, some very significant ramifications.  So basically we saw small rule changes that had notable implications for power distribution.  MPs gained a small amount of it.

Alcantara: I agree with you on the power issue.  Sometimes, it seems, we tend to gloss over concepts in favour of getting right to the presentation of our cool new theory, method, or result, yet I’ve always believed that concepts are the foundation on which all research rests.  Bad concepts, usually means bad research, regardless of one’s theory, method, or results.

On the issue of MP power, isn’t it very much a fluid thing, though? Much depends, doesn’t it, on the personality of party leaders, rather than institutional structures? In the case of votable items and committee vetting for instance, it sounds like institutions are less important compared to the agency of MPs and leaders?

Blidook: It is certainly fluid, and it has fluctuated over time.  Of course, this interview has taken place over a couple weeks now, and a few events over that period – the transgender rights vote, the committee deeming the abortion motion unvotable, the MPs complaining about being muzzled – have caused me to have a slightly different view of the power distribution than when we started.  Power is in play in all these decisions, and it usually comes down to individuals making choices that could have longer term effects.  Different leaders will, of course, make different decisions and be more of less successful based upon how those play out.

In turn, the institutions provide incentives and limitations.  Realistically, agency affects intuitions and vice versa, and the distinction between both is blurry.  But the point is that nobody holds a limitless, or a constant, amount of power.  The amount of power anybody does hold is facilitated by past decisions and the institutional structures that have resulted.  As long as we keep a SMP electoral system, and as long as parties don’t figure out how to run nameless, faceless avatars as their local candidates (though I’ve heard this concept might already be at an advanced stage behind the scenes), then MPs will have connections to small geographic regions that they depend upon for electoral survival.

That will inevitably have an effect on their behaviours.  And as long as MPs have an element of freedom to express themselves or pursue policies in venues like PMB and SO31s member statements (this freedom has changed a good deal in the recent past), then those are venues where they will pursue individual interests.  If those “safety valves” get plugged up or closed off, you’ll see the pressure released through other means, because the design creates it. Where and when it happens though will be the result of leaders and individuals doing things their own way.

Alcantara: Sounds like an interesting book!  What are you working on next?

Blidook: I’m glad you think so – obviously I like it, but I’ve probably lost a bit of perspective in that area.  The next book project is a broader look at power distribution – I guess I’ve already been talking about it in this interview a bit.  The idea behind it is what I call “Party Creep” – which has two meanings.  First, despite the ever changing balance of power between individuals and parties, parties have clearly crept into domains that were not theirs to begin with. This is partly due to individuals innovating to determine what they can accomplish in parliament, at which point parties – which are better equipped to attain and exercise that power – begin to capitalize on that innovation.  Second, the fact that parties have done so is kind of creepy – or ‘cause for concern’.  I was thinking of a “Goosebumps” themed cover when I first came up with it, but with zombies being popular right now, I can’t think of a better parallel than hoards of MPs with dark eyes closing in on a lone living MP who just wants to give his/her own personal SO31 statement.  “Brains!  Brains!”  Anyway, maybe I should write it before I get too excited about a cover.

It was great to get to chat about all this.  I really appreciate the opportunity.  Thanks so much Chris.


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.

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

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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 (http://www.immigrationreform.ca/). On the other side, look at the work of the Canadian Council for Refugees (http://ccrweb.ca/), 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.

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.